Character and Reader Fear Levels: Some Handy Graphs!

Happy All Hallows Eve! And thanks so much to Book Chick City for inviting me over here. My topic today is FEAR!!

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be confessing this in a post, but one of the hardest things for me as an author is getting a character’s level of fear right.

If you dial the character’s level of fear too high, you have a paranoid character. If you let it be too low, you have a too stupid to live (TSTL) character. Both are book killers!

This is all complicated by the fact that, as an author, YOU know what’s lurking behind the closet door, you know what is hiding under the bed.

However, one little secret author trick is that when you want to make a scene scary, you just bump up a character’s fear. You just can’t do it too much, or you get into paranoid territory. I totally use this trick sometimes. My most shameless use of it was in HEAD RUSH!

Graph #1:
What is the right level of fear for my UF heroine when something is actually scary?

As you see, the APPROPRIATE FEAR zone for my Disillusionists heroine, Justine, is in the more fearful half. Because, it’s reasonable to be frightened when something’s scary. When a UF heroine is not at all frightened, I feel a little ripped off.


OKAY, then there is the opposite problem, when I’m not going for fear. As an author, I always know what is in the upcoming scenes, so there are never unknowns for me, which is, of course, a great source of fear for others. So, sometimes I don’t think things are scary for my main character, but readers get scared on her behalf.

In the bank robber erotic romance I write under my Annika Martin pen name, I deleted an entire half a novella because part of the fun and smutty storyline scared a critique partner. Erotic romance shouldn’t be scary, or at least, the erotic romance I write shouldn’t be. And sometimes it’s easier to just delete and start over. Look, another handy chart-graph!

Graph #2
How much fear should a reader feel when reading fun erotic romance?

It’s okay with me if my Annika readers feel scared when my gang robs banks, because that’s the adventure part of the story, but generally, I like to keep the fear level low, to maximize the smutty fun.


In MR REAL, my heroine discovers that she has this magic computer virus that makes jpgs appear in real life. She’s not the kind to take things too seriously, and at first she conjures up great outfits and accessories, but on one drunken, lonely night she brings this spy from a TV commercial to life for a sexy visit.

It was a big thing to get the fear level of that right, because, on one hand, he’s a sexy spy from a commercial for liqueur, so how threatening would he seem to her? In early drafts, I had her feeling like it was all fun and games when he first showed up, but that didn’t seem entirely realistic. Yet, because my heroine is kind of reckless, too much fear wouldn’t work for her. Look, another graph chart thingy!

Graph #3
My heroine fear challenge in MR. REAL

It was kind of fun thinking through this and getting a fear level right, but not easy—I wanted to stay true to my heroine’s plucky/reckless personality without making her TSTL.

Hey, thanks so much for stopping by! And, I came bearing treats! Up for grabs: A copy of MR REAL when it releases on October 30th, print or ebook, International.

Here’s your question to enter: What was the book that frightened you most this year?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carolyn Crane is the author of the Disillusionists trilogy, assorted novellas, and the upcoming Mr. Real. She lives in Minneapolis (U.S.) with her husband and two cats. She works a day job as a freelance advertising writer, and has for years. She’s also waited tables at a surprising number of Minneapolis restaurants and bars (though not as many, incidentally, as her writer husband has). She’s also been a shop clerk and a plastics factory worker, which she was dismal at (think I Love Lucy).

Also, Carolyn can relate almost any life experience to one or another Star Trek episodes, and if you invite her to your party, your cheese plate will be in grave danger. During rare moments when she’s not at her computer, she can be found reading in bed, running, helping animals, or eating Mexican food. (Photo © Deb Tschurwald)

ABOUT THE BOOKThe girl of his dreams…with the secret agent of his nightmares Alix Gordon is a girl who doesn’t take life too seriously. What’s the fun in that? So when she stumbles across occult software that can bring any computer image to life, she conjures up lots of awesome outfits and accessories. And then, on one drunken, horny night, she conjures up Sir Kendall, the sexy TV ad spy… who looks exactly like Paul Reinhardt, the super-sexy martial arts teacher who kicked her out of class a few years ago.

Fighter Paul Reinhardt has good reason to hate Sir Kendall, the character he brought to life to land a part in a TV ad; he’d do anything to forget him. A cross country road trip seems just the thing… until Paul finds himself inexplicably drawn to Minnesota and is shocked to discover Sir Kendall – in the flesh – with the girl he’d once loved from afar. He barges into Alix and Sir Kendall’s love nest, determined to stop the madness – somehow. But is superspy Sir Kendall transforming into something more dangerous anyone can imagine? And what will Sir Kendall do when Paul and Alix finally give into their mad lust for each other?

CAROLYN CRANE ONLINE: Website | Twitter | Facebook


Carolyn is giving away a print or ebook copy of Mr Real when it releases on October 30th.

For entry into the giveaway please answer the following question and then fill out the form below: What was the book that frightened you most this year?

This giveaway is International and ends 31st October 2012

Oops! We could not locate your form.


Carolyn created Book Chick City in July 2009 due to her love of books. A Brit chick obsessed with zombies, kick-arse chicks and sexy heroes. She's also seriously addicted to chocolate, shopping, and coffee. Her favourite genres are Urban Fantasy, Romance and Zombie Lit... Brrraaaaiiinnnnsss!


kara-karina October 23, 2012 at 2:18 pm

World War Z definitely gave me few nightmares. Such an intense book!


Anne L October 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I’m currently reading 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill – the stories in that are a mixture of unnerving, creepy and one in particular made me feel ready to puke (there was bug eating going on!).


Syki October 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I think it was Woman in Black. That book was creepy.


Stephanie October 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.


Heather October 23, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Vacation of Fear by J.G Wilson


blodeuedd October 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I have not read anything scary at all, books seldom scare me


bn100 October 23, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Haven’t read any books that scared me.


erinf1 October 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Thanks for the great post and congrats to Carolyn on the newest release! To be perfectly honest, I haven’t really read anything scary this year… hmmm… gotta change that :)


Melanie October 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Hi Carolyn! Welcome to BCC and thank you for the insight into how you plan your fear factor.

I read and reviewed a couple of books that were supposed to be scary that just didn’t do it for me so i am reassured that someone plots the fear based on the genre and characters.

Loved the diagrams too!



Megan McDade October 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm

I don’t tend to read scary books but I read the assembly room by Bryony Allen a few weeks ago and it is YA but it creeped me out a litte. That is as harcore as my scary books go LOL.

Thank you for the giveaway!


LisaC October 23, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I’m drawing a blank on a book, but I will say that the Ilsa J. Bick short story that appeared on BCC a few days ago was a good shiver.


Pippa Ainsworth October 23, 2012 at 10:54 pm

I haven’t read a good scary book in ages!


Mervi October 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I haven’t read anything really scary this year. The only thing that comes to mind is San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant.


Victoria Zumbrum October 23, 2012 at 11:58 pm

The Hunt and Stephen King’s It.


Barbara Elness October 24, 2012 at 12:41 am

The book that frightened me the most this year was Jennifer Estep’s By a Thread. I was so worried and afraid for Gin, it kept me on the edge of my seat until the end.


Lynn K. October 24, 2012 at 1:33 am

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama. I’ve read Anna and Girl of Nightmares but neither left an impact the way MB did. It wasn’t the outright spooky kind but rather the events that happen, the actions of people and as the story unfolds…you get chills down your spine.


Donna Barton October 24, 2012 at 1:53 am

Haven’t read anything scary yet!!!!


Joani S October 24, 2012 at 2:04 am

It def has to be Necroscope by Brian Lumley. Love his vamps!!


Erin October 24, 2012 at 6:26 am

Endgame by Ann Aguirre, mostly because it’s the last book in the series and I was SO scared I wouldn’t like the ending (I did, though) and because Jax goes through some crazy stuff (like a war!).


Nikki H October 24, 2012 at 6:42 am

No book truly frightened me this year thus far but the closest one came was Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.


Lia Oxanne October 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

I don’t think I read any frighting book this year but I just started reading Bram’s Dracula and it’s kind of spooky


Mary Preston October 24, 2012 at 9:42 am

I have not read any scary books this year.


Gemma October 24, 2012 at 10:03 am

The Strain by Gullirno Del Torro and Chuck Hogan really freaked me out. Probably didn’t help that I had the same symptoms the victims had before they turned into vampire/zombie crossbreeds…..


Nidia Fialho October 24, 2012 at 10:10 am

i would say the exorcist


BookaholicCat October 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

I haven’t read anything too scary lately, the only one that was a little bit creepy and made me hear noises and see shadows in the house was The Kingdom, second book in the Graveyard Queen series by Amanda Stevens.
Love Your graphics… Just saying 😉


Carolyn Crane October 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Look! Some fabulous scary books. What fun to read these. Thanks so much, everybody, for stopping by !!


Brian October 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I’ve yet to read anything that I’ve found scary… this year or any other.


STUART HARGREAVES October 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm



Karen Wapinski October 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I read a lot of books that scare me; I think Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is so chilling because the relationship Cassie and Lia have is so close to my best friend and I in high school it’s scary to see how easily the dead girl could have been one of us.
I think for pure reading terror though is Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain trilogy. It’s a lot like Salem’s Lot where the horror starts slow and slowly begins to take over until your heroes are completely trapped. Chillls.


Erin October 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Hi Carolyn! I read a lot of paranormal and UF books, but don’t laugh when I tell you that the scariest book(s) I read this year were the Hunger Games Trilogy. For some reason they went beyond “suspense” and hit me hard in the “psychological fear” zone. I felt anxious and scared while reading them! Not sure why this was so; maybe because the plot seemed more “possible” than those in other fantasy books?


Virginia October 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm

I deliberately avoid horror because I’m such a cheap scare. Temporary anxiety is as far as I’m willing to go. Having said that, the ending of Double Cross freaked me out. I stayed up reading Head Games past 2am even though I knew, I was certain, events could not be a grim as they seemed. My intellectual certainty couldn’t touch the atavistic dread of the outcome.


kat October 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve read a scary book! All that comes to mind are those Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark books– they used to freak me out as a kid!


Val Swift October 24, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Bag of bones – stephen King


Mel S October 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I just finished reading The Woman In Black and it definitely had the right atmosphere of fear that had me glancing twice at any woman in black clothes I saw for the next few days! :-)


Solange October 24, 2012 at 10:49 pm

The Woman In Black


dameolga October 25, 2012 at 1:47 am

Lol, I love the graphs.

I would have to say, J.A. Saare’s Dead, Undead and Somewhere in Between scared me the most.


Darlene October 25, 2012 at 3:52 am

Oh, that’s an easy one: The First Days by Rhiannon Frater. I can’t remember the last time a book scared me as much as this one did!

Thanks for the giveaway!


diane findlay October 25, 2012 at 10:20 am

zombies dont cry


Mickie Bull October 25, 2012 at 9:49 pm

World War Z – Max Brooks


Samina October 27, 2012 at 1:16 am

It was the Experiment in Terror series by Karina Halle. I don’t recommend reading it late at night.


Ileana A. October 28, 2012 at 12:11 am

I’m legend by Richard Matheson


LadyVampire October 28, 2012 at 9:18 am

I’ll be honest and say I really havent gotten scared this year by any book in particular. But I do tend to get creeped out by some of Stephen King’s books like IT or Cujo.


Lauren @ Northern Plunder October 28, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I haven’t read anything that’s given me a good scare this year, though I’d love for one please!


Nuzaifa October 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh.


Christine F October 30, 2012 at 9:17 pm

The Woman In Black by Susan Hill.


Karis B October 31, 2012 at 1:31 am

Nothing so far, theres still a few months left though, so fingers crossed :)


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