What are some ways to write feelings of fear, such as:

  • losing a loved one,
  • almost dying,
  • getting lost,
  • getting yelled at by your overprotective mother and
  • almost losing someone close to you.

I have this idea in my mind of writing a character almost dying in a fire, but he only got burned. The doctor character has to amputate his arm and there's one character who loses it when he thinks the burned character isn't going to make it.

How do I effectively describe that feeling?

  • A quick tip: personify the emotion e.g. 'Fear stalked his every movement ...' instead of just describing how he felt. Aug 30, 2017 at 10:23

3 Answers 3


This is a case of "show don't tell", or for those that frown upon that phrase, I mean write about the effects of the fear.

Fear reactions tend to be summarized in "flight or fight", which is a nice rhyme, but there is more to it.

Vocally there is screaming, yelling, calls for help, anger and threats: Even threats to the person they fear for: "Don't you dare die! Don't you dare! I swear to God...")

This is part of an overall behavior to try and eliminate the threat. Calls for help, or anger at a messenger: "What kind of fucking doctor are you?! Get me a real doctor god dammit!" Shouting, "Are there real doctors here?!"

Denial: "No no no no this isn't happening you can't do this..." "This can't be happening, this can't be true, what are we going to do?"

Begging: "Oh please, oh please don't die, don't die!"

Insistence for help and escape: Shouting at a friend "What are we going to do? WHAT?"

Physical agitation; literally running or walking away, violently shaking their head no, literally shaking, an inability to think rationally.

Bargaining: "Please, I'll do anything, anything, just don't let this happen!"

(Added by edit:) I forgot Terror-projections and ramifications: "If Bill... If Bill dies ... What happens to Kate? What do we do?"

Look at this link to the Seven Stages of Grief, and the first 3 of those will be

  • Shock and Denial
  • Pain and Guilt
  • Anger and Bargaining

This is quite close to the various Fear reactions. Now obviously don't include a laundry list of all of them, pick a few instances! In fear, rationality tends to shut down and people act instinctively, including by pushing, hitting and striking out (physically or verbally), or running, or begging, etc.

You don't have to experience all this for yourself, you can often see many good portrayals of fearful people in television or film. You don't want to plagiarize them, obviously but watch what you consider convincing portrayals and note what the fearful characters do and try to characterize the types of things the writers have them say.

You can put those kinds of reactions into your own words, for your character, at the level of fear they are experiencing.


Unfortunately, you shouldn't really be diving into these kinds of emotions unless you have experienced it yourself to some degree. They just don't come out well and feel empty or lacking if you can't describe it well.

Put yourself in their shoes, imagine the situation and you going through it. How would you feel? Don't just say upset... but think about emotion as a whole body experience...

watch some really deep drama about love and loss. I know you are a huge fan of anime. There are TONS of deep dark anime that love to yank at your emotions when the MC's gf ends up dying in the end.

Situations like this are mostly raw emotion. That's a bit hard to get right. Think about someone you deeply care about. A pet, your parents, any lovers. Friends. Imagine that, this person is in that situation. How would you react?

In a way, I envy you having to ask about the emotions of life and death as it appears you have not experienced this at a deep level yet.

My only advice I can really provide to help is find quality movies/anime/books that have super sad endings involving of character death. Watch how they are portrayed in those moments. Study their faces, their words, their actions.

Feel the story and the emotions. There is no one way to describe how someone's emotions would be in these situations. It depends on the character, their traits, how they handle situations of life and death (a lot of this should already be done in the character bios). To get a good feel though, do some investigation into media that has "the feels". It's probably the only way for you to experience it first hand to be able to describe it without actually having it be done first hand.

  • 1
    Well, in BBC's Sherlock, when Sherlock jumps off the roof in season two, John's emotions were portrayed as "calm and collected" on the outside, while inside, he was dead. He was so sad, crushed, devastated at his friend's "death" that he shut himself off from feeling. Aug 29, 2017 at 23:33
  • BUT, I was looking for a almost death. A sigh of relief at the end, but still skeptical about that person for the rest of their life. Aug 29, 2017 at 23:34
  • 2
    +1 to @ggiaquin. Japanese literature and film historically does not hesitate to look tragedy squarely in the eye, exploring both its exquisite agony and beauty. Books like Tale of the Heike, films like Ikiru, and anime like Grave of the Fireflies, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, and many others explore how different people react to tragedy. IMHO you need to read, watch, and feel these emotions in order to truly grasp how to portray it. You don't have to have experienced extreme tragedy yourself; via your human capacity for empathy you can learn from others.
    – DoctorWhom
    Aug 30, 2017 at 8:58

You could approach it from three different angles to get a good sense of the emotion:

  • Gut
  • Instinctive
  • Rational


This is the immediate physical sensation. You should use straightforward language to describe this, but also metaphors. You could think about all the different senses - taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. How are these experienced by your protagonist? How does it feel at skin level, but also internally? Obviously they will be completely different depending on whether you're describing the person in the fire or the friend afterwards worrying about their friend.


This is the immediate physical response. Does the person jump back, run forward, crumple to the ground, start hitting themselves on the head... This isn't something they think about, it's something their body does automatically as an emotional response to the trauma.


Finally, when their brain has had a chance to catch up, what is their response? More of their personality will come out in the way they react. What words will they utter? What action will they take? Try to run and hide? Try to do anything to help, however futile? Start looking for someone or something to blame?

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