we want fear

Sometimes, when I’ve been writing for hours, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and don’t recognise myself. It’s unnerving for a while but it soon fades. Of course, I still know who I am, theoretically. It’s just that I look completely unfamiliar. This started me thinking about sports psychology. It will make sense in a moment. Sports psychologists have the idea that you can improve at your given sport if you practice mentally.

The key seems to be to visualise with as much detail as possible and in real time. I often do it with horse riding (it’s hard to fit an actual horse in my office), though not often enough to really benefit. (Note to self – more regular imagined riding sessions please!). It’s as if the brain doesn’t make a hard and fast distinction between what is imagined in great detail and what is experienced in ‘real’ life. Anyone suffering from stress or depression will be familiar with this – as your skewed beliefs about yourself impact powerfully (and incrementally) both on your experience of the world and on your body.

That got me to thinking. What does this imagined experience mean for someone who is writing gothic fiction? Or reading it? Clearly, at some level, we are experiencing these stories as real. When I’m writing, some part of me is living life through the eyes of my characters (hence my momentary non-recognition in the mirror).

The adrenalin build-up is enough to make me to jump when James calls out from the other room (yes, I get nervous when I’m writing it). Is there some reason we want to experience fear and hyperarousal in our otherwise relatively protected lives? Do we experience it as stress (e.g. making minor daily concerns seem huge and dangerous), unless we release it in a dose of make-believe action?

hmmm … I think a part 2 for this post might be in order.

Craig “I want to be afraid for my life, not afraid of jumping out of my chair” Lager on horror games:


Pdf showing research into physical responses to films (horror, grief and nature)


And for something less mysterious and more cheering: mental imagery as a tool in sport



2 thoughts on “we want fear

  1. Great post!

    I think if you take it even further and think of the memories of our experiences you have, then it will be even more difficult to distinguish between the real and the imagined, in regard to what feels more real.

    Dreams and imagination are wonderful things and I guess that anyone would be able to cherish both the real experience and the imagined experience equally much.

    Why it affects us that much is a great philosophical tour inside our minds but biologically it would make sense if our mind has an internal mental image of the real world so it can react faster to things such as dangers, which could mean that the brain can interpret the imagined and the real in the same manner.


    • Yes, I sometimes have trouble remembering what is childhood memory and what is my reconstruction of childhood events. Strangely I sometimes remember thoughts I had in childhood as clearly as external events.


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