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How to Describe Scared in a Creative Writing Class

One of the most challenging tasks in a creative writing class is trying to describe something in a way that will be understood by your readers. When I first started teaching creative writing, I would give my students the exact same task, and their struggle to describe fear would amaze me. I would ask them to write down all the different ways they could possibly explain what it means to be scared, and the list would usually include something like, “I felt a sudden burst of courage, and it surged through my body,” or “I felt like a little girl again, with my hands shaking and my voice quavering,” or “I felt like somebody stole my heart and I want it back.”

After a while, I realized that these descriptions didn’t really add up to scared. They sounded more like, “I felt powerful,” “I felt happy,” or “I felt myself growing up.” So I decided to come up with my own list of ways to describe scared, and the rest, as they say, is history.


One of the most commonly used words to describe scared is “aversive.” This can mean that you feel anxious or uncomfortable with something, but it can also apply to something that you are trying to avoid. Aversion is commonly used in psychology to describe the feeling that you get when you try to avoid something and inevitably end up doing it anyway. When we hear this word, we automatically think of snakes and spiders, which is perfectly understandable. No one wants to have an adverse reaction to these creatures, especially when they’re being described as scary.

If you’re writing a story about a deadly snake, the best way to avoid an aversive reaction is by using alliteration. For example, in the above excerpt from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, we see that the character Lark is scared of snakes. So much so that she feels an aversive reaction when she sees a snake:

  • …[S]he begins to shake uncontrollably, her hands fisted at her sides.
  • …[T]he skin on her arms is crawling, and she can feel the heat rising in her cheeks.
  • Lark takes a step back, and this time the snake slithers into the light.
  • The snake’s eyes are on her, and she can’t look away…


Another way to describe scared is “alarm.” When we get scared, our bodies go through a set of physical and mental changes. One of the most noticeable is that our heart races and our breathing becomes more rapid. Another is that we might feel flushed or even pale. These are all forms of alarm. When we are scared, we are really trying to get away from something or to protect ourselves from something.

This is why some people feel more scared when they are in a dark or isolated place. They know that something is following them, and even though they can’t see it, they believe that they can feel it. This kind of fear is more common in stories than we would like to admit. The best way to overcome it is by keeping your eye on the prize, which is often finding a safe place to retreat to. If you keep your eyes open for escape routes and make sure you’re always prepared to take advantage of them, you can stop yourself from feeling vulnerable when you are in a scary situation.


Apprehensive is another word used to describe scared. This one comes from the Latin word, “appropinquére,” which meant “to investigate closely.” When we are apprehensive, we are afraid to find out more about what is happening. Sometimes this can result in us not wanting to find out at all, which is why it’s important to keep our wits about us and not let our imagination run away with us. Apprehensive is a feeling that just wants to be avoided at all costs. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that makes you question whether or not you are doing the right thing.


The last way of describing scared that I will mention is “baffled.” This is when you don’t know what is going on or why you’re afraid. If you don’t understand why you are scared, it can feel impossible to get rid of this feeling. To be baffled by something is to not know how to deal with it or why you are afraid. It can also mean that you don’t understand what is going on even after you are told. Sometimes the lack of explanation can keep you up at night, wondering what is scaring you. This is why, when you ask questions about what is going on or why you are feeling the way you do, the people around you have trouble answering you. They don’t know how to explain it either.

These writers used alliteration, vivid imagery, and dialogue to bring their audiences into the thick of it. They made the experience as real as possible by using language that is both interesting and unique. All of these elements, when combined, make for a well-written story that will keep you turning the pages long into the night.