A-Z Writer's Toolbox: Boggart


Like all craftspeople, writers need to keep a bag of tricks handy.  A set of tools for the job at hand (writing), if you will.  Some of these traits or tools are obvious--like the need to have a hide as thick as a brick, for instance.  Some are not.  This month, I've been challenged to do a post every day of the week (excluding Sunday) that begins with a letter of the alphabet.  I'm going to use this challenge to examine some of those necessary writing tools, both conventional and not.  Hold on to your #2 pencil, here we go!

B is for boggart

A boggart is a supernatural creature of English origins that is closely associated with poltergeist or other ruckus causing ghost entities. The legend of the boggart has been around forever, but it wasn't until J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter came around that the term entered the pop-culture lexicon.

For our discussion, I'm going to use the Harry Potter version of the creature. Here's the basic idea, courtesy of Wiki:

"A boggart is a shape-shifter that takes on the form of its intended victim's worst fear. It likes to hide in dark, enclosed places, such as closets and cabinets."

The writer's boggart...

I'm not suggesting that we all start writing spooky stories, or that every story needs to include supernatural creatures. (Although I know many a teen who might argue that ...) I'm suggesting that every story needs emotion, and not the 'happy', 'sad' or 'upset' kind, either. I'm talking about the elated, hopeless and pissed kinds of emotion. The emotion that sweeps us up and consumes us, or threatens to burn us out if we hold it in. That kind of emotion only comes around ever so often in real life, but it needs to flow through our stories like a river--persistent, unwavering and always there. Sometimes with a roar, and other times with the gentle trickle of water over rock, but always there.

In many ways, fear is the root of all other emotions. I could argue that love, happiness and anger all have their beginnings in fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of being sad. Fear of the unknown, or being afraid of things that don't fit our own ideas. Fear is the ultimate motivator. It drives us, and it should similarly drive our characters.

"He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The ability to harness fear is an essential writer's tool. The most successful horror authors have said time again that they write about things that make them afraid. J.K. Rowling said that many of the horrible things done by the bad guys in her stories were a manifestation of the real atrocities she had learned about during her time working for Amnesty International.

Oddly enough, the essence of creating a false reality (fiction) is the writer's ability to bind the story to reality.

So how do we do it? I'm suggesting you use a boggart. When you need something to motivate your characters, or if your story falls flat, close your eyes and imagine what you fear most. Now open your eyes and imagine having to face down that fear in the next moment. Write down the emotions you feel, the actions you would take and the possible outcomes. Now put yourself in your character's shoes and do the same thing for them. You can also do this with people you know well (parents, children, spouse, friends, etc.) and come up with some really brilliant character traits and motivations.

It can be extremely difficult to fabricate emotion, so why not use the real thing?

"Fear makes us feel our humanity." ~ Disraeli 

Hope to see you back Monday for the essential tool that begins with the letter C. Have a great weekend!



  1. I guess not being a published author is my boggart. Very scary.

  2. I thought writers were to "hint" at the emotion, and let the reader fill in the details.

  3. E.J. this was a really great post. My current WIP is about things that I'm afraid of. I hope I'm doing it justice. Loved the post.

  4. @ TDR: I feel you, but I think the key is using how that makes you feel. (Not the fear its self.) For me, not being published makes feel small at times, or that my dreams aren't as valid others. I think that's the stuff we can use.

    @ Kay: I don't buy that 'hint' stuff. I do think you have to reign in a character's emotion from time-to-time for risk of creating one-deminsional characters, or exhausting a reader. Just my opinion, but I believe true story magic happens when we can clearly identify with what a character is going through/feeling. Can't do that by beating around the bushes! :-)


  5. E.J. this post reads like an article inside a writer's magazine. Well done, and very good advice.
    Raising Marshmallows

  6. Definitely a unique choice for B day. And I enjoy reading anything related to J.K. Rowlings work.

  7. "It can be extremely difficult to fabricate emotion, so why not use the real thing?"

    I couldn't have said it better! Spot on E.J.

  8. I think character motivation is the most important part of the story. Like the idea of a Boggart. Not to be confused with Humphrey Bogart of course!

  9. This is a good one. I'm doing a rewrite currently and writing about what my character fears is a little scary but makes the writing so much better.

  10. You had me at the Harry Potter reference! I think that harnessing emotion is my great weakness as a writer and I have been working hard on finding that emotion and conveying it in a way that makes the reader really feel it.

  11. I just wanted to say how much I love your theme for the month. I will be stopping back regularly to see what you've written about. I could use lots more tools in my writer's toolbox.

  12. Great post! Going to go defy my boggart now. lol

  13. great post. guess I've never really thought of my boggart, but I'm not really a writer.

    stopping by for the A to Z, just wanted to say hello

  14. I like the title of your blog. It's funny I found you today because I just used this quote and a book by the same title in a blog post yesterday. I'm a fellow "A to Z" participant and I look forward to reading more from you.

  15. Great post. I agree with the boggart thing. It's a sound strategy.

  16. I like your disclaimer. Especially where you say that writers need to have the hide of a brick. So true.

  17. Whoa, reading this post just made me realize that one of the themes of the book I finished the first draft of today is fear. Thanks, dude!

    I love writing about deep emotions. That's the fuel that makes my books go.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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