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Someone on another forum asked for advice on a sentence she was writing, so I thought I'd share it here and see what kind of responses we could get. The sentence in question is marked by italics. (I think one or two others could use some help as well, but I'll see what you guys come up with!)

Fear is a strange thing. On one hand it has the ability to make you stronger if the circumstances are just right. Giving you the strength and clarity of mind to overcome whatever peril you happen to find yourself in. On the other hand, it has the frightening ability to render the sufferer into a frozen vegetative state. Leaving you in control of nothing more than the blinking of your eyes and the sucking in of short, shallow breaths.

The specific question I would like to see answered is this: how can she change this sentence so that it better conveys the immobilizing impact that fear can have on a person?

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I think contrasting the two possibilities by repeating On the xxx hand, it has the ability to... represents unnecessary verbiage here, and tends to obscure the fact that in reality, either one effect or the other will almost always be totally dominant. This usage is more appropriate for dichotomies where both alternatives really do co-exist. –  FumbleFingers Sep 9 '11 at 15:45
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3 Answers

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First impression is that I can't understand why that particular sentence refers to "the sufferer" when all the other sentences talk about "you". Also not sure of "render you into a frozen vegetative state". "force you into" (or "send you") seems much better, IMO (don't ask me why, "render" just doesn't seem right). I also think that some of these sentences shouldn't be separated. Lastly, I would write "on the one hand", rather than "on one hand".

Fear is a strange thing. On the one hand, it has the ability to make you stronger if the circumstances are just right, giving you the strength and clarity of mind to overcome whatever peril you happen to find yourself in. On the other hand, fear also has the frightening ability to force you into a frozen vegetative state, leaving you in control of nothing more than the blinking of your eyes and the sucking in of short, shallow breaths.

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I always liked Stephen King in this sort of situation. All of his characters had a lot of backstory, and oftentimes the plot involved confronting or reliving this backstory.

When you have a character who has a fear, you should try elaborating on why they have this fear. Maybe they are claustrophobic because they fell into a well or mine shaft as a child. Or maybe they have a fear of water because they lost a sibling in an icy pond. Or maybe they are an anal neat-freak who is afraid of going outside because they grew up in a super-messy household where they were abused. Or maybe they are afraid of heights because they witnessed a circus accident as a child. Or totally turn it around, maybe they have a death wish and their fear is growing old.

If you play it up right it can be very debilitating to the character.

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how about this? Fear is a strange thing. On one hand, it has the ability to make you stronger if the circumstances are just right. It gives you the strength and clarity of mind to overceom whatever peril you happen to find yourself in. On the other hand, fear has the ability to bring Paralysis, leaving you in control of nothing more than the blinking of your eyes and the short, shallow breaths you need to stay just on this side of death. I don't know. it kind of sounds like fear that way. whatever you think

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