How to Write a Panic Scene


Part 1

1. What is the cause of the panic and how mentally sound is the character?

»A. What triggered the panic attack?

I. Was it an internal or external factor? Could it have been the sudden realization of past events that the character missed or was it the “loss” of something? This could even be written as a failed plan. The character may have had aspirations about romance with another character that was completely ruined. On the other hand, the character may be experiencing what some write as a kind of “karma” for a bad or good character. The reader might feel this event is totally random. It could even be written to deceive the reader or shine light on some other event. This works especially well in a third person omniscient story.

II. Was it caused by an immediate event? This is actually a deeper question. What exactly is the event? It could be their rival’s actions that have finally caught up to a main or supporting character. If it’s a lesser event, then it would be best to use this scene as a moment to establish character traits to the reader. This could then be later used to “assist” the reader in predicting the outcome of a later event.

III.They may feel like they are having a heart attack. Their heart beats fast or may be out of breath. Sometimes, a butterfly feeling and intense feeling like they are going to die.

Panic Attack Symptoms:
Dizzy, feeling faint
Crying uncontrollable
Chest pain
Feeling need to escape
Twitching, Shaky
Quick scream heart racing
Throat closing
Difficult to take a deep breathe
Shortness of breath
Weak legs
Feel “closed in”
Mentally scattered thoughts
Racing thoughts
Dizzy spells leading to panic
Racing heart and tingling sensations
An overwhelming fear that the anxiety is going to push they over the edge
Constant chest tightness from anxiety
Hot flashes followed up with waves of anxiety
Tightness in chest and throat as well as shortness of breath
Feeling unconnected to what is going on around they
Obsessive worries and unwanted thoughts

V. Panic attacks can be a very painful humiliating experience to anyone that has one, often times in public places it can cause a scene and have loved one worried. This causes many of the people that have attacks to become very antisocial. They would look for any excuse to stay at home which can put a strain on their relationships.

»B.Their fears descend around them, they lose perspective of everything, they forget about their hopes and interests.

I.When they have a panic attack, they feel like someone else is controlling their every move, every thought. they feel paranoid and skeptical of everything. they think that nothing is as it may seem. Might black out and hit people, or walls, or the floor. they felt as if everything was fake, everything they was taught was a lie, and no one could be trusted.

II. There is nothing that can save you. You want to fade into nothingness, to run from everything. Sometimes they try to find something that will take away these emotions but nothing really helps.

III.For severe panic attacks, their breathing becomes shallow and they hyperventilate, they begin to shake, their mind goes blank and their unable to think at all, they get light headed and nauseous, they can start gagging, and they finally collapse onto the floor and can cry uncontrollably for hours while having breathing difficulties. One time their hands tensed up and their hands went tingly from lack of oxygen due to hyperventilation.

Part 2

2. Who else is near the character or are they experiencing this “attack” by themselves?

»A. Are they near their rival or supporting characters?

I. The rival doesn’t need to be the one to cause the attack, but this also goes to show the human side of a story when a rival responds by helping the character out instead of taking a moment to knock our protagonist down further. It also gives more weight or significance to the panic triggering event. It feels dire when a crowd of known characters doesn’t respond the same way the reader would have initially anticipated.

II. The friend or acquaintance could respond quickly helping the character out. This would display what kind reaction we should see of them in the future. However, this could also be used as a moment to show just how morally good this supporting character was or is should something happen to them later in the story.

III. By themselves is a bit advanced. If it is third person omniscient then we could tell the details of how they might faint or pass out from the event and what occurs around them. If it’s a first person story this could be used to confuse the reader as well. So for instance, the character will be investigating something strange. They feel shock and the character blacks out. The very next scene could be them waking up in a different place entirely.

»B. Are they only near strangers? Do they help?

IV. If the character is near strangers this could be used a scene that introduces new characters to the story. People that would take interest in the character or the even itself. A simple well-wisher could carry the scene into the next story arc.

V. If the strangers don’t help, we could use that as a point to establish their motivations and how exactly our character does not fit into their plans. How loved or despised is our character in their community?

Part 3

3. How does the panic scene fit into the rest of the story?

»A. This might feel like overlap, but this really boils down to the scene buildup and how it will carry the rest of the story.

I. Should the character decide to “handle” the situation or fight it out, will they succeed? As many people can attest to when presented with immediate situations, the body can sometimes just react long before people know what is really happening. Sometimes this could even mean they are responding incorrectly. Again, this only goes to show the reader or viewer the human element behind these scenarios.

II. Is this moment going to be recalled again later? Maybe the character won’t be able to live the moment down. Their would-be friends might be taking a bad situation too far by pointing out the characters flaws. This could affect their self-esteem later.

III. Does the moment anger this character? If they do get angry, what level do they take it to? Are they furious or just mildly annoyed by the whole event?

»B. Some people might have a completely different reaction to all of this. They might just have a panic attack and their health is affected.

I. This can actually be taken to the point of a heart attack or cardiac arrest as it were. The character may need resuscitation or CPR. They may have a phobia or fear they weren’t aware of or the shock of bad of bad news may be too great for them cope with.

II. Diving deeper into the phobia side of things, this could also be used to elaborate a character’s backstory. Maybe they developed the fear when they were kids. They could have completely forgotten about it until recently or maybe it eludes to the story’s conclusion and helps the reader understand the challenges this character must face to meet a satisfactory conclusion. This could be fear of a physical confrontation, fear of public speaking, or even a fear of crowded public spaces.

Part 4

4. What steps does the character take to calm themselves?

»A. Panic attacks are when the “fight or flight” instinct suddenly kicks into overdrive, and for no apparent reason. You could be watching tv, then all of a sudden they feel like they are in a life-threatening situation, and their heart starts racing. Most people think they are having a heart attack, or are going insane.

I.It’s like an out-of-body feeling like their detached. Then it feels like their brain is vibrating very quickly causing a low pitched humming sound in their ears for a few seconds. It gets harder and harder for me to breathe and there is a dull pain starting in their chest and seems to get worse when something new (in a bad way) comes up. It’s like it never ends and their head is burning up from the anger.

II. They could find a comfy spot in hall closet, or secluded place for a while till their pulse slows down. Take deep breaths, hold it, then release air SLOWLY.

III. Take antidepressants to help anxiety or smoking a cigarette.

Part 5

5. How much longer can the character go before something else goes wrong? Are they on the way to having another panic attack? The long term solution is to learn how to cope with them. Do/can they disrupt it using their mind?

»A. Were they a strong person before this event?

I. Part of this is going to be establishing the story and the character background beforehand. A panic attack should be a twist or some significant event in the story. It shouldn’t feel forced and the reader should not be taken off guard by a character “reveal” that came out of nowhere. It has more impact if the reader has sympathized with the character for a decent amount of the story.

II. If the character was weak-willed, how much damage is really caused by their “trigger”? In other words, is the character overreacting to a problem that could be easily solved or is the issue something more noteworthy? The next part of this is establishing the setup for the result. If it was an easy fix, will the character even notice it? If it was a complex problem, is this the time to reveal it to the reader?

III. Does this affect the character’s development over the course of the story? Are they now going to start doing things that we would not expect? A person that is normally superstitious and cautious about things might lose their resolve to maintain their daily routine and start taking “action” to protect themselves. They might rise to the occasion or the opposite could take place. They could be so stricken by fear or confusion that they flee from the area or discontinue any conversations they may be having.


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