Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental illness, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.
In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.
This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc.
Fear will hold your character back in the story and affect how they see themselves and the world. Below is a sample of the entry found in our Fear Thesaurus at One Stop for Writers. To access the full entry and the full range of topics in this powerful show-don’t-tell THESAURUS database, start a free trial.
A Fear of Leading
Leading is not easy. It means being responsible and accountable, making decisions that will have a wider impact, and facing scrutinization for certain actions taken. This fear can cause characters to avoid stepping forward when asked (or needed), resent having this role thrust upon them, and even affect those already in a leadership role.
What It Looks Like
Resistance to being in charge
Avoiding making a final decision
Not wanting to be responsible in bigger ways
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to hide from responsibility, but feeling cowardly to want that
Wanting to make things better, but only seeing one’s own shortcomings
Believing leading would be a disaster (if the character hasn’t taken on the role yet)
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Defensive, Disorganized, Evasive, Humorless, Impatient, Inattentive, Indecisive, Insecure, Irresponsible, Jealous, Nervous, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Uncommunicative, Withdrawn, Workaholic, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Holding back great ideas out of the fear of being singled out and asked to lead
Suffering with a less-than-ideal status quo
Being unhappy in a follower role
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being asked to take something over
A survival situation where the character is the best suited to lead
Being the oldest in an emergency, so siblings look to the character to lead
Other Fear Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Fear is a Crucial Piece of Your Character’s Arc
A character’s fear is defining, determining who they are at the start of your story and what they’ll have to overcome to succeed in the end. Don’t overlook or underestimate this vital piece of the character’s arc. Unearth their greatest fear at One Stop for Writers.
The Fear Thesaurus is part of the largest, fiction-specific description database available.
Access it here.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.