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.
Fear of Failure
What It Looks Like
Being content with the status quo
Taking a follower role; letting others lead
The character not doing their best
Common Internal Struggles
The character doubting their abilities or intelligence
The character being certain of their own failure when they’re entirely capable of winning
Worrying that failure will make others think less of the character
Flaws That May Emerge
Apathetic, Cautious, Cowardly, Cynical, Defensive, Devious, Evasive, Flaky, Forgetful, Frivolous, Humorless, Hypocritical, Indecisive, Inflexible, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Irresponsible, Manipulative, Mischievous, Nervous, Perfectionist, Rebellious, Reckless, Self-Destructive, Self-Indulgent, Stubborn, Temperamental, Uncooperative, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on opportunities that the character would be good at or enjoy
Being looked down on by others (for a lack of ambition or ability)
Arguing with parents and family members who call the character out for not trying hard enough
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being assigned a high-profile work project
The character’s work partner falling ill, leaving the character to handle things on their own
Being asked to join a committee or volunteer group
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.
New to One Stop for Writers? Swing by and check out our video walkthrough, because it’s time to change the writing game.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Jan Sikes says