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 of Certain Kinds of People
Notes: A person who has been traumatized may become fearful of the kind of person who hurt them—men, women, people of a certain race or nationality, members of law enforcement, the government, etc. There can be other causes, such as an irrational fear resulting from a mental illness or being conditioned in their upbringing to be afraid of certain people groups. Regardless of how it arises, this goes beyond a simple trust issue; a fearful mindset toward certain kinds of people will restrict the character’s options and who they’re willing to interact with, limiting them in many ways.
What It Looks Like
Avoiding places where the people they fear are likely to be
Becoming anxious when an opportunity arises that will bring the character in contact with the people they fear
Speaking disparagingly about the people
Gravitating toward media that affirms their bias (watching movies with “those kinds of people” as the bad guys, subscribing to podcasts or YouTube channels that affirm their beliefs, etc.)
Their demeanor changing when someone from that people group enters their space (falling silent, not making eye contact, watching them furtively, becoming confrontational, leaving the room, etc.)
Showing signs of physical distress when faced with the people they fear: going pale, extremities trembling, accelerated breathing, clenched fists, etc.
Crossing the street to avoid close proximity to those people
Taking a work-from-home job that ensures the character will never run into the people they fear
Surrounding themselves with their own kind of people (hanging out with women, the character immersing themselves into their own culture
The character worrying so much about running into those people when they go out that they become homebound
Feeling endangered when those kind of people are around
Others viewing the character as ignorant, biased, or discriminatory
Strained relationships with family members because of the character’s ideas about certain people
Speaking out against that people group in an effort to protect or inform others
Common Internal Struggles
The character being challenged when they meet someone they fear who seems to defy their ideas
Wanting to shelter loved ones from certain kinds of people but being unable to do so
Recognizing that the fear may be irrational but not being able to change the fear response
The character knowing their fear is interfering with their friendships but clinging to it anyway
Seeing so clearly that the fear makes sense but not being able to convince others
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on social interactions where certain people might be present
Being limited to certain professions or work projects
Having few friends (because they can’t accept the character’s mindset toward certain people)
Other people not being able to relate to the character because their ideas are so “out there”
The character constantly having to defend themselves to people who disagree with them
Friction with the character’s children when other parents won’t let their kids associate with them because they don’t want them exposed to harmful ideas
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to work with the type of person the character is afraid of
A child, sibling, or other loved one dating “those kind of people”
A person in this group being promoted to a position of power or influence
Being slighted or even marginally disrespected by this kind of person
Other Fear Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (16 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
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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.