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 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
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
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)
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
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.
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.