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 Conflict
Notes: Disagreements happen, and while most of us don’t like confrontation, we understand we need to face these moments of friction and try to resolve them. But for some, the threat of conflict sparks such heightened anxiety a person will do anything in their power to avoid it. As you can imagine, characters who fear conflict will struggle in the story because it is something they face again and again on the path to their goal. (For a list of conflict scenarios to use in your story, go here.)
What It Looks Like
Being a people-pleaser
Being highly agreeable
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to escape when a confrontation happens
Worrying about whether something they are doing is annoying others
Resenting people for the things they do that make life harder instead of asking them to change
Flaws That May Emerge
Cowardly, Defensive, Dishonest, Evasive, Gullible, Indecisive, Inhibited, Insecure, Martyr, Needy, Nervous, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Perfectionist, Resentful, Subservient, Timid, Uncommunicative, Weak-Willed, Withdrawn, Workaholic, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Becoming overburdened because others take advantage of their inability to say no
Being viewed as timid and weak by others
Having people in their life that they don’t really like because they can’t take steps to sever the relationship
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Receiving criticism (even when it’s constructive)
Being asked to weigh in, especially during a heated exchange between others
When the character is late or there’s a delay that will be noticed by others
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.