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 Relational Commitment
What It Looks Like
A lackadaisical attitude and approach to dating and friendships
Dating many people at once to maintain superficial relationships
Breaking things off if a relationship gets too serious
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting connection but being unable to move past a certain point to achieve it
Experience fight-flight-or-freeze responses when commitment becomes a possibility
Doing things to push the other person away, then feeling guilt, shame, or self-loathing
Flaws that May Emerge
Abrasive, Addictive, Antisocial, Dishonest, Disloyal, Evasive, Indecisive, Inflexible, Inhibited, Manipulative, Pessimistic, Rebellious, Self-Destructive, Self-Indulgent, Selfish, Stubborn, Temperamental, Uncommunicative, Uncooperative, Volatile, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Spending a lot of nights alone
Being perceived as selfish and superficial by others
Being a third wheel at social events
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A romantic partner proposing marriage, suggesting they move in together, or asking to meet the character’s parents
A romantic partner saying I love you
Someone important to the character dying and reinforcing the knowledge that everyone eventually leaves so it’s best not to get too close
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.