Fears can be a struggle 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 condition, or stem from a past wounding event, some fears can be debilitating, influencing 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. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters for a variety of reasons, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.
Fear of the Government
Notes: Fear is powerful, and it’s unfortunately widely used to manipulate emotion. When politicians use it to further their ambitions, it builds distrust. For some, this can turn into a fear of government due to the belief that those in power (or the system itself) are so corrupt, they’re an enemy of the people. This fear can have many layers and be taken to extremes, so this entry covers a range of possibilities for your characters.
What It Looks Like
Voicing pessimism about the direction the country is headed
Becoming obsessed with a particular viewpoint
Refusing to believe anything reported from the government
Focusing on abuses of power (and ignoring instances when it’s used for good)
Paying close attention to rumors and what the government tries to deny
Gravitating toward and feeling safe among people who voice the same fears
Believing everyone in power is a manipulator
Assuming malice—for example, assuming a bill passed because it grants someone more power rather than because it will benefit people
Feeling unsafe (believing the government is failing to protect its citizens)
Heightened anxiety when watching the news or scrolling news feeds
A tendency to look for a hidden motivation or agenda
Being distrustful of technology because it can be used to monitor and track people
Becoming increasingly agitated during political campaigning and on election day
Not voting out of the belief that everyone’s corrupt, so what’s the point?
Becoming more susceptible to related fears
Believing the country is under attack from within
Gravitating to a single “source of truth” (a TV station, a website, etc.) that confirms the fear rather than considering contrasting ideas from many sources
Becoming easily provoked (or enraged)
Being pulled toward political outsiders or disruptors (because of a belief that their unconventional ways or outsider status might make them less corrupt)
Purchasing weapons and investing in safeguards because the government can’t be trusted
A tendency to connect events to a bigger picture when there’s no evidence
Becoming evangelical about a view (and feeling others must be educated to the truth)
Moving off-grid, so the government has less control over the character’s life
Being drawn to conspiracy theories
Establishing a group of like-minded people to actively work against the government
Becoming an anarchist
Participating in domestic terrorism
Common Internal Struggles
Fearing for the safety of loved ones and not understanding why they don’t share the same sense of urgency
Believing most people are brainwashed but being unable to say it without ruining relationships
Wanting to do something to take the country back but fearing what the government will do
Judging people who see the world differently (and having to hide it)
Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Confrontational, Disrespectful, Fanatical, Gossipy, Gullible, Hypocritical, Ignorant, Impulsive, Indecisive, Inflexible, Insecure, Irrational, Judgmental, Know-It-All, Melodramatic, Obsessive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Prejudiced, Suspicious, Tactless, Temperamental, Uncooperative, Violent, Volatile, Withdrawn, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Pessimism limiting the character’s ability to enjoy the present
Avoiding social events where conversations are likely to turn political
Friction with family members who are intolerant of the character’s views (or vice versa)
Fear about the future stealing the character’s joy, making it hard for them to build toward something better
Using the government as a scapegoat for everything, and missing opportunities to take personal responsibility and grow
The fear pushing the character towards irrational beliefs and ideas
The character’s social group being small because their ideas scare off potential friends
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A family member getting into politics
Political instability that turns violent on home soil
An actual or perceived government overreach of power
Seeing a governmental power grab in another country
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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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.