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 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 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
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
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)
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
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.