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. 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, 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 Growing Old
While growing old is a natural part of life, it’s not always an easy process. Someone who has always looked young, whose identity is tied to their attractiveness, or whose occupation relies on their mobility and independence can develop a fear in this area. Whether they’re triggered by their changing looks, a potential mental decline, a physical weakening of the body, or death itself, someone with this fear may become driven to do everything in their power to keep the inevitable at bay.
What It Looks Like
Incessantly working out
Following a strict and involved skin care regimen
Common Internal Struggles
The character obsessing over changes in their appearance or mental capabilities
Worrying that others also notice the changes
Seeing deficiencies where there are none
Flaws That May Emerge
Childish, Compulsive, Defensive, Frivolous, Inflexible, Insecure, Irrational, Morbid, Nagging, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Pushy, Rebellious, Reckless, Stubborn, Vain, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
The character spending too much money to maintain their appearance, purchase supplements, etc.
Frequent surgeries and recoveries stealing the character’s free time
The character spending so much time on the activities that will keep them young that they pass up other opportunities
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A friend or associate passing away
Seeing a drastic change in an older friend’s appearance
The character experiencing a physical change associated with aging, such as gray hair, age spots, or a drop in metabolism or libido
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.