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.
Fear of Putting Yourself Out There
Notes: Have you ever voiced an idea or offered to step up only to be met with a scoff or outright dismissal? If so, you know what it’s like to feel minimized, and each time it happens, it becomes harder to put yourself out there.
Characters who have been shot down repeatedly may start to fear it will always happen when they try to step up or add their ideas, and so they stop doing so. This fear can lead to severe frustration (as the character feels stymied), as well as low self-worth.
What It Looks Like
Keeping to the background
Not speaking up or sharing ideas (unless forced to)
The character keeping their head down at work
Common Internal Struggles
Frustration at feeling held back, especially when a bias is at work (not being taken seriously because of their age, gender, or other identifier)
Having to keep anger in check
Wanting something but self-doubt making it hard to follow through (entering a contest, applying for a position in management, asking someone for a date)
Flaws That May Emerge
Defensive, Gullible, Inhibited, Insecure, Irresponsible, Jealous, Martyr, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Resentful, Subservient, Timid, Uncommunicative, Weak-Willed, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Having to make excuses to not go out with friends
Wanting what others have (fulfilled dreams, relationships, achievements, etc.)
Missing out on a promotion or job position the character is perfect for
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being asked to take on a task that will be scrutinized
Discovering a contest or competition that offers a reward that will see the character’s dream realized
Being financially strapped and having to ask for a raise
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.
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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.