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 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
Doing what they are told, even when they disagree with it
Not sharing passions, interests, or ideas for fear of being mocked
Not sharing achievements or personal good news
Avoiding people with big personalities who have egos to match
Passing on ideas to others who will be taken seriously
Not wanting to talk about themselves and shifting the focus to someone else
Avoiding risky topics in a conversation (to keep the status quo)
Not bidding on a job or applying for a promotion
Avoiding competitive situations
Not volunteering because they believe they won’t be wanted
Making anonymous suggestions or feedback
Avoiding situations that could lead to being in the spotlight
Underachieving to avoid failures that others will judge
Staying in the comfort zone
Choosing to be around people who are “safe” because they share common ground
Self-monitoring behavior to make sure it aligns with what others do
Difficulty with self-advocating
Having a hard time saying no or asking people to respect boundaries
Becoming a perfectionist
Seeking out extra training or education to the point of becoming over-qualified
Not approaching others in social situations
Hesitating and reading the room before voicing thoughts or suggestions
Waiting to be noticed rather than interjecting
Doing what others want to do rather than make suggestions that can be shot down
Not saying anything when people joke the character is too quiet or not assertive enough
Being sensitive to jokes or friendly jabs
Choosing to stay home rather than go out
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)
Wanting to become more assertive but being unable to
Beating themselves up for what they should have said and done but didn’t
Believing the lies (that they aren’t qualified, that they are too young, etc.)
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
Wanting to date someone but they get tired of waiting and move on to someone else
Well-meaning friends trying to ‘fix’ the character (coaching them to be more assertive, stand up and be noticed, swing for the fences, etc.) as if this is easy to do
Being taken advantage of because they can’t set boundaries
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
Asking someone to go out on a date
Having to market and promote a product the character created
Meeting a partner’s family for the first time
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.