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 Abandonment
While death and loss are a part of life, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. Being left behind (whether the leaving is voluntary or a choice) by someone important is something that many people and characters can worry about, even to the point of it becoming a fear that takes over their life.
This is one of the worst feelings to experience and it can be inflicted by anyone close to the character—a family member (parent, spouse, sibling, child), lover or romantic interest, best friend, mentor, etc. Someone who has experienced abandonment may develop a debilitating fear of it occurring again, but so can people who have never gone through it because they know the anguish it causes and don’t want it to happen to them.
Whether it looks like guardedness or holding on too tightly, a fear of abandonment can manifest in a number of ways.
What It Looks Like
Maintaining shallow relationships (so the character never grows close to someone who could leave them)
Reluctance to fully commit to a relationship
Sabotaging promising relationships by pushing the other person away, treating them badly, cheating on them, abandoning them first, etc.
Common Internal Struggles
The character blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault
Struggling with anxiety or depression
Being tempted to do something they don’t want to to keep the other party happy
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Addictive, Childish, Controlling, Cynical, Disloyal, Evasive, Impulsive, Insecure, Irrational, Jealous, Manipulative, Martyr, Needy, Nervous, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Possessive, Subservient, Timid, Volatile, Weak-Willed, Withdrawn, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Having many shallow relationships and few deep, meaningful ones
Struggling to engage with new people because the character is too afraid
Getting stuck in a cycle of not wanting to be abandoned but constantly exhibiting behaviors that drive people away
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being asked out by someone
A romantic relationship moving to a new level of commitment (becoming exclusive, moving in together, getting married, etc.)
A move that will require the character to start and develop new relationships
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.