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 health condition, 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.
A Secret Being Revealed
You better believe your character has something to hide. Small indiscretions—cheating on a diet, lying to a loved one—are one thing, but big secrets have the ability to completely destroy your character. If they’re hiding a shame-based secret, one that is tied to who they are at their core, or something they believe could train-wreck their life (or someone else’s), the fear of it coming to light can push them to rearrange their existence around keeping it hidden, resulting in massive fallout in many areas of the character’s life.
What It Looks Like
Withdrawing from others
Claiming that events from the past happened differently than they actually did
Common Internal Struggles
Feeling guilty for not being honest with others
Knowing the secret should be shared but being too afraid of other people finding out
Obsessing over interactions with others to see if they might suspect the character of hiding something
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Confrontational, Dishonest, Evasive, Flaky, Inflexible, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Nervous, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Reckless, Self-Destructive, Timid, Uncommunicative, Volatile, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being seen by others as dishonest, flaky, or evasive
Sabotaging relationships with people who get too close to the truth
Having to avoid certain people (because they share the secret, they’re nosy, etc.)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Someone saying something that makes the character think they might know what’s being hidden
The character being given an ultimatum by a spouse or partner that requires them to come clean
Encountering someone who knows about the secret or played a part in its genesis
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.