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 of Change
Most people are averse to change at some level, and a certain amount of unease when it comes to change is normal. It only becomes a problem when a person is so determined to keeping things the same—possibly because they don’t want to give up control or are afraid of the unknown—that their quality of life is impacted, relationships are damaged, and they’re unable to grow and evolve in a healthy manner.
What It Looks Like
Dismissing new ideas without considering them
Humoring people; giving the appearance of considering something new but always rejecting the opportunity
Avoiding making decisions that require change (so the status quo can be protected)
Reacting emotionally rather than logically
Using outdated sources or ineffective arguments to make a point
Becoming emotionally activated when new ideas are being considered
Clinging tightly to “old school” methods: resisting technology, ignoring scientific advances, rejecting tools that deviate from what they’re used to, etc.
Loyalty (to people, a job, a community, etc.)
Repairing and fixing material objects rather than replacing them
Living in the same house even when it’s falling apart or the property value has skyrocketed
Sticking close to home; not traveling far or taking long trips
Frequent strife with family members who want to make changes the character is resistant to
Resenting others for moving on and leaving the character behind
Going to extremes to avoid change (manipulating others, lying, being mean or lashing out at someone who is suggesting a change, etc.)
Being more interested in the past than the future
Common Internal Struggles
Disliking being left alone/behind but being unable to embrace the changes required to keep up with others
Feeling selfish for being so unbending but not knowing how to be more flexible
Wanting to go back in time to when things were happier or simpler
Struggling with anxiety or depression
Feeling stuck in a situation but being unwilling to make changes
Flaws That May Emerge
Confrontational, Controlling, Cynical, Defensive, Evasive, Hostile, Ignorant, Inflexible, Irrational, Judgmental, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Possessive, Resentful, Stubborn, Uncooperative
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Staying in a situation that makes the character unhappy or is unhealthy because it’s preferable to facing the unknown
Difficulty making even small changes to a daily routine
Missing out on meaningful activities with others (a trip with friends, a family reunion, dinner at a friend’s house, etc.)
Becoming isolated from others
Difficulty utilizing modern advances that most people enjoy because the learning curve is too great
Always having to make excuses for turning down an opportunity
Avoiding people who are likely to suggest activities or changes that threaten the character
Always needing to do things their own way; resisting new methods or ideas that would make their life easier
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
New technology or processes at work that must be learned and used
A scenario requiring the character to move (the house being condemned, no longer being able to pay rent, etc.)
A spouse having to move into a retirement home, leaving the character on their own
Grown children moving across the country and asking the character to come with them
The culture shifting to embrace ideas the character disagrees with
Being given a new phone, a computer, or some other tool the character isn’t comfortable with but must learn to integrate into their life
The character’s children wanting to deviate from a long-held tradition
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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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.