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.
Fear of Being Watched
A certain amount of positive attention is usually welcomed—but not by everyone. A character with a sensitivity in this area may develop an aversion to being stared at, scrutinized, or actively watched by someone else. Characters with this fear can maintain meaningful relationships with others, but their personal boundaries and what they’re comfortable with will differ greatly from most people’s, putting them at odds with others and making it more difficult for them to connect.
What It Looks Like
Not making eye contact
Being combative to stop someone from staring (glaring back at them, calling them out, starting a fight, etc.)
Scanning the room to make sure no one is staring
Common Internal Struggles
Being confused when the character believes that others are rudely scrutinized him or her and a trusted friend claims this isn’t the case
Struggling with paranoia
The character wanting to attend a party or social event but not feeling like they can
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Antisocial, Compulsive, Confrontational, Defensive, Disrespectful, Evasive, Hostile, Impulsive, Inflexible, Inhibited, Irrational, Melodramatic, Nervous, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Stubborn, Superstitious, Suspicious, Temperamental, Uncooperative, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Frequent friction with friends and loved ones when they give the character too much direct attention
Clashing with law enforcement personnel, who see the character as cagey or evasive
Living an isolated life
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Losing a supportive family member or friend who understood and accepted the character
Facing a situation where scrutiny can’t be avoided (a meeting with Human Resources about a work infraction, being pulled over by a police officer, etc.)
A family member being thrust into the public eye, resulting in less privacy for the character
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.