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 Humiliation
Humiliation is similar to embarrassment, but it tends to have a public angle, occurring in front of a group of people or friends. The resulting unpleasant emotion is one your character will naturally want to avoid; experiencing it enough could create a fear for the character that causes them to go to great lengths to avoid potentially humiliating situations. Closely related to this is a fear of public speaking, which will be added to our thesaurus soon.
What It Looks Like
Being easily embarrassed
The character overcompensating to prove their worth
Disassociating from persons who have caused humiliation in the past
Common Internal Struggles
Having trust issues
The character feeling paranoid that someone is out to get them
Struggling with perfectionism
Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Defensive, Gullible, Haughty, Inhibited, Insecure, Martyr, Melodramatic, Morbid, Needy, Nervous, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Suspicious, Timid, Withdrawn, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on good opportunities because they include an element of risk or a possibility of public embarrassment
The character lashing out at perceived humiliation where none was intended, causing problems in relationships
Lingering anger over past humiliations causing the character to be stuck—unable to move past the event
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being set up on a blind date
Having to walk in front of a group of people or down a flight of stairs to make an entrance
The character having to work with a person who once humiliated them
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.
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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.