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 Losing Other People’s Respect
Gaining and keeping the respect of our peers is such an innate desire; even those who claim they don’t care what people think of them often do desire respect on some level. When this desire turns into a fear, it can manifest in a variety of ways that may seem contradictory depending on who the character is with and what’s expected of them. Whether it be in the workplace or the character’s personal relationships, respect is hard won, and the fear of losing it can limit their personal growth and be devastating to their mindset.
What It Looks Like
Mimicking others to adhere to the group’s standards
Being susceptible to peer pressure
Avoiding confrontations to keep the peace
Projecting an air of confidence
Changing personalities depending on who the character is with
Often being perceived as a teacher’s pet, brownnoser, or goody two-shoes
Being a high achiever
Perfectionism at work or school
Taking on other people’s responsibilities
Exhibiting workaholic tendencies
Being thoughtful and considerate to the point of annoyance
Being a rule follower
Volunteering for work, projects, or responsibilities
Taking on a submissive role in relationships
The character avoiding tasks they don’t believe they can do well
Pushing themselves past reasonable limits to make a good impression
Common Internal Struggles
Replaying previous conversations obsessively and focusing what should have been said
Fearing change and new expectations from others
The character knowing the life they want but being reluctant to step toward it
Obsessing over worst-case scenarios
Struggling with anxiety and insecurity
Questioning their own thoughts and beliefs
Being afraid to speak up for fear of peers thinking less of them
Not trusting their intuition
Feeling powerless, as if the opinions of others control their lives
Struggling with self-loathing over being unable to stand up for themselves
Being indecisive due to overthinking all the possible outcomes of a situation
Berating themselves over mistakes made
Flaws That May Emerge
Indecisive, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Martyr, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Perfectionist, Resentful, Self-Destructive, Subservient, Timid, Weak-Willed, Withdrawn, Workaholic, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Sacrificing their social life to make a good impression at work
Overfilling their schedule to please and/or impress their peers, parents, or bosses
Dating or marrying the “wrong” person because it will please the character’s parents
The character helping others pursue their dreams instead of following their heart
Succumbing to the pressures around them instead of standing on their own ideals
Frequently overlooking slights and disrespect from others
Missing opportunities to grow for fear of making a mistake
Losing sight of who they are and what they really believe (because they’re always capitulating to others)
The character’s own needs going unmet while they’re always doing for others
Constantly competing with others to maintain a someone’s respect (a parent, boss, mentor, potential love interest, etc.)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Changing schools or jobs; having to meet new people and figure out their preferences or expectations
Seeing another person fall from grace
Overhearing gossip about a mistake someone made
Being challenged by peers to do something that defies the character’s moral code
The character’s social standing falling because of a new and popular arrival
Making a social blunder
Having to make a decision where either choice will disappoint someone important
A sibling distinguishing themselves, making the character feel as if they must do something exceptional to stand out
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.