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 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
Common Internal Struggles
Replaying previous conversations obsessively and focusing on 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
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
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
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.