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 Leaving No Legacy
There are different kinds of legacies. Sometimes, it’s accumulating something substantial, such as money or land, for one’s children. In other cases, a legacy is a worthwhile accomplishment that will be remembered after the character’s death. Legacy is often tied up in purpose, resulting in a character with this fear going to any length to leave their mark and prove that their life had meaning and substance.
What It Looks Like
Accumulating wealth or status (degrees, membership in exclusive clubs, etc.)
Protecting the legacy above all else
Common Internal Struggles
Feeling guilty for missing family milestones in pursuit of the legacy
Wanting to leave a legacy despite knowing it won’t last forever
Grappling with the fear of dying without having left a mark
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Antisocial, Callous, Cocky, Compulsive, Dishonest, Extravagant, Fanatical, Foolish, Hypocritical, Impatient, Inattentive, Materialistic, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Pretentious, Unethical, Workaholic
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
An inability to balance the legacy with other areas of life
Missing important family events because of the character’s single-minded dedication to the legacy
Being unable to enjoy life outside of the legacy
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Seeing someone fade into obscurity after their death
The character’s parent dying with nothing to leave for their heirs
A long-standing record of the character’s being broken
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.