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 Love
Being loved (and loving others) is a basic need that’s universal to all humans. Yet there are people who fear this kind of true connection and actively or subconsciously avoid it. This fear may emerge in the wake of past negative experiences with the people who should have loved the character most. It can also come about from witnessing harm done to others in the name of love.
What It Looks Like
Being the life of the party but not connecting with people on a deep level
Engaging in romantic relationships that don’t go anywhere
Avoiding any romantic relationships
Common Internal Struggles
Craving intimacy but being unable to allow themselves to be that vulnerable
Having powerful feelings for someone but being too afraid to act on them
Desiring close relationships but being unable to trust others
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Addictive, Antisocial, Cynical, Evasive, Hostile, Impulsive, Inattentive, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Nervous, Oversensitive, Reckless, Self-Destructive, Timid, Uncommunicative, Violent, Volatile, Withdrawn, Workaholic
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Consistently responding inappropriately to conflict (which results in more problems)
Potential relationships failing due to the character’s unconscious self-sabotage
Unrealistic partner expectations leading to disappointing relationships
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A romantic partner’s infidelity
Witnessing abuse (that reawakens memories of the character’s trauma or makes them leery of love)
Being rejected by a potential love interest
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.