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 Mediocrity
The fear of mediocrity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can drive the character to do their very best, rising to all occasions and overcoming the obstacles that stand in their way on the path to success. The dark side of this fear comes when it is based on external validation. Needing the admiration of their peers instead of basing their success and value on their uniqueness and areas of strength is a recipe for disaster.
What It Looks Like
The character being hyper-critical of themselves
Searching for purpose in life
Wanting to be extraordinary
Common Internal Struggles
Putting off a new endeavor or adventure for fear of criticism
Not choosing a desired career path because it’s too ordinary
The character wrestling with depression when they fall short of a goal
Flaws That May Emerge
Controlling, Extravagant, Haughty, Impulsive, Insecure, Irrational, Jealous, Judgmental, Know-It-All, Materialistic, Needy, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Pretentious, Resentful, Self-Destructive, Self-Indulgent, Selfish, Vain, Workaholic
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being dissatisfied with significant accomplishments
Constantly being plagued with self-doubt about their abilities
The character living below their potential because they’re afraid to take risks
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being eclipsed by a successful sibling
The character not winning a competition or contest
Being told they will never amount to anything
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.