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 a Loved One Dying
At some point, everyone loses a loved one. It’s an inevitable part of life. We all worry about it to a certain extent, but for some characters, the fear of someone close to them dying can take over their life. Sometimes it’s rooted in the character not wanting to see their loved one suffer, but it can also be centered on uncertainty about death itself, the character’s ability to cope on their own, or how their life will change with their beloved no longer in it.
What It Looks Like
Being overprotective of a loved one’s health
Refusing to talk about the possibility of a loved one’s death (even if it’s likely to happen)
Being morbidly obsessed with death or funereal trappings, such as Victorian death masks and portraits
Limiting a child’s freedom and independence to keep them safe—not allowing them to drive, stay out late, or visit new places, for instance
Being obsessed with germs and sanitation
Forcing family members to take part in health crazes that promote longevity
Holding onto things as they are instead of allowing people and situations to evolve
Having panic attacks when thinking about the death of a loved one
Refusing to make contingency plans for a loved one’s death (not buying life insurance or making a will, etc.)
Refusing to accept a loved one’s illness or terminal diagnosis
Visiting psychics to gain insight into a loved one’s well-being and future
Investing in extensive security measures to keep family members safe
Common Internal Struggles
Obsessing about a loved one’s death and what it would mean for the character
Wanting to hold on tightly to a child while also knowing they need freedom to grow
Letting anxiety and fear control decision-making
Fearing the passage of time despite recognizing its inevitability
Knowing their fears are irrational but being unable to overcome them
Worrying constantly about worst-case scenarios despite knowing they’re unlikely to occur
Understanding that death is a part of life but being unable to accept it
Wanting to control a loved one (to keep them safe) but fearing it will drive them away
Flaws That May Emerge
Controlling, Fanatical, Fussy, Gullible, Irrational, Melodramatic, Morbid, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Paranoid, Possessive, Superstitious, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
The character’s neediness pushing loved ones away
Losing sleep from worry and anxiety
The character neglecting their own self-care because they’re so consumed with the health of others
Being plagued with worry and unable to enjoy life when the loved one is away
Being unable to watch the news or participate in social media because the stories about people losing loved ones are too upsetting
The character’s relationship with their children deteriorating because the kids are tired of being smothered and not trusted
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A close friend unexpectedly losing a family member
Seeing a TV show or movie in which the character loses a spouse or child
A mass shooting or natural disaster resulting in extensive loss of life
A loved one having a near-death experience
A loved one becoming terminally ill or being diagnosed with a debilitating disease
Discovering that a child has been engaging in risky behaviors (racing their car, skydiving, driving under the influence, etc.)
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.
William Cowie says
Thank you for another good one! I have a related question, and that deals with this fear turning into a reality, i.e. actually losing a loved one, especially suddenly and unexpectedly. Looking through my Emotional Thesaurus, I couldn’t find anything dealing with this specific situation. Sadness and grief are dealt with in a general way, but I was wondering if you might consider adding an entry dealing with this loss. I wrote a scene in which a woman is told her husband died in a car accident and my description was universally panned as being flat and inadequate. Did I miss an entry you made? If not, how about writers helping this writer with an entry about how a woman deals with the grief of such a sudden, unexpected loss 🙂