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 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
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
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
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
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.