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 Losing Autonomy
Autonomy fluctuates throughout life but will decrease with certain changes, such as getting married, having a baby, and growing old. A character who fears the loss of their independence will look for ways to maintain their freedom, sometimes at a cost to their own happiness or satisfaction.
What It Looks Like
The character moving out of their parent’s home as soon as possible
Setting clear goals for autonomy within relationships
Maintaining superficial romantic relationships so they don’t infringe on the character’s independence
Avoiding family members who exert too much influence
Hiding signs of illness or mental struggles from loved ones
Changing the topic when the subject of assistance comes up
Refusing to use tools that are meant to help, such as a cane, hearing aid, or glasses
Refusing to move in with a relative, even if doing so makes sense
The character dismissing concerns for their safety or well-being
Being deliberately cantankerous or rude to caregivers
Continuing to engage in activities that have become dangerous (driving, drinking alcohol, running, etc.)
Common Internal Struggles
Feeling pressured to let others help despite a desire to remain independent
Fearing that a loss of autonomy will result in a loss of identity
The character wondering if they’re being selfish or stubborn for declining help
Living in denial about their need for assistance
Seeking to justify any loss of cognitive or physical abilities
The character feeling as if they’re a burden for needing any kind help
Becoming paranoid about signs of further decline
Resenting the people who are trying to help, then feeling guilty about it
Feeling as if life is no longer worth living
Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Childish, Cocky, Confrontational, Defensive, Dishonest, Evasive, Hostile, Inflexible, Insecure, Irrational, Nervous, Paranoid, Resentful, Stubborn, Uncooperative, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Sustaining an injury at home and not having anyone to help
The character missing important events because they’re trying to hide a physical or mental decline
Stubbornly refusing helpful advice that would improve the character’s quality of life
Relationships being strained because the character refuses to make concessions that would result in a loss of independence
Lacking deep friendships and community because the character is off on their own
Avoiding long-term relationships that may interrupt the character’s lifestyle or routine
Angering or driving away relatives who just want to help
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being proposed to
An unplanned pregnancy
A new spouse or child requiring changes in the character’s routine
Being diagnosed with a disease that will inhibit the character’s mobility
Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (or pre-Alzheimer’s)
Witnessing the neglect of a relative in a nursing home
Being forced to move in with a parent or friend
The character seeing signs of their mental or physical decline
Something happening that causes the character to give up something they enjoy (sustaining an injury while hiking alone, memory problems making a favorite game impossible, 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.