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.
Becoming a Parent
Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment and will naturally come with some anxieties. But for some characters, this natural worry can tip into a motivating fear. It could stem from a deep aversion to being responsible for another person. It might arise from a physical or mental condition that limits the character or they’re afraid of passing on to a child. For others, potential parenthood can act as a trigger that reminds the character of their own past trauma. Whatever the cause, this fear will be the driving factor behind decisions that will greatly impact the character’s life.
What It Looks Like
Avoiding situations where they would be responsible for children, such as babysitting or volunteering with young people
Becoming a pro-choice activist
Common Internal Struggles
The character fearing they would be like their own parents if they had children
Feeling selfish or cowardly for the decision not to have kids
Desiring intimacy in a relationship but being too afraid of becoming pregnant
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Frequently changing romantic partners before things get too serious
Ongoing strife with a spouse or partner who wants to have children
Friends and loved ones not understanding the character’s choice to not have kids
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
An unexpected pregnancy
Falling in love with someone who wants to have children
Being asked about when the character is going to start a family
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.