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 What One Hates
Some characters with this fear are worried about becoming someone dark and dangerous—a murderer, an abusive parent, or a psychopath. Others might worry about becoming the person they never thought they could or would be when they were young, from a mercenary capitalist to something more mundane, like a stay-at-home mom driving a minivan. This fear, taken to an extreme, could lead a character to not fully explore their own psyche, emotions, personality, and needs, giving them a skewed view of who they are and hindering the development of their true self.
What It Looks Like
Practicing asceticism or strict religious practices to prevent unwanted behaviors
Avoiding certain groups of people or situations where the undesired behavior may be triggered
Attending long-term therapy
Common Internal Struggles
Feeling guilty over secret desires to be “that person”
The character trying to accept facets of themselves while also staying true to their morals or principles
Struggling to avoid losing control of emotions or actions
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Controlling, Defensive, Devious, Dishonest, Evasive, Hypocritical, Insecure, Macho, Martyr, Melodramatic, Needy, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Rebellious, Resentful, Self-Destructive, Withdrawn, Workaholic
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Coping with anxiety and depression
Not considering other sides of an issue, especially ones that oppose the character’s beliefs
Difficulty developing deep relationships with others because the character doesn’t believe they’re worthy or doesn’t trust themselves to make the right choices
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to associate with family members who embody what the character is trying to escape
Seeing media coverage of the type of person they are avoiding themselves
A situation that tempts the character to take a step toward what they’re trying to avoid
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.