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.
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
The character seeking reassurance from others that they’re not taking on certain traits or attitudes
Going to extremes—e.g., someone who struggles with a forbidden sexual desire deciding to live a life of complete abstinence
Voicing criticism of people who represent what the character fears
Becoming defensive if someone says something that suggests the character is similar to what they hate
Living a persona (pursuing hobbies, embracing opinions, etc.) that isn’t true to who they are
Avoiding interactions with the kind of people the character doesn’t want to emulate
Cutting people out of their life who represent what the character hates or who push them in that direction
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
Being drawn to the very people the character wants to distance themselves from
Feeling intense shame and self-loathing (for wanting to engage in certain activities, for being related to someone who exhibits something abhorrent, etc.)
The character wanting to be at peace with themselves but being unable to accept certain aspects of who they are
The character constantly searching themselves for signs that they’re becoming what they hate
The character doubting their instincts and motivations
Living in constant fear that someone will find out their deepest fears or desires
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
Abusing drugs or alcohol to combat their fears or deal with perceived failures
Living a lie to fit in with others
Being unable to pursue things the character really wants because they’re associated with the thing they trying not to become
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
Feeling a compulsion to do the very thing that would turn the character into what they fear
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.
Jan Sikes says
This is priceless!! Pinned for future reference!