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 Crowds
Crowds make a lot of people nervous. Some people simply fear the large numbers of people present; for others, it may be a heightened sense of perceived danger and unknown behavior, being left alone in the crowd, or the overload of the sensory experience of sounds and smells and even of being touched. Your character’s fear of crowds may be the result of a natural aversion to groups of strangers, concerns about germs or contagion, connected to a wounding event, or tied to a fear of having a panic attack in public. For the latter, see the AGORAPHOBIA entry.
What It Looks Like
Refusing to attend crowded events, like graduations, large family reunions, and concerts
Avoiding amusement parks, zoos, fairs, and other cultural destinations
Having difficulty taking public transportation
Common Internal Struggles
The character wondering what’s wrong with them
Second-guessing their own feelings and fear
Growing angry at what they feel is their own shortcoming or irrational fear
Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Compulsive, Fussy, Inflexible, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Obsessive, Paranoid, Resentful, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to maintain stable friendships or romantic relationships
Barriers arising between themselves and family members who downplay or don’t understand their fear
Missing out on important milestones for family and friends
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Seeing a news report of a tragic event that played out in a crowd (at a train station, amusement park, etc.)
Being asked to speak at a friend’s wedding reception
Being triggered regarding a past trauma that occurred in a crowded area
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.
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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.