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 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
The character having a panic attack if they’re unexpectedly stuck in a crowd
Always asking to meet at smaller venues for social gatherings
The character hiding in a corner or out-of-the-way place when they encounter a crowd
Making excuses not to attend certain events
Having an escape plan in mind when a crowded venue can’t be avoided
Scoping out exits upon arrival
Clinging to friends or family at large events
Scanning the crowd for points of danger
Timing attendance to coincide with off-peak times or low volumes of people
Experiencing sensory overload in a crowd from the noise or proximity of too many people
Always leaving large events early (making a token appearance)
Needing time to recharge and be alone after being in a crowd
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
Struggling between wanting to feel safe but not wanting to miss an important event
Feeling dissatisfied with their limited scope of activities
Wondering if they’re overreacting
Being unable to carry on a conversation with a stranger and feeling ashamed or insecure about it
Seeing pictures online of events they missed and feeling left out, wishing they could have participated
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
The character being unable to enjoy the events they do attend because of worry and fear
Turning down promising job opportunities with large companies
Hurting their career prospects by refusing to attend company gatherings
Worsening symptoms leading to agoraphobia
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
Getting lost in a crowd (if the character is a child)
An outbreak of a contagious disease
Family or friends downplaying the character’s fear
Being forced to attend a large work gathering
Being surrounded by people and feeling the onset of a panic attack
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.