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.
Not Being Believed
The fear of not being believed often comes from a place of abuse. A character who made themselves vulnerable to someone (a relative, a corporation, the media, etc.) and was then accused of dishonesty, unreliability, or worse—it’s enough to turn that character into a bubbling mess of self-doubt and paranoia. There is nothing like an abuse of power to send one spiraling into a dark abyss that takes years to climb out of.
What It Looks Like
Only telling people what the character thinks they want to hear
Only speaking up when there is zero doubt that what the character is saying is true
Being loose with the truth (because no one will believe them anyway)
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to speak up about an injustice but worrying they won’t be believed
Feeling guilt or shame despite having done nothing wrong
Being paranoid that people are conspiring against them
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Antisocial, Apathetic, Cynical, Defensive, Dishonest, Evasive, Hostile, Inattentive, Inhibited, Insecure, Nervous, Nosy, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Resentful, Suspicious, Timid, Uncommunicative, Volatile, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Living in isolation
Struggling professionally due to a distrust of those in authority
Being ruled by fear or anger
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Watching someone go public with a similar problem and lose all credibility in the media
Witnessing behavior at work that should be reported
The character testifying about a crime and their word being questioned
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.