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 Feeling Unsafe
Safety is a basic human need. When it’s lost, everything can feel like a threat. The analogy being scared of your own shadow isn’t far from the truth for a character with this fear, which can progress to the point of them being afraid to leave home. Their unease can be focused on certain locations and people or spread to everyone and everywhere, including their safe places.
What It Looks Like
Always erring on the side of caution
Being short-tempered and snappy
Common Internal Struggles
Feeling compelled to flee a situation despite there being no visible threat
Wanting to go out with friends but being too overwhelmed with worry
Missing out on professional or relational opportunities due to a fear of traveling alone, at night, or in a strange place
Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Apathetic, Cowardly, Defensive, Evasive, Indecisive, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Morbid, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Subservient, Superstitious, Suspicious, Timid, Withdrawn, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Having to schedule their plans around other people’s timetables
Living as a recluse
Hiding from the real world so much that they become out of touch with it and the people in it
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A stranger approaching the character’s house at night
Feeling watched in a restaurant or store
A loved one getting involved with someone the character doesn’t trust
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.