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 Never Being Happy
A character who is afraid they will never be happy may feel unworthy of happiness. It’s also possible they’ve grown weary of life’s many disappointments and don’t want to get their hopes up any more. This fear creates a dichotomy of emotions, with the character either spending all their time chasing happiness or running from it.
What It Looks Like
Searching for the one thing that will light the fire within them
Trying many different hobbies and pastimes
Researching philosophies, religions, and other ideologies
Spending a lot of time alone, soul-searching
Hopping from job to job trying to find the perfect one
Abusing drugs or alcohol, either as a way to find peace or numb the pain
Retreating or hiding from the world
Lashing out at others in frustration
Trying to be perfect
Engaging in negative self-talk
Struggling with making decisions
The character being unable to make a move toward something they desire
Being unable to find things that excite them
Hating life and everything in it
Having a “why me” attitude
Common Internal Struggles
The character being unable to enjoy happy moments because they’re worrying about what could go wrong
Feeling numb even when something wonderful has happened
Focusing on past hurts, even when things have gotten better
Worrying about the future instead of being grateful for the good things in the present
The character struggling with anxiety
Being unable to see their own value
Experiencing guilt or shame though they have done nothing wrong
Flaws That May Emerge
Inattentive, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Melodramatic, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Reckless, Resentful, Self-Destructive, Subservient, Timid, Uncommunicative, Whiny, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Having a difficult time making friends
The character not going after what they want in life
Foregoing promising opportunities; settling for the status quo
Chronic substance abuse
Being stymied by depression, social anxiety, etc.
Being paranoid that everyone is plotting against them
Believing that fate/God/the universe is working against them
Being driven by negative thoughts and emotions
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Losing something that makes it seemingly impossible for the character to follow their passion (a musician going deaf, an athlete losing a limb, etc.)
The character being laid off from their perfect job
Experiencing a series of losses in a short span of time
A large-scale disaster (a weather event, economic depression, pandemic, etc.) negatively impacting the character
A health crisis that is difficult to overcome (cancer, a stroke, a chronic illness diagnosis, etc.)
The death of a loved one
A promising opportunity falling through at the last minute
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.