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 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
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
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
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
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.