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 Losing Control
To varying degrees, control is something we all desire because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it. The resulting disappointments, frustration, and even tragedies can cause a fear to develop, creating problems in many areas of the character’s life.
What It Looks Like
Being rigid and inflexible
Adhering to schedules and routines
Seeking to be an expert on everything so the character will be as informed as possible
Going to great lengths to keep loved ones safe
Displaying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies (checking locks, making sure the oven is off, excessive hand washing, etc.)
Using rituals to calm down (counting, breathing techniques, mantras, etc.)
Employing checklists and to-do lists
Anticipating problems before they happen
Monitoring a spouse’s emails and calls
The character restricting their child’s freedom (with early curfews, limited internet access, having to approve their friends, etc.)
Seeing things in black and white
Being a perfectionist
Being overly sensitive to criticism
Not taking action without in-depth research and planning
Other phobias arising from the fear of not being in control (fear of flying, being confined, etc.)
Common Internal Struggles
Knowing that life is filled with change and uncertainties but being unable to come to terms with them
Wanting to delegate a job but feeling like no one else can do it properly
Struggling with stress and anxiety
Knowing certain things can’t be controlled but trying to control them anyway
Wanting to know the future
Feeling unsafe when things aren’t certain
Fearing for the safety of loved ones
Obsessing over situations outside of the character’s control
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Compulsive, Confrontational, Controlling, Hostile, Impatient, Impulsive, Inflexible, Irrational, Jealous, Know-It-All, Needy, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Possessive, Pushy, Suspicious, Volatile
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Losing employees due to micromanagement
Driving a child away with neediness or nosiness
Being overworked due to an inability to delegate tasks
Being unable to live fully in the present
Not taking advantage of good opportunities because they can’t be controlled or predicted
Being unable to be spontaneous
Struggling with letting others make decisions—when a child chooses to go away to college instead of staying close to home, for instance
Being overwhelmed when unexpected circumstances arise
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A situation arising where the character cannot control the outcome (getting caught in a storm, being stuck in traffic, contracting a chronic illness, etc.)
A teenager rebelling and wanting more freedom
Hearing about a tragedy that befell a friend’s family
Entering a transitional phase of life (going to college, getting married, having a child, menopause, etc.)
Experiencing the unexpected loss of a loved one
Being the victim of a crime
The character having to trust someone else (a family member, the judicial system, etc.) for their security
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.