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 Rejection
One of our basic human needs is to be loved, wanted, needed, and accepted, so it makes sense that people generally want to avoid rejection. When this fear is taken to an extreme, it can hold the character back in their career, relationships, and their basic enjoyment of life. As a result, characters with this fear often feel stuck where they are, unable to grow.
What It Looks Like
Being overly agreeable
Exhibiting a strong work ethic (to prove their worth to others)
Being a perfectionist
Being passive aggressive rather than straightforward about their feelings
The character not standing up for themselves
Sticking like glue to the people who accept and love the character
Being shy with new people and in new situations
Taking extra pains with their appearance so they’ll always look their best
Being a people-pleaser
Being evasive or dishonest about beliefs and opinions that others may not agree with
Jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking or feeling
Getting their feelings hurt easily
The character keeping mostly to themselves
Avoiding romantic relationships unless they’re absolutely sure of the other person’s feelings
Underachieving and encouraging low expectations (so people won’t expect too much, be disappointed, and reject them)
Having secret hobbies
Ending romantic relationships and leaving jobs prematurely (rejecting others before they can reject the character)
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to open up to others but being afraid their true thoughts and opinions will be criticized
Wanting to stay in a relationship but also wanting to get out of it
Being afraid of failure or letting people down
The character despairing of ever reaching their full potential
Longing to be in a romantic relationship but being too afraid to put themselves out there
Struggling with loneliness but not knowing how to build deep connections with others
Feeling unwanted or unlovable
Constantly worry about what others think
The character wondering what’s wrong with them
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being consumed with worry about other people and what they think
Trouble making and keeping friends
An inability to form trusting relationships
Burning out from the constant drive to please everyone or be above reproach
Frequently being taken advantage of
Living a life short of their full potential
Low self-esteem undermining the character’s belief in themselves and their capabilities
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A situation where the character must be chosen by others (a job interview or promotion, a political campaign, etc.)
The character meeting someone they’d like to date (but will have to ask out)
The character’s work being criticized
Being fired or laid off
A friend canceling plans with the character
Being divorced or dumped
A child asking to live with the character’s ex
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.