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 Sickness
Being sick is typically annoying, unpleasant, and sometimes painful. Many people are especially worried now, after the pandemic, about coming down with something. But it becomes a real problem when the fear of sickness begins to dictate a character’s very livelihood and ability to function in society.
What It Looks Like
Frequent hand washing
Carrying sanitizer or wipes
Keeping a distance from others
Only leaving the house when absolutely necessary
Symptom-checking and self-diagnosis
Avoiding seeing a doctor (for fear of being diagnosed with something)
Running to the doctor about every cough or sniffle
Wearing a mask, gloves, or other protective gear in public
Sanitizing objects (doorknobs, faucets, buttons) before touching them
Maintaining a healthy diet
Nosiness about friends’ and family’s health
Looking up diseases and symptoms online
Limiting loved ones’ activities to keep them healthy
Embracing home and natural remedies
Spending a lot of money on vitamins and supplements
Judging others for not taking the same precautions
Common Internal Struggles
The character constantly worrying that they’re coming down with something
Struggling with loneliness
The character feeling shame for their compulsive behaviors
Fearing that minor symptoms (headache, fatigue, etc.) are signs of something serious
Being conflicted about whether to see a doctor
Worrying about their children or loved ones getting sick
Wanting to attend an event but being too afraid of contracting an illness
Feeling judged by others who think the character is overreacting
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to care for a sick loved one due to fear of germs
Living in isolation (being unable to go to the store, enjoy hobbies, socialize, etc.)
A serious condition going undiagnosed and untreated
The fear spiraling into an anxiety disorder
Being unable to attend parties, concerts, and other get-togethers
Friction with loved ones who feel coddled and over-protected
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A pandemic or disease outbreak
A loved one receiving a serious diagnosis
The annual arrival of cold and flu season
Witnessing someone get sick in public
A routine doctor’s physical
Being in places the character believes to be dirty or germy
Being ineligible to take certain medications or vaccines
Getting sick in a place where healthcare is not readily available
Experiencing symptoms that hint at a serious disorder or illness
The character learning that someone they were in contact with was diagnosed with a contagious disease
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.