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 Being Returned to an Abusive Environment
A character who has escaped an abusive environment, whether as a child or an adult, and is determined to remain free will do anything to avoid going back to it. A fear of returning—voluntarily or against their will—to this place will trigger a host of physical, mental, and emotional reactions for the character, even if the event is unlikely to happen.
What It Looks Like
Becoming physically ill (nausea, headaches, stomachaches, hair loss, rashes, etc.)
The character pleading their case to anyone who will listen
Threatening to harm themselves if they’re forced to go back
Common Internal Struggles
Having mixed feelings toward the abuser (especially if that person is a family member)
Trying and failing to stop thinking about abusive episodes
Wanting to fight the system that would return them to the abuser but feeling powerless to do so
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Addictive, Antisocial, Confrontational, Cruel, Cynical, Defensive, Devious, Dishonest, Evil, Hostile, Insecure, Irrational, Rebellious, Reckless, Resentful, Self-Destructive, Temperamental, Violent, Volatile, Withdrawn
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Avoiding romance to keep from falling into another abusive relationship
Becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs
Insomnia impacting the character’s work or school performance
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being contacted by the abuser
Suspecting that a friend is being abused
Watching a TV show or movie where someone is forced back into living with their abuser
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.