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 One’s Heritage or Cultural Identity
Cultural differences—ones we adopt or are born into—are part of what define us. For a character who understands this, losing that aspect of their identity can shake the foundation of who they are and threaten the deep connections they have with others from their culture. This is an enormous loss. While it’s normal and healthy to nurture one’s heritage for oneself and one’s family, a fear of losing that sense of identity—whether the possibility is real or perceived—can drive the character to great (even unhealthy) lengths to keep it from happening.
What It Looks Like
Holding firmly to personal traditions
Observing cultural rituals to keep them alive and relevant
The character educating their children about their culture: engaging in traditions, telling them stories about their heritage, speaking their native language at home, etc.
Seeking to educate others about the character’s culture—forming a club at school or a committee at work, for instance
Becoming an activist
The character seeing offense or slights against their culture where none were intended
Refusing to assimilate or integrate into a different culture
Living a life at home that looks different from the character’s life outside of the home
Only associating with people within the character’s cultural group
The character sheltering their children from influences outside of their community
The character unintentionally passing their fear of others to their children
Requiring loved ones to choose spouses from within their cultural group
Scorning those outside of the character’s community (rejecting them before they can reject the character)
Developing an us vs. them mentality
Common Internal Struggles
The character wanting to maintain their cultural identity but also wanting to fit in with others
Feeling conflicted about their identity
Being drawn to the practices of other cultures and feeling disloyal
Fearing certain people groups outside of the character’s community
The character constantly fearing that they’re losing their children to another culture
The character wanting to protect their children from being drawn away by other cultures but recognizing that doing so is damaging their relationship
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Confrontational, Cynical, Defensive, Haughty, Hostile, Impatient, Impulsive, Inhibited, Insecure, Judgmental, Martyr, Melodramatic, Oversensitive, Pessimistic, Resentful, Suspicious
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on valuable experiences, learning opportunities, and advances from other cultures that could benefit the character
Experiencing discrimination or harassment for their beliefs
Strained relationships with family members who want to integrate with the rest of the world
Only feeling safe and understood within their own community
Always feeling like an outsider
Becoming judgmental or prejudicial about people from other cultures
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A natural disaster or human conflict destroying a sacred site
Seeing other people’s children abandon their heritage
A child choosing to date someone from outside of the family’s culture
Witnessing the passage of laws that target their culture or heritage (prohibiting certain headwear, a form of worship being forbidden, etc.)
Being targeted because of the character’s heritage
Being pressured to fit in
A “bad apple” who shares the character’s culture committing a crime or gaining notoriety, generating animosity from the public
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.