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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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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.
Ingmar Albizu says
Great post, Becca. I would add, this is a real fear for immigrant families, and it is a inter-generational fear.
For example, you see parents and grandparents worrying about how the new generations are, for lack of a better term, more Americanized, and forgetting their roots.
Obviously, this will be a source of conflict between one generation and the other.
Thank you for spotlighting this character fear.