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 Discrimination
Discrimination doesn’t have to be big or obvious to hurt; even one thoughtless word or exclusive action sting. The fear of being mistreated and maligned is one of degrees, but becomes debilitating for characters when, in an effort to avoid discrimination at all costs, they hide or change who they are, thereby limiting themselves and living short of their full potential.
What It May Look Like
The character associating mainly with people like them (same race, gender, class, etc.)
Avoiding certain neighborhoods or places
Keeping silent when witnessing discrimination to avoid being targeted also
Choosing to remain in background (at work, in social situations) to avoid drawing the wrong sort of attention
Avoiding people who are racist, bigoted, sexist, etc.
Going to great lengths to work with and surround themselves with people who are “safe” or like-minded
Wearing clothing that won’t draw unwanted attention
Finding a job where discrimination will be minimal rather than following a dream
Changing their appearance or doing things to be accepted even if it doesn’t feel right
Being hyper-alert to the emotions and actions of others
Avoiding “charged” events where the discriminatory factor is front and center (rallies, meetings, etc.)
Pretending to not hear a rude joke or comment to keep a situation from escalating
Becoming adept at hiding indignation, anger, and rage
Painstakingly trying to be ‘perfect’ to avoid being targeted (at work, in social circles, etc.)
Coaching their children to avoid drawing attention, speaking out, and dressing or acting a certain way that the character deems unsafe
Agreeing to do things a certain way despite it being demeaning or unjust in order to be viewed as ‘a team player’ rather than ‘a problem’
The character raising their children in a bubble, sheltering them
Hesitating to open up about the parts of their life that may invite discrimination (mental health conditions, sexual orientation, etc.)
Only being truly comfortable with the people they’re similar to
Being subservient to someone and feeding their ego to avoid being maligned by them
Putting on a face for others
Conforming to the people around them
Putting up with suggestive comments, unwanted touches, and demeaning nicknames (Honey, Babe, Boy, Gramps, etc.) to keep a situation from getting worse
Making themselves invisible when they’re with people who are different than them
Rejecting the part of themselves that might be discriminated against
Distrusting the justice system and government agencies
Common Internal Struggles
Doubting people’s motives; wondering if they’re being discriminatory when they may not be
The character having prejudicial thoughts about people who have mistreated them
Believing everyone is against them
Harboring anger or hatred toward another people group (police officers, the wealthy, etc.)
Feeling trapped, being unable to live life to the fullest like others can
Always being on edge, on the lookout for possible mistreatment
Wanting to speak up but being too afraid
Struggling with shame
Struggling to be optimistic and hopeful when every day they experience inequality
Fighting despair or depression (because the character believes things will never change and they won’t be able to achieve their dreams)
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Antisocial, Apathetic, Callous, Cynical, Disloyal, Hypocritical, Inhibited, Insecure, Know-It-All, Martyr, Nervous, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Prejudiced, Resentful, Self-destructive, Timid, Uncommunicative
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Struggling with low self-esteem
Not making amends with people who have mistreated them
Being filled with anger
Believing a lie about a person or group of people
Believing the lies that others propagate about the character (self-fulfilling prophecy)
Missing out on friendships with other kinds of people that could show the character love or broaden their perspective
Living a life that falls short of their full potential
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Witnessing discrimination against someone else
Returning to a place where the character experienced discrimination (a school, family, church, etc.)
Speaking out against mistreatment and not being believed
Having to interact with a political or religious group that is known to have questionable or unpopular beliefs
Encountering someone who has been discriminatory in the past
Moving to a new neighborhood, city, or school
Seeing a news story about a hate crime
Meeting a person from their own group who has differing opinions or beliefs
Being asked to become an advocate and publicly fight discrimination
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.
Raymond Walker says
I just wished to say… “What an excellent and comprehensive post. Though I have read many good blog posts, it is rare that those blogging have been so incisive and put so much thought into what is involved with each character. I doff my cap you. A truly excellent post.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Thanks so much for the shot in the arm, Raymond! This one was particularly tricky to write and was kind of a joint effort to make sure we got the details right. Glad to hear the finished product is working for you :).
I don’t know if you ladies remember me, but when you first talked about putting out Emotion Thesaurus I had no idea how big or how far it would take you two!
BECCA PUGLISI says
Hi, Connie! We love, LOVE getting messages from writers, but it’s especially exciting to hear from the ones who have been with us from the beginning. Thanks for sticking with us!