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 Having No Purpose
A lack of purpose can create a downward spiral into apathy and even despair as the character believes that nothing they do matters. A fear in this area may push the character into frantic action as they try to find or force a purpose for their life. Alternatively, it can cause them to abdicate their own agency, leading them to sit back and do nothing.
What It Looks Like
Turning to self-help books and programs for guidance
Taking inventory and personality tests to determine aptitudes
Volunteering with differing agencies or charities
Common Internal Struggles
Constantly feeling unproductive or incapable
Feeling depressed or anxious about the lack of progress
The character feeling as if nothing they do matters
Flaws That May Emerge
Apathetic, Cynical, Impatient, Impulsive, Insecure, Irresponsible, Jealous, Lazy, Martyr, Melodramatic, Nervous, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Whiny, Withdrawn, Workaholic, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Drifting from job to job looking for one that provides meaning
Difficulty recognizing their own achievements
An inability to live in the moment (because the character is too busy working toward the perfect purpose-filled life)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Internalizing the message of self-help gurus or celebrities who equate finding purpose with monetary success
Seeing close friends or relatives succeed in meaningful areas of life
Being left behind by a colleague who moves up the ranks quickly
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.