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 Hope
Hope encourages people and characters to try new things, take on challenges, and believe that things will get better. But multiple disappointments and experiences can create a fear of hope, with the character being reluctant to look forward to anything. This fear can make it difficult for them to work toward improving their situation and could make optimism a thing of the past.
What It Looks Like
Being reconciled to the status quo
Not expecting circumstances to improve
Expressing skepticism when positive things happen: It’ll never last, etc.
Common Internal Struggles
Wanting certain circumstances to be better but truly believing there’s nothing the character can do to change them
Being unable to move beyond past disappointments, no matter how much they want to
The mind always jumping to worst-case scenarios
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on career opportunities because it would have been pointless to reach for them
Staying stuck in a dead-end, toxic, or unsafe situation because the character doesn’t believe there’s anything better for them
Being unable to pursue a dream that would provide fulfillment
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Wanting to take a step towards a dream, but there’s a risk of failure involved (submitting a manuscript to an editor, asking someone out, etc.)
A situation with high stakes being forced on the character (being sued, being falsely accused of a crime, etc.)
Working towards a goal and getting knocked down (trying to reconcile with someone who refused to forgive the character, having another miscarriage, etc.)
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.