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 One’s Genetics
To varying degrees, every person takes steps to stay healthy because no one wants the discomfort and inconvenience of being sick or injured. But not all maladies are created equal. Imagine a character with a genetic predisposition towards a debilitating physical or mental condition. Not knowing if it’s going to crop up for them, or when it will show itself…that uncertainty and fear can create a host of issues that impact the character’s thoughts and how they approach life and the future.
What It Looks Like
Frequently visiting the doctor
Requesting tests and bloodwork to look for earmarks of the condition
Maintaining a healthy diet
Common Internal Struggles
The character feeling like their body or mind has betrayed them
Being plagued with visions of what the condition will do to the character
Constantly worrying that the condition is starting
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Overspending on genetic testing, supplements, experimental treatments, etc.
Being unable to enjoy the present because the character is so worried about the future
Not preparing adequately for the future (because the character doesn’t see the point)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Watching a family member suffer with a genetically inherited condition
Experiencing symptoms of the condition
Getting a call from the doctor’s office about test results
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.