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 Physical Pain
Pain is something we all want to avoid. But it’s also a part of life that has to be dealt with. A character with an intense fear of physical pain will struggle to manage it well, and their extreme efforts to avoid pain will limit what they’re able to accomplish.
What It Looks Like
Avoiding activities that could result in injury (playing sports, bungee jumping, working out, etc.)
Being sidelined by minor injuries or illnesses
Being a difficult patient for caregivers
Taking a lot of pain medications
Being addicted to painkillers
Being overprotective of loved ones (helicopter parenting, not allowing loved ones to do what others are doing, etc.)
Becoming obsessed with safety measures (only driving when traffic is light, installing no-slip strips on stairs and in bathtubs, wearing protective gear, etc.)
Avoiding routine medical procedures
Being afraid of needles
Avoiding treatment measures that would cause more pain (getting stitches, getting a shot, physical therapy, etc.)
The character imagining they’re in pain when they’re not (or believing the pain is worse than it is)
Becoming a hypochondriac
Common Internal Struggles
Constantly self-analyzing, looking for areas of pain or discomfort
Wanting to participate in an activity or with a group of people but being too afraid
The character knowing they’re making themselves look strange to others but not knowing how to stop
Hating that their rules and limits are hurting their relationship with loved ones
Judging others for being reckless
Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Childish, Controlling, Cowardly, Fussy, Inflexible, Judgmental, Melodramatic, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Timid, Whiny, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to participate in activities with family members and loved ones
Constantly worrying that the character or a loved one is going to get hurt
The character passing their worry and fear to their children
Inconvenience and Inefficiency (due to all the things the character must avoid) making life more difficult than it has to be
Small medical issues becoming big ones because the character refuses treatment options that will inflict short-term pain
The character being unable to accurately assess their physical health because they’re always envision the worst
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A new source of physical pain or discomfort
A minor physical problem that requires ongoing treatment
A loved one wanting to participate in an activity the character deems risky
Being denied access to painkillers
An emergency situation where pain or injury are likely (being caught in a natural disaster, a car breaking down in a deserted area and the character having to walk a long distance in bad weather, etc.)
The character learning they’re pregnant
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness
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.
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