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 Being Labeled
The world is a confusing and uncertain place that’s easier to navigate when things make sense. This is one reason it’s natural for human beings to label the people around them. But no one wants to be labeled—told that they are a certain way or have to fit into a mold. This can be especially painful when the character doesn’t believe the label fits (whether it does or not). When this happens enough, it can create frustration, insecurity, and a fear that could go a number of directions: the character may hide the aspects of their identity that fit the label, act out against the accusation, or surround themselves with people like themselves to avoid anyone who might put them in a certain box.
What It Looks Like
The character mimicking their peers so they won’t appear to be different
Being extremely private
Giving vague answers when asked about themselves
Embracing hobbies or activities that don’t fit the stereotype
Changing personality traits or values that would put the character in that box
The character becoming what they’re accused of being (self-fulfilling prophecy)
Advocating for inclusion and against typecasting
Working very hard to disprove the stereotype
The character surrounding themselves with others who are just like them
Avoiding people who have attempted to label the character in the past
Avoiding situations where the label would be obvious—e.g., a student with a learning disability skipping or dropping out of school
Rejecting any medical or psychological testing that could result in a diagnosis
Rebelling when someone tells the character they can’t or shouldn’t do something
Become defensive when someone suggests the character may be a certain way
Being aggressive or confrontational with someone who suggests the character might be a certain way
Being overly sensitive to even constructive or well-intentioned criticism
Common Internal Struggles
Keeping a learning disability, an illness, etc. secret despite knowing help is needed
Struggling with shame or guilt over the label
The character struggling to accept who they are
The character wanting to be true to themselves but feeling the need to change so they’ll fit in with others
Resenting what makes the character different, then feeling guilty about it
Feeling misunderstood (if the character believes the label is unwarranted)
Suspecting the label is true but refusing to accept it
The character feeling isolated, as if they have no one they can be themselves with or talk to
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Childish, Confrontational, Defensive, Dishonest, Disrespectful, Evasive, Hostile, Hypocritical, Insecure, Jealous, Judgmental, Prejudiced, Reckless, Stubborn, Timid, Weak-Willed
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Living with shame because of who or what they are
Changing to live up to others’ expectations
The character living well below their full potential
Becoming prejudiced against the people who putting labels on the character
Living in denial about an accurate label and being unable to manage it or cope with it in a healthy way
Struggling in silence because the character is hiding certain aspects of who they are
Personal growth being stymied because of defensiveness and an inability to receive feedback
Living a double-life because certain aspects have to be kept private (practice a religion, pursue a relationship, etc.)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A secret they’ve been hiding (about their gender identity, personal beliefs, mental health, etc.) being revealed
A tragedy occurring that could result in a new label for the character (losing a limb, developing a chronic illness, etc.)
The character’s child being labeled
A safe place or group of people being infiltrated by someone who would label the character
Seeing someone who shares a label with the character being misjudged, mistreated, or limited
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.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough for this site, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
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.
Leave a Reply