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 Not Fitting In
As social creatures, we all have a basic human need to be loved and accepted by others. This requires us to be able to fit in with the people around us. When your character is unable to do this or they worry about failing in this area, their need to be accepted—in general or by a specific group—can become an obsession.
What It Looks Like
The character allowing people to mistreat them if it means being part of the group
Using self-deprecating humor
Sharing personal accomplishments to impress others
Hiding ideas or beliefs that wouldn’t be popular with the group
The character changing their personal habits (clothing, food preferences, the music they listen to, etc.) to fit in
Over-preparing to be sure everything is perfect
Mimicking the actions, speech patterns, and habits of others
Struggling to say no
Telling people what they want to hear
Laughing or smiling at things the character normally wouldn’t approve of
Putting others down if doing so pleases the group
The character being pressured into doing things they don’t agree with
Seeking out like-minded individuals
Being a loner
Being quiet, withdrawn, and content to stay in the background
Proactively rejecting others before they can reject the character
Common Internal Struggles
The character wanting to be true to themselves but also wanting to be liked by others
The character losing sight of who they really are and what they believe
Worrying excessively about what others think
The character constantly analyzing themselves (their appearance, their responses, etc.) and being disappointed
Ignoring their own needs and wellbeing
The character disliking how the group treats them (putting them at the bottom of the pecking order, mistreating them, etc.) but not wanting to be alone
Living in a constant state of uncertainty—of being alone, doing something wrong, being laughed at—and hating it
Flaws That May Emerge
Apathetic, Callous, Catty, Dishonest, Disloyal, Evasive, Frivolous, Hypocritical, Insecure, Needy, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Subservient, Timid, Unethical, Weak-Willed, Worrywart
Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Losing any sense of personal identity
Being a slave to the whims and demands of the group
The character struggling to think for themselves
The character’s needs going unmet because they’ve put the needs of others before their own
Being taken advantage of
Toxic relationships being normalized for the character
Gaining a reputation for being inauthentic or dishonest
Living a lonely life (because it’s too risky to try and be accepted by others)
Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to start over in a new place (a new school, job, city, etc.)
Attending a party or gathering where friend groups are already established and the character doesn’t know anyone
The character being criticized by someone influential within their group
Witnessing someone being shunned, belittled, or ostracized by others
Having to sit alone (at lunch, church, a work seminar, etc.)
Seeing a loner become targeted because they have no group to protect them
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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The Bookshelf Muse is a hub for writers, educators and anyone with a love for the written word. Featuring Thesaurus Collections that encourage stronger descriptive skills, this award-winning blog will help writers hone their craft and take their writing to the next level.
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