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 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.
Living for the moment; not planning for the future
Not having dreams or goals
Believing there is nothing to live or strive for
Avoiding challenges or risks that could improve the character’s life
Being cynical when others express hopefulness
Always expecting the worst
Downplaying their own abilities (since they haven’t helped in overcoming difficulties)
Speaking of the future with skepticism
Being skeptical of other people’s promises
Scorning people who are optimistic and upbeat
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
Sinking into apathy and depression
The character wanting to be honest about their feelings but knowing their pessimism and negativity are bringing other people down
Burying certain emotions as they arise (anticipation, excitement, etc.)
Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Apathetic, Cynical, Defensive, Foolish, Impatient, Impulsive, Indecisive, Insecure, Martyr, Melodramatic, Nervous, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Timid, Withdrawn
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
Building emotional walls in relationships to keep from experiencing disappointment
Never moving past their current state of disillusionment and cynicism
Other people pigeon-holing the character as negative or gloom-and-doom
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.)
Hearing about a promising job opening or promotion opportunity
A friend or loved one breaking a promise
A promising relationship ending unexpectedly
Seeing world events go from bad to worse.
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