Is your character feeling a little bit stilted? Do you want to find a way to flesh him out a bit so that he'll be more three-dimensional? Well, here's an activity to get you started on the right path.
I call this activity Running the Gamut .
Everyone feels the same feelings. Everyone feels happy, sad, angry, afraid, in love, etc. This activity is a little bit like those character info sheets that you may have filled out, but this is different. You don't have to write your answers down (though it really can't hurt), but you should know these answers really well. In this activity, I'm going to try to think of as many emotions as I can (to varying degrees) and you should answer what makes a character feel that way. Give as many answers as you want for each emotion.
Bring these answers out at dull moments during your story (or to instigate a plot) to get some dimension where you need it (if it's appropriate at that moment in the story). For instance, I had a character that was too non-confrontational. He never got too upset over anything, there were no outbursts of emotion. I found out what made him angry, and I was really surprised to find out what (actually, who in this case) made him furious! Playing off of that really helped me improve that character by giving him more dimensions to show off.
Everyone, including your dark, brooding dude feels happiness. But about what? Don't answer "the love of his life," because your character should have sources of happiness beyond their hubby. What makes your character feel:
- Mildly content. Nothing too major, so feel free to make lots of these. The smell of fresh lasagna?
- Thrilled/Excited. This is much bigger and will definitely make him smile and will get him excited and yammering. Watching and discussing basketball?
- Squealing fangirl. Come on, we've all got someone we'd like to stalk and steal the hair from their shower drain. A band, celebrity, book series, or TV show fits very well here. It doesn't have to be dignified and can even be embarrassing at times.
- Admire. This is less than squealing fangirl. These are the things that get a nod of acknowledgement from your character. A good artist? The creative team begind their favorite video game?
- Hopeful. What gives them hope whenever they're so stressed that they want to burn the world down? A clean bedroom? A thunderstorm? Squealing fangirl answers may apply to this, but try to go a bit deeper if you can to mine up some gold.
This one was harder to name, but you'll get what I mean. Don't just include things realated to their Big Trauma From The Past. They felt these things before that too. Sometimes, your character may feel:
- Uncomfortably afraid. Not quite enough to be a fear, but enough to make them really on edge. For me, it's birds. Don't ask me why, I don't know...
- Terror. THIS is the Big Scary. Everyone is afraid of things. Create a rational phobia and an irrational phobia, like fear of being abandoned and a fear of flying on airplanes. Know what fuels these fears, they're not random!
- Horrified. This is much different then terror. Think of the feeling you get while watching A Clockwork Orange, that's pretty dead-on accurate for horror. What makes them sick to their gut to contemplate? The ever exploding population? The fact that we're all naked under these thin layers of fabric? This can be a tough one to nail down, so don't sweat it if you don't get it on your first pass.
- Embarassed. What makes him go red in the face? Did he wet the bed as a kid? Maybe his squealing fangirl target is embarrassing...
- Panic. This is something that isn't a direct fear, but something that incites panic in them. Being lost? Talking to strangers?
- Awkward. Everyone's a little bit awkward in some way. Maybe it's talking to old people. Maybe it's when they talk to other races, since they're really afraid of being politically incorrect and offending someone.
- Disgusted. As in "That's so gross, I might barf." Foods are a good thing to put here, but bodily fluids and animals are also another route to look at. Nature is pretty gross, as are some dirty habits that some people have.
Oh yeah, here we go! Time to get the blood up and pumping! When does your character feel:
- Irritated. This is really minor and sometimes funny. Like when someone forgets to put the toilet seat down and you accidentally sit down without looking. Ugh.
- Pissed off. This is more than irritated and is still pretty funny. This is if the toilet seat was CONSISTANTLY left up even after you asked your brother to cut it out. Oh boy, is he gonna get it!
- Rage. It is a little bit less funny to watch this one as an audience. We're actually kinda mad too by this point, like when your toilet-seat-leaving-down brother tells you to go f*** yourself for daring to ask to put the seat down. Excuse me? Oh, we're going to have a freaking CHAT. People leave each other over this level of anger a lot of times. It's equivalant to anger from disrespect. **Disgust is often the reaction to this level of rage as in "Your awfulness sickens me to my core."
- Fury. This is when angry goes from comical in the story to just plain scary. This is the kind of anger is white-hot, ugly, unchecked, and uncontrollable. This might seriously end in violence. Please don't hurt me.
Side note: We hate what cannot understand or cope with.
It's time to break out the tissues here. Try to go further then just their Big Trauma From The Past. They felt sad before that too. They've always felt:
- Regret. Everyone has and needs regrets. There are big ones, like "I regret stabbing the guy and leaving my son without a father," and little ones like "I regret yelling at Ryan in 7th grade for stealing my French paper, only to later discover that it was my fault and that I had misplaced it." PS: I'm really sorry about that, Ryan. I still feel really, really awful about that.
- Worried. Who do they worry for? Is their sister in the military and they fear for her life every day? Is he afraid that the waitress will mess up his order and bring him clam chowder like she did last time? Have little worries and big worries.
- Blue. This is an off-day for your character. It's just not their day today, is it?
- Depressed. This is the type of thing that is prolonged sadness or grief over a period of time. Death, a disappointing diagnosis, the baby isn't his, etc. The direct sadness from this should only linger a few weeks. Sure, it still hurts after then, but they've begun to heal. If not, they may be clinically depressed. Please research the disease and/or have them see a fictional doctor, ok?
- Teary-eyed. This stuff isn't serious, but makes you cry. Think "watching Old Yeller sadness"
- Bawling. Bawling isn't a sexy cry. It's blubbering and snotty and shaking and quivering and just an outpour of huge emotion. This is "he just dumped me the night before prom" intensity. Not that it has to be as minor as prom, but it's an explosion of sadness all at once rather than a stretched-out sadness like depression.
The Embarrassing Stuff
These are a bit more miscellaneous, but most are considered negative traits when in excess. Not all characters will feel like this at every life stage. They might outgrow some of these. At what times does your character feel:
- Confident. They know what they're doing and aren't worried at all. Maybe they know that they're super hot.
- Arrogant. An excess of confidence. What they're good at makes them better than you mere mortals. Look to their achievements for this, but not all characters will directly express feeling this way to another person. They may not know that they feel this until provoked. "You dare question my acting skillz? I've won 17 bajillion freaking Oscars, I know what I'm doing!" Ahhhh, THERE it is.
- Rebellious. Woo! We want to make a change! Or at least we did when we were teenagers. Who do we want to take down? The Establishment or just Mom and Dad?
- Lustful. Oh yes. This is an uncomfortable topic right here that may be best suited to address in another tutorial. What turns your character on and off? Blonde hair? A nice bottom? Smexy glasses? Fetish? Look, I know this is weird. I'm sorry. But your characters are human (or emote as a human does). And humans have... needs. Note: ONLY FOR CHARACTERS 13 AND UP!
- Self-loathing/misgivings. When did they do something that they KNEW was wrong? What do they hate themselves for? Closely related to guilt.
So, that's all that I have for now! If I think of any more or they get suggested, I'll update this to reflect it. Until then, have fun putting your character through these exercises!
And never, ever forget: I might be wrong. I try not to be, but nobody's perfect. Art is one giant matter of opinion. Feel totally free to disagree or to only utilize the bits that you agree with. If you found this helpful, disagree with me, or just prefer another method to my own, feel free to tell me about it in the comments. After all, I'm here to learn too.