Phobias are wonderful to afflict your characters with. A phobia makes them seem more human. Possibly, a phobia will make your readers, especially those with phobias of their own, feel closer to one of more of your characters. Depending on what phobia you choose to bless, or curse, your character with, he can end up in all kinds of strange and amusing situations.
Every phobia has its starting point. I don’t believe that anyone is born with a phobia. Something has to happen that causes these fears to develop. I don’t exactly have what I would call a phobia, but I do have a fear. Is my fear unreasonable or without cause?
I used to run with my dog, Precious, almost every day. Precious is older and has a touch of arthritis, so she didn’t always want to run for as long as I did. When she let me know that she was done running, I would always take her leash off. She would then walk back to the yard and lie down while I finished my run.
One day, Precious did something different. She didn’t go lie down after I took her leash off. She decided that she was going to still run with me. I was alright with this. Any way I could get her to exercise was good. At least that is what I thought. I took off running at a rapid pace with her running beside me but then she turned right in front of me. That was not a good thing for either one of us.
No way could I come to a stop quickly enough to keep from running into her. My knees slammed into her side, causing her to yelp. I went flying through the air with the greatest of ease. I think I did that much pretty gracefully. Unfortunately, my landing was not so graceful. The years of ballet I had taken didn’t do me any good then. Maybe I should have taken lessons to become a trapeze artist instead. Anyway, I literally kissed the pavement when I landed. I broke my fall with my right arm then rolled immediately onto my back. And I prayed no one was watching from inside my house. Turns out, no one was.
My arm didn’t hurt that much right after the fall, so I figured a colorful bruise was in my future. But after a few hours had passed, my arm no longer worked very well. I couldn’t even use it to lift the coffee pot. I had to brace my right arm with my left when I craved that morning cup of coffee. It took close to a year for me to regain full use of my arm.
Why did I tell you all of that? I’m afraid to run if there is any dog around that isn’t leashed. I don’t want to trip over one and fall like that again. There is no name for such a phobia, so my husband suggested one: tripoerdogaphobia.
Is there something your character is afraid of? Maybe your character has a deep-rooted fear, but is isn’t something that would be classified as a phobia. He may dread this thing or activity, but it doesn’t make him feel nauseous or breathless. He doesn’t sweat excessively or lose the ability to speak clearly. He doesn’t become angry, lose control, or have a panic attack. But it is clear that he is afraid of something. Maybe this would be called a borderline phobia? Hmm. I guess that would make me a borderline tripoerdogaphobiac. 🙂
Whatever gives your character this fear doesn’t have to be something that would be traumatic to everyone else. It just has to cause fear in your character and disrupt his routine enough that he doesn’t want it to happen again.
There is a name for just about every phobia out there. My exact fear wasn’t named though. So, if you want to give your character a phobia that a name doesn’t exist for, don’t let that stop you.
The word phobia is Greek, so any words you attach to it should be Greek. I obviously didn’t do that, but I think tripoerdogaphobia is cute. My husband doesn’t know Greek, and he came up with the name on the spur of the moment. It is a name anyone can understand without having to grab a dictionary or research what it means on the internet.
Whatever fear you decide to afflict your character with, have fun creating a name for it if one doesn’t already exist.
NOTE: This article was first published several years ago on The News in Books, a site that no longer exists. Since then, Precious, my canine running partner, developed a brain tumor and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge where she is enjoying welcoming other dogs and cats into the afterlife.
Now I have three dogs to exercise. Running with them would be suicidal, so we walk. Khaleesi or Missy would be sure to run in front of me at some point if they weren’t leashed. Since the oldest one, Pip—we call him Pipthuselah, the Ancient of Dogs—walks so slowly that it is easier not to leash him, maybe I’ve fully recovered from my tripoerdogaphobia. Or maybe it is because he moves at the pace of a snail.