My definition of an emotionally complex character might be different from yours.
My version of emotionally complex is the trigger-happy maverick with everything to lose. Think Darth Vader, Eric Cartman, or Mello from Death Note. These are antihero knuckle-biters and inferiority complex demonizers, and they take the plot to new heights with their impulsivity and broken moral compasses.
But how do you write an emotionally complex character?
I once took a personality test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. While it was fun to take (I was either ENTJ or INTJ, I forget), it also showed me how our emotions governed every decision we made. Small questions like “are you often late for appointments?” got me thinking about character building from the granular level.
To write an emotionally complex character, I realized, you had to know them as well as a MBTI test would know you. This means being comfortable with examining your character across a series of 100+ hypothetical questions and answering each of them in a compelling and consistent way.
Make a few mistakes with your answers. Muck around and reinvent, just to see what you’ll get.
“Do you find it difficult to talk about your feelings?” Heck yes!
“Is it in your nature to assume responsibility?” Naw, I’ll pass.
Look at your results and you’ll see a bundle of contradictions and a whole lot more possibilities for character development.
There are three such emotionally complex characters in my YA novel. There is Nash, who is more like Cartman, Emmy, who is more like Vader, and Lukas, who is like Mello. These characters are a bundle of contradictions, and these contradictions make my plot work.
Emotionally complex isn’t always a good thing. It could turn your characters into people to be hated instead of people to root for, but that’s what storytelling is all about. You start with a character at his or her lowest point, and work your way up.
This is one way of making your readers care.
Millie’s Note: What’s your definition of an emotionally complex character?