I’m having a mood swing today. Not to go too far into TMI, but I’m grumpy, achy, chilly, sneezy, and crabby (and most of the other dwarves, too). I am seasonally affected, and it usually doesn’t show this early, so I suspect I might be getting a cold. My body is telling me to slow down. I’m not a character in a book, so while there could be many reasons for me being crabby, none of them have to make any sense. Not so for the characters. But far from being an inconvenience, grumpiness can be a useful tool for you and your characters.
I admit it, I don’t like being around crabby people a whole lot. I’m not usually a crabby person myself, so in a roomful of Debbie Downers, I’ll be the one invariably pratfalling just to get the place to lighten up a bit. But by the same token…I’m probably seriously irritating in one of my relentlessly positive moods. The same can be said for characters. If your characters have one mood and one mood only, even if it’s the funniest of snarks, they’ll seem less dimensional than characters who experience a wider range of emotions–but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a single-mood character. A perpetually cheerful character can be counted on to lighten the mood, provide the comic relief, or underscore the awkwardness of a situation, but no one’s going to buy her pom-poms at the funeral home (unless, of course, she’s a zombie-fighting cheerleader who haunts the town’s funeral parlor in order to drive back the relentless tide of the undead, and then–I WANT TO READ THAT STORY).
Your main characters should, at the very least, be permitted to feel and express more than one mood. The range of moods will not only deepen your character, but it will pull your reader into the story. There’s nothing worse for me as a reader to be tooling along and realize that a character’s perpetual perkiness (or persistent pessimism) has led to that character having the same reaction to every dramatic event in the plot. It leads me as a reader to care less about the plot events, and to let those events have less of an effect on me, because they’re obviously not having that much of an effect on the character.
The thing about moods is…we don’t think clearly with strong ones riding us. For us, that can lead to bad news, or more often, just dishes piled in the sink, and perhaps an ill-conceived sense that without any training, we are finally going to tackle that leak in the dishwater, come hell or high water. Followed, of course, by the high water as you forget to put back all the gaskets and realize too late that every single one of ’em is critical.
But for characters, those spurts of mood-induced bad judgement can be EPIC! If you’re reading a book and thinking, “why would any rational person do this, or think that?” then the story has failed to properly show you that the character is not in a rational state of mind. And people in irrational states of mind are a lot more fun to read about.