What scares you?
I think we all have one or two (or more) things that completely unnerve us. I know people who are terrified of cats — something I find hard to understand as mine is sitting next to me right now. My father is afraid of dogs. Yes, it’s true. He tried to convince me to be, if not afraid than at least, wary of all dogs. His efforts weren’t completely successful. I wound up being relatively sane in my estimations of canine danger.
On the other hand, I will admit to an irrational response to rodents. I’ve been known to jump out of my skull at the sight of a rat scampering by. So I make it a habit to skirt around construction sites whenever possible. This is not an easy trick in New York where something is always being built or renovated.
Given the choice, I’ll still skip snake exhibits and avoid people that walk around with their pet constrictors wrapped around their necks on the street — I much prefer feather boas as accessories. But I’m nowhere near as fearful as I was as a child. Each time my dad read “The Secret Garden” (the children’s classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett) I suffered at the mention of the snake at the end of the first chapter, insisting that he read the second chapter to assure me that Mary is safely away from the scary snake before it was bedtime.
Parsing out FEAR from REVULSION or simple SQUEAMISHNESS is helpful in real life and is definitely helpful when developing a fictional character. The fatal flaw, the characteristic that makes the hero vulnerable and therefore human, is often a passionate fear. The detective that must swallow is squeamish reaction to dead bodies or fight his vertigo (agoraphobia, claustrophobia, etc.) is a typical, and sometimes very successful, gambit for softening the macho or otherwise too successful personae of heroic characters.
When I stumbled on a comprehensive list of phobias I began to ponder characters plagued by overwhelming fears of garlic (Alliumphobia), of chickens (Alektorophobia) of wild animals Agrizoophobia), of flowers (Anthrophobia), of staying single (Anuptaphobia) or of numbers (Arithmophobia). And those are just a few of the As!
Lions & Tigers & Chickens, Oh My! There are so many things to fear.