Definition: injured, hurt, or suffering from a wound (physical, mental, or emotional)
Characters in Literature and Pop Culture: Melinda (Speak), Severus Snape, Dally (The Outsiders), Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting)
Common Portrayals: psychopaths and sociopaths, serial killers, criminals, gang bangers, bullies, the homeless, villains, victims of violent crimes, suicides
Clichés to Avoid: the Wounded who struggles to change but ends up taking his or her own life to escape the pain, the tough-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside Wounded, the hooker with the heart of gold
Twists on the Traditional Wounded Character:
- More often than not, a character’s wounds are inflicted by others. What about a person becoming who they are solely through their own actions, whether accidental or intentional?
- Instead of the angry, vengeful walking wounded, how about one who is hopeful and optimistic? Make the results of their wounds somehow attractive, instead of repulsive to others. This could lead to a slew of new conflicts between your hero and the people around him.
This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded into book form! Together, THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 traits for you to choose from when creating unique, memorable characters. Each entry contains possible causes for the trait, as well as positive and negative aspects, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and associated behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. For more information on this bestselling book and where it can be found, please visit our bookstore.
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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Dan Clarke says
Nicely thought out, and useful for beginners.
I’ve seen too many wounded characters to feel much sympathy for most of them. But a few still manage to tug my heart strings. Severus Snape by the end was one of them.
And I completely agree, a character who commits suicide to escape the pain is useless. Having him or her go out in a blaze glory or to help people is the way to go.
Thank you for this resource. I find myself referring to it often as I am sketching characters. I especially love the suggestions for making characters more interesting.
Diane Carlisle says
Hooker with a heart of gold. Wow! 🙂
Great post! I love rooting for the wounded character, but you’re right, don’t have them commit suicide or something weak like that. A protagonist is supposed to overcome their flaws, or at least accomplish their objectives despite them.
Death is typical with your anit-heros, but suicide is a sign of weakness, and no hero should be that weak. If the anti-hero must die, have them killed off by something not of their own will.
Janice Lane Palko says
Great post. I find I’m fascinated by characters like Don Draper on Mad Men. He cheats on his wife, belittles his underlings and leads a double life, but his troubled childhood and occasional good deeds keep him interesting.
Anne E. Johnson says
Great post. Literature (and movies) gain a lot from characters being motivated by their pain.
Leslie Rose says
Wow. I never thought as wounded in the sense of a trait, but you’ve defined it perfectly. I’m reading THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and poor Henry is constantly dealing with wounds and injuries that progress through the book. It makes him so visceral as a character.
You SO had me with the picture. *sigh* Damaged are by far my favorite type of characters.
Julie Musil says
This is awesome. A great example of this was both characters is Hate List. I felt sympathy for the villain, even though he’d done horrible things. The author did a great job of showing a wounded soul. Great stuff, Becca!
Becca Puglisi says
Great point, Riv. I hadn’t thought of that one.
Riv Re says
Another great entry. Definitely gave me what to think about on the “cliche’s” bit.
Another cliche to avoid (most often when writing something that has romance in it): The fierce hero with tons of battle scars that make him more attractive. (Why do all girls seem to fall for guys with battle scars?)
The Golden Eagle says
I’d never thought about using a wounded character before. It would make for an interesting trait–and I love your example of Snape!
Great stuff as always. I have written several wounded characters. The MC in my second book is a war veteran of recent wars and has to deal with the aftermath of both physical and psychological wounds (not actual full blown PTSD although other characters do show the effect of it) as does the MC of my Renaissance Fantasy Ricardo (who watched his father abuse his mother in front of him multiple times).
Not easy to write, not without falling into broken stereotypes or “abusing” the Freudian excuse curve.
Traci Kenworth says
OMG, needed this for a character I’m writing. Thank you so much!!
Jemi Fraser says
Great list! Wounded characters are a lot of fun to write! 🙂
Lisa Gail Green says
Awesome as always. I love that you used Snape as an example!
Stina Lindenblatt says
I love these character trait posts. I’m constantly using them while planning my new WIP. 😀