When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.
Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.
We hope the sample list of ideas below will help you see how emotional trauma will influence your character’s behavior and mindset. For the full entry of this and over 100 other emotional wounds, check into our bestselling resource, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.
Watching A Loved One Die
- trying to help one’s passenger in the aftermath of a car accident
- at the bedside of one who is terminally ill, at home or in a hospice
- witnessing a friend’s hit and run as she crosses the street…
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I failed when I was needed most
- I should have died instead, he/she was worthy than I will ever be
- If I care about someone, I will lose them…
Positive Attributes That May Result: cautious, observant, doting, farsighted, focused, knowledgeable, maternal, meticulous, practical, self-reliant, vigilant
Negative Traits That May Result: paranoid, anxious, clingy, aloof, guarded, hesitant, moody, needy, nervous, neurotic, perfectionist, resentful, self-destructive, unassertive…
- fear of abandonment through death
- fear of dying
- fear of becoming too emotionally connected to people…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- avoiding the people who were involved in the accident or around at the time of death
- distancing oneself from friends and family
- alternatively, becoming clingy, protective or obsessive about a loved one’s whereabouts
- needing to plan and understand all risks before committing to an action or decision
- avoiding anything spontaneous and becoming very risk-averse…
TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.
Which emotional wounds are haunting your characters and keeping them from being whole and fulfilled?
Emotional wounds are incredibly formative, changing how a character views the world, causing trust issues, damaging their self-worth, dictating how they will interact with other people, and making it harder for them to achieve their goals. As such, understanding your character’s wound is vitally important to your overall story.
To help with this, we have integrated this thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers.
Each entry has been enhanced and expanded to provide even more helpful information about your character’s wounds and is cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. We’ve also included a must-see tutorial on this topic—a crash-course on how a wound impacts the affected character and the role wounds play in his or her arc over the course of a story. Interested in seeing a sampling of our completed wound thesaurus entries? Head on over and register for free!
On the other hand, if you prefer your references in book form, we’ve got you covered, too, because this thesaurus is now available for purchase in both digital and print form. In addition to the 120+ entries, each book contains instructional front matter to help you understand wounds and how they’ll affect your character and story. With chapters about the wound’s aftereffects and how the event ties in to the character arc, along with ideas on brainstorming your character’s wound and how to best reveal the trauma to readers, this book will be your go-to resource for connecting the backstory dots and coming up with characters who are well-rounded and realistic.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Donna Maloy says
Just… WOW! My hero witnesses his whole family die of plague in the first chapter. I knew the rest of his life was shaped by that, but now I know the particulars. THANK YOU!
Killion Slade says
This one post completely changed my entire novel series. I had no idea how much of an impact this particular wound had on som many of my characters.
Thanks for always rocking it out! 🙂
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
So glad to hear this one is especially helpful! I find that once we know what haunts our characters, things seem to fall into place so much easier.
I have a protagonist who witnessed the death of her child, and I was able to pick many of her habits and traits from this list. I’m on the right track! Thanks for these awesome posts!
Heather McCorkle says
This is such a powerful character influence, and you laid it out perfectly! Thanks for another great resource.
Gina Scott Roberts says
I have a character that I love but has always been lacking…something. After reading about this thesaurus, I figured out what!!
PLEASE keep coming up with these great reference materials! I can’t tell you how much you’ve already helped me since I first found you guys!!
Traci Kenworth says
I’m going to be needing this soon in my wip. Thanks!!
Shelli Proffitt Howells says
How awesome that this is your first emotional wounds entry. I have a main character who survived a car accident that took her mother’s life. This helps me to understand her better and give her more depth. I’m already loving this new series!
Carol Baldwin says
WHich one of you is a psychologist? YOur insights are awesome. Just shared and will save. Many thanks.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Haha, neither of us, but we have a passion for it. 🙂 Glad this will be helpful!
Sacha black says
This is amazing, so useful, will be booking marking this page. PLEASE make it into a book. ?
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
LOL, you never know! 🙂 We’ll see how things go, and the response as the thesaurus develops. 🙂
Addy Rae says
This is a resource I’d be interested in seeing in a book as well, to complement your negative traits thesaurus. 🙂
Sue Coletta says
Wow, this post is so timely for me. In my WIP a widow is dealing with the after effects of watching her husband die in an accident. Thanks so much! This will help a lot.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
That’s great Sue!