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.
NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect.
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.
A ROLE MODEL OR MENTOR WHO DISAPPOINTS
- a pastor’s affair
- a teacher’s arrest
- a coach’s abuse of a player…
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- Everyone lies; I can’t trust anyone
- I am gullible and will believe anything
- People are all hypocrites
- I have no one to look up to…
Positive Attributes That May Result: analytical, cautious, discreet, ethical, honorable, independent, just, pensive, observant, perceptive, private, proactive…
Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, defensive, dishonest, evasive, hostile, humorless, hypocritical, impulsive, judgmental…
- fear of trusting the wrong person
- fear of vulnerability or being exposed in some way
- fear of being taken advantage of
- fear of failure…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- becoming secretive, refusing to share information (especially anything personal)
- being distrustful with others, always looking for ulterior motives
- avoiding close friendships or relationships (becoming unsocial)
- a suspicious nature which makes it difficult to relax around people
- adopting antisocial behaviors (inciting rebellion, encouraging others to buck the system to expose corruption (if this factored into the original disillusionment)…
TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.
Image via bykyst @ Pixabay
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.
Joan Y. Edwards says
Thank you for sharing the items that might cause emotional turmoil for our characters.
Carol Baldwin says
I came back to this today as I was brainstorming a secondary’s character’s backstory. So helpful. MANY thanks. I don’t know how you guys do what you do, but I love your resources!!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
See, you never know what you might find here…it’s like a treasure hunt! 🙂
These are wonderful, the context of how they work is great. Thank you, you give me much to think how to flesh out emotional wounds, it is inspiring and very helpful. Thanks.
Traci Kenworth says
This makes for a complex trait for any character. Thanks for this!!
Mart Ramirez says
What great lists! The fear list is my favorite. 🙂 Will be keeping in mind. THANK YOU!