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.
Examples: One’s home and belongings being destroyed due to
- faulty wiring
- a lightning strike
- a grease fire in the kitchen
- unattended food on the stove…
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I can’t be trusted with anything important. (If the character blames himself)
- I can’t trust the important things to anyone but me. (If someone else is to blame)
- Don’t get too attached to anyone or anything, because they can disappear at any time…
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, cautious, grateful, meticulous, nurturing, simple, thrifty
Negative Traits That May Result: apathetic, callous, fussy, humorless, morbid, needy, obsessive, pessimistic, possessive, stingy, ungrateful, withdrawn, worrywart
- Fear of fire
- Fear of losing one’s material things
- Fear of losing irreplaceable heirlooms or sentimental items…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Obsessively checking one’s new residence for anything that could cause another fire to start
- Moving often, so as not to become attached to any dwelling place
- Renting rather than owning
- Becoming stingy with one’s money; not purchasing unnecessary items as a way of not becoming attached to them
- Becoming disdainful of materialism…
TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.
photo credit: Kiwi NZ at Creative Commons
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.
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.