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.
Accidentally Killing Someone
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.
- a car accident (either a passenger in the car or a pedestrian or cyclist one hits)
- triggering an allergy (unknowingly serving food to someone highly allergic to it)
- a poisoning (a child consuming a fatal dose of medication while in one’s care)
- a drowning (a child drowning in one’s pool or bath tub, for example)…
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- It should have been me
- I am a terrible and worthless person
- I do not deserve to be happy or safe…
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, appreciative, cautious, cooperative, disciplined, empathetic, focused, generous, gentle, honest, honorable, humble…
Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, apathetic, cowardly, defensive, disorganized, fanatical, humorless, impulsive, indecisive, inhibited, insecure…
- fear of making another mistake that costs someone their life
- fear of responsibility or being in charge (making decisions that impact others)
- fear of losing control (if irresponsible behavior led to the death)…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- paranoia or obsession regarding the circumstances that led to the death: installing safety railings everywhere (a fall), not letting children be alone even for a moment (a drowning on one’s property), refusing to drive if the weather looks even a bit poor (car accidents)
- over-preparing: going to great lengths to research a situation so one does not make a mistake, keeping emergency kits on hand everywhere, etc.
- avoiding positions of power and responsibility so one does not have a chance to screw things up or fail people again
- withdrawing, avoiding friends, family or the public eye
- not chasing one’s dreams because one believes one does not deserve to have them…
TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.
For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.
Image via MemoryCatcher @ 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.
Sara Beth says
I always doubt whether I have effectively weaved in the backstory of my character (who accidentally ran someone over and went to jail) into his present situations and relationships. Thank you SO much for these posts. It helps to know that I have developed him almost exactly as I should have. Yey I’m doing something right ha! He follows many of these trends, although he has become a Christian so he’s a lot less depressed etc but before that, definitely he hits the mark with many of these attributes.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Very glad these posts help!
My character let loose an evil god and she inadvertently melted a city filed with thousands of people down to the ground. The guilt i’ve given her isn’t enough so this should help a lot, so thanks.
Ellen Mulholland says
Great post and information. So appreciate how you write with such tenderness. Writing can be very therapeutic. The more we know, the better care we take of our readers. Thanks for all your research and time!
Traci Kenworth says
Another really good one. A lot can be done with this wound.
Rita Bailey says
This is exactly the post I needed to read today. I’m taking a course on Story Structure and thought I had my protagonist’s psychological needs, moral flaws, and desires figured out. The instructor pointed out that I told her a lot about my character but not that deepest psychological need–a need that has to drive the whole story and leads to the actions and decisions that make up plot. This post has given me a template that I can apply to every character I write. Looking forward to the rest of the emotional wounds series.
Rachel Leigh Smith says
Could some of this be applied to a character who blames herself for her youngest brother being kidnapped? She was about 12 when it happened and supposed to be watching him on the playground. She turned her back for a few minutes to talk to one of her friends, and when she looked back to her brother he was gone.
The inciting incident of her novel is finding the missing brother, but of course this event has shaped her entire life. It’s a paranormal, and the brother is the future alpha of their pack, so there’s a ton of stuff going on that she blames herself for starting, even though she didn’t.
Kristina Stanley says
I’m bookmarking this page. Excellent advice.
Denise Willson says
This has to be, hands down, one of the top 5 best posts I’ve ever read on the craft of writing. Seriously. Emotional wounds are not only important, but a character’s motivations can thrive or die by them, and you’ve summarized the writing process of emotional wounds and their impact perfectly. Absolutely wonderful.
I’ve printed, highlighted, and filed this post in my special folder, the blue one, the one saved for special finds. Know I will refer to it often.
Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Thanks so much Denise! I hope you enjoy the rest of the series on Emotional Wounds as well! Happy writing 🙂