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. Please know that it is never our intent to create emotional turmoil. We also recognize that an event that is traumatizing for one person may have only a passing impact on someone else. Emotional wounds affect people differently, so we have tried to include many possible outcomes, to give writers many options to choose from. Above all, please know that we desire to treat these wounds and those who have lived through them 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.
Examples: Public mistakes are nothing new and have been happening as long as we all can remember. Luckily, they’re soon forgotten—at least, they used to be. In today’s technologically-advanced world, public mistakes are often recorded for posterity—on YouTube, Facebook, and even on websites set up with the express purpose of never letting anyone forget. This kind of reminder makes it even more difficult to move on after an embarrassing gaffe, such as one of the following:
- Backing a cause or organization that turns out to be fraudulent
- Getting caught having an affair
- Getting caught in a public lie…
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:
- This is all people will ever remember about me.
- No one is ever going to let me forget what I did.
- I can’t be trusted not to screw up…
Positive Attributes That May Result: ambitious, cautious, discreet, humble, merciful, private, proactive, responsible, tolerant
Negative Traits That May Result: defensive, evasive, inhibited, insecure, irresponsible, perfectionist, pessimistic, rebellious, resentful, self-destructive, timid…
- Fear of failure
- Fear of speaking/performing in public
- Fear of letting others down…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Shying away from ambitious or challenging opportunities
- Becoming very private and withdrawn
- Becoming overly cautious or even obsessive-compulsive in an effort to avoid the same kind of mistake (obsessively checking one’s work for errors, over-planning, etc.)
- Doubting one’s abilities
- Not doing anything without a partner; relying too much on others and not enough on oneself…
TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.
Photo credit: opensource.com @ 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.