Why Is Your Character’s Emotional Wound So Important?

flawedEmotional wounds hold incredible power, steering a hero’s motives, actions, and beliefs. They damage their sense of self worth, filter how they view the world, and dictate how they interact with other people, making it harder for them to achieve their goals. So what exactly is a wound?

An emotional wound is a painful past event so emotionally damaging that it changes who your character is. This negative experience triggers a psychological reaction: the need to protect oneself from further emotional hurt. This need is so great that behaviors change, new negative traits (flaws) form as the character dons emotional armor to create a wall between himself and others. The idea of experiencing this kind of emotional trauma again becomes a deep fear, one he will do anything to avoid.

Because wounds act as a devastating emotional blow caused when one is in a vulnerable state, they often involve the people closest to the protagonist. Family or caregivers, lovers or friends. Betrayals, injustice, neglect, isolation or disillusionment are all common themes that lay fertile ground for hurt, mistrust and the desire to avoid situations where that same pain might reoccur.

Like in real life, characters suffer many different smaller wounds throughout their lives, but the “wounding event” that factors into your character’s internal arc should be symbolic of the false belief they must reject in order to become whole once more. This false belief is known as “the Lie” the character believes about themselves as a result of the emotional wound. Let me show this through an example.

Let’s say our main character is Tim, a teenager who was turned over to Foster Care at age ten (Wound). His parents were alcoholics and neglectful. As a result, when he enters the foster system, he is mistrustful, uncommunicative and moody. Because of his parents’ abandonment, he believes that he’s defective, that he’s not worth loving (The Lie he believes about himself or the world is because of the wound–this is covered in detail in The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma).

Tim stays with families who provide the essentials to live but no love or affection. This suits him after what he went through. He keeps his emotional armor on, keeping people at a distance, because he’ll just be moving on in a month or year, and getting attached means getting hurt. However, as Tim is fostered out for the fourth time, something changes. His foster family shows genuine interest in him and they work at trying to pull him out of his shell. There is another child there, a foster child who was adopted the year before. Hope enters the picture…could this somehow be different?

At this point, Tim must make a CHOICE (as all protagonists must.) If he continues to keep his emotional wall in place (using his flaws of mistrust, moodiness and an uncommunicative nature to keep people from getting close) he will not forge a bond that will make him part of the family. But if he is able to move past his wound (fear of neglect/abandonment) and open up to this family to receive and give love, he might at long last get his happy ever after.

happinessThis is what character arc is all about: growth. Learning to let go of the past, learning to see The Lie for what it is, and moving forward free from one’s fears. Once a character can let go of the past, they can find the strength to achieve their goals, finding happiness and fulfillment.

Do you know your character’s Emotional Wound?

If you need a place to start, check out this list of Common Character Wound Themes or brainstorm the list of entries from our Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

Psst! This Emotional Wound Thesaurus is also accessible at One Stop For Writers, along with 12 others. Talk about Description Nirvana!


Image 1: Didgeman @ Pixabay
Image 2: Jill111 @ Pixabay




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.
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[…] Why Is Your Character’s Emotional Wound So Important? […]

Charlotte Hyatt
4 years ago

This is my first visit Angela and I was not sure what to expect. Since I came over from K.M.Weiland’s website, I figured it would be good but since I am currently writing my autobiography/memoir, I wasn’t sure it would help my writing.

My life makes a great story (I think, no beta readers yet) but it was kind of lifeless, lacking something. This is exactly what I need! I now realize I was “holding something back” emotionally. This made me see what I need to form a “reader relationship.”

“The journey of self growth and overcoming one’s fears and past wounds is so compelling. As writers, we think of the story, but we need to remember to filter in as much real life as we can. And what is more real than each individual’s journey to become something more, to become someone better?”

Thank you for the showing me the “Emotional Wound” analysis and how vital this truth is to my memoir.

Do I have your permission to share this with my memoir writing group? I am new to the author game but this shows me how right Denis Ledoux is when he tells us to “open ourselves” when writing. It also makes me realize how much good writing, regardless of genre, has in common.

Diana Rubino
4 years ago

Angela, I used to work with a freelance editor, now retired, Carol Craig…the first thing she drove home was that each major character should have an INNER WOUND, and she explained what that was. Your thesaurus is so thorough and will be very helpful for my future books…I’ve added it to my ‘favorites’ list, and subscribed to the newsletter!
Keep up the good work, Diana

Raven Jester
Raven Jester
5 years ago

Wow, this is great, thank you, it has clarified for me at least, the how to use and why it is importat where it comes into play. Thank you.

Traci Kenworth
5 years ago

Another great one!! Hats off!!

Robyn Campbell
5 years ago

Wonderful post, Ange. I hadn’t thought about how much an emotional wound could make a character react to situations in her story world until reading these entries. Very handy and has turned one of my stories around. I owe you guys 100000.00 hugs. <3 you.

Sharon Ricklin Jones
5 years ago

Great post! (as usual)

S.E. Hood
5 years ago

Emotional wounds are what make the story. You can have all the car chases, steamy romances, or wild magic systems in the world, but if the story isn’t grounded in the characters, readers aren’t going to give a rip. Emotional wounds give the characters depth, make the conflict more personal, and most importantly, help readers relate to the characters.


[…] Why Is Your Character’s Emotional Wound So Important?  […]

Carol Baldwin
5 years ago

good post. Will save as a reminder!

Julie Frayn
5 years ago

For me, the emotional wound IS the story, IS the plot. It’s where the story is born and what the story, and the character growth, swirls around. As macabre as it sounds, I love playing with my characters’ emotional pain… Great post!