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.
Definition: Being unable to bear children, either with or without medical interventions.
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: esteem and recognition, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I’m less or a man/woman because of this.
- This is a punishment for something I’ve done in the past.
- There must be some reason why I can’t have kids…
Positive Attributes That May Result: discreet, empathetic, optimistic, patient, persistent, private, resourceful,
Negative Traits That May Result: callous, cynical, evasive, irrational, jealous, martyr, needy, obsessive, pessimistic, resentful, temperamental, ungrateful, withdrawn
- Fear of growing old and being alone
- Fear of one’s spouse dying
- Fear of what others think…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Becoming obsessed with conceiving a child, regardless of the inconvenience or cost
- Tirelessly researching and trying new or unusual fertility methods, treatments, and remedies
- Becoming obsessed with one’s health
- Lying to others about why one hasn’t had children
- Struggling with depression…
TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.
For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.
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.
Kari Kilgore says
Great entry, and such a fraught topic for many of us.
My husband and I decided not to have children when we first met since neither of us ever wanted any. I’m not sure if I’d call this an emotional wound since it started in my early 20s, but the pressure to HAVE children was relentless until we got into our mid-40s. Not so much from my family because I was very clear about how we felt.
His brother and other family members could not accept our decision no matter how many times we explained it. I got a lot of “encouraging” comments that sometimes permanent birth control failed after all! His brother eventually decided we were infertile and started telling us how sorry he was that we couldn’t have kids. I suppose we are, but on purpose.
The worst may have been from total strangers, and most of that was directed at me. Years and years of hearing how I’d regret it, how I’d change my mind, how I was being selfish, how I must hate children, on and on and on. I was (mostly) polite about it, but I often wanted to ask how they could be so rude and intrusive. For all these people knew, maybe we did desperately want to have kids and couldn’t for some reason. And by the way, I’m an awesome Auntie. I happen to love kids! I simply never wanted one full time.
On the positive side, I believe this is part of what drives me to explore both sides in fiction. I’ve had characters who did not want to have children faced with decisions they never wanted to make, as well as characters who go through that endless cycle of fertility treatments. Heartbreak all around, and I learn so much from different perspectives.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
That is terrible that peopled pushed their beliefs on you and didn’t show you the respect you and your hubby deserve to make the choices right for you. People are funny sometimes, and some really struggle with any sort of deviation from what they believe is a core life path, but the reality is that there’s is no one right way to feel or be happy. Everyone should be respected and not have to deal with judgement regarding their life journey.
BECCA PUGLISI says
It’s sad how familiar this story sounds. I know so many people who have experienced this after making the decision to not have children. I also remember many well-meaning but hurtful comments while I was privately struggling with fertility to the tune of Don’t wait too long to have kids or you might regret it down the road. It’s unbelievable the extent to which people believe they have the right to intrude in very private areas. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this, Kari.
This section needs an “offensive stereotypes to be avoided” section and a section on behaviors of others that the infertile suffer (such as people with children distancing themselves from us, others treating us like we’re inferior to bio-mothers and bio-fathers, etc.) And a note that adoption is not a cure; you can have a child via adoption and still be struggling with the wounds of infertility and there is secondary infertility, too, and the wounds from past infertility don’t instantly vanish if a couple does eventually “win the lottery” by managing to conceive.
Linda Strawn says
My husband and I always wanted children. We picked out names long before we picked out china patterns prior to our marriage. A year or so after we tied the knot, we found out I couldn’t conceive. After 15 years of undergoing fertility treatments, I had to have a complete hysterectomy. God taught us a lot during this time, including what it means to wait on Him. Little did we know, He had already picked out a forever home to a yet to be born baby girl. This sweet child filled our hearts and home right after she was born, and we officially adopted her by the time she turned a year old. She’s now in high school and we can’t imagine what life was like without her.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Thank you for sharing your story, Linda. For us, infertility was also a lesson in trust, and it was the inactive years, when there was nothing we could do, that were the hardest. I’m so glad that God brought you a third member for your family, and for the lessons you were able to learn during the (very difficult) process.
Tegan Wren says
My forthcoming novel, INCONCEIVABLE!, from Curiosity Quills Press deals extensively with infertility. I used my own experiences struggling to get pregnant to inform my writing. This is an interesting read. I hope anyone who tackles this very important topic will think about representing the journey in an accurate way and avoid creating a caricature of “the barren woman.” Here’s hoping this entry will help create more three-dimensional characters who experience this heartbreaking struggle. And to be sure, we need more books to give an accurate picture of what it’s like to experience infertility.
Traci Kenworth says
A heartbreaking one. I have such empathy because I was unable to have children until I had three laparoscopies to remove endometriosis.
BECCA PUGLISI says
It IS heartbreaking; I’m sorry you had to go through it. I chose this one because of the personal experience I could bring to the table; it took us 7 years, numerous medical procedures, and most of our savings to be able to conceive children. All 100% worth it, but the process was brutal. I dreaded Mother’s Day for years…