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.
- Living in a high crime area
- One’s neighborhood having a strong gang presence that pressures one to join
- Gangs fighting over territory…
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I can’t escape this type of life
- The world doesn’t care about people like me
- The only way to survive is to become what I hate…
Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, alert, bold, cautious, disciplined, discreet, focused, idealistic, independent, just, loyal, nurturing, observant, persistent…
Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, apathetic, callous, confrontational, cruel, cynical, dishonest, evasive, fanatical, hostile, impatient, irrational…
- fear of being hurt or killed
- fear of not being able to protect one’s family
- fear of being taken advantage of…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- constant checking of one’s surroundings for danger, even if not consciously aware of this behavior
- not always being genuine and honest with people
- pretending to be something one is not
- putting up a wall around one’s emotions
- being uncommunicative with others…
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.
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.
Leslie Rose says
I was in Hollywood last night and my WAZE navigation app took me through some really funky parts of town. It really made me think about the points you bring up in this post especially about kids and what they must face on their way to school each day.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Man, I can only imagine. I know I have traveled some scary places when abroad, but growing up somewhere where safety was always an issue would be life-changing.
As one who has overcome multiple traumatic experiences, I think that this is a very accurate description of the struggles faced and beliefs formed within individuals who’ve been wounded. I appreciate the perspective that the stories of these characters need to be told as well. I think that there are times when I hold back from character development for fear that I’ll share too much. I think it’s time I allow my characters to be more vulnerable and transparent.
Thanks for sharing this post,
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Thanks for writing in Annette. It is hard writing these because Becca and I know that while we’re looking at possible wounds for our characters, someone out there reading our blog will have very personal experience with the painful event we describe. We try to be as respectful and as accurate as possible, but we know some are hard to read.
All that said, I think that when our writing comes from somewhere within us that is a place of knowing and truth, it makes the writing more powerful and authentic. I also hope that for some the exercise of sharing some personal pain on the page through a character is also cathartic. Take care!