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.
- a forced initiation into a gang or military group
- a parent protecting their child or themselves from a stranger
- a parent protecting their child or themselves from a violent spouse…
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: safety and security, esteem and recognition, love and belonging
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I am a violent/dangerous person/a monster
- The world is an evil place
- I did the unthinkable and so am capable of anything…
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, appreciative, cautious, courageous, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, independent, introverted, private, proactive, resourceful…
Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, antisocial, controlling, cynical, defensive, humorless, impatient, inflexible, irrational, materialistic, needy, paranoid, pessimistic…
Note: fears will be circumstance-specific, but below are some possible suggestions
- fear of strangers
- fear of loud noises
- fear of being confined…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- having to know where one’s loved ones are at all times
- increased security protocol for one’s home and family
- difficulty building trust and friendships
- avoiding sharing personal information
- having a secret store for cash, weapons or other resources (whichever factors into the original situation)…
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.
Image: Satlitov @ 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.
Traci Kenworth says
Good one!! I can’t imagine anything scarier.
Mary Ann Slavcheff says
Another issue is knowing too much of the back story and trying to present it all at once or finding where to present it. Back story is why I could never be an outliners. I often have to write several drafts before I figure out where to put flashbacks.