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.
Examples: It’s impossible to do the right thing all the time. Sometimes, the result of a character’s failing to do the right thing is small: momentary guilt, a temporary rift with a friend, etc. But sometimes the natural consequences of their failures can be monumental, resulting in permanent loss, shame, self-doubt, and self-loathing. These events can be wounding ones that can greatly impact our characters over time.
- Not standing up for someone who is being bullied, belittled, or victimized
- Looking the other way as a crime is committed
- Not helping someone (a vagrant, a child, etc.) when help could have been given
- Giving in to peer pressure…
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:
- I’m a bad person.
- I can’t trust my own instincts.
- I can’t be relied upon to do what’s right…
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, cautious, discreet, honest, just, merciful, observant, protective
Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, apathetic, callous, controlling, cowardly, cruel, defensive, devious, evasive, gullible, hypocritical, ignorant, insecure, irresponsible…
- Fear of losing friends if one speaks against them
- Fear of being responsible for someone being hurt again
- Fear of being manipulated or easily led by others…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Always relying on others to make important decisions because one doesn’t trust one’s instincts
- Refusing to see injustice anywhere out of a desire to avoid responsibility
- Turning inward
- Doubting oneself
- Becoming more cautious; thinking decisions through more carefully in order to come to the right conclusions…
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.