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.
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.
FINDING OUT ONE IS ADOPTED
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.
Examples: being told by one’s parents once reaching a certain age, discovering by accident (overhearing a conversation, finding one’s birth certificate, being contacted by a birth parent or sibling, etc.), finding out because …
Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization
False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:
- I’m obviously defective, or why else would my real parents give me up?
- Everything I know is a lie; after all if my parents lied about this, what else is untrue?
- I don’t belong anywhere; no one wants me…
Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, analytical, appreciative, centered, diplomatic, empathetic, happy, honest, introverted, mature, kind, loyal, philosophical…
Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, confrontational, cynical, defensive, disrespectful, gullible, hostile, manipulative, materialistic, needy, oversensitive…
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of trusting the wrong person
- Fear of vulnerability…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- mood swings (anger, betrayal, gratitude, mistrust, guilt, confusion)
- examining all of one’s relationships with family, searching for indications that one is being treated differently or loved “less”
- refusing to seek out one’s roots or past, living in denial
- growing obsessive about one’s past; asking constant questions, needing to know one’s roots
- difficulty trusting people…
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: thetruthpreneur @ 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.
No Name Please says
Interesting analysis. You might add: temper tantrums, depression, lack of focus, dropping out of school.
Traci Kenworth says
Good to know!!
Deb Salisbury says
Thank you! These traits will add depth to my current novel.
Staci Troilo says
I know many people this applies to, and I think you nailed it. It raised a question for me, though. How do you think this is similar to and different from children born from egg, sperm, or embryo donation? Is that a trait you might consider explaining?
As always, thanks for your hard work.
Yes, lots of similariities between adoptees and donor conceived. Similarites exist in emotional experiences, lack of genetic mirroring, lack of legal access to records pertaining to self, expectations of gratitude…and the list goes on.
This is very appropriate, am writing on this topic at this very second (well I’m on social media, really, but you know what I mean;)) A family member (in my own family, in real life) is adopted, and it is such a belt across the face with a shovel to all involved when it comes out (the person who was adopted agreed with this sentiment), it changes lives in so many little ways and yet changes nothing too, it doesn’t change the memories that have been built since. A great post and hopefully people will see from both note and post that this is a very well rounded, realistic take on adoption.