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.
- Being deliberately framed
- Being mistaken for the criminal because of similar physical features, race, etc.
- Someone committing perjury and setting one up to save someone else…
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 will never be free again.
- God must be punishing me for something I’ve done.
- I’m partly to blame for what happened; if I hadn’t been in that place, at that time, doing what I was doing…
Positive Attributes That May Result: ambitious, cautious, independent, industrious, just, persistent, private, proactive, resourceful, thrifty, tolerant
Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, apathetic, callous, confrontational, controlling, cynical, defensive, hostile, humorless, inflexible, inhibited…
- Fear of never getting out of jail
- Fear of losing one’s family or loved ones
- Fear that people will think badly of one…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Being suspicious of and distrusting those in authority
- Flouting the rules, since following them never did one any good anyway
- Hating and acting out against the people/group/organization responsible for one’s imprisonment
- Turning away from one’s faith
- Clinging to one’s faith…
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.
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.
Mart Ramirez says
What a great list! Thank you for the reminder and the examples. Always helpful <3
Beverly Campbell says
My main antagonist is very self absorbed, eccentric and narrow minded. I need to be able to clarify his traits better and to elaborate on them with his actions. Would I be able to do this easier using one of your trait thesauruses? If so which one in particular?
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Yes you can, and the one you would want is The Negative Trait Thesaurus. You can find the book here: https://writershelpingwriters.net/negative-trait-thesaurus/ or if you like it is also all listed online at One Stop For Writers. https://onestopforwriters.com/ This is a subscription site, but all our books and full thesaurus collections are available there so you see your story from every angle and have everything you need to describe it.
The important thing is to not only get the behaviors and actions that will show these traits, but to also explore the reasons for why they came into being. 😉