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.
GROWING UP IN FOSTER CARE
- Parents who passed away (and having no relatives in the picture)
- Parents who were incapable of care because they were drug addicts
- Parents who were incarcerated for a crime and their child became a ward of the state…
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 am defective
- People are inherently cruel
- I am unworthy of love…
Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, alert, analytical, cautious, courageous, disciplined, idealistic, imaginative, independent, introverted, just, loyal…
Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, cruel, cynical, devious, dishonest, evasive, hostile, inhibited, insecure…
- fear of loving and losing
- fear of rejection
- fear of poverty…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- keeping secrets
- lying or making up untruths even when it isn’t important
- telling people what they want to hear
- being highly private
- being highly protective of one’s possessions or close relationships…
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.
I think writing Foster Home story but if there any idea you could help please?
BECCA PUGLISI says
Hi there! If you’re looking for resources on foster homes, this Emotional Wound Thesaurus entry is a good place to start. You can find it in full at our subscription site, One Stop for Writers. We also have a Setting Thesaurus entry on a Group Foster Home that you might find useful.
I was a foster child and this actually was almost completely on-point. There were a couple of traits I would’ve added such as:
•maturity at early ages/ acting older than the character’s age
•extremely protective of those they love
•described as the ‘therapist’ of friend groups
•can develop mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, ect.
•very meticulous of word choice and eloquency
•quiet, sometimes described as shy, doesn’t like to meet new people
•great listeners and give amazing advice because they’ve grown up too quick and they’ve adopted responsibilities that young children shouldn’t have to adopt
BECCA PUGLISI says
Thanks so much for your insight, Valen. As with any research, first-hand experience is the most reliable, so I appreciate you sharing this to round out our incomplete narrative.
terry gene says
This is great. Great material to flesh out Cissy in novels 2, 3 and 4.
One of my MC’s lost her mother at age 6 and was taken in by a loving couple who weren’t relatives. No formal process as they never could find out who she was. She became rebellious, homicidal, but they always responded with active love and got her through her bad years and into college.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Very glad this one in particular will be helpful to you Terry!