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: Being in charge of one’s child when he/she dies due to
- choking on food
- a food allergy…
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 can’t be responsible for the life of another.
- I’m untrustworthy/irresponsible.
- I’m a terrible parent…
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, cautious, meticulous, observant, private, proactive, protective, responsible
Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, callous, cynical, evasive, fussy, humorless, inhibited, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, morbid, needy, nervous…
- If I’m left in charge of a child again, the same thing will happen.
- I can’t be responsible for anyone.
- My spouse will never forgive me…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Withdrawing one’s love from other children
- Withdrawing from one’s spouse
- Avoiding being left in charge of one’s other children
- Avoiding children and places where children gather
- Becoming obsessive or compulsive in an effort to not miss anything again…
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.
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.
Victoriah S Lloyd says
This is an awesome post. I cannot tell you how this hits home. Because of this post, i can better understand how to help a member of my family who is dealing with this same issue. You guys are genius.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Victoriah, I am very sorry you know someone with this wound in real life. While we’re profiling these wounds for characters and not dispensing advice for the real world, I am glad that you found something here that may help you help someone else through this difficult situation. Hugs!
Carol Baldwin says
Such a comprehensive post that has (thankfully!) never happened to me–but seems so incredibly scary and devastating. It would be so tough to go through something like this–or even to write about it.
I know. As a mother of small children, I’m haunted by those stories of someone backing over a child or accidentally leaving one in the car. I honestly don’t know how you recover from something like this.
Michelle Dixon says
Thank you for email you sent to me, it is and will be very helpful now and in the future. Michelle Dixon.