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.
Examples: Escaping or being rescued from being held captive. This entry deals with the long-term effects after having escaped a kidnapping. For more information on the wounds one would experience while being held captive, see this entry.
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:
- If I don’t watch out, it could happen to me again.
- I’m an easy mark, a target.
- He’s out there watching me, waiting for another opportunity (if one’s kidnapper remains at large)
- My life as I knew it is over.
- I will never be whole again.
- The others didn’t make it out; I shouldn’t have, either. (survivor’s guilt)
- My captor wasn’t all bad. (Stockholm syndrome)
Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, appreciative, bold, cautious, disciplined, empathetic, independent, industrious, inspirational, meticulous, observant, patient, persistent, private, proactive, protective, resourceful, socially aware,
Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, callous, compulsive, controlling, devious, evasive, flaky, frivolous, hostile, humorless, ignorant, impulsive, inflexible, inhibited, insecure, irrational, manipulative, morbid, needy, nervous, obsessive, paranoid, possessive, prejudiced, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, subservient, suspicious, temperamental, timid, uncommunicative, uncooperative, volatile, weak-willed, withdrawn
- I can’t take care of myself, much less anyone else.
- I can’t survive on my own.
- I’ll never readjust to live in normal society.
- No one could ever love me now.
- I’m crippled; I’ll never be able to achieve my dreams.
- I’m not worthy of anyone’s love or affection.
- No one is trustworthy.
- The only person I can count on is me.
- I need someone else to take care of me.
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Becoming overly cautious
- Hyperawareness of one’s surroundings
- Sensitivity to trigger stimuli (the smell of the captor’s cologne, sounds from one’s captivity, etc.)
- Withdrawing from friends and loved ones
- Difficulty trusting others
- Fatigue due to nightmares
- Becoming obsessed with security (taking self-defense classes, getting a gun, buying a dog, etc.)
- Taking steps to leave one’s past behind (changing one’s name, moving, etc.)
- Losing interest in hobbies and interests one used to enjoy
- Being overprotective of one’s children
- Difficulty adjusting to changes that have occurred in the world since one’s abduction
- Being evasive or dishonest out of a desire to protect one’s privacy
- Reliving certain traumas over and over
- Thoughts or attempts of suicide
- Flying under everyone’s radar so as not to draw attention to oneself
- Feeling empathy for one’s kidnapper, followed by feelings of guilt over one’s empathy
- Self-loathing over things that happened or one’s inability to escape or stop them from happening
For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.
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.