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: Getting through childhood can be difficult enough when life isn’t overly complicated. But having a sibling with chronic, long-term, or complex medical or emotional issues that require a lot of financial and physical attention from caregivers can have an impact on other children in the family. Some examples of these issues include
- a traumatic brain injury
- an undiagnosed illness
- a failing organ in need of a transplant…
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:
- Someone (oneself, the sick child, a parent) must have done something wrong and is being punished.
- It would have been better if he/she had never been born.
- My parents love him/her more than me…
Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, appreciative, calm, curious, diplomatic, easygoing, empathetic, generous, gentle, honorable, idealistic, independent…
Negative Traits That May Result: apathetic, callous, catty, childish, cynical, dishonest, disloyal, frivolous, grumpy, humorless, impatient, insecure, manipulative, martyr…
- The same thing is going to happen to me.
- My sibling is going to die.
- My life is going to be like this forever…
Possible Habits That May Emerge:
- Avoiding the sibling when in public
- Acting out as a way of getting a parent’s attention
- Overachieving as a means of earning a parent’s love
- Becoming independent out of necessity
- Maturing early emotionally…
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.
i can tell you STRAIGHT UP that this is exactly right. My oldest child has a profound physical disability and has led to surgeries, etc. The other 4 kids have a LOT of those tendencies you’ve listed, many of which are wonderful (caring, compassionate, caregiver). I would also list (which you have alluded to, of course) is anxiety/panic issues. You’ve definitely included symptoms. like, will this happen to me, hypochondriac, etc. At any given time, at least 2 of the 4 are on anxiety meds.
O.o lol. it is what it is, right? But again, Becca, I wanted to let you know that this couldn’t have been more perfect.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Thank you for this feedback, Diane. I’m so sorry that this is something you or anyone has to deal with. It must be very hard to try and explain these things to kids in a way that they can understand what’s really happening and not either internalize the situation or read more into it.
Paul Vitols says
Thanks for all the emotional wounds, Angela and Becca! I’ve got your Emotional Traits thesauri and think very highly of them.
You may be interested to know that I’ve mentioned you (and them) in my latest blog post. I warmly invite you to stop by.
Gifford MacShane says
Excellent! Planning a new book with a child who is mute, and this opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities. Thank you for this entry, and for always being so willing to share your research. You two are wonderful!
Miah Arthur says
A sibling with autism should be in the list, too. And other developmental delays. Even so called high functioning autism can mean hours every week spent at therapies, in the car driving to therapy, at home doing therapy homework, and constant planning around the autisitic siblings needs. The sibling gets to sit in the waiting room for hours upon hours while the child goes to rooms that look like every kid’s dream. Especially applicable to occupational therapy.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Yes, Miah, this is one that definitely should be included. Thanks for the reminder!