Character Wounds – Guest Post by Angela Ackerman

marin - freedigitalphotos

Why Is Your Character’s Wound So Important?

Character wounds hold incredible power, steering a hero’s motives, actions, and beliefs. They damage their sense of self worth, filter how they view the world, and dictate how they interact with other people, making it harder for them to achieve their goals. So what exactly is a wound?

A character wound is a painful past event so emotionally damaging that it changes who your character is. This negative experience triggers a psychological reaction: the need to protect oneself from further emotional hurt. This need is so great that behaviors change, new traits (flaws) form as the character dons emotional armor to create a wall between himself and others. The idea of experiencing this kind of emotional trauma again becomes a fear, one he will do anything to avoid.

Because wounds are a deep emotional blow caused when one is in a vulnerable state, they often involve the people closest to the protagonist. Family or caregivers, lovers or friends. Betrayals, injustice, neglect, isolation or disillusionment are all common themes that lay fertile ground for hurt, mistrust and the desire to avoid situations where that same pain might reoccur.

Like in real life, characters suffer many different smaller wounds throughout their lives, but the “wounding event” that factors into your character’s internal arc should be symbolic of the false belief they must reject in order to become whole once more. This false belief is known as “the Lie” the character believes about themselves as a result of the emotional wound. Let me show this through an example.

Let’s say our main character is Tim, a teenager who was turned over to Foster Care at age ten (Wound). His parents were alcoholics and neglectful. As a result, when he enters the foster system, he is mistrustful, uncommunicative and moody. Because of his parents’ abandonment, he believes that he’s defective, that he’s not worth loving (The Lie he believes about himself because of the wound).

Tim stays with families who provide the essentials to live but no love or affection. This suits him after what he went through. He keeps his emotional armor on, keeping people at a distance, because he’ll just be moving on in a month or year, and getting attached means getting hurt. However, as Tim is fostered out for the fourth time, something changes. His foster family shows genuine interest in him and they work at trying to pull him out of his shell. There is another child there, a foster child who was adopted the year before. Hope enters the picture...could this somehow be different?

At this point, Tim must make a CHOICE (as all protagonists must.) If he continues to keep his emotional wall in place (using his flaws of mistrust, moodiness and an uncommunicative nature to keep people from getting close) he will not forge a bond that will make him part of the family. But if he is able to move past his wound (fear of neglect/abandonment) and open up to this family to receive and give love, he might at long last get his happy ever after.

This is what character arc is all about: growth. Learning to let go of the past, learning to see The Lie for what it is, and moving forward free from one’s fears. Once a character can let go of the past, they can find the strength to achieve their goals, finding happiness and fulfillment.

Do you know your character’s Emotional Wound? Let me know in the comments! And if you need a place to start, check out this list of Common Character Wound Themes.

angela_ackerman

ANGELA ACKERMAN is the author of the bestselling writing guide, The Emotion Thesaurus, and most recently, The Positive Trait and Negative Trait Thesaurus books. Centering on the light and dark side of a character's personality, these new resource books help writers create layered, compelling characters that readers relate to and care for. Visit Angela's website, Writers Helping Writers for friendly support, description help, free writing tools and more!

thesaurus

*Image at top courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

18 comments:

  1. Angela, these are great tips to think about as I'm getting ready for the focus-on-character part of my revision! My character's wound is that she accidentally hurt her younger brother as a child and she believes she's somehow monstrous as a result (and desperately seeking atonement).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a great wound--we had a discussion in a recent class I taught on what the worst type of wound is. I think it's something that combines shame and guilt, where someone else pays the price for one's own mistake, something that causes great harm. The thing with wounds is that even if something is only an accident, not malicious at all, we still see the worst in ourselves and believe the lie that we are terrible because of what happened, of how we failed someone else. It makes for a very compelling inner journey to forgiving oneself! Good luck!

      Delete
  2. Great article on how wounds impact our characters. My character's wound stems from being taken from his family at a young age and groomed to serve an oppressive society that only values his intelligence and what it can do for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another strong wound--repression leaves a deep mark but also the drive to change it if a person believes in themselves and their own self worth. If they don't, part of the inner journey is about them finding it so that they can challenge their circumstances and break free of the oppression. Great stuff!

      Delete
  3. This is awesome information Angela! What a great way to explain the change in a character's arc. Thank you! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy to help! Knowing the character's wound is the most important piece of backstory an author needs to know, because it is the main feature for the hero's inner growth. Happy writing!

      Delete
  4. This is just what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is just what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very good post. Thanks--will share with my writing students.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Carol--I hope they find it helpful as well. The wound can be difficult to grasp but it is important than all characters have something to overcome internally so they can achieve their goals. When people are not whole they are not satisfied and must feel driven to make a change so they can become happy and complete. This is what self growth is all about :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. My character's wound stems from being 17 and seduced by his best friend's mother - best friend caught them in the act and later killed himself. Guilt, anxiety and sexual abhorrence have haunted him ever since...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Holy cow--that is a huge wound, because that age is so emotionally confusing as is. Great job--lots to overcome, and you know the character will never be the same after this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! And absolutely - age and stage, when it comes to trauma, define the impact. There is much healing on my character's horizon, and his Journey's end will be self acceptance

      Delete
  10. Thanks so much, Angela! For the post and for chatting in the comments. Great info. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Angela. this post is brilliant!! i wanted to know if you any other books that talks about how to write character wounds?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Angela has a whole bunch of great posts and resources. You can check out her website here http://writershelpingwriters.net/.

      Delete
  12. I'm a little late in coming to this post, but it is exactly what I needed right now. My character's wound is growing up with parents who always expected the worst of her, told her how terrible and unloveable she was, and made sure she knew she couldn't do anything right so she shouldn't even try. Everything wrong that happened to or in the family was her fault.

    ReplyDelete