Guest blog by: Becca Puglisi
Emotional wounds are tricky to write about.
Abuse, betrayal, victimization, and the death of a loved one may exist in our characters’ pasts and so must be explored.
But these are also real life events that cause damage to real people.
So as I talk today about personalizing wounds for our characters, please know that I’m aware of the pain they cause in our world, and I applaud the courageous individuals who fight to come to grips with them every day.
Why Wounding Events Matter in Fiction
Wounding events greatly affect a character’s development, so they’re important to identify.
These painful experiences are deeply impactful, giving birth to life-altering fears, new habits and behaviors, even flaws meant to protect her from facing that pain again.
Wounding events are aptly named because they change who the character is; until they’re faced and addressed, she will never be whole.
But pinpointing what that event might be for a character is just the first step.
Traumas affect people differently; something that would destroy one character may have no lasting impact on another.
The wounding experience should be one that stops the protagonist in her tracks, making it impossible for her to achieve that story goal that will result in personal fulfillment.
However, you can maximize the impact of a traumatic event on a character by making it more personal.
You can accomplish this by knowing the following factors that can impact a wound and incorporating them into your story:
Some people are simply better equipped to deal with difficulty than others. An anxious or embittered person may find it harder to deal with a traumatic event than someone with an optimistic outlook or an adaptable nature.
So build the necessary traits into her personality before tragedy strikes.
A strong support system is hugely helpful in facilitating healing for a victim. Loyal loved ones, a steady faith, or a supportive community can make it easier for someone to spring back, whereas a victim suffering alone may have a harder time.
The closer the danger, the more traumatic it can be.
A violent bank robbery may impact the employees, the customers, a security guard, etc. But the teller with the gun stuck in her face may take longer to recover than anyone else.
It’s harrowing to be conned by a stranger, but someone you know causes even more damage, breeding self-doubt and making it difficult to trust others in the future.
It’s commonplace to replay a horrific event, picking it apart to figure out how it could have been avoided. This often results in the victim blaming herself, even when she was in no way at fault.
So if you need to intensify an already difficult circumstance, add an element of self-blame.
Seeing the perpetrator pay for what he’s done often provides closure that can set the victim on the path to healing.
On the other hand, knowing the criminal is still out there and free to strike again can cause a wound to fester.
A trauma is horrible enough, but it often sets other events in motion that the wounded character is ill equipped to deal with.
Someone who has lost a child may also face divorce, be unjustly blamed, or lose a job due to depression.
Compounding events are the equivalent of someone kicking the victim when she’s down.
Just as you can use these factors to make a rough circumstance more difficult for your protagonist, you can also tweak them to soften their impact on other characters.
So as you dig into the backstory to unearth your characters’ pain, consider how deeply you want them affected.
Despite having experienced wounding events of our own, applying them to our characters can be daunting.
I’ll be lurking around the comments section to answer any questions.
Thank you, Jerry, for hosting me today!
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion ThesaurusThe Emotional Wound Thesaurus. 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. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.