The Current Anthology Vol.1 went live last Wednesday.
How I Write An Emotional Character Arc
Today I'm going to share my process for crafting an emotional character arc. If you know anything about me, you know that I dedicate most of my prewriting time to character development. Somewhere along the way, I got it in my head that if I know the characters inside and out, I can throw any and everything at them, which actually turned out to be true — for me anyway! I’m always looking for new ways to explore my characters and in 2017, I stumbled upon The Emotional Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Publisi. The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is designed to help you dig deep into your character’s back story and understand the psychological impact of a character’s past pain.
Angela and Becca also run One Stop For Writers, a priceless resource for writers at any stage of their writing journey. I’ve been following them for years and learned tons from their articles. There thesauri have also become a part of my writing toolkit.
What is an emotional wound?
An emotional wound is a negative experience (or set of experiences) that causes pain non a deep psychological level. It is a lasting hurt that often involves someone close: a family member, lover, mentor, friend, or other trusted individual. The wounds may be tied to a specific event, arise upon learning difficult truths about the world, or result from physical limitations, conditions, or challenges. (Pg.5 Emotional Wound Thesaurus.)
So now we have the definition but how does that help you craft your character’s back story? And more importantly, why should the readers care? Well, your character’s backstory informs the narrative that makes it to the page and helps you create a character who reads authentically.
How To Use The Emotional Wound Thesaurus:
1. Identify the emotional wound.
Carlotta Mercier, the female main character of my most recent erotic novella, The Love That Remains (will feature in Current Anthology Vol 2.) is a widow. At the beginning of this story, the reader learns that he’s been dead for four years and was a prince among men amongst his family and friends. Every year since the year he died, he’s sent her anniversary gifts. This one is their tenth so she expects it to be big… and it is. Part of his gift to her is to give her permission to move on because even beyond the grave he knows she would remain devoted to him. However, Carlotta is unsure about moving on. She’s not even sure if she can or even wants to. So obviously her emotional wound is death of a spouse. Since we know Carlotta’s wound at the beginning of the story, my goal is to write a narrative that helps her overcome it. There isn't a listing for Death of a Spouse but it's easy enough to use the framework they provide to write one.
2. What basic needs are compromised by this wound?
Becca and Angela use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for this portion of the character study. Carlotta’s wound compromises her need for love and belonging, esteem & recognition, and self-actualization.
The first is pretty obvious. Her husband is gone and the love and belonging that they had created with each other and the little family she wanted to grow with him. Her esteem & recognition are compromised because she was married for eight years and being Mrs. Mercier was now a large part of her identity, and this compromises her self-actualization because she doesn’t know who she is without her husband. She has to rediscover that woman or become someone else entirely.
3. What lies do they believe about themselves as a result of the wound?
Carlotta didn’t date much before she met John Paul and none of those relationships were great or even comparable to the romance she experienced with him. For this reason, she believes:
- she will never find love again
- love and attachment only leads to pain and loss
- The future is uncertain so why plan
- That he was the better of the two of them
- Her life was about him, and now it has no meaning
- She fears abandonment
4. How has their emotional wound affected their actions and decisions about their life?
Carlotta became a hermit after her husband passed. She’s pulled away from her friendships and avoids people and places that remind her of him. His office is exactly the way he left it. She talked to him when she’s alone. She hasn’t even imagined being with someone else.
5. How do they shield themselves from this wound?
Avoidance is Carlotta’s chosen way to shield herself from her wounds. When she’s alone, she can pretend that her husband isn’t gone.
6. Possible responses to this emotional wound.
- Obsessing over health and safety
- Seeking the other grieving people
- Alcoholism/drug abuse
- Holding onto her deceased spouse’s belongings
With the answers to these questions I will create personality traits and come up with plot points that might trigger her to confront this wound. It will also help me craft secondary characters and plot points that will encourage her along her journey to become whole again.
I hope this little peek into my process will make you interested in reading Carlotta’s story and I hope that her story is the sort that lingers after you’ve read the last page. Don’t forget to grab your copy of Volume One! Volume Two goes live Dec. 14th. And if you're an author, make sure you grab a copy of The Emotional Wound Thesaurus.