I’ve written about other books in this series – The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive and Negative Trait Thesauruses, The Urban and Rural Setting Thesauruses. They’ve become invaluable tools as I write my fiction, lending depth and sparking ideas in uncountable ways.
Next up, they’re releasing The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
An important note: READ THE FOREWORD
While emotional wounds are a critical part of character development, this writing tool can bring up a lot of strong emotions. The forward is only one page, but it contains information about the intended use of this book and ways to care for yourself if the wounds you’re exploring are close to home.
The authors, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, define an emotional wound as “a negative experience (or set of experiences) that causes pain on a deep psychological level.” As writers strive to create well-developed characters, these wounds are vital. They may explain the backstory resulting in a character’s current situation. These events may be the current situation. They can be one-time events, repeated events, or ongoing situations.
Whatever the circumstances, this psychological trauma shapes many aspects of a character. It informs how they see themselves, others, and the world around them. It explains how they behave in certain situations, react to certain stimuli. It forms the basis of how they interact with people and how they form (or don’t form) relationships. Even their moral code is likely affected. The book uses Maslow’s Hierarchy to examine how these wounds shape a character’s need fulfillment before moving into notes on how a character goes about changing and letting go.
The front matter of this book is incredibly helpful all on its own before you even reach the thesaurus entries!
The wounds are divided into several categories, including crime/victimization, disabilities/disfigurements, failures/mistakes, injustice/hardship, misplaced trust/betrayals, specific childhood wounds, and traumatic events – 118 entries in all.
Let’s look at an entry: “Being Disowned or Shunned”
I chose this one because I’m currently writing a piece of flash fiction in which a young man at his grandfather’s funeral is in danger of being outed by his uninvited boyfriend and “an adult being shunned by his parents” is one of the examples listed. Clearly, I’ve never been a closeted young man, so this entry is very informative.
Next, we find a list of “Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound” – this goes back to the hierarchy, so you’ll want to keep that handy.
The entry moves on to false beliefs the character may embrace and what they may fear, such as never finding acceptance or that they are weak.
A long list of “Possible Responses and Results” follows – which is great because I don’t know how it feels to be in this character’s shoes, but now I have some ideas of how he might act and what he might do depending on how current events unfold.
Now, this next section feels like a real bonus to me because I have the other books: “Personality Traits That May Form.” Attributes (positive traits) and Flaws (negative traits), many of which I can cross-reference in the trait thesauruses for additional ideas.
The last two sections cover specific triggers that may aggravate the wound and opportunities to face or overcome it. Sounds like a “middle” and “end” to me…
Next up, I should go back to the other main character in my story – the boyfriend. Perhaps his wound was “Being Sent Away as a Child.” Reading through the entry, I start to see what might make this character tick. He may have false beliefs about abandonment and conditional love. He may fear rejection and think no one will love him due to his deep flaws. Maybe he shows up uninvited at the funeral because he thinks it’s a way to earn the family’s approval.
I can’t wait to run more characters through the filter of these entries. Not only does it shape the character but it also shapes the plot. Understanding why characters are the way they are is vital to creating engaging protagonists, antagonists, and supporting players. The Emotional Wound Thesaurus will be available October 25. In the meantime, consider picking up the other thesauruses – you won’t be sorry.
Note: This post kicks off a series of posts about writing resources/tools. Come back next week for more!