We’ve talked about the character wound on PsychWriter before when I explored the negative core belief. We know it’s a painful past event that changes who your character is, a thinking pattern rooted in their past. One that will impact how your character perceives the world, and ultimately the choices they make. But what is this core negative belief going to mean for your character and your story? Well, psychology has spent years (and who knows how much money) on proving these beliefs influence our actions, which is a veritable goldmine for writers. So once you’ve identified your character’s unique belief (if you haven’t, then check out this post), ask yourself the following questions:
How aware is your character of their wound?
The capacity to recognise what drives our emotions is dependent on our ability to self-reflect. I see it in my office every day, and I would say that ability to self-reflect is one of the predictors of client success. It’s the same for your character. How aware are they of their inner monologue, but more so, how aware are they of what drives it?
Consider how self-aware your character is, because its going to make a difference to their trajectory. Being blind to our true motivations (not just our external motivations like wanting the dream job, falling in love or world domination) means we are less likely to address them. In short, developing self-awareness is going to be part of your character’s arc.
How does their wound colour the way your character perceives the world?
One of the challenges of being a good psychologist is being able to put yourself in another persons’ shoes, to see the world the way a client sees it, and writers face the same challenge. We all know that reality is subjective, that everything we perceive is filtered through our expectations, our beliefs and our personal truth. Just like many other beliefs, core negative beliefs are deeply ingrained, possibly more so because your character’s brain has learned a painful lesson that it doesn’t want to experience again. This means they will be constantly on the lookout for when it could happen again. If your character has decided the world is an unsafe place, that’s what they will expect to see. If they’ve decided that they’re a failure, then all the times they failed an exam, shouted at their kids or forgot to buy eggs will jump to the forefront of their experience. If they’ve decided they’re unattractive, then one sideways look from a stranger and they’ve got all the proof they need.
Consider how the belief system that has set root in their mind colours their perception and then capture that in your book.
What lengths will your character go to hide this vulnerability?
No one likes to feel vulnerable. For the brain, feeling vulnerable means feeling unsafe, which it will go to great lengths to avoid. In the previous post about defense mechanisms, I went through the most common ways we will do this — anything from denial to projection. They generally all comprise some sort of avoidance. Another way to frame our avoidance behaviours is the fight, flight or freeze phenomenon. If your character is feeling vulnerable, and therefore unsafe, they may default to running (physically or emotionally), fighting (a well-aimed barb or left hook will usually get the source of your discomfort out of your face) or freezing until you can think of a way to get out of their predicament.
So think about how far your character will go to feel safe and protected, and what they will do when this sense of safety is challenged.
What triggers your character’s belief?
Core negative beliefs are buried so deep that they are often unconsciously triggered. What pushes your character’s inadequacy buttons? Triggers can be external — a frown from a parent, losing the faith of your team, the death of a loved one; or they can be internal — jumping to conclusions, mind reading or allowing yourself to hope.
Think about what will trigger your character’s wound. The answer to the above question will give you some insights into your plot. What could happen that will have your character worried, anxious or scared that what they think about themselves is actually true?
How does your character’s belief translate into behaviour?
The core tenant of cognitive behaviour therapy is the thoughts – feelings – behaviour cycle. Our thoughts (i.e. core negative belief) leads to an emotion (usually a negative state we don’t particularly want to experience) which then leads to an action. Spend a bit of time considering how all the above factors are going to manifest in your characters choices and behaviour. Will they run themselves ragged trying to prove they are not their belief? Will they give up at the first sign of difficulty because there’s no point trying?
Spend some time projecting how your character is going to respond to various plot points from their unique perspective. Take into account all the points you’ve just been mulling over, because they are going to help answer your question.
I’d love to hear about your character’s wound and the power it has over them. How does their core negative belief actualise in your novel? Comments and feedback always make me smile. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Have a wonderful week,