I was so surprised last week when I realized that I had never written about a character’s wounds! I learned about this concept from Michael Hauge who speaks about character wounds in his incredible talk on “The Hero’s Two Journeys“.  The character’s wound an incredibly important piece of information that an author needs to know about their main characters. A wound will color everything the character does and how they see the world.

What is a wound?

So, let’s begin with what a wound is. Everyone–real or fictional–has a major wound or life experience which determines how they view themselves and how they view the world. It is an experience which so affects a person (or character) that it turns their world. It can be something as small as their father telling them something (the example Michael Hauge uses is from the movie Good Will Hunting–Will’s opinion of himself is entirely based on his father telling him that he’s stupid. He believed it and therefore never strove to be anything more than a janitor when in fact he has a mathematical mind of a genius) or as huge as seeing a miracle happen.

In the story I’m currently writing, the heroine who’d always been a quiet, shy girl was the subject of an 18 year-old boy’s attention when she was 15 and even kissed by him. But then he left and she never heard from him again. From this experience, she learned that she might be someone worthy of attention but that men are not to be trusted.  This experience shaped her self-image in a positive way, but also made her decide never to marry.

The importance of wounds

The importance of knowing your character’s wound should be pretty clear to you now. A wound will determine how your character behaves, what they want in life, what their goals might be and how they might be limited by this wound. It determines how they interact with people–if they’ve been hurt by a certain type of person they may be wary of all people like that (for example, in my story my heroine is wary of all men).

If you are writing a fantasy novel and your character has a special ability and they’ve had a bad experience with showing others their ability, they may try to hide it or suppress it, and if the wound came when they were young enough, they may not even realize that they are doing this (an example of this is the basis of my novel Magic in the Storm where the hero has been told all his life that because he was male he has no magical powers. It is only through the love and acceptance by a woman he cares about that his mind allows his natural magic to be released). But this sort of thing can happen with ordinary people as well. For example, if a small child is told to shut up by their parent, they may stop talking all together.

There are so many possibilities when it comes to a character’s wound and how it affects that person well into adulthood.

How does this relate to your story?

Not only does a wound determine how a character sees the world, but it gives you, the author, a way for your character to grow and change. They need to be shown that they can move beyond their wound. If you’re writing a romance, it can be the love interest who shows the character that they can be so much more. If you’re writing a fantasy, it can be a teacher or another person with a similar ability that shows the character that their abilities are nothing to hide or suppress, but something with which they can do good in the world.

Ultimately, it is the wound which is holding your character back from being the best person they can be. It is up to you to provide opportunities for your character to grow beyond their wound and show them that they can be so much more than they thought or that a learned behavior or an assumption about a group of people is wrong and needs to be corrected. (My heroine needs to learn that all men are not terrible people and that it can be a good thing to love a man and allow him to love her.)

The wound is needs to be negated and it is up to you to make sure that your character learns this, not by having someone simply tell them so, but having the character’s experiences teach them this.

Knowing your character’s wound makes them a deeper, more realistic person and gives you the opportunity to make them a better, more fulfilled person.