Understand Anger: Uncover Character Motives and Story Goals

Mirror of Good and Evil by ~AntonellaB on deviantART

Photo Credit: Mirror of Good and Evi lby AntonellaB

For our purposes this month, anger is a signal that something is wrong in the character’s life. That “something is wrong” means something needs to change. Discover what needs to change and you find internal conflict, external conflict, and maybe even your story goal. Ideally, there are several reasons that your character feels angry over a certain action, behavior, thought, etc.

Inner conflict. Suppose your character feels that a need or want is not being met in one or more relationships. But addressing the problem would disrupt – perhaps even end – the valued relationship. Or maybe the conflict comes from how she sees herself (or her concern for how others see her). Feeling angry might threaten that image. Also scary/ worrisome to the character! Then there’s the situation where she knows why she is angry but changing the problem means changing herself (become more assertive, for instance). There are so many reasons a character may want and not want to make the change needed to resolve the source of her anger. Voila! Inner conflict!

Motives. Since your character feels inner conflict, you now have motive to approach, avoid, block, and resist forward movement – both in external plot and internal plot.

Story Goals. Often in the beginning of the story, the character doesn’t understand the reasons she reacts angrily to certain situations. At the start of the story, she’s in a developmental stasis. Ineffective, unfocused anger or frustration can be a great way to point the reader to the problem. As pressure increases on the character, anger is one of her natural reactions. At the first emotional turning pint, the character not only knows that there is a problems, she commits to fixing that problem (either reluctantly or eagerly). Anger can be the catalyst to making the resolution to change.

2 thoughts on “Understand Anger: Uncover Character Motives and Story Goals

  1. Have you ever had a situation where you know a character needs to get angry in a scene, but he just won’t cooperate? Sure, I can write the words of him yelling and throwing things, but it doesn’t feel real at all, because I know the character isn’t actually angry, and I can’t seem to make him that way.

    Any suggestions for situations like that? :-/


    1. Definitely have been there. (And in the reverse) have you tried changing the dialogue so that the second character says something that sets him off?

      Some ideas:
      ignite a prejudice
      ignite a fear
      have the second character suggest/ demand that your character cross a self-imposed line (set because of ethics,fears, or society)
      reveal information about the second character that makes your POV character angry (remember that sometimes anger can bee a cover for other emotions)
      create a misunderstanding (you may need to set this one up by adding a line or two earlier in your MS)

      If these don’t work? Ask why the character MUST get angry. There may be some way other than a fight to reach that end goal.


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