Understand Anger: World Building

Cartoon: Angry Crowd (medium) by Cartoons and Illustrations by Jim McDermott tagged angry,crowd,sketch

Photo Credit: Jim McDermott

Character anger can tell you a great deal about her relationship with her world – particularly the traditions and values of the group she is presently immersed in. When anger is used to deepen world development, it is important to remember that your character probably won’t feel that there is threat/ injustice, etc, unless she has first been exposed to ideas that run contrary to the traditions and values of the group to which she is reacting.

Tradition. Anger at tradition may occur because your character feels her growth is stifled. This is especially common with young characters. When a character rebels against tradition (deepening character), that act either implies or highlights the tradition that is being rebelled against (deepening the world) and also shows how others react to the act of rebellion (deepening relationships).

Values. Anger at society values may occur because your character feels the values are unfair. This is especially common when your character is part of some sort of minority (character development). As with tradition, anger at social values can be used to deepen character, world, and relationships. In addition, the your character will often choose to counter the rejected values with a different set of values! This new set of values may

Peer pressure. Any time your character tries to deviate from social norms, there will be pressure to change back. Anger can prompt your character to say “no” to others’ beliefs and “yes” to her own truth. Group pressure, of course, can take the form of family or any other group that is considered “like” the character. The crucial elements are 1) that the character feels a part of the group that is trying to affect her behavior and 2) that the character struggles to separate herself from the group (sometimes while staying a part of the group).

Belonging/ Independence. People are strange characters. We feel threatened by too much of “together” and by too much “alone”. Your character just might become angry when she feels excluded from or claimed by a group. Personal space is violated in some way.

Gender roles. These are firmly entrenched into society. Entrenched gender roles can be especially aggravating for your character when she feels like her personal growth is stifled by the expectations, like her rights are being violated, or like her needs are unable to be met.

Relationship roles. In the context of world building, I am referring not to individual relationships but “elder generation and younger generation”, “powerful position and powerless position”, “older sister and younger brother”, “married woman and unmarried woman”. Social roles and status and how they interact. Relationship roles might become an anger issue for your character when she feels she must interact with someone based on her relationship role with him even though he has not fulfilled the responsibilities of his role. For instance, filial respect for an abusive father who does not provide for his family. In this example, we develop the world, the backstory, the relationship, and possibly the backstory wound.

Anger at entrenched traditions and values does not necessarily mean that your story will become Character Versus Society. But I hope that you can see how scenes that contain this element can deepen reader (and character) understanding of the world where she lives. Knowing the traditions and values of your main character’s Ordinary World of the Beginning can help you make the world of the Middle more strange to your character. It can add a subplot. It can let you further develop your antagonist – even provide the primary motive! And it can make both your character and your reader question her assumptions.

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