Anger Management

Thursday, December 15, 2005

When you write a scene where a character is angry, don't just have that character giving 'tude: stomping, stalking, striding, glaring, snarling, shooting off sarcastic one-liners, to show just how PISSED they are. It's shallow. There's one note there. One flavor, one seasoning. Not very interesting, especially if this goes on for long, or repeated every single time the character gets ticked.

In truth, anger is a complex emotion, and while the most obvious outward manifestation of it may be found in the list above, as a writer, if you want that character to be real, and to have some resonance with your readers, you'll have to do better.

Check out this link for starters. So, your character is angry; but why? And I don't mean because some other character lied/betrayed them/ate the last Twinkie. I mean what is at the root of their anger?

Fear of lost of control? Well why is control so important to them? Where and when did 'not being in control' affect them so adversely? Is the anger covering up guilt? Why do they feel guilty? Where does it stem from? Should they really own this guilt, or is a bit of misdirection, does the guilt carry from another time/place/situation?

See what I mean about conveying anger as more than this big blast of a single emotion? It's made up of a multitude of smaller emotional particles, that are just as potent, if not more.

Uncover those emotions, dig for that history, then use your knowledge to season that scene correctly. Give the nuances/hints of what's *really* tormenting your character. They'll love you for it. Really, they will. They'll open up and tell you more.

Each time they (you) show their anger, there’ll be growth or that one bit more of exploration into background and personality. It gives the character depth and adds layers and context to the scenes. Most importantly, the reader will (want to) be with you every step of the way.

::stepping down off soapbox::
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meljean brook said...

I probably do this to my characters once in a while, though I try to avoid it -- the snarling, I mean.

But more often, I find myself doing the opposite, but also a one-trick-pony: the cold anger. Sigh.

One thing I find interesting while reading is that very often it is the woman who will be spitting and snarling, and the guys who will be all cold and stuff. Wonder why?

Jaye said...

Meljean, I sorta tend to do the same thing: the men do the cold anger thing, while my heroine's tend to get lippy if around others, and a bit broody if by themselves.

For myself, I think it's because my heroes are *very* Alphas, and I don't want them to go over the top with the anger thing unless it's aimed at another male.

Which of course now has me thinking that I should definitely do the opposite at some point and have a hero who really loses it.

raine said...

Interesting post, Jaye.

Okay, here's my thing...
I'm often guilty of having my character demonstrate pissosity in one of the listed ways, and carrying right on with the scene. I admit it.
But somewhere along the line, either before or after said scene, I will try to dig into why they behave the way they do.
I don't usually do it at the MOMENT of anger, however.
It distracts me to pause in a passionate moment or tirade, even for the sake of awareness.
Maybe I just love a good fight. *ggg*
(And I'm all in favor of snarling, lol--but please, PLEASE, no foot-stomping!!)

Jaye said...

Oh, no, Raine. I didn't mean to do something where it looks like the character is flip-flopping in emotion. Really, all it takes is one short line, a thought that slips through, a half-said sentence. Or some action that betrays another sentiment. Then is the sequel (talking scene and sequel here) you can have the character expand/explore a bit of that contrary/telling moment.

raine said...


Okay. Then I agree with everything you said. ;-D

Sela Carsen said...

Y'all are great. I love these discussions about character. Currently, whenever my H totally loses control, he becomes a wolf. No cold anger for this guy. He'll rip your throat out and leave you bleeding on the ground. I'm having so much fun! But other Hs do the stiff anger thing because it's simply in their character to maintain control.

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