What is Anger in Fiction?

As one of the primordial emotions, anger has formed a significant role in humanity’s history. From righteous fury to barbaric rage, anger is a force to be reckoned with. Likened to an inferno. The flames of one’s rage can pave one’s destiny, destroying whole armies, or consuming the person in the process. How do we illustrate anger in fiction? What role does this emotion serve for the protagonist?

Many of us have experienced anger in our lives. It’s a violent episode that may pass as quickly as it comes. In writing, emotions are difficult to master. Anger, in particular, can be daunting to tackle, but it is a driving mechanism that influences characters, plot events, and more. Anger is used as hubris for characters too. Everyone enjoys their young hero with a short-temper, goading him to take unnecessary risks and adventures.

In short, anger is a compelling means to reveal a story and produce tension.

The Definition of Anger

From Psychology Today:

Anger is one of the basic human emotions, as elemental as happiness, sadness, anxiety, or disgust. These emotions are tied to basic survival and were honed over the course of human history. Anger is related to the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response of the sympathetic nervous system; it prepares humans to fight. But fighting doesn’t necessarily mean throwing punches; it might motivate communities to combat injustice by changing laws or enforcing new behavioral norms.

Synonyms for Anger

Below are synonyms and expressions of anger. Neither of these lists are exhaustive; there are myriad ways to express anger in fiction. Selecting the right ones for a scene is important. Consider the Emotion Thesaurus if you need a reference. I use this book all the time and highly recommend it.


acrimony
animosity
annoyance
antagonism
displeasure
enmity
exasperation
fury
hatred

impatience
indignation
ire
irritation
outrage
passion
rage
resentment
temper
violence

Character Expression of Anger

difficulty listening or speaking
flaring nostrils
face flushing
jerky movements
protruding eyes
laughter with an edge
screaming
aggressive behavior
noisy breathing
cracking knuckles
fists clenching
shaking fist
grinding teeth
muscles tensing
swearing
flourishing weapons or tools

Anger often leads to impetuous behavior and decisions. This can result in comical or dangerous situations for the protagonist, depending on the consequences. Anger can either come out altogether, or it can fester. The latter is an excellent choice for building tension internally for a character. Be careful how a scene builds up to a protagonist’s anger episode. If the trigger seems contrived, the emotional release will be too.

In storytelling, anger can be used to:

  • expose a character’s strengths and weaknesses
  • drive the plot
  • create comic relief
  • induce tension
  • reveal information

Calibrating Anger

According to David R. Hawkins’ book, anger calibrates fairly low on the scale of consciousness (calibrates at 150 out of 1000). Anger derives itself from fear, shame, and guilt. In essence, anger is a form of attachment. A character is afraid of so-and-so, be it from wounded pride or the massacre of millions.

Revealing Anger

That rage motivates the protagonist to act. To change the status quo. During these scenes, get inside your character’s head. Strip them naked of all preconceived values, and allow their primal identity to emerge. Consumed by anger, they can be an unstoppable avalanche—or a bumbling fool.

In these moments, the reader may see the true colors of the protagonist, his values, fears, doubts, and so much more.

In Blade of Dragons the protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, is a short-tempered heroine. Throughout the story, that rage often exposes her to tight and dangerous situations. Pepper’s anger is also associated with the Dragonsoul, a draconic curse that haunts her bloodline. Through use of meditation and mindfulness, Pepper tries to defeat her built-up rage; most of it stored from her childhood, bullied as a half-dragon. Subconsciously, she feels guilty for the rest of her species.

Pepper’s Calibration

Guilt, which calibrates at only 30, is among the lowest levels one can go on while living as a person. Below that is shame and annihilation.

Despite this, Pepper is a virtuous protagonist with tremendous courage. She doesn’t sit back watching injustice, is self-sacrificing, and helps drive the plot from start to end. She sometimes sees life as feasible and even hopeful. From a consciousness standpoint, Pepper calibrates at only 165 at the start of the story. Her low points resonate at guilt (30) and her high points at willingness (350).

By the end of book one, her calibration rises to 285, especially after her encounter with the divine Faber. Now she lingers more at the levels of courage (200), willingness (310), and even reason (400). Throughout book two, her consciousness remains at 300 until she encounters her next teacher. Although there are scenes and even chapters where she falls back into the lower levels of rage and despair, curtsy of the Dragonsoul.

For more info on Pepper, see my post on her.

Anger in fiction is a common tool in storytelling. Pepper Slyhart is a prime example of the ill-tempered youth trope who stumbles upon adventure, just as our own ego bumbles into trouble. Pepper uses her rage to drive tension and plot progression, while furthering her character arc and those of others.

We all share the same quest, the Hero’s Journey towards the higher levels of consciousness, and anger is one of the steps we must climb.


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Creative Writing Exercise—Depression

We’ve all been there. Isolated, confused, bored, discouraged. Depression is a common hurdle we as humans face. Yet, there is little more satisfying than conquering that malaise. The spirit of victory fills our souls, driving us to new horizons; for as we sink to the depths of hell, we can only rise to the heights of the stars.

That said, a character enduring depression garners zealous interest and support from the reader. The misery of the character is relatable, gripping, and strengthens the story—if written well.

What is Depression?

According to the Emotional Thesaurus, depression is a state of withdrawal, sorrow, and reduced vitality. An individual may look gaunt, sunken, weary, or psychologically imbalanced. Eating or social misbehavior are common, as are feelings of pessimism. Other symptoms include:

  • lethargy, saggy posture, unkempt appearance, frequent crying
  • a vacant stare, no energy or motivation, an aged face, insomnia
  • nightmares, disease, poor concentration, shallow breathing
  • panic attacks, chest pain, numbness, sluggish speech, thoughts of suicide

Life becomes a chore, a swamp to wade through. A depressed person sees little joy or purpose in living. While depression is a normal, and even healthy response to severe loss or daunting challenges in life, if it lingers, it can fester upon the soul as any wound can. Modern terminology coins this clinical depression.

Writing Depression Into Characters

While depression is horrible in real-life, it serves as an excellent tool in writing. Depression provides tension, character development, and trials for the protagonist to overcome. Many known protagonists like Frodo, Harry Potter, Eragon, Batman, and Jon Snow suffered this ailment. It’s also seen in many prominent figures in history: Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, and several others. Once one’s inner demons are vanquished, the true hero emerges. See my post on the Hero’s Journey for more on this.

When describing your protagonist’s depression, have the reader feel the visceral sorrow, anger, and loneliness that is crushing upon the hero. Depression needn’t be sudden, it is often slow and gradual, like a disease that smolders upon the soul. Drive the hero to the brink, the “all is lost” point. Drill surprise and suspense into your reader, and they will all-too-eagerly read on.

Depression can also nurture grudges between other characters and breed new tension. It will challenge the hero’s morals. It will pull them closer to the antagonist’s ways; attempting to kill the hero’s spirit in the righteous sense.

Coping Mechanisms for the Hero

Some heroes will, instead of dealing with depression, mask it with peculiar techniques. They may try to block it out entirely, using a costume, armor, new personalities, new home, or a new profession. They are hiding from what they know still festers in their hearts. Eventually, the issue rises to the surface, forcing the protagonist to evolve or suffer.

If the latter, heroes go through a much longer ordeal, witnessing the Inner Hell over and over through their own thoughts and actions. Or that of others reflected back at them. This Hell can be a persistent, helpful tool for the plot and character arc. It allows for deep, inner exposition, the kinds you wouldn’t ordinarily find.

As writers, our job is to weave together that inner journey for our protagonists. To help them grow. Let me repeat myself: there’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than watching a sympathetic underdog rise from the dregs of hellish depression.

Uses of Depression

  • drives the plot and character development
  • provides tension and challenge
  • enables rich exposition
  • relatable to readers

Case Study—Pepper Slyhart

I enjoy tearing my protagonists down, ripping apart their hearts, and leaving their souls in shreds. Then I resurrect them in newfound glory. My own protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, makes an excellent example of this. As a half-dragon, despised by society, Pepper deals with a lot of shit from her countrymen. She is spat on, ridiculed, threatened, and attacked. It’s little wonder she has depressive episodes.

In the early parts of Blade of Dragons, Pepper is your token underdog, a farm girl with little hope in life. She looks up to her father, a role model. It takes a terror event and the words of a wiseman to encourage her to undergo the journey, as most heroes are reluctant to take.

Later, Pepper suffers horrible nightmares, the kind that can kill you in the waking world. She also experiences some setbacks in her quest. Depressed, alone, she engages in deep self-analysis of herself, her values, and why she still pushes forward. Scenes like these remind the reader of a character’s direction using depression as the fulcrum. It humanizes Pepper, despite the magical abilities she may have. Despite the fact she’s a half-dragon.

Confused and alone, Pepper is driven to the brink of madness by the Dragonsoul, threatening to take over her body. To defeat the spirit of the hero.

To date, Pepper has been my most dramatic protagonist to write. They say that each character is a piece of the author, and if so, she is a facet of my own inner demons. One day I intend to defeat them and fortify my spirit, as Pepper will succeed against hers.

Peace be with you, and thanks for reading.


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What is Joy? How do you Describe it in Fiction?

The other day we covered the emotion of fear in fiction, and how useful it can be in creating tension within a character. Today, we travel to the opposite side of the spectrum: joy.

Joy is a state of happiness or delight, often seen with positive emotional changes. We all have experienced joy at one point in our lives. This happiness can be a powerful tool in fiction as it heightens characters’ expressions, shows them at their best.

While it can be fun to break a character down into the depths of fear and despair, joy is refreshing and relaxing for the reader. There are characters with up-beat personalities, often used for comic relief or for balancing out the fear and gloom in a story.

How Do We Define Joy?

Quoting from Dictionary.com, joy is:

1. The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation: She felt the joy of seeing her son’s success.

2. A source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated:Her prose style is a pure joy.

Describing Joy in Fiction

Joy is harder to flesh out than fear in storytelling. Joy requires a deeper level of authenticity that connects to the reader. Writers should be wary of cliches or other mundane terms that weaken the expressions of joy.

Some Character Expressions of Joy

  • smiling, singing, or dancing
  • heart leaping
  • laughing, joking, or teasing,
  • vigorous, excited energy
  • high sociability
  • hugging, kissing
  • confidence, willingness, optimistism
  • restraining from certain quirks
  • daydreaming
  • giving or sharing
  • a clear, strong voice
  • a straight, but relax posture
  • higher than usual strength or endurance

The Dance of Joy and Fear

Remember, joy can’t create tension like fear can. Joy’s purpose is to command relief to the reader. Too much joy all the time, and the story feels dull. Too much fear, and the reader can quickly get exhausted. Instead, a balance of the two is ideal.

Going Deeper

We should ask ourselves how our characters feel when they are happy. What are their dreams? What are their fears that counterbalance that joy? We can put ourselves in the characters’ shoes and savor every ounce of emotion that compromises that joy.

It’s important to show and not tell the emotions, as showing draws the reader deeper into the character. There are exceptions when telling is preferred.

Joy, as wonderful as it sounds, is another device used in the cog of storytelling. It has specific purposes associated with it. Some of these are to:

  • Contrast with dark or hellish themes
  • Motivate a depressed character towards a goal
  • Worldbuild, based on a culture’s perspective of joy
  • Briefly break tension to give the reader a reprieve

Example 1: Lord of the Rings

Let’s examine the Shire: a merry place full of feasting, greenery, and food! It’s kin to a paradise and has—ahem—all the comforts of home. Now contrast that with the dark, hellish realm of Mordor. With Sauron’s evil encroaching upon Middle Earth, the Shire makes his realm look that much darker.

Example 2: Theft of Swords

Royce Melborn is a dark character, often depressed and aloof. His comrade, Hadrian Blackwater, is more optimistic and idealistic. This contrast is excellent and helps drive their character arcs forward. It also creates an entertaining exchange between the two.

Happiness, like fear, can be a potent tool in fiction. When used right. A careful balance of joy and tension creates an enjoyable play of emotions that will delight readers.

What are your thoughts on joy? How would you have it portrayed in stories? Are there any favorite books that illustrate this? We’d love to hear in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


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