Emotional Fiction: How to Use Anger in Your Story

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We all get angry sometimes, but what makes us angry — and what we do about it — varies widely from person to person. The same holds true for your fictional characters. Anger is a great tool to guide plot and character development.

It’s also a tricky emotion to write. Anger has deep roots, ones you must explore if you want readers to connect with your characters. Keep these tips in mind when writing anger in your story.

Dig deeper (it’s not just anger)

There’s nothing inherently interesting about anger. It catches our attention because it has a juicy story behind it. That juicy story brings a lot of other emotions into the mix: fear, rejection, betrayal, shame, envy, you name it. Those are the feelings readers want to discover.

Anger happens when another emotion boils over. Under that emotion often lies another. People with limited self-awareness and emotional vocabulary frequently experience complex feelings as anger. Explore these layers. Show readers how your character interprets and processes their anger — or doesn’t.

If you focus primarily on the anger and not the underlying emotions, it’s like describing a character tensing up when someone walks into the room. That reaction could happen because they’re nervous and want to impress this person, because they feel physically threatened, or because they find the person intensely annoying. The possibilities are endless. If readers don’t have a clue to the reason behind a character’s response, they’ll find it hard to care.

Express it authentically

Every person handles anger differently. We express it in a near-unlimited number of ways, including:

  • Crying
  • Yelling
  • Blame
  • Withdrawal
  • Revenge
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Internalizing

Draw upon your deep knowledge of your character to craft their anger response. Their actions should feel authentic and believable. If you’re writing a scene where a character does something shocking and inconsistent with what we already know about them, do it intentionally. Show their — and others’ — reaction to the incident, either in the moment or as fallout in subsequent scenes.

Use it at key plot points

Like any big emotion, anger will either serve your plot or distract from it. Guarantee the former by using it intentionally at key plot points. A buildup of anger can define a person, or it can hide under the surface until it boils over. Confrontations can send the plot spinning off in a new direction. As you write, think about how anger changes or directs your character’s behavior. How does anger motivate or paralyze them, and how does it impact their relationships with others?

Most important, how does it help you tell your story — and keep readers’ attention where you need it? 

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Jaclyn Paul is a fiction writer and blogger based in Baltimore. You might know her from The ADHD Homestead, where she writes about building a good life and a peaceful home with adult ADHD. She's also a staff blogger for Inkitt and author of the book Order from Chaos – The Everyday Grind of Staying Organized with Adult ADHD. Her writing has appeared online in Offbeat Families, The Write Life, ADDResources, Better Novel Project, and ADHD Roller Coaster and in print in Houston Family Magazine.

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