How To Write Character Emotion: ANGER


"Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before--it takes something from him." ~Louis L'amour

According to Webster's Dictionary, anger is: "a feeling of displeasure and hostility resulting from injury, mistreatment, opposition, etc."

Synonyms include: animosity, annoyance, antagonism, exasperation, fury, hatred, indignation, ire, rage, and violence.

Even with a brief look at quotes, definitions and synonyms, it's easy to see that anger has many sides. There's a big difference between someone who is annoyed and someone enraged.

So how do we write anger to show these differences?

The easy way out is to tell: "Jim was angry." Ho-hum.

The next easy way out is to express anger in tired cliches: mad as an old wet hen, mad as a hornet, etc. Double ho-hum.

Even when using body language and facial expression, it's easy to fall back on tried and true phrases: yelling, slamming doors, pounding fists, lips drawn into a thin line (one of the big hangups in my own writing).

With anger, other emotions often come into play, as the definition and synonyms above suggest.

Discussion Question #1: What other emotions do you see as being part of anger?

Discussion Question #2: Think about times you've been angry. What instigated the anger? How did you feel? What did you do?

Discussion Question #3: What examples of writing do you know of that shows anger? What movie scenes? (Don't forget to give titles and author names in your comments, and writers, please feel free to share examples from your own work if you'd like.)

Discussion Question #4: What are some facial expressions and body language cues that help us know when someone is angry?

Discussion Question #5: How does an angry scene in a book or movie affect you?

Discussion Question #6: For writers, how does this study of the emotion of anger help you in your writing?

Here are my answers:

1. For me personally, hurt plays a HUGE part in my anger. It's so easy to lash out at others in anger when they hurt us. Sometimes anger is a list of small grievances that are stacked on top of one another until the volcano erupts.

2. As for instigation, see #1. My own anger tends to make me lose self-control, and leaves me emotionally spent. I also tend to say things that I later wish I could un-say. But sometimes my anger is turned inward, which only hurts me. I allow the hurtful words of others to replay in my mind, hurting me over and over again. Sometimes my anger results in the silent treatment for those who have angered me, which shows me that anger can be hot or it can be cold. (Whoa--this may turn into a therapy session--not what I intended. BUT...delving into our own emotions will help us as we write our characters.)

3. Several movie/book scenes come to mind, but here is my addition to the discussion, from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This anger is shown, mostly through dialogue:

But she did not hear the compassion in his invitation. "I got somethin' to say an' then I ain't gonna say no more. That nigger yonder took advantage of me an' if you fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all yellow stinkin' cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you. Your fancy airs don't come to nothin'--your ma'amin' and Miss Mayellerin' don't come to nothin', Mr. Finch--"

Then she burst into real tears. Her shoulders shook with angry sobs.

As I typed these words, I realized that Mayella's angry words were motivated by her fear--another emotion closely related to anger. I also noticed that the author did not use one exclamation point, but I still could hear Mayella screaming her words.

4. I think anger is seen in and around the eyes and mouth. Angry voices sometimes elevate in pitch, but not always. I've heard soft-pitched anger before, and it's really sometimes scarier than a yelling voice. Hand and body movements become bigger and jerkier, and body stance becomes more threatening.

5. Angry scenes, well-written, leave me feeling the same way as when I'm actually angry--my heart beats faster, my breathing becomes more labored and shallow. (It would be interesting to check my blood pressure during the reading of the above scene!) Which leads me to another question, what are some of the physical aspects of anger that we could include when we write? I've already mentioned pulse rate and breathing. What are some others?

5. This brief study of anger has shown me:

  • That hurt, fear and minor irritations can all be contributing factors to anger.
  • Anger can be hot, like a volcano erupting, a pot boiling over or seething words spoken in the heat of the moment. Anger can also be cold, like a hateful look, icy soft words or a cold shoulder.
  • Anger can be shown in dialogue or descriptive passages.
  • Some of the physical aspects of anger are elevated pulse and ragged breathing.

Gee, that was fun AND educational! Now it's your turn--please share your answers and thoughts. If nothing else maybe you will show us a book that we all should read. C'mon--I want to hear from YOU!!!

(As part of my participation in "The 31 Days to a Better Blog" challenge being hosted by ProBlogger, this note is part of my homework: If you're into social bookmarking and enjoyed this post, please click one of the buttons below this post to bookmark it. I Digg being Dugg. *cheesy grin* Also, if you have a blog on writing, feel free to link to this post. The more we have entering the discussion, the more educational and enlightening it will be for all of us.)

NEXT POST: My Top 20 Editing Checklist (Another 31BB homework assignment! I think you'll find it helpful!)


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