Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Anger #writerwednesday

"When angry count to four; when very angry, swear." --Mark Twain

Wrath, ire, madness, vexation, irritation, frustration, enraged; all of these words are synonyms for anger, but somehow, this emotion is almost always written using flat, cliched language. Anger is one of the more multilayered emotions, comprised of meta-emotions that have numerous triggers, create various reactions, and unpredictable outcomes. In other words, anger is a feeling influenced and exaggerated by the feelings of the person that made your character angry. Because let’s be honest…no inanimate object can draw this emotion from you, right. People make people angry. Let’s explore how, why and reactions that go beyond the basic descriptions. 

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Anger- a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, and/or hostility. 

A character caught in the throes of anger will experience physical reactions like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and adrenaline will dump into their blood stream triggering fight or flight response—just to name a few. In short, anger cause a visceral and visible response that is difficult to hide and even more difficult for your angry character to ignore. 

Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by all humans. Some even believe that it’s vital for survival. One the other hand, uncontrolled anger can effect your characters well-being.

There are three types of anger:

1. Hasty and sudden anger- usually impulsive or connected to self-preservation. This is the bullied kid finally lashing out. The trapped woman making a final attempt to escape. The soldier surrounded by enemies who risks his life to make it to the drop zone. This kind of anger is often episodic—meaning that it builds over time to an explosive end. 

2. Settled and deliberate anger is usually a reaction to deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. When you think of revenge plots, vigilante justice, or calculated retaliation for perceived wrongs, this is the type of anger you’re writing. It’s different from hasty and sudden anger in that your character will actually plan out retaliation versus responding by lashing out when cornered. This kind of anger is also episodic, but while it does build over time, it’s far less explosive. You know that saying “revenge is a dish best served cold”? That saying was born from settled and deliberate anger. 

3. Dispositional anger…this is your stereotypical malcontent. A troublemaker, agitator, dissident, rebellious, sullen, churlish, asshole of a person. This person is perpetually angry and doesn’t really have a reason for it except that they are alive and breathing in and out every day. Anger isn’t an emotion for them; its a constant state of being. They’re just un-fucking-pleasant to be around and this fact is something you should include when you craft this angry character. 

I think at this point, it is import to draw a distinction between anger and aggression.

Anger is the emotion and aggression is how your character reacts to that emotion. Aggression can be verbal, physical, direct, or indirect and how your character reacts will depend on their personality and which one of the three types of anger they are experiencing. 

Also…anger is not always a negative emotion. Anger can encourage a group of people to mobilize against injustice, address valid grievances, and point out where things need in improvement in personal and professional relationships. It’s a necessary and health emotion…until it becomes violent, destructive, or unproductive. All types of anger can be come negative if it isn’t addressed and that is something character needs to tackle within these scenes.

There are three ways people typically express emotion: passive, aggressive, and assertive. 

These three types have characteristic symptoms. 

Passive anger

Passive anger can be expressed in the following ways:

  • Dispassion such as giving someone the cold shoulder or a fake smile, looking unconcerned, dampening feelings with drugs or alcohol, overreacting, oversleeping, not responding to another's anger, indulging in promiscuous behavior, talking about their frustrations but showing no feeling.

  • Evasiveness, avoiding conflict, not arguing back, becoming phobic.

  • Defeatism, such as setting yourself up for failure, choosing unreliable people to depend on, underachieving, expressing frustration at small things, but ignoring bigger and more serious issues.

  • Obsessive behavior, such as needing to be clean and tidy, making a habit of constantly checking things, developing an eating disorder, demanding that all jobs be done perfectly.

  • Psychological manipulation, such as provoking people to aggression and then patronizing them, emotional blackmail, feigning illness, withholding money or resources.

  • Secretive behavior, such as stockpiling resentments that are expressed behind people's backs, giving the silent treatment, avoiding eye contact, putting people down, gossiping.

  • Self blaming, such as apologizing too often, being overly critical, inviting criticism.

Aggressive anger

The symptoms of aggressive anger are:

  • Bullying, such as threatening people, insulting, pushing or shoving, using power to oppress, playing on people's weaknesses.

  • Destructive, behaviors such as vandalism, harming animals, child abuse, destroying a relationships, drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Grandiosity, such as showing off, expressing mistrust, not delegating, being a sore loser, wanting center stage all the time, not listening, talking over people's heads, expecting kiss and make-up sessions to solve problems.

  • Hurtfulness, such as violence, to include sexual abuse and rape, verbal abuse, ignoring the feelings of others, discriminating, blaming, or punishing people for unwarranted reasons, labeling others.

  • Selfishness such as ignoring others' needs, not responding to requests for help.

  • Threats by saying how one could hurt or kill them, damage their property, affect their ability to make a living, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes or symbols associated with violent behavior.

  • Unjust blaming such as accusing other people for their mistakes, blaming people for their feelings, making general accusations.

  • Unpredictability, such as explosive rages over minor problems, attacking any and everyone, inflicting harm on others for the sake of it.

  • Vengeance, such as doling out a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. This differs from retributive justice, as vengeance is personal, and possibly unlimited in scale.

  • Blame, such as after a particular individual commits an action that’s possibly frowned upon, the particular person will resort to scolding. This is in fact, common in discipline terms.

  • Punishment, the angry person will give a temporary punishment to an individual like limiting a child’s will to do anything they want like playing video games, no reading, etc, after they did something to cause trouble.

  • Sternness, such as calling out a person on their behavior, with their voices raised with utter disapproval/disappointment.

Anger is an emotion that can shape a good vigilante, victim, martyr, detective, or criminal. Pair this with good character development and you will have a formidable vehicle for your plot.

Happy writing!