Character Change – Anger

Character Change - AngerPhoto license

To make a work of fiction meaningful as well as entertaining, your main character should overcome a personal problem or defect. This installment in the character change series looks at anger.

Anger is the first of three negativities that people commonly use as a way to dominate reality after they’ve been badly hurt.

The Problem

Anger is a method of protecting yourself from hurt by hurting others before they can hurt you. It’s an inversion of the golden rule. Do unto others before they can do unto you.

The angry person finds they are living in a hostile world. This is because we all tend to get angry when confronted by someone else who is angry.

Like detachment, no action is required at this lowest level reaction to hurt. An angry person may rant and yell and seeth but never attack another person. It depends on how bad off they are. Mostly, fights only break out when two angry people meet and feed each other’s hate.

You will need to consider how badly your character has been hurt when deciding the type of negativity they need to overcome. Do you start with the hurt or the type of negativity they have when you build your character profile? Which is most important to your story?

Variations of Anger

Anger can be at any level. Taken to extremes, it manifests as rage. People who get into rages do hurt others, even kill sometimes. This is a good choice for a villain.

Other people have suppressed rage, seething, that isn’t always obvious. They are less likely to get help because others don’t see the problem. The anger is bottled up inside and creates health problems. It also interferes with their success in life, because they are thinking about how they have been hurt instead of focusing on the positive. One way seething is better than outright anger is that other people don’t react with anger because they don’t know the individual has a problem. The world is a little bit less negative for them, but they will only get out of their negativity by recognizing it for themselves.

The Cause

Exposure to a lot of negativity can create angry people, especially exposure to anger early in life. Abuse begets abuse and people who were physically abused in childhood are not likely to just be angry; without treatment they become violent criminals or choose careers that allow them to hurt people legally. The merely angry person witnessed physical abuse or was a victim of very limited physical abuse.

Anger can develop as a problem later in life too. Working with angry people or in a job dealing with angry people all the time, such as a collection agent or parole officer, can cause an anger management problem. When the anger has developed later in life, it will be easier for your character to work out a solution.

The Cure

Overcoming anger requires treating others differently and noticing how life becomes less hostile. This solution will often present itself naturally to someone who developed the problem later in life because of temporary circumstances. Once they change their job or their relationships, they come into contact with more positive people who don’t react so easily to their anger and they can get free of it.

If the anger developed in childhood, outside help may be necessary. This doesn’t mean they need to be institutionalized or even get help from a mental health professional. Your character can meet someone in a self help group that may not even be about anger management. The leaders of these kinds of groups are often trained in dealing with a wide range of personal issues. And don’t overlook personal relationships in the story. Your characters will have friends with similar personalities who could have already worked out the same issues.

Main Characters

If your main character is going to be angry all the time, you need the anger to prove useful. After the introductory scenes in “Taken”, Liam Neeson’s character is angry all the time for good reason. Anger toward villains is appealing to the audience. We all like to see criminals get what’s coming to them. This is good anger.

The anger I’ve been talking about is bad anger; anger directed at people who don’t deserve it. You will need to limit how bad your character’s anger is if they are to be the protagonist unless you are going for a story from the perspective of the villain. Nothing wrong with that if you can make it work.

The next installment in this series will be about cruelty.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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