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Your Characters Need Biblical Wrath

That title sort of promises a lot, doesn't it? But don't worry, I'm not getting all Moses on you---what I really want to talk about is the common pop-psychology nugget, "Never go to bed angry."

The thinking is that, if you don’t hash through every conflict right away with the one you love, it’ll lead to resentment and, ultimately, huge relationship blowups.

I want to talk about how (though that might work for you in real life), there needs to be a point in your book where your characters ignore the hell out of that advice.

Your characters need to go to bed angry.

The saying is supposedly derived from a Bible quote: Let not the sun go down upon your wrath (Ep 4:26). But um, sunset? Wrath? That sounds like an exceptional fictional scene to me!

Do your characters get upset... and then forgive each other right away?

Have them walk away angry and fume for a while.

Does one character seem to pop up in every conflict-filled scene to work as a peacemaker, diffusing the tension?

Kill them.*

Are your characters upset with each other because of some sitcom-esque misunderstanding that can be (and is) easily resolved?

Pump up the tension, give them something real (and really complicated) to fight about, and let them duke it out. Perhaps literally.
It's okay to get in on the anger action as you write.
As people, we want to get rid of conflict. The root of everything we do is to be happy, and to keep those we love happy. But as a writer, those priorities have to stop at the keyboard. Your characters need to get angry, vengeful, jealous, unreasonably miffed. And they need to stay that way for a while. You learn a lot about a character when you see them try to cope with bad, awful, no-good, very bad feelings that don't go away.

What about you?? Have you found conflict avoidance in your drafts? How did you amp up the anger quotient? What's the angriest character you've ever written?

*That sounds creepy. But really, think about it---if you're like me, that character might just be a manifestation of your conflict avoidance. There is no room for that in fiction, where conflict is key. Kill the character, or eliminate them completely.
Sarah Enni

Sarah is a young adult author and host of the First Draft podcast. She is represented by Sarah Burnes at The Gernert Company.

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  1. Love this post! Going to bed angry is great for running tension :)

  2. That picture made me chuckle. I like it!

    One of my characters runs on anger and it leads her to do some pretty stupid things. She even pulls off an epic storming off!

  3. Great article. As someone who writes more from the fume and explode perspective, I totally agree with you. It seems more true to life.--Amy Joy

  4. Good post. I'm now scanning through my book in my head, wondering if I've let my characters be angry or if they tried to make everyone happy like I do in real life. Hmmm.

  5. Thanks guys!! Ooh Miss Cole, an epic running off sounds awesome! And Melanie, I totally had to do that, too, in several scenes. My characters kept trying to make up and live happily ever--boring!!

  6. Love it. =)

    Just finishing a first draft WIP, and looking forward to amping up the tension. Nothing better than conflict that keeps you turning pages.

  7. Great post!! Now I'm making sure my WIP's tension is enough. My characters are angry, but I can make them angrier :)



    Great advice, Sarah! I think I'm guilty of the "sitcom-esque" misunderstanding occasionally - it's like an attempt to create conflict, but it just falls flat because it's either not believable or not true to the story.

  9. I am guilty of having my characters be overly understanding of each other, and in my current ms, am working to take this excellent advice!

  10. Yay! Tension, tension! And Michelle, I was deeefinitely drawing from experience with the "sitcom-esque misunderstanding." That's a problem that can be fixed real quick when a character dies, LOL!

  11. the image of the couple in bed is high comedy. nice post!

  12. This advice is GREAT! I'm guilty of letting things get resolved too easy. I'm going to make that picture my screen saver! =D

  13. Fantastic post! I have an angry character who has a ton of rage. She wants to like everyone, but she hates each of them. I love her to pieces. ;)

  14. @Sarah Enni: Anger is a good emotion to play with in writing!

  15. Love this! I definitely just wrote a harsh scene where the two main characters in my novel get in a heated argument and insult the heck out of each other! The guy wants to resolve it a little, but the girl leaves angry and refuses to forgive him, leaving that tension up in the air. It was a great storming off, even though she slipped on the ice and got a minor head injury, she managed to drive off angry and stay upset. It is giving me some nice padding to my word count. :) Thanks!

  16. LOL That picture makes me not want to go to sleep. This post is great, though. It's easy to want to hurry up and move characters along without giving them a realistic amount of time to process arguments and whatnot.

  17. I find anger very difficult to write. I will overcome that.

  18. This is really great advice. I think the key is making sure the tension is high enough so being angry for so long is justified.

  19. Of the many writing maladies I suffer, I don't think conflict avoidance is one of them. But then, I don't avoid conflict in real life, so maybe it does correlate to our personalities and conflict management styles. I have one very angry character in MAGGIE (Sarah, I'm sure you know who), and every time I made her do something, I'd try to rachet it up a notch just to make her that much more bombastic. I like to think I achieved that goal, but we'll see!

  20. Definitely!

    Stories are all about conflict and if you fix all the conflicts immediately, you have no story.


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Item Reviewed: Your Characters Need Biblical Wrath Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sarah Enni