Using Core Wounds in Your Stories

By Jeanine Englert

In February I did a talk at my local writing chapter. My focus was on how to improve the first line, page, and chapter of your book. In it I discussed one of my favorite ways of doing just that by exposing layers of your characters a bit at a time by showing snippets of their core wounds.

So, what are core wounds?

We ALL have them, and they usually stem from our childhood. The core wounds often fall in one of these four buckets: abuse, neglect, codependence, and loss. Knowing your characters core wounds is akin to knowing a basic blueprint of what is going to drive their motivations as well as their conflicts. If you sprinkle in some of their secrets, which often drive your plot as well, you have one heck of a story.

For example, in Lovely Digits, Lucy Wycliffe’s core wound is loss. Her parents were murdered when she was a teenager, and she craves wholeness. She wants desperately to create some sense of family between her, her widowed sister, and young niece, but struggles to make enough money to provide for them as a layer-out of the dead. When the dashing Constable John Brodie comes along and attempts to enlist her paid help in assisting on a local case in her small town of Clun, she accepts readily.

John Brodie’s own core wound is also loss. He was disowned by his father and later in life his younger brother died. He craves closure to a painful secret, one that impacts Lucy directly, and ironically the only way he can heal that wound is to involve her in solving the most horrific crime of his life as well as her own.

As you can see you can have characters that possess the same core wounds, but you can also have characters whose wounds push and pull against one another. For example, you could have a hero whose core wound is neglect who craves attention and acts out for it, no matter the consequences. Then, you could also have a heroine whose core wound is abuse who would crave security and safety. Those two would have a great deal of work to do to help overcome the conflicts they would encounter from each other early on, which would make their romance and happily ever after even sweeter in the end.

So, if you haven’t really thought about your characters’ core wounds in a while, stop for a minute and muse upon what they are. Jade Lee gave a fabulous talk about core wounds at the RWA Conference back in 2019. I would highly recommend a listen if you can access the recording.

If you have another recommendation for reading more about core wounds, please drop a comment below. You can also let us know about your characters’ core wounds in your current book if you wish!

Jeanine Englert’s love affair with mysteries and romance began with Nancy Drew, Murder She Wrote, and her Grandmother’s bookshelves full of romance novels. She is a VIVIAN® and Golden Heart® Finalist as well as a Silver Falchion, Maggie, and Daphne du Maurier Award Winner in historical romance and mystery.

Her Scottish Highland historical and historical romantic suspense novels revolve around characters seeking self-acceptance and redemption. When she isn’t wrangling with her characters on the page, she can be found trying to convince her husband to watch her latest Masterpiece or BBC show obsession. She loves to talk about books, writing, her beloved rescue pups, as well as mysteries and romance with other readers. Visit her website at www.jeaninewrites.com.

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3 Responses to Using Core Wounds in Your Stories

  1. viola62 says:

    It is always amazing to me that the hurts of childhood are wonderful catalysts for fiction.

  2. Susan J Berger says:

    Both Hero and heroine were outcasts for different reasons. In the same town.
    Thanks. Very good post.

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