Character Arc

Emotional Shielding

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One thing people have in common is a universal need for control. Control is good. Safe. It relies on simple cause and effect: pay your mortgage and you have a place to live. Put a fence around your yard and your toddler won’t wander into traffic. The problem is that while we believe control and good outcomes are attained by following the rules…it’s not that simple. Control is an illusion—a truth we don’t discover until something terrible happens…like getting laid off work, or discovering (too late) that someone left the gate open.

When a wounding event occurs in fiction, it rips away this veneer of control for the character, leaving only deep fears and vulnerability in its wake. A traumatic experience (like losing a loved one to a random act of violence, becoming disfigured, or failing to do the right thing when it really matters) hits hard because it is likely something your character never saw coming, couldn’t mentally prepare for, and would do anything to erase.

The raw emotional pain that accompanies a wound is so terrible the character will do anything to stop it. The desire for this agony to end, plus a deep fear that this hurtful event will happen again, sends their brain scrambling to regain control of the situation. The result is something called emotional shielding, which is a collection of dysfunctional behaviors, biases, and attitudes the character adopts to physiologically protect themselves moving forward.


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