There is no single type of anger. It can simmer for days, it can build slowly over time and it can boil over in an instant. It is a strange emotion, caused by so many different reasons and displaying itself in so many different ways. This makes it a powerful writing tool for your heroes and villains. Anger can drive them onwards to perform great feats of valour or dreadful acts of vengeance. A character’s anger can also affect those around them, making them feel uncomfortable or pushing them to do something they otherwise wouldn’t contemplate.
In fantasy writing, anger can grow into something more than just an emotion, displaying itself in vivid and ethereal ways. It may be that a character’s powers come upon them unexpectedly when angry (e.g. Elsa in Frozen), or anger transforms them into another creature (e.g. The Hulk) or anger fuels their powers beyond the ordinary (e.g. the dark side in Star Wars).
It’s worth injecting some anger into your writing, giving your characters a driving force that makes them do what they do. Their anger needs to be strong enough for your readers to believe that they are capable of transforming it into feasible acts of good or evil. Anger can also be linked with greed (see my previous post on greed), which is another powerful plot driver.
Anger can be hidden deep inside your characters or visibly bubbling away on their faces and in their actions. Be careful not to just say “Frank was angry” and leave at that, as that’s not giving your readers the signals they need to understand the type of anger he’s experiencing. Is he twitchy? Are his eyes narrowed when he talks to people? Is he grating his teeth? Is he thinking about something that expresses his anger? Is he screaming his head off? Try a few types of anger on for size…
- Mercurial – A sudden escalation of anger is normally brought about by a trigger that truly infuriates the character. Someone who appears to be calm may be simmering on the inside and that one final spark that sends them over the edge results in boiling, explosive fury. Everyone is capable of this type of anger, but it sits well with characters who are just a little unstable, making them more unpredictable and dangerous. If one of your characters is like this the reader (and the other characters in your story) can never really be sure when they will blow up, which can keep them on edge waiting for another character to light the necessary “fuse”.
- Sarcasm – Anger can be expressed in nasty vitriol, where the character says one thing but very obviously means another, “Oh your selection of costumes for the masque tonight are so refreshingly old-world, our previous queen’s grandmother would have adored them”. This kind of sarcasm is intended to hurt. If you have a character who constantly spits out little back-stabbing bits of diatribe they can end up in a situation where no one will believe what they say or their sarcasm backfires – they end up the victim of their own words.
- Resentment/hurt – Fiction works because characters are usually emotionally scarred in some way to get things moving, whether that’s full-on heartbreak or simply being snubbed – and this can happen many times as the story progresses. It can start out with the character feeling hurt and bewildered, but starts to take on greater significance if the resentment starts to build. It could even warp and mutate into paranoia, until the original hurt is quite insignificant in comparison to what the character’s mind has built it up to be. An excellent example is the old movie “Fatal Attraction”, where a woman who is effectively ignored after a one night stand, becomes more and more unstable and violent, as the initial hurt turns into something vastly more dangerous as her resentment grows. A more light-hearted type of hurt may be something like “Bridget Jones” or “Pride and Prejudice”, where the lies of one person can lead to the unjustified resentment of another.
- Jealousy – Although jealousy may be seen as more of a type of greed, it can lead to feelings of anger, usually mixed with resentment. I’ve mentioned King Henry VIII previously, as he was a master of such ill-mixed emotions. Jealousy, greed and a deep level of insecurity, led to anger and resentment, which Henry directed at people who were usually innocent of any wrong-doing.
- Frustration – This is a type of anger that can simmer over a certain length of time and then suddenly explode, either in anger or tears. It may be due to disappointment, or a savage low after a wonderful high, or a series of unfortunate events outside of your control. Frustration makes you irritable, touchy, susceptible to outbursts or putting your foot in your mouth. It’s a good emotion to use for characters who are trying so hard to do the right thing, but are continually finding blockages in their path.
- Shame – Having something terribly shameful happen to a character may, like hurt, initially cause humiliation and pain rather than anger. But as the embarrassment fades this can quickly be replaced by a growing fury. Again, it’s a good motive for a character’s later actions if they’ve suffered a shaming incident early on in the story, as shame can make your character move outside their own boundaries of morality. Another way of using shame in your writing is if you have a character who is continually shamed for something that your reader considers not to be shameful at all, which then makes the reader angry and therefore they want the character to become angry and so keep turning the pages waiting for this to happen, The Scarlett Letter is a brilliant example of this type of writing.
- Moral – This is where a character feels they are morally justified in feeling anger over someone else breaking their moral code of ethics (either rightly or wrongly). We see this in the world today, usually with people who represent extremes of politics, religion, specific causes, lobbying groups, etc. If a fictional character becomes overly obsessive in their moral anger and violence is sparked, this is where writing can use that anger as a plot driver. In my novel In Sleep They Come, two of my characters are warned very clearly that if they break the respective moral codes of their religious orders they will suffer for it – this means that both characters are walking on egg-shells for most of the book.
- Grumpy – Some people are just habitually angry or moody, it may be caused by stress, problems at home, hormones, etc. I love the scene in a film called “Steel Magnolias” where Shirley MacLaine’s character states that she’s “not crazy… I’ve just been in a bad mood for the past 40 years”. But being grumpy so often makes people hard to read and very difficult to get on with. I’m sure that if you’ve ever worked or lived with someone who’s moody all the time, you feel like you have to wear ‘kid gloves’ while in their presence. You may decide to have a character in your own story who’s continually grumpy and there’s something behind it all, but no one takes them very seriously because they’re so hard to be around.
- Constructive – Anger can also be constructive. If a character’s anger leads to effective and positive change then it’s not so bad after all.
I’ve started a Pinterest page for this topic as there are many more types of anger than what I’ve listed here.