What is Anger in Fiction?

As one of the primordial emotions, anger has formed a significant role in humanity’s history. From righteous fury to barbaric rage, anger is a force to be reckoned with. Likened to an inferno. The flames of one’s rage can pave one’s destiny, destroying whole armies, or consuming the person in the process. How do we illustrate anger in fiction? What role does this emotion serve for the protagonist?

Many of us have experienced anger in our lives. It’s a violent episode that may pass as quickly as it comes. In writing, emotions are difficult to master. Anger, in particular, can be daunting to tackle, but it is a driving mechanism that influences characters, plot events, and more. Anger is used as hubris for characters too. Everyone enjoys their young hero with a short-temper, goading him to take unnecessary risks and adventures.

In short, anger is a compelling means to reveal a story and produce tension.

The Definition of Anger

From Psychology Today:

Anger is one of the basic human emotions, as elemental as happiness, sadness, anxiety, or disgust. These emotions are tied to basic survival and were honed over the course of human history. Anger is related to the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response of the sympathetic nervous system; it prepares humans to fight. But fighting doesn’t necessarily mean throwing punches; it might motivate communities to combat injustice by changing laws or enforcing new behavioral norms.

Synonyms for Anger

Below are synonyms and expressions of anger. Neither of these lists are exhaustive; there are myriad ways to express anger in fiction. Selecting the right ones for a scene is important. Consider the Emotion Thesaurus if you need a reference. I use this book all the time and highly recommend it.


acrimony
animosity
annoyance
antagonism
displeasure
enmity
exasperation
fury
hatred

impatience
indignation
ire
irritation
outrage
passion
rage
resentment
temper
violence

Character Expression of Anger

difficulty listening or speaking
flaring nostrils
face flushing
jerky movements
protruding eyes
laughter with an edge
screaming
aggressive behavior
noisy breathing
cracking knuckles
fists clenching
shaking fist
grinding teeth
muscles tensing
swearing
flourishing weapons or tools

Anger often leads to impetuous behavior and decisions. This can result in comical or dangerous situations for the protagonist, depending on the consequences. Anger can either come out altogether, or it can fester. The latter is an excellent choice for building tension internally for a character. Be careful how a scene builds up to a protagonist’s anger episode. If the trigger seems contrived, the emotional release will be too.

In storytelling, anger can be used to:

  • expose a character’s strengths and weaknesses
  • drive the plot
  • create comic relief
  • induce tension
  • reveal information

Calibrating Anger

According to David R. Hawkins’ book, anger calibrates fairly low on the scale of consciousness (calibrates at 150 out of 1000). Anger derives itself from fear, shame, and guilt. In essence, anger is a form of attachment. A character is afraid of so-and-so, be it from wounded pride or the massacre of millions.

Revealing Anger

That rage motivates the protagonist to act. To change the status quo. During these scenes, get inside your character’s head. Strip them naked of all preconceived values, and allow their primal identity to emerge. Consumed by anger, they can be an unstoppable avalanche—or a bumbling fool.

In these moments, the reader may see the true colors of the protagonist, his values, fears, doubts, and so much more.

In Blade of Dragons the protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, is a short-tempered heroine. Throughout the story, that rage often exposes her to tight and dangerous situations. Pepper’s anger is also associated with the Dragonsoul, a draconic curse that haunts her bloodline. Through use of meditation and mindfulness, Pepper tries to defeat her built-up rage; most of it stored from her childhood, bullied as a half-dragon. Subconsciously, she feels guilty for the rest of her species.

Pepper’s Calibration

Guilt, which calibrates at only 30, is among the lowest levels one can go on while living as a person. Below that is shame and annihilation.

Despite this, Pepper is a virtuous protagonist with tremendous courage. She doesn’t sit back watching injustice, is self-sacrificing, and helps drive the plot from start to end. She sometimes sees life as feasible and even hopeful. From a consciousness standpoint, Pepper calibrates at only 165 at the start of the story. Her low points resonate at guilt (30) and her high points at willingness (350).

By the end of book one, her calibration rises to 285, especially after her encounter with the divine Faber. Now she lingers more at the levels of courage (200), willingness (310), and even reason (400). Throughout book two, her consciousness remains at 300 until she encounters her next teacher. Although there are scenes and even chapters where she falls back into the lower levels of rage and despair, curtsy of the Dragonsoul.

For more info on Pepper, see my post on her.

Anger in fiction is a common tool in storytelling. Pepper Slyhart is a prime example of the ill-tempered youth trope who stumbles upon adventure, just as our own ego bumbles into trouble. Pepper uses her rage to drive tension and plot progression, while furthering her character arc and those of others.

We all share the same quest, the Hero’s Journey towards the higher levels of consciousness, and anger is one of the steps we must climb.


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, thanks for reading.
—Ed R. White

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