Writing Anger Effectively in Your Fiction

Now that you know what to avoid, let’s examine the right way to describe your character’s anger:

J. F. Freedman’s The Disappearance contains a pivotal scene where a mother finds out her 14-year-old daughter is having an affair with the same man she is. See if you can feel the anger radiating off the page:

Joe. It’s Joe being my lover that has you so bent out of shape, isn’t it? Not that I’m having sex, but who I’m having it with.” She walked up to her mother, stuck her face right in her mother’s face. “You’re jealous, aren’t you? That I’m having an affair with your lover.” She taunted her deeper. “Did you think you could keep him all to yourself?”

“Emma…”

“He doesn’t even like you. He just takes pity on you.”

The rage took over. All-encompassing, all-overwhelming. She reached back and threw a punch at her daughter, threw it as hard as she could, and it caught Emma flush on the face, and she fell from the force of the blow, fell off the edge of the platform where they were standing next to the stairs, and she fell straight down, fifteen feet, her head hitting the ground below with a dull thud, like a sack of potatoes.

Another prime example of anger writing comes from Bentley Little’s The House. In this selection, a woman comes home to find her boyfriend in a very compromising position:

There was no silent second of shock, no delay of any kind. She ran instantly into the bathroom and yanked Matt up by his hair. “Get out!” she screamed. “Get the hell out of my house!”

…She dug her fingers into Matt’s upper arm and shoved him as hard as she could into the hall, picking his clothes up from the floor next to the tub and throwing them after him. She did not touch the woman but continued screaming all the while, anguished, angry invectives that included both of them.

Now it’s time to turn what you’ve learned into some real anger-writing.

Try this exercise:

Choose one of your current characters or create a new one. Take this character through three levels of anger.

For instance, go back to the dog in the trash example. Maybe the kids don’t come in the kitchen to clean up the dog’s disaster area. So your character starts to clean up the trash.

You could move your character from the low boil of a minor annoyance (LEVEL I). But maybe your character discovers her own credit card bills in the trash. She realizes these high-ticket items must have been charged by her teenage son (LEVEL II). A little more research and she finds out that her teenage son bought lingerie for his girlfriend (LEVEL III).