How to Write 'Worry' with an Impact

Worry; being uneasy about a situation and possible outcomes. Most stories involve an element of worry, the origin of which will likely have something to do with your stakes. The existence and severity of a character’s worry can have implications on not only the importance of the stakes, but also the character’s resilience.

Too many times I've read scenes in novels where two characters sit down for a quiet chat and one says to the other, "What's wrong?" The second replies, "I'm just… worried." My reaction to this is, 'Are you really, though?' because many-a-time, the author has neglected to show that worry anywhere other than dialogue and thought tracking.

Worry needn’t be just an emotion that occurs once in your story. When strong enough, it can affect you mentally and physically. In turn, these effects can impact your life. In the case of your characters, the impact of a single emotion can push the plot in a different and unexpected direction, or add unforeseen obstacles and challenges. Today’s post will look into making ‘worry’ count.

First things first, however, you need to consider your character’s resilience:

Resilience: the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Before writing worry, decide how resilient your character is. This will affect not their level of worry (this depends on what is at stake), but how that worry affects them. They will have more or less physical and mental symptoms of worry depending on their hardiness. This hardiness (or weakness) will be a result of past experiences or their life circumstances, so think carefully about why your character reacts the way they do.

For example, consider a girl sitting down for a class test. All the other kids are reasonably anxious, but your main character is freaking out; her parents have high expectations, and she knows that if she gets less than an A+, a tirade of insults awaits her at home.

Alternatively, consider the CEO of a successful start-up. She used to live on the street, but worked her way into a position of success. However, one day a major investor pulls out and the company is put at risk. Does she worry? No; she’s been through worse. She started from the bottom once, she’ll do it again.

Now, let’s look at some of the real impacts that worry can have on your character and plot, and how you can use them to authenticate your character’s feelings:

Daily Life Changes

If your characters are worrying, bear in mind that evidence of this won’t just appear in the moment. Worry can have lasting and significant effects on the daily life of your characters. For example:

  • They may lose their appetite, which can lead to weight loss and malnourishment. In turn, character’s may fall ill more easily or frequently. Your character could also easily fall down the dangerous path of substance abuse. Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and even food can be binged on, resulting in dangerous overdoses. This type of blip will cause a real stutter in your character’s arc, and has the potential to throw a story completely off course, if you so wish!

  • They may be unable to sleep, which can lead to foul moods, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. This can be due to worries keeping them awake, hypervigilance (being too wary of surroundings to sleep), or nightmares (which wake them).

  • They may be unable to concentrate. This could be due to sleepless nights, or that they simple can’t stop fretting about their worry. Consider how this might affect their work at school, college, or their job.