Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Pain In the Novel

by Stephanie Black

In the words of Daffy Duck, "I can't stand pain. It hurts me." When it comes to no pain, no gain, in most cases I’ll just forego the gain, thanks. For instance, I can’t for the life of me figure out why people climb Mt. Everest. I read a book about an Everest expedition, and yikes! Even if everything goes well, it’s awful. The cold. The altitude sickness. The miserable living conditions. You want to travel the world, explore new vistas of natural beauty, fill your soul with the grandeur and wildness of nature? People, that’s what the Discovery Channel is for.

But last week while filling out new patient forms at a doctor’s office, I came across the question about immunizations and realized it had been a good long while since I’d had a tetanus booster. With girls’ camp coming up this summer, I figured I’d better get that booster, but I wasn’t looking forward to the post-injection owies. Last time I got a tetanus shot, my arm was incredibly sore. Mind you, I’m very grateful for immunizations and would prefer not to die of tetanus, but all else being equal, I prefer a non-sore arm to a sore one. As it turned out, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as last time, but my arm was still plenty tender and I got this weird knot under my skin. Nothing like this happens to my children when they get their immunizations. It must be my adult immune system doing the cha-cha. Thank heavens for ibuprofen.

When I’m in pain, I don’t forget it (“My arm is sore,” I told my family about fifty times per day, just in case someone wanted to give me sympathy) but in writing, sometimes I forget to have my characters remember when they’ve gotten bonked, bruised or bashed. In the initial draft, scenes that take place only hours or days apart might get written weeks or months apart, so it’s easy to forget that the character who just went through a touch of heck ought to still be feeling it.

Insta-healing crops up sometimes in action/thrillers—the hero gets the stuffing beat out of him in one scene and in the next is back to chasing bad guys with nary an ache in his ribs. Or the heroine gets knocked unconscious, but is soon back to puzzling out the mystery without so much as a headache. Not likely. Giving a hero or heroine a credible reaction to injuries not only adds realism to a story, but is also a terrific tool for increasing story tension. Rob does this splendidly in The Counterfeit when Rebekah’s injuries become a continuing source of difficulty as the good guys struggle to elude the bad guys, solve the mystery, and bring world peace. Sonia O’Brien also handles an injured character with compelling realism in her novel, Perfect Shot where a concussion causes the hero real problems instead of just being a Band-Aid fix.

So today’s writing advice is: when your characters are injured, let them feel it and react to it realistically. But don’t make them as whiney as I am; no one wants that much realism.


At 3/28/2007 5:27 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

Ahem. I believe what Daffy actually said was, "I'm not like other people--pain hurts me."

Sorry about your sore arm.

At 3/28/2007 11:26 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

This is excellent advice, Sariah. I think I'll go right now and give all my characters some more pain and agony -- they've earned it. :) Seriously, though, it's a great reminder that if we want people to think our characters are real, we should make them more mortal in their reactions.

At 3/29/2007 12:34 AM, Blogger Cheri said...

Stephanie, excellent point. Realism is important in fiction. I also hate it when movies portray unrealistic adventures. I'm sure we've all witnessed scenes that feature someone who has sustained a terrible injury, running around like they're competing in the Olympics. =) Then you have the other extreme. Years ago my foster Native American brother pointed out that in most Westerns, whenever a cowboy shot one round from his revolver, at least 5-6 Native Americans bit the dust. He was personally offended by this, and I sided with him.

Hope your arm feels better soon.

At 4/02/2007 12:18 AM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

I was thinking about this in the hospital just the other day. What about all those action movies/stories where the MC gets stabbed in the belly and keeps on fighting? Excuse the expression, but it ain't gonna happen. Belly wounds HURT!

On a side note, one of the patients in the hospital commented to her doctor that she felt like she'd been stabbed in the gut. The Doc raised his hand and said, "That would be me."

Cracked me up.


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