How do you perceive your neighbors? Are our perception of others dependent on their actions and how they handle certain situations? I would say so! As authors, we should expect no different from the way your reader interprets your character! It is the writer's job to sell the situations and emotions their character is going through, as well as effectively justify their actions!
When an author is not only able to bring you into their world but makes you feel as though you and the main character are one, that, to me, is pure magic!
If you think you cannot cultivate that magic as you are an aspiring writer, then I beg to differ. Just because your talent has yet to be discovered does not mean it does not exist. The mere itch of your hand as it searches for a pen to hold is sign enough that you are born to write!
Now onto the topic of the day! How can we writers write pain that our readers can feel?
Why write about pain?
Life is painful enough as it is! Between trauma, abuse, poverty, disease, and the rest of the horrors of the world, people often find themselves wishing for escape. And that is where the entertainment system comes into play.
We as readers do not want to necessarily experience all the negative aspects of the waking world, including sadness, frustration, or anger. But how boring would any story be if it failed to get you out of your seat and root for the people living between the pages!
Let's embody the pain into one cognizant being, for fun. Religion has already done this. For many, the embodiment of pain is the Devil. The Devil, translated from Hebrew, means "The Adversary," meaning the one who is meant to obstruct, oppose, or create obstacles. Wouldn't life be so great had the Devil not existed? There would be no evil inclination living within any person and no more issues or pain in the world. This embodiment works 24/7 to create obstacles for all. But what do we lose had the Devil not existed? If we dig deeper, we can see it is not just pain it inflicts. It also provides us with the most beautiful thing we have here on earth.
Stories exist because of opposition. Had no one been opposed in their lives, there would cease to be stories. Putting it simply, if there is no problem, there is no plot, and if there is no plot, there is no story.
Had we never experienced opposition, there would be no journey to go on. There would be no lessons to be learned. Nothing would be earned, only given. Sure, no one would have a dark side, but with your dark side comes consequence. Take opposition out of the equation, and consequence would cease to exist! There are positive and negative aspects to this analogy, sure, since we would all prefer a pain-free life. But what would be the purpose of living in a world where there is nothing to be learned? Isn't pain created a test for the unwounded?
As they say, pain is gain, baby!
Without pain, our true character would be unrevealed. Pain calls forth choice, and being creatures of free will, the choices we make as individuals create our character. Pain gives us the opportunity to shine!
The beauty in this is that all life goes through different—but similar experiences—which makes all stories one of a kind. Pain unites us in more ways than we think. Just think of the possibilities! People on the other side of the world are going through the same hardships as you. People in the past have gone through the same hardships as you. Stories in the Bible, for example, have lived on for thousands of years because we can find ourselves in those people mentioned there, and we are steadied through their strengths. King David, for example, is one of the many people we find in the Bible who have no reason to continue to be moral, kind, gracious, noble, or faithful as he has gone through so many unfathomable hardships. Yet since he and countless others have overcome those hardships time after time, with grace, faults, and mistakes included, they are not only humanized, but inspiring!
Often through the struggles of life, reading about characters that have challenged their challenges gives us the courage NOT to change our shape according to how the harsh world wishes to mold us.
On the other hand, some characters indeed have gone through much but wear their pain on their sleeve as if to now dispense it throughout the world, even to those who are innocent. We, as bystanders, register them as the villain. The villain feels as though their cruelty is justified.
The point is, without "the Adversary", stories wouldn't exist, not in literature and not in the waking world. Our struggles do not characterize us, but what we do when we are met with struggle certainly does.
For all these reasons, pain is important and necessary.
What are the different types of pain?
This could result from the aftermath of abuse, poor circumstances, and how people treat and perceive us, including how we treat and perceive ourselves. Impactful emotional turmoil could result from helplessness, like seeing your loved one go through something traumatic and being able to do nothing about it. It could result from grief, like losing a loved one or losing something they very much care about.
There must be a reason for the emotional pain your character is going through. If they are experiencing depression, why are they experiencing depression? What would make them genuinely happy otherwise?
Writers are often in their character's heads. You can use this superpower to showcase their thought process to the reader. What is experiencing this loss like? What is it like to endure these difficult circumstances?
Emotional pain often leads to stress which can take a toll on the body. A stressed body might feel fatigued, have a loss of appetite, or could have trouble sleeping. Does your character have the strength to go on and continue to try to move past their obstacles, or is their emotional pain too much to bear? What particular situation would be their breaking point, emotionally? What situation will give them hope? What can change to turn their circumstances around? How can they take action to bring this change to fruition? Will they find happiness in this change?
I often find that a character can endure many physical pains but struggle to overcome emotional pain. Emotional pain often resurfaces. A memory always tends to live on in our minds. A character could have issues forgiving and forgetting a bad memory. It could be something that they thought they had laid to rest long ago but later find themselves angry or sad about the fact that it happened because they believe they did not deserve it.
When in emotional pain, people often place blame on the outside world. They fault the person who has inflicted the pain, even if it was unconsciously done. They might even blame God because, again, they deem themselves undeserving of hardships.
What is beautiful about this is that the writer has perfectly constructed the character's pain to bring them to new heights to teach them to fully embrace their power and their true character. Often the pain the character experiences makes no sense until the end of their journey. The readers might relate to the character—but like them, we too wonder why this has happened. Then we notice how much the character has changed by the end of their journey, and we are proud of them.
A. Pain derived from certain impact, abrasion, etc.
B. Internal pain, pain that you cannot see from an illness, sickness, or disease.
You cannot physically see this pain, but there could be so many symptoms.
Pain derived from the sinuses can include headaches, a dripping nose, sore throat, stuffed nose, clogged ears, and eye crust.
Other types of pain can include body aches, fatigue, nausea, and the list goes on.
Always research the illness/sickness you are writing about, especially if you are writing one that already exists. Your research will make the experience as authentic for your characters as it will be for your readers.
And of course, when pain gets bad, there's always:
When in pain we often turn to medicine as it promises relief. Often, we find that medicine can relieve the symptoms of an illness and add a potentially shocking list of side effects but not necessarily cure the illness. This could be a very hard choice your character makes as they decide what would be the better outcome for themselves. Are the side effects worth the risk?
What is it like to be using this medicine? How is your character different on this medicine? Or what if, they cannot afford the medicine they need?
The intensity of pain will urge people toward a quick fix rather than improving overall health. However there are some who prefer home remedies and lean towards vitamins and herbology. What category does your character fall in?
The effectiveness of someone's care often depends on their caretakers, doctors, nurses, etc. It is entirely possible that someone gets falsely prescribed or falsely diagnosed or that a standard medicine for a specific ailment does not take effect on this particular patient, as everybody reacts to medication differently.
As you can see, the possibilities of writing illness involving medicine are endless!
Medicine in The Fantasy Genre!
This is a fun topic! Think back to Alice in Wonderland, the most iconic of the fantasy stories that included liquid substances that had the power to change you. Many fantasy stories feature potions and magical concoctions. We often see witches perform magic rituals that involve creating these substances. The power of the substances vary from turning people into frogs or curing sickness.
If you are writing fantasy and want to create medicine here are some things you can think about:
What is this medicine for?
Does it have any side effects? Will it make you shrink/grow/change you hair color? Of course, this can be as silly and nonsensical as you like!
How long do the side effects last?
What color is it?
What does it smell like? Taste like?
How is it administered? Orally? Through a shot? Up the nose? You can be as creative as you like here.
How viscous is it?
What is is made of? Are the ingredients hard to come by?
Is this hard to make? How is it made? Is it a laborious process?
I've read several fantasies where authors do not go that much into detail about their magical substances, but it is always good to think about the details incase it is needed throughout the story.
How to write physical pain:
This is fun to include during battles and fights. As we know, getting into a fight can lead to wounds, blows, scrapes, and also death. Get creative. If your character has lost an extremity, why was this your plan to challenge them in that way? Don't just hurt your characters for no reason!
Research the pain you want to give your character. What would that kind of wound look like? What color is it? Is there blood? How much blood flow is there? Is the character turning pale, losing consciousness? How long will it take to heal? Don't just think about the short-term effects of having this wound but also the long-term effects. Will they have to deal with the pain of this wound long after they have received it? For example, a broken leg once healed might never move or feel the same again in some cases.
Isolate the part of the body:
Think back to when you were in pain. Think of that part in the body you experienced that pain. Suddenly no other part of your body matters neither does anything that was going on in your life. Your mortgage, your debt, your family, nothing matters as much as relieving that pain. How did you behave while in pain? What did you do to relieve that pain? How far were you willing to go to rid yourself of it?
How does your character deal with pain?
As we know, pain tolerance is different for everyone. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when developing your character's reaction to pain:
Is your character tolerant of pain, or are they more on the sensitive side?
How do they react? Do they scream, moan, clench their bodies, squirm, shout, breathe heavy, or hallucinate?
How far are they willing to go to rid themselves of the pain?
Will they turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain?
Will they begin to act selfishly and do cruel things to others are a result of their pain?
How does your character feel having to go through this illness and then having to deal with the aftermath of the medicine they are taking?
How will your character grow after this pain? Will they become a better or worse person after experiencing pain? Will they relate to others who are in pain because of this, or will they become bitter and place blame for their past circumstances?
If it never rained, would we care for the sun?
Relief plays a major part in pain. What does it feel like to experience relief? Does the mind of the character suddenly become clear again? What are their next steps in the story after experiencing the pain? Many times, the pain people experience does not allow them proper sleep. Is your character exhausted? Do they need to rest? Can they afford rest, or do they need to get back on their weary feet and resume their mission as they are pressed for time? Is this short-term relief, or long-term relief? Have they been cured/fully healed or are they using a numbing agent?
In terms of emotional pain, relief can come from the support of a friend, or from experiencing a positive change.
Experience is something that is not often spoken about when it comes to writing about a character's pain, and it equally as important as the other factors mentioned.
Consider going through something you have already experienced, it suddenly seems easier to go through it the second time or third time around. Now consider a chronic sickness with the same symptoms on repeat. It could be hell, and then after a while, the person might start to cope with the pain. Over time the pain becomes the new normal and the person's tolerance for pain has increased. That is an extreme case, of course.
This can also happen with emotional pain. Experiencing death, mental abuse, or any sort of non-physical pain can make you as hard as your circumstances. Often I find that those who have experienced more that their fair share of hardships in life are very capable of overcoming arising hardships.
For some, experience makes no difference. Keep that in mind.
Does you character move along and change according to the pain they've faced? Are they stronger? Is the pain too much to handle? Are they resistant?
Remember, too much pain can be very harmful as every person has their own breaking point. What is the breaking point for your character?
My number one tip for making your story as intriguing as possible is to ask yourself:
1. What can go wrong?
You do not need to give your character's mercy. People do not want to read about heaven. There are no problems in heaven, and no problems means no plot. Making your characters experience hardships gives them the opportunity to shine through their actions. It showcases who they truly are in the face of hardship and opposition.
2. And how will your specific character react?
To know how your character will react means you must know them like the back of your hand which
is very important if you want to write a solid character.
Did these tips help? What type of pain are you writing about? Let me know in the comments!
JK Noble | Author | Artist | Philanthropist
Published author of the new YA Fantasy Series, HALE.
Creator of the LMB franchise and the Encourage Literacy Foundation.