How Do Your Characters Handle Pain?

Today about five minutes before my cardio workout at the gym was to end, I started feeling a pain in my left foot. My first inclination was to push through the pain.  I was feeling so proud of myself for being disciplined enough to add more exercise to my life.  I knew it was just a normal blister, nothing special.   Yet, dealing with this little pain got me to thinking about the idea of necessary and unnecessary pain in our lives and creative writing.

Let’s face it, pain is part of life.

Our creative writing generally needs to reflect this truth, or our stories ending up feeling flat or unreal. There are many times in life that we literally have to push through physical pain, and it helps a story when characters experience the normal pains of life.

It’s also helpful to examine the unnecessary pain in our stories.  This is often the kind of pain that leads to the biggest tragedies and sometimes the biggest humor.  From Macbeth’s unnecessary ambition to Lucy and Ethel on TV shoving chocolates in their mouth in the candy factor, the choices of our characters in avoiding pain, especially mental pain, can help us to define our stories.

One of the benefits of a novel is the way in which a longer story can engage with both necessary and unnecessary pain.  Yet, a great short story or poem can also deal with this very important subject.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about the expression of pain in your writing:

  1. Are your characters in pain because it is the natural or wise thing to embrace pain?
  2. Is there is a place in your story where the characters are pushing through or creating pain unnecessarily?
  3. Do you eliminate pain too quickly in your stories?
  4. Is there too much pain in your novel that also makes it unrealistic?
  5. Are your characters addicted to pain?
  6. Are there any characters that are destined for pain?
  7. How do you typically “resolve” pain in your stories?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at understanding how your characters deals with pain, can help you to structure your stories and writing more effectively in general.