(As I write this, in a terrible twist of fate and coincidence, I am fighting back flu-like symptoms. The irony is delicious.)
I’m doing a little bit of Heath of Fire today, which has made me think of one of my own writing flaws. I thought I’d share.
Your hero has suffered a grievous wound, or a minor wound, or a broken arm, or had a bash to the head, or something similar. Heroes often find themselves with one or two aches and pains in the course of their quest – and too right too. Our hero must be perishable otherwise there is no sense of danger (one of the reasons I dislike Superman, but never mind that); he must prove himself as human as us, or we do not connect and respond. Your hero must hurt and bleed.
And he has. He has, say, twisted his ankle funny and finds it hard to walk.
Please, please, please, don’t then have him leaping over fences and dodging bullets.
I do it, too. I forget where the hurts are and how long ago they were inflicted and, not being a doctor, I often have to guess at healing times and symptoms and more than likely have to Google it for the sake of some sort of accuracy. There are lots of things to think about when doing injuries and treating them.
1. Where does it hurt? Where does your hero have his ouchie? Will it impede his ability to, say, wield a sword or move quickly? Will this be integral to the plot? And, if not, how can we make the injury believable without every two paragraphs saying he’s hurt?
2. How badly does it hurt? If your hero has broken his leg, it’s going to smart. So remember that.
3. What healing supplies are available? In a sci-fi, don’t just pop him in a tube and say ‘all better!’ No treatment is ever 100%. I think advanced healing would really take a toll on the heal-ee. In a fantasy, think carefully about your era, the magics available to your character, etc.
4. How long can he last WITHOUT CERTAIN DEATH? This is my biggest faux pas. My characters survive all sorts. Make up a good reason why, or at least have them close to the end. If his wound will kill him, and he can’t die yet, change the wound.
I find that a few things help me along with injuries. I make a list of body parts hurt, when it was hurt, how bad it was, and how long it will take to heal. These I keep on my desk. I also try not to injure characters badly when no doctor / healing supplies are around, unless this is integral to the plot.
For example, I’ve just edited a couple of chapters in Heath where there’s some whipping going down (and not in the kinky sense). I know very little about whips and the injuries they inflict. My characters live in a tribal-fantasy setting. The best they can do for themselves is lemon water and linen bandage. Of course a certain amount of adrenalin and tough-nut-ness will push them through the pain, but I now have to be extra careful when continuing my editing so as not to make the injuries seem trivial. Maybe I need to introduce some sort of painkilling leaf…
Seems like a weird thing to post about, but it’s important that you catch these little things. It all helps with your craft in the end.
Now, time to find some painkilling leaves of my own.