On writing

Do authors let their heroes off lightly in the pain game?

Do we, as authors, give our characters more pain than they can realistically tolerate?

I haven’t written much in the blog over the last month, as I pulled a muscle in my back.

I haven’t wanted to write. I haven’t been able to concentrate, and I haven’t been able to sit for long periods, whether it be in front of a screen or just sitting generally. I haven’t been able to stand long either, so I have spent days sitting, then standing, then sitting, and—more preferably—laying down.

Everything hurts. It’s only a back strain, but my hips ache, my legs ache.

I have not been able to do much of anything, and my whole life seems to be centred around my back.

I realise that this response is an over-reaction to pain in someone who seldom experiences it, but it made me wonder. Exactly how much pain would the heroes in our novels be able to bear?

As fantasy and science fiction writers we are more likely to inflict pain on our protagonists than the average author. Do we let them off too lightly?

Our hero gets a sword between the ribs. The local doctor—or equivalent—patches him up.

Next hour he’s limping around the battlefield, offering encouragement to the fighters who are left.

How likely is that in real life?

He’s going to be sore. All that movement will likely tear the stitches. He’ll start bleeding.

Because he’s our hero he’ll be thinking of his people, naturally, but he’s going to be really conscious of the pain. Sometimes, that will be all he can think about. Sometimes he will snap at people trying to help. He won’t be able to stop himself. All he wants to do is lie down, and for the world to go away.

Some remarkable people put up with crippling pain every day. Most of them adjust, and learn to live with it. Some even manage to be cheerful in the face of it. Often the people who tolerate pain least are those who seldom experience it. Me with my back, for instance.

As authors, we generally create hale, hearty heroes who become injured in the process of the story, not beforehand. Yes, they’re used to bruises and minor battle scars, but because of their very hero-ness, aren’t they more likely to be unused to major injuries?

Does this mean that they are also more likely to be incapacitated by deep, real pain when they experience it?

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