To you brave NaNoWriMo-ers, I’m thinking of you and wishing you well!
On September 8, 2018, Writeforfun wrote, I have a character with a sort of condition/curse that causes him a lot of pain and discomfort at certain times. I have no trouble describing it because I got the flu recently (the kind where you ache so badly and you’re so weak that you can’t walk across the room), so I can envision exactly how he feels.
My problem is, I’m worried that I’m making him seem whiny or wimpy when I write about it. He never actually complains about his pain, but I keep mentioning how he’s feeling, or mentioning actions such as rubbing a sore joint, in order to get the point across; however, as I read over it, I feel like he just sounds kind of pathetic. He’s supposed to be a silently suffering but ultimately strong kid, but I’m not sure I’m achieving that.
Writeforfun went on the provide a sample:: The king cast an apologetic look at Oliver. “I am sorry to take you to the dungeons,” he said. “But I assure you, you are by no means a prisoner.”
Oliver could not find the courage or strength to reply, so he nodded vaguely as he rubbed his aching arms.
“It’s just down here,” said the king gently. Sir Rodrick pulled an extra torch off the wall and followed after Oliver, who tentatively descended after the king. It was a spiral staircase, and though there were no windows, there were so many torches that it was brighter in the staircase than it had been in the hallway. Oliver wasn’t sure if he had the strength to make it all the way down; his legs were throbbing, even his skin stinging as his transformation drew painfully nearer.
“I’ve put a few extra torches up for you,” said the king as he descended the stairs ahead of them. “I see no reason for it to be dark and dreary down here during your stay.”
Oliver could not find the strength to thank him, so he nodded weakly.
“Only a bit further,” said the king, who had noticed his fatigue. He shot a glance past Oliver to Sir Rodrick, but Oliver did not know nor care what he was communicating.
The spiral staircase made him dizzy and seemed to stretch on forever, but at last they reached the floor. It was cobblestone like the paths outside the castle, only this floor had no shoots of moss and grass peeking through the cracks; only dry, hard earth or, in some places, mud.
I wrote, He doesn’t seem either whiny or wimpy to me. He seems heroic. But I’m adding your question to my list, because there are aspects I think we can explore.
And Poppie wrote: You can use a cue to let the reader know what he’s going through without having to repeat yourself. For example, earlier in the story the reader finds out that his right elbow aches so badly that he can’t bend his arms, so he grabs it as a reaction to his pain. Later, when ever he grabs his elbow, the readers know what’s going on without going through the details again.
Are there times when his symptoms are better than others? You could sprinkle those in throughout the story. It would give him a break and give more weight to when he’s suffering.
Taking off my writer’s hat for a moment and just saying, I got my (senior) flu shot last month. Even before I grew so old, I presented myself for vaccination every year, because, before the vaccine was invented, I came down with the flu annually, with all the attendant misery. We can’t write when we can’t sit up!
Before I get into advice-giving, I want to point out the skillful and economical way Writeforfun sneaks in a hint that Oliver’s symptoms presage a transformation.
I am firmly in the camp of writers who believe in finishing before revising, excepting only when we (I) are so lost that going on is impossible. When I’m worrying about an element in my story, I write a note about the problem at the top of the first page to remind myself to keep it in mind as I revise.
Often, when I finish, I realize that my worries were just that–and six other things need fixing, but not those.
Let’s assume, however, that Writeforfun has reached the revision stage. As I said above, Oliver doesn’t come across as wimpy or whiny, but I think it is possible that the reader is being reminded more than she needs to be about his physical troubles. If his well-being matters to the reader, she won’t forget that he’s in pain. This applies whether he’s our main character or our villain. If he’s important to the story, the reader will remember. A few details will go along way. In fact, the reader may intuit more suffering for him if we don’t reveal everything–
–unless for some plot reason, the reader must understand every intricacy of Oliver’s misery. If that’s the case, Oliver doesn’t have to bear the whole burden.
I have the idea that this is from a third-person omniscient POV, because the narrator reveals, not only Oliver’s pain, but also the king noticing the pain. If that’s the case, the king can be shown to think something about Oliver’s condition: how pinched his face looks, how he’s dragging one of his feet–whatever. Sir Rodrick can have an emotional response to Oliver’s apparent illness, sympathy or anger or something else.
If the POV isn’t omniscient, we can still use the other characters. Dialogue is one way. The king can remark on Oliver’s limp or his pinched face. Sir Rodrick can question whether he must be imprisoned, since he seems too weak to be a flight risk.
We can use Oliver’s actions, rather than his inner state. He can stumble or grab Rodrick’s arm, which is involuntary and not wimpy or whiny.
We can use his own words to reveal his courage, his non-wimpiness. The king can ask him if he’s all right, and he can say, “Never better,” even though the reader knows he’s in pain.
And we can use his thoughts to achieve the same end. Because he is brave, he can think, This isn’t so bad. Anyone can manage this. He can draw on some wisdom from his world, possibly a saying to help him get through–but resorting to that particular saying will show the reader how bad it is.
So we have these other strategies to reveal the shape a character is in, other than his own thoughts and feelings: the perspective of other characters as revealed through their thoughts and feelings; dialogue between other characters and even with him; and his actions, like a stumble.
Here are three prompts:
∙ Your MC is trying to keep his dog, Fraggle, from being discovered. The stakes are high. Fraggle is not only his adored pet, but also his service dog. If she’s taken from him, he will fall apart. Write the scene so that the reader knows what’s going on.
∙ Your MC is climbing a mountain to reach the citadel of her enemy, and she’s in great emotional pain. You make up the reason. Write the scene.
∙ Your MC and your villain are discussing a truce, but neither really wants one. Both want to discover the other’s true next move. Write the scene from the POV of an omniscient narrator. If you’re inclined to try it, rewrite the scene in first person of one of the two.
Have fun, and save what you write!