We’ve covered many aspects of pain so far in this experience, such as the different categories of pain and how to write the discomfort associated with minor, major, and invisible injuries. All of this is helpful for identifying the pain your character will be feeling and helping you write it accurately. But how will your character sustain their injury?
If you’ve determined that pain is in your character’s future, you’ve got to then figure out how it will happen. The good news is that this can often be done organically through whatever they’re already doing. It’s just a matter of knowing which activities they’d be involved in and the locations they’re likely to visit. Get them there, and let the mishaps unfold.
Here are a few of the common causes for injuries and places where harm could naturally befall your character.
It’s commonly known that many injuries occur in and around the home. This means your character’s living space can become a minefield of potential hazards. Moving heavy furniture, slipping in the shower or on slick floors, falling down stairs, cutting oneself while cooking, choking on food, fingers getting smashed in a drawer, getting zapped by a faulty electrical outlet…the possibilities, both serious and slight, are endless.
This is also true of incidents happening just outside the home. Your character could be injured while using faulty lawn equipment (or misusing perfectly good tools), tripping over uneven driveway pavers, being exposed to poison ivy, breathing noxious fumes from a DIY painting project, getting a splinter, or falling out of a tree.
Sometimes, the easiest solutions are the best ones. When it comes to injuries, there really is no place like home.
The other place your character spends a lot of their time is at work, making it a logical place for bad things to happen. If your story calls for a certain kind of injury, consider a career for the character where it’s most likely to happen. Maybe a more dangerous occupation is in order, such as construction work, being a police officer, or working as an EMT in a hazardous area.
But even mundane office jobs can provide opportunities for a range of injuries—paper cuts, carpal tunnel, slips and falls, and back and neck pain from staring at a screen for hours, to name just a few. As a matter of fact, a physically painful event at work can spice up a boring day on the job. Just make sure it’s a natural fit so it doesn’t read as contrived.
What does your character do in their spare time? Could it be something that would incorporate the injury you need them to sustain? Maybe they’re an exercise enthusiast and enjoy running marathons, lifting weights, or some other way of pushing their body to its limits. Or they could be into extreme sports, like motocross, rock climbing, cave diving, or hang gliding. Even run-of-the-mill activities like hiking, jogging, fishing, hunting, and playing pickleball can end painfully given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
When your character leaves home, some form of transportation is going to get them to their destination. Whether they’re in an isolated area or are surrounded by other people who are also getting from here to there, there are many opportunities for harm to befall them. Car accidents, falling off a bike, suffering a heart attack while riding the city bus, being hit while walking as a pedestrian, difficulties driving in other countries where the traffic laws are unfamiliar…so many possibilities.
Wherever your character lives, they’re going to encounter different kinds of weather that can impact their safety. Slippery roads and icy streets can make accidents and falls more likely. Heavy fog, rain, and snow will decrease visibility. High winds can cause tree limbs to fall, crushing buildings or blocking roadways and causing hazards. And then you have extreme weather—tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, lightning strikes, and hailstorms. The latter are much more dramatic, so you’ll have to lay that groundwork carefully. Make sure your character is living in an area where these threats are real. And use enough foreshadowing to inform readers of the danger so when it happens, it rings true.
As much as we love our pets, they can inadvertently be a source of pain. For instance, we know how dangerous it is when an elderly person falls and breaks a hip. What you may not know is that one of the main reasons the elderly fall is because they’ve tripped over a pet. Sustaining an injury while walking the dog is also common, along with the garden-variety scratches, nips, and bites that may occur. It’s also easy to be hurt while trying to help a wounded or scared pet.
But domesticated animals aren’t the only ones your character needs to be careful with. Consider the altercations they might have with animals of the wilder sort: insect stings, snake and spider bites, or being bitten by a tick and incurring the chronic effects of Lyme disease. Is your character the reckless sort that might try to hand-feed a raccoon in the backyard or get a selfie with a bison at Yellowstone? They’re likely to get more than they bargained for.
Sometimes harm occurs from other human beings, and it’s not always intentional. Being bumped on the street, elbowed in the mouth, knocked down in a crowd, slammed in a concert mosh pit, roughhousing with the kids—there are many ways someone could accidentally injure your character. And then there are deliberate acts of violence in the form of an attack, mugging, bullying, or domestic abuse.
This is a short list, really, of the ordinary ways your character could be injured just going about their day. It’s definitely not exhaustive but hopefully provides some ideas for how you can naturally incorporate the painful events your story needs in ways that are natural and seamless.
And if you need help in this area, consider adding an Emotion Amplifier into the mix. Your character may be a good driver, but what if they’re distracted or inebriated? They might be the most careful person on the worksite until they get dehydrated or are sick with a fever. And consider how added stress can make your character less patient, more reckless, and prone to making poor decisions. Amplifiers are a great way to turn a normal scenario into one where an injury is more likely to happen, so keep those in mind when you need to hurt your character.
Other Posts in This Pain Series:
The Three Stages of Awareness
Different Types to Explore
Describing Minor Injuries
Describing Major and Mortal Injuries
Invisible Injuries and Conditions
Factors that Help or Hinder the Ability to Cope
Taking an Injury from Bad to Worse
Best Practices for Great Fiction
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.