Oh the Agony of Imaginary Pain!

15 Sep

by Biljana Likic


Jack opens his glassy eyes and tries to focus on Carol’s features. It’s hard to concentrate. His wound is excruciatingly painful, throwing streamers of agony down his arm. He is breaking out into a sweat and his face is contorting into an ugly grimace, teeth gritted behind pulled-back lips, and throat struggling not to let out a scream.

“It’s okay,” Carol whispers, running cool hands down his arm in attempt to help, horrified at his injury.

Her touch only makes the pain worse.

She jerks back when he cries out, writhing on the carpet of the office floor, eyes squeezing shut and breath coming out in gasps. Carol spears her fingers through her hair, clutching briefly at the strands. She is at a complete loss over how to help him. Close to tears for his pain, she turns to Noir.

“How could you do this to him?” she says, voice shaking.

Noir blinks, utterly confused.

“…It’s just a paper cut.”


Basically, the purpose of that was to show in extreme exaggeration how terribly confusing and sometimes downright hilarious it can be if the actions and reactions of the characters don’t suit the scene. Specifically, I’m focussing on pain.

Have you ever sat down to write about a character that’s about to have his arm cut off, but being that you’ve never had that happen, you in truth have no idea what you’re talking about?

If you’ve asked for help with this, I’m sure you’ve heard this before:


…Kidding. (Sort of.) Here’s the better advice.

Use your past experiences. Just because you’ve never had your arm cut off, doesn’t mean you can’t write a scene about a guy getting his arm cut off. Think about the closest thing to that scenario that’s ever happened to you, and try to equate that pain with the pain of what you imagine getting your arm cut off would be.

And if that wasn’t wordy enough for you, here’s an example.

This actually happened.

…The first part.

I was wearing flip-flops yesterday, sitting around outside, minding my own business, and I felt something poking me. I looked down and there was a wasp on the top of my foot, embedded quite nicely into my skin, so much so that I had to take out the insect with my fingers. I’ve forgotten how much stings actually hurt. It felt like a needle but thicker and rougher, and even after I pulled out the wasp, the sting throbbed with pain, and the skin around it rose with the venom.

And that got me thinking.

Imagine if it were a wooden pike instead of a wasp.

First I’d have the blunt ache of something with no sharp edge driving through the skin, tendons and bones. I’d have the feeling of something foreign inside me accompanied by the awareness that it hurts like crazy. I’d have the panic of seeing and acknowledging the fact that yes, there is a pike in my foot. I’d probably try to scream but wouldn’t have the voice for it, and I’d probably be too scared to pull it out right away. But when it is pulled out, I’d have the relief of it being gone. Unfortunately, it’d be followed by the adrenaline wearing off, making the pain worse, turning it into a pulsing agony of gushing blood and the general terror of there being a hole in my body.

And now imagine if the pike had venom on it.

I’d have it spreading up my leg, the skin around the wound rising white against the unaffected parts, becoming puffy and hot to the touch. My quickened heartbeat would work not only to spread the poison, but also speed up the blood loss. Maybe I would go into shock.

While in shock I would be looking at my wound, not really understanding that it’s mine, my eyes would go wide, my pupils would dilate, everything would be too bright, too loud, my breathing would get too shallow and too quick.

Maybe I’d faint.

While unconscious, the venom would spread throughout my body, the wound would fester and become infected. I’d be too weak to wake up. If I did wake up, it’d be to the pain and stench of a rotting foot and the swollen and feverish feel of a body turned septic. I wouldn’t be able to move, let alone crawl to a hospital, and by this point they wouldn’t just have to cut off my foot at the ankle, but at the knee.

Or maybe I’d never make it to the hospital.

Maybe I’d die.

So many exciting possibilities!

All from getting stung by a wasp.

This is the kind of stuff that goes on in my mind when I’m alone and think too much. You are free to make fun. I’m aware that I’m paranoid.

But you have to admit. Next time I need to write about somebody having a pike driven through their foot, I’ll already know what it feels like.


Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

30 Responses to “Oh the Agony of Imaginary Pain!”

  1. Kat Zhang September 15, 2010 at 12:03 AM #

    This is kinda awesome.

    Your posts always make me lawl ;D And it’s good to know I’m not the only one who takes my real life experiences and magnifies them so I can write scenes more effectively.

    Case in point? In the laboratory where I work, there’s a “cold room” at about 3 degrees C. Yeah, pretty cold. I worked there this summer, so I was in tank top, shorts, and flip flops, freezing my butt off whenever I needed to spend time in there. Usually, I’d only stay for a few minutes…but once, I made myself stay for about ten minutes, carefully noting the reactions my body went through as time passed…


    …am I crazy?


    • tymcon September 15, 2010 at 12:18 PM #

      Nope. You’d be crazy if you locked someone lese in there to see their reactions:P

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:19 PM #

      HAHA nope not crazy at all. Although being that I live in Canada, I can say that 4C is NOTHING. I’m one of those people that’s rolled around in snow in a bathing suit after a hot tub….

      I wish I could say it was for writing, but it was for sake of pride. Somebody dared me :(.

  2. CA Marshall September 15, 2010 at 1:55 AM #

    Ooooh, ouch! I hope it didn’t hurt too long Bilijana!

    Excellent post!

    Reading that description brought back terrible memories. I got stung for the very first time this summer. My dad is highly allergic and I had no idea if I was too so I sorta freaked out a bit. Plus, I got stung on my butt (the bee was in a tire swing) and I was hoping I didn’t have to go to the doctor and have everyone look at my bum! But it turned out ok in the end. I haven’t been able to sit on the tire swing since tho.

    Kat, I did that once too… If we’re wrong, I don’t want to be right! #crazywritersforever

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:21 PM #

      It’s hurts for a lot longer than you’d think, doesn’t it? I was so shocked/impressed at how painful it was. I was with a friend and every few minutes I’d be all “Shit that hurts” not because it was crazy painful, but because I was surprised at the level of pain.

    • Savannah J. Foley September 16, 2010 at 8:39 AM #

      Omg Cassandra that’s terrible!

  3. Victoria Dixon September 15, 2010 at 10:39 AM #

    Oh, you made me laugh but only because I do the exact same thing! ;D I’m always imagining the worst possible things. At first, I thought I must be paranoid, but I finally realized, “No. You’re a writer creating obstacles for the one constant character in your life: you.” Sigh. So it’s raining today. The car could spin out on the highway, careening toward the oncoming Basking Robins van. Death by Butter Brickle. Good Grief.

    • tymcon September 15, 2010 at 12:32 PM #

      I’m always imagining bad things happening in a car. Seriously, I’d be the worst driver ever. Whenever I see a road coming into ours I always imagine a gigantic car come out andcrash into us:P

      • Julie Eshbaugh September 15, 2010 at 1:04 PM #

        Oh my gosh, I do the same thing! But don’t worry, I don’t think any of my odd imaginings of car accidents contributed to the accident I had this past summer. 😉

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:23 PM #

      Oooh nice way of putting it, with the constant character in your life being yourself.

      I do similar things with cars. Mostly though I do it when I’m walking alone late at night. I start imagining how creative I’d have to be with my speech if somebody tried to rob me or kidnap me, or something, what kind of physical stuff I could do to get them to back off…

      Usually I end up half-dead in my mind by the time I reach my house :P.

  4. Vanessa September 15, 2010 at 11:20 AM #

    I am always imagining what being stabbed must feel like, or getting burnt – I just take all the little cuts I’ve had, and all the times I’ve accidentally touched a hot pan as starting points. I’ve always thought that I’m just a very disturbed person, ahahaha! Good to know that other writers do it too!

    I hope your foot is okay though! The last time I got stung I was a kid in Italy; and stepped on one when I was at a beach. Definitely not a fun memory!

    And B…. you make me laugh ❤ I strive to one day be as funny as you!

    • tymcon September 15, 2010 at 12:31 PM #

      I’m quite happy. I never got stung by a bee. Every other anumal seems to hate me but beesXD

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:25 PM #

      I HATE burning myself on hot stuff. Sometimes you don’t even notice until it starts to itch and then you’re scratching it and it makes everything worse.

      And lol… thank you :D.

      • Vanessa September 16, 2010 at 9:45 AM #

        I HATE when I burn myself and end up with the ugly bubbles! THAT’S the worst!

        And Tim, I’m quite jealous! Let’s hope you never get stung by a bee/wasp!

  5. tymcon September 15, 2010 at 12:29 PM #

    Ah nice. I’ve noticed readign other peoples stories that they forget one important thing. If you feel a pain that’s increasing 1 of three things will happen: 1) You’ll pass out. 2)your mind will block it and it wont get worse, and numbed. 3)you’ll die.
    I broke my collarbone and the most thign i remember about it is…I can’t remember. You can never fully remember the worst pain you’ve ever had. Well you probably can, but you can’t remeber if it reaches a certain point.
    Ps: When I meant to the emergency room they said it was a ripped muscle. Two weeks later I was called in to a diffrent hospital (one of out neighbours is a bone surgeon or soemthing) and they said it was a fractured muscle. I’ve never seen that er guy again…:P

    • Julie Eshbaugh September 15, 2010 at 1:01 PM #

      Great post, Biljana! I think the one advantage Mandy and I have over all the other LTWFers is we’ve delivered babies. My pain references were pretty much established by that experience. 😉 However, the only times I’ve felt myself going into shock were after having broken bones (of which I’ve broken several!) But it’s all good, in the name of writing! I envy Kat her “cold room” experience. Maybe I’ll stand outside in the snow in shorts and a T-shirt this winter…

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:28 PM #

      Yeahhhh there’s the mental blocks that your mind puts up.

      And that’s exactly the reason why I wrote this post. There have been times where people forget the injuries their characters have. Their protags start running or something and all I want them to do is collapse because the writer’s forgetting that their foot’s broken or they’ve been stabbed three times in the thigh. I mean it’s never that bad, but people do slip.

  6. Lea Kaplan September 15, 2010 at 2:58 PM #

    It’s appropriate that you write this today, of all days, Biljana. Just last night, I wrote a scene in my manuscript where my protagonist extinguished a candle by using her thumb and index finger. Because I had never done it, I decided I’d do it so I could write about it more effectively. I had to scour through the cottage to find a candle, but it all worked out in the end.

    And I’ve done that, too, Kat – though not with something painful. I had my tonsils out a few summers ago, and I was trying to stay focused as the anesthetics kicked in so I could write about it. Same thing when I came to. I categorized everything that happened to me, so I could write it later. Actually, it happened again just a month ago or so. I had a birthmark removed, and ended up passing out afterwards. When I came to, my initial reaction was “OMG that was so cool! Now I can write about passing out!”

    Crazy writers, unite.

    Great post!

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:34 PM #

      I’ve never been courageous enough to put a candle out that way. Does it hurt? Some people say it doesn’t and other say it does and I’m too wimpy to find out for myself :P.

      And yeah! I’ve always wanted to faint! I never know how to write about people fainting because I have no idea what happens to you!

      Glad you liked the post :).

      • Vanessa September 16, 2010 at 9:48 AM #

        AHAHAHAHA is it weird that I’m totally jealous of people who’ve fainted? Cause I am! I REALLY just want to know what it actually feels like… all I have to go on is what other people have written when it comes to fainting :p

        And hell yes Lea! Crazy writers unite! ❤

  7. Samantha Walker September 15, 2010 at 4:23 PM #

    That’s one hell of a wasp sting…

    I’ve accidentally stabbed myself in the thigh w/ a steak knife (slipped). It actually didn’t hurt at all until we got to the doctors and they stuck a huge needle in it (to numb it). It was a weird “Omg, did I really just do that?) feeling followed by my entire leg getting warm all the sudden (bloood).

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:38 PM #

      That is…terrifying :O. And yeahhh good call about your leg getting warm from the blood. I didn’t think of that.

    • Vanessa September 16, 2010 at 9:49 AM #

      OMG Samantha!!! I am not going to be able to pick up a steak knife for weeks because I’ll just be picturing myself accidentally stabbing myself in the thigh now!

      That must’ve been INTENSE.

      • Samantha Walker September 22, 2010 at 1:29 PM #

        Lol. To top it off, when I got home later that day I was doing dishes and dropped one on my foot. Only got a prick though.

        You won’t stab yourself… You’re probably smarter than the 13-year-old me. 😉 (cut AWAY from yourself, lol)

  8. Cassie September 15, 2010 at 4:47 PM #

    See? This is why I subscribe and check my emails religiously 😉

    Last night, I had trouble describing the sensation a character felt after getting hit by a car, in her last few conscious moments. But then earlier that day, I whipped out my yoga mat and accidentally dropped a 5 lb. weight on my foot. Needless to say, there was a lot of grasping, rocking back and forth, and hissing in pain. Now I know dropping 5 lbs. on your foot is NOTHING compared to being nailed by a car, but I imagine the blunt force of being smashed by something is relatable on some level. After reading the way you likened a wasp sting to a pike in the foot, I’ve decided to write down my feelings after getting my own foot destroyed by something…with some understandable tweaks, of course.

    Oh, and that little excerpt had my brow creased in worry, until I read, “…It’s just a papercut.” Then I was laughing so hard, my mom came in and asked what was so funny. Great post, either way =D

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 5:45 PM #

      Yay I’m glad this post helped! And damn, 5lbs on your foot when it’s supposed to be a time of relaxation is not fun. Hope it’s okay :S. Good luck with the scene.

      Lol I’m glad it was funny. I tried to make it as ridiculous as possible :P.

      • Savannah J. Foley September 16, 2010 at 8:42 AM #

        I totally love these stock characters you keep playing around with 🙂

        • Vanessa September 16, 2010 at 9:50 AM #

          I second that! 😀

  9. Kaye September 15, 2010 at 10:32 PM #

    If I ever need to write about a character tripping over something and seriously injuring his/herself, I will be totally prepared. Tripping terrifies me. It’s not even the embarrassment factor, it’s more that I always think I’ll crack my head open. I’ve always wondered if maybe I died that way in a past life or something, because sometimes I seriously lie awake at night and think of all the times I could have tripped and died throughout the day.

    Also, I always love the Jack and Carol and Noir examples :D.

    • Biljana September 15, 2010 at 10:58 PM #

      Oh man that’s what my mom would always snap at me! “Slow down, you’ll trip and spill your brains out onto the sidewalk!” And whenever I DO trip, I go through all the ways that COULD have happened. If I was one step left I would’ve speared myself onto a rusty pipe, if I tripped three seconds later I would’ve been run over….

      And thanks, Carol Jack and Noir are always a hell of a lot of fun to write :D.

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