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.