This week: PainEdited by: Robert Waltz
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It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.
Pain is a beautiful thing. When you feel pain, you know you're alive.
The only pain in pleasure is the pleasure of the pain.
Everyone is a pain.
No, wait... that's not right. Everyone experiences pain. That's what I meant. It's a shared human experience, much as sleep is. While I've heard there are cases of people whose nervous system doesn't process the sensation of pain for whatever reason, writers can safely assume that pain is something readers (or viewers) can relate to.
But it's likely that different people experience pain differently, which makes it even more important to consider how it's depicted in a story.
Here's an example of how not to describe it:
"Joe was in pain."
No matter how much pain a person has experienced, that says nothing. While one character might say that to another character in dialogue, as a description, it falls short.
An example of how to convey the sensation more effectively might be:
"Joe felt as if someone was shoving a blade through his chest."
Or whatever implement and/or body part is appropriate for the story. The point being that even though most of us have (fortunately) not had the opportunity to know what a blade through the chest feels like, we can better understand the specific description than the more general.
Whether it's a paper cut (which hurts in a way that is disproportionate to the actual damage done) or an amputation (which, from what I've heard, does not), it's rarely sufficient to simply relate the fact of the injury. "Joe got a paper cut" doesn't elicit the same empathy as something like "The edge of the paper sliced across Joe's left thumb, burning like fire."
Some of how you'd describe pain depends on point of view. If the point of view character is the one experiencing the pain, it's not only acceptable but preferred to tell the reader how that character feels, what sensation they have (burning, stabbing, shooting, etc). But if it's not the point of view character and we're not in their head, we must rely on outward indicators of pain -- a wince, a cry of "Ow!", a doubling over, or whatever is appropriate for the situation.
However it's described, pain is, ultimately, a subjective experience, but one that other people can relate to. When you go to a doctor's office and they ask you about pain, they might point to a chart with a range of emoji faces: happy on one end, red-faced and crying on the other, on a scale of 1 to 10. (As a side note, don't tell the doctor "mine goes to 11." They've heard it before and won't think it's funny. Just trust me on this one, okay?) But what we're looking for as readers is not "His pain was about an 8." No, to empathize, we need to see things like "He felt like he'd been hit by a truck."
Pain is tricky in that it's hard to remember the sensation after the fact. But as writers, the least we can do is try. No one ever said it would be easy; in fact, if writing isn't painful, you might be doing it wrong.
Some fantasy that shouldn't be painful to read:
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Last time, in "Snowflakes" , I described frozen water falling from the sky.
Everyone must have been snowed in, because there were no comments.
So that's it for me for January! See you next month. Until then,
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