First Aid

Injuries are inconvenient. Yeah, okay, they’re also painful, sometimes debilitating, and occasionally life-threatening. But for the purposes of this post, they’re mainly inconvenient. If you break your leg, hobbling around on crutches for weeks with no free hands to even carry your cup of tea from the kitchen gets old really fast. Having an arm in plaster means you have to relearn everything one-handed. If you’re lucky, that’s your dominant hand. You get a new perspective on what it’s like to live with a permanent disability, and new respect for those that do.

But even minor injuries are a pain (no pun intended). A paper cut makes it virtually impossible to slice lemons without working out a weird, awkward way to hold the injured finger out of acid’s way.  A scratch on your arm has to be avoided while scrubbing yourself in the shower. A painful bruise can make it awkward to lie on your preferred side to sleep. You just have to put up with it until the thing’s healed and you can go back to taking minor everyday activities for granted.

I guess we all know this. If you’ve ever sprained your ankle right before going on holiday or badly bitten the inside of your cheek on the day you’ve got reservations for that excellent restaurant you booked weeks ago, you know how inconvenient hurting yourself can be. But I’ll bet you’ve never read a book where one of the main characters gets injured and thought ‘Argh, how inconvenient for the author!’

When you injure your protagonist it sucks for them. But it also sucks for you, as the writer. Because now you have this character with some form of limited activity that they didn’t have prior to the injury and you have to be aware of it constantly. It’s very easy to forget that your protagonist has an arm in a sling once the initial injury and its aftermath has been dealt with. But unless he’s got superhuman healing abilities, you’d better be prepared for him to be below par for weeks. He can’t suddenly greet his girlfriend with open arms or hop on his bike to run a quick errand or fight off his antagonist with amazing karate moves. He’s going to be limited and awkward and inconvenienced at every turn, and so are you. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of continuity – making sure he only hugs his girlfriend with one arm, aware of the awkward immobile arm in the way, for example. But other times it can create entire plot changes as you have to re-plan something you hadn’t foreseen would be impossible before you injured him.

Sometimes injuries are useful ways of directing the plot; sometimes they’re crucial to it. But even on occasions when you’ve totally planned for this injury and the story’s outcome depends on it, you’ve still got to be aware that injuring a previously hale and hearty character makes a rod for your own back as well as theirs.

It’s a relief when they finally heal.


2 thoughts on “First Aid

  1. Rian

    I critiqued a short story the other day in which the protagonist was kidnapped. He underwent forced brain surgery (poor fellow) and spent the first several chapters staggering around his cell/operating theatre trying to recover from vertigo.

    A few weeks after his surgery he escaped with the help of a friend and raced madly away down the streets of Victorian London.

    I really quite liked the story, but the idea that he could run full tilt to freedom was like an itch that wouldn’t go away.

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