Being sick in reality stinks, as I’ve often had opportunity to learn while living overseas. And since the last few days were spent recalling just why being sick is the worst, sickness is a good place to start on a new section of writing tips: keeping the annoyances of real life in your writing (Part 1) for the sake of authenticity, plot, characterization… you get the idea.
So often our characters’ great tales of adventure are spent in foreign lands, or new countries, or in a different environment than they’ve grown up in. New is great – but let’s not forget that there are both dangers and disadvantages to those new environments.
Like catching weird sicknesses from the traveling circus troupe who took your Hero in, or getting sick off of mushrooms your steadfast companion swore were safe, or even having stomach pain (and the accompanying results) from drinking bad water. It’s rare to see adventurers get truly sick in stories (with the exception of The Oregon Trail, where sickness usually results in quick death), and that’s because it’s usually a disgusting process and few people want to read those kinds of details. HOWEVER, in the few cases I’ve seen authors handle sickness, injury or disease well, the “problem” created a depth and texture to their world and characters that few other stories could compare to.
Obviously injuries (extending to loss of limbs or even mobility) will require some research from you, the writer, but if your characters happen to exist in a world where injury is common or likely, why not keep an open mind? While it might ruin your Hero’s perfect body, and perhaps he won’t be striding across three countries in a week’s time anymore, the Heroine might find her imperfections make for a much less annoying traveling companion. In fact, generally having a realistic difficulties to overcome will make for much more understanding, compassionate characters (and people) in general.
Or you could take the opposite track, and give your villain a horrible injury (with accompany backstory) that is the reason (or one of) for why he wants to destroy your Hero.
And what about a lifelong disease your Heroine has been dealing with (or just discovered)? She’s ready to escape being treated like a delicate piece of china – ready to spread her wings. Or perhaps she’s learned how to manipulate people who feel sorry for her. Maybe she is still in denial, or believes in a prophecy that will see her miraculously healed… if she can just find the person (or item) to fulfill it.
Don’t underestimate the potential the troubles of reality have for fantasy. That’s not even going into magical or genetic kinds of illnesses, or quick-spreading epidemics*. What if you’re writing for a younger audience? How do you handle serious illnesses then?
What new ideas have this post sparked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Katie, signing off
*Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic: Briar’s Book handles this excellently.
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