In our relatively sheltered lives, pain is usually a passing phenomenon – injury or accident; sickness or disease. But what about those that live with daily pain? Those stuck in poverty, starvation/malnutrition, warfare or abuse? All of these should be present somewhere in our stories, even if they remain on the outskirts.
Have you tried writing in a setting totally foreign to your own? How do you reach beyond imagination when imagination is not enough?
Do you recall the first time you understood that the world was not a safe place, no matter how much your parents tried to protect you? Do you remember the first time you were in serious pain? A broken arm, a fall from a tree, a car accident, a fight on the playground? Imagine the first humans, and being overwhelmed by the sudden and unfamiliar sensation of pain, and knowing there would only be death to end it.
That’s what our minds forget in the everyday concerns of work, school and play. But it’s inevitable that pain will intrude – in our lives and in our stories. And we shouldn’t run or avoid it.
Can you write the level of terror a child hiding from soldiers feels, without having walked in their shoes (or read their first-hand accounts)? What about cancer survivors, or others who have battled, and may battle again, life-threatening conditions? How do you capture their emotional journey to fighting it – or giving up? Others may say they did not give up, they had to accept the inevitable – and how did they accept the surety of a slow, painful death?
One of my most recent favorite and yet difficult books to read was about a woman slowly losing her mind to Alzheimer’s – and knowing that the day was coming when she wouldn’t even remember that she had the disease. That’s a different kind of terror than suspense movies are going for, or biographical accounts of being a prisoner awaiting torture. Have you distinguish the difference in your stories?
Some writers are truly empathetic enough to feel the heights of elation and depths of despair without anyone else’s input – but don’t assume you are one of them. Expand your reading and research to include human pain and suffering, as well as the joys of life, and your writing will benefit from the diverse emotions you encounter.
Finally, don’t forget to use your own emotions and experiences to color your stories. It’s nearly impossible to keep your own life from influencing your characters, your plot and your writing, but that’s not a bad thing. It makes what you create unique, and worth reading.
Katie, signing off