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How to express pain?


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I'm trying out some new ideas, just getting a little creative and seeing how some new things might work in my novel.  As I was starting my initial scene, I got hung up the question of how to have my character express pain.  For context, the scene is in first person, and he is alone in the room, so no one else to interact with or speak to.  The reader is the only person he would be addressing at this point.  In a movie, where a person is speaking, grunts and groans and the like are all very well, but how do I write it in a book without it sounding weird or cheesy?  Writing "Ahh!" simply doesn't seem to suffice.

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I don't think you need to go on and on about how much pain he is in, nor something like "Oh! Oh! It hurts! It hurts! Oh, the pain! The pain! How it consumes me!"

 

You get the point. Just say whatever is hurting and why and leave it at that. 🙂

 

I noticed my leg started ticking again, arm started hurting, hair stood on end, etc.

Edited by Sarah Daffy
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It should be easier to write in first person, just imagine yourself in the character's situation and describe to the reader as if you were really describing to a person next to you..

 

I felt a sharp pain, it was like a knife in my....

 

My ? was throbbing or aching...

 

I winced in pain, my ? was sore and tender to the touch 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As a reader I can't experience the character's pain, but I can experience metaphor. You'll want to look for comparisons that are fresh; merely seeing stars won't be effective. You may also ask others to describe a painful experience. (We all know that mildly annoying person who likes to one-up everyone else, when you're all talking together; here's a time to seek them out...)

 

I once got a thin but long (maybe a half inch) sliver of wood driven underneath one of my fingernails. The good news was, it was solid enough to be yanked out. The bad news was, it had to be yanked out. When that happened, it was too quick for me to respond with anything but a gasp. I suppose that was also a kind of good news. But in the moment it happened, my vision momentarily shut down, overwhelmed by the sensation, and I can only remember seeing a bright, white light.

 

I'm guessing this expresses a vague "feel" for the experience. A detail that a reader may not have expected, like seeing only a field of whiteness, can help give it a more vivid reality. If I were trying to convey it in text, I might try to work in a phrase like, searing, white heat (there's the use of  metaphor...) As you talk to people, you're likely to get a bunch of phrases & ideas to play around with.

 

 

Edited by Wes B
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I don't know what kind of pain your character is in, but here's what I've told others over the years:

 

Physical

  • (What a gallstone passing the first time felt like.) I didn't know what that feeling was, other than I didn't like it. A balloon formed inside the right abdomen, but then quickly swelled large enough not to fit inside me. If I had a torture rack, I would have stretched far enough to give the balloon space. When I had to go to the bathroom, I didn't know which "cheeks" should be at the toilet seat. After I knelt next to it, I passed out. Then I knew it was pain.
  • (These are my mystery pain descriptions over the years.) Like a tire under my lower ribs. When it's good, it's only a bike tire. When it's bad, like a motorcycle tire.
  • Like chunks of broken glass are passing through my upper digestive system.
  • Like someone is strangling my lower esophagus with both hands.
  • Like a water balloon falls from a shelf and splats inside my right abdomen.
  • Charly horses right at the bra line, (so I cannot rub the pain if I'm out of the house.)
  • (New pain.) Like the achiness of a flu.
  • (Runners knee.) Like my knee bone is grinding glass when I come downstairs, and ache going upstairs.
  • (Back pain.) On a good day, it is as if I helped a friend move a full house yesterday.
  • If I could hang with the rope around my armpits for the day, it wouldn't hurt as much.
  • (Leg pain caused by back.) I feared going to sleep, because some time in the second half of sleeping, I'd start to turn over but my legs hurt too much. I can't tell you what it felt like because I went back or it's only when I pandiculate, but it hurts so much that I use one leg to pull the other around too, so one just hurts, while the other hurts so much. When I roll over or give up sleeping, my body demands a good stretch, but it hurts too much so I deny it. And it keeps demanding it until I summon the courage to stretch.
  • Cramps in my feet and legs.

 

Heartache

  • Sobbing.
  • Rocking back and forth seated in my yard holding my stomach.
  • Losing 10-14 pounds in 48 hours. (I can't do that when I want to? What's up with that?)
  • Urge to run away. (Fight or flight. I'm a flighter.)
  • Emotions are numbed.

Oh and most annoying emotional pain: When someone woke me up in the morning to tell me Mom died. I didn't know how to deal with it, so she told me to go ahead and cry. I did. At which moment, she told me, "Don't cry."🤔 (Hey. It's a pretty funny story now, if you want to add a tension breaker. 🤭)

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Showing pain includes postures and positions like is he in the fetal position, tied up, etc. repositioning is a sign of discomfort a lot of times, especially if it is repositioning more than once. coughing, even coughing up blood if it's that type of situation, describing side effects like dizziness or vertigo, shaking, blurred vision or going in and out of consciousness, confusion or even hallucinations. You can also approach it in terms of his fears. does he fear losing consciousness? bleeding out? fear that he has broken bones or won't be able to breath? Metaphors have already been mentioned by others, and that is also a good way to express pain. Sometimes simply describing what occurred to cause the pain is enough to bring the audience in to how much pain the character is in, leaving it somewhat to the audiences imagination/personal experience. Without further details about the scene or background, thats about as specific advice I can give you for this scenario... hope it helps. 

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A pain in the knee that ran all the way down to my ankle. Pacing around the house helped, but at night? There was no way to lie down comfortably. Moaning and groaning didn't ease the pain, but I had to make some kind of noise. The pain was severe enough that I could understand people who commit suicide because of it. I just wanted the pain to stop, regardless of how or why it stopped.

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Pain can feel like burning, or a hot-icy chill.  A sharp electric shock if it travels.

 

Throbbing can feel like a repeated sharp stabbing.  As everyone knows, migraine headaches can sometimes create vomiting in people.

 

Pressure in an appendage often feels like it is caught in a vice.  Head injuries often create bright lights behind the eyes, and a rending feeling along the scalp.

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I just realized -- I'm reading a book about pain. Joni Eareckson Tada was working on this book in the midst of new, agonizing pain, which is saying something considering she's paralyzed, but this pain breaks through as if she isn't. It's not about the pain, but when you're in pain how it feels comes out often. Check out A Place of Healing. Added bonuses: It's a great book by a wonderful woman that answers the questions about healing.

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On 10/9/2021 at 11:41 PM, Sarah Daffy said:

"Oh! Oh! It hurts! It hurts! Oh, the pain! The pain! How it consumes me!"

Dr. Zachary Smith. Lost in Space.

 

Never ever is there a better time for a soliloquy than when you're alone and in pain.

 

"While I was honored to be chosen to give birth to the next Buddha, I found myself wishing he had chosen a smaller embodiment." Ernest Hemingway, while suffering from dysentery.

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