Write Good Character Injuries
Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog
Remember when you broke a bone as a kid? Or when you got stitches?
Remember how it happened right before that really important thing you had planned?
And it healed the DAY before the important thing so you could do it without problems?
THAT AIN’T HOW FRIGGIN’ REALITY WORKS! BOOKS AND MOVIES AND TV SHOULDN’T WORK THAT WAY EITHER!
(You can add that to the Hills I Will Die On list.)
Writing meaningful injuries in your story is a fricktastic challenge. You don’t want to hurt your precious main character or anyone close to them, but if choices and obstacles don’t have consequences, then your story gets flatter than a flat tire made of pancakes. Injuries need to be addressed in the writing when they happen. Wounds that aren’t addressed gotta have greater consequences the longer they go unaddressed. Some bodily and mental harm is so severe that it should bring a character to a grinding halt, land them in the hospital, or out-and-out kill them. When it DOESN’T do that, the reader can tell and it all becomes a shizload less believable. When your reader says, “How the hell did they survive that?” it should be with shock and awe and cheers, not with a dismissive stopped-giving-a-crap attitude. Even a goddess of a character needs to get that limb she just lost checked out.
Injuries your protagonist and antagonist dish out need to have consequences. A mobster’s trained bodyguard just got stabbed and they’re fighting their way through it? They still bleed blood. They still need to move that part of their body with the shiny new hole in it. An orc takes a big-ass knife to the leg? That shit has consequences. Writing a character with a high pain tolerance, huge muscles, or a spell for healing can help suspend some disbelief at the effects of an injury on a fight or a negotiation. No matter what happens at the end of your scene, if that injury isn’t wrapped up or stitched or healed, the reader instantly knows you don’t care about the story you’ve written. “Oh, injuries don’t matter because the story has to go on” is the most bullshit excuse for bad writing. Period. It wrecks the stakes. It wrecks the story’s rules. And rules matter.
A redneck space laser pierces your demonic pizza delivery man’s side and you don’t want to address it? Fine. Go a couple scenes with the wound still pouring blood or ichor or fluid. That better have some amped-up consequences then, like his enemies following his blood trail, or passing the hell out and losing a day while the nurse friend heals him and the antagonist gets WAY ahead during the down time. When the character waits until it’s too late to address the injury, it can create some horribly nifty defining moments. Who’s the first person the MC goes to see after failing to do all the schtuff they should’ve done during their recovery time? Do they cover their own tracks even though they know it won’t accomplish much? Or are they concerned for X person, or Y place, or Z object? That’ll show the reader a LOT about your lead character’s morals and what drives them.
EVEN THE STRONGEST OF MOTIVATIONS WON’T SURVIVE A LETHAL HIT!
Head cut off? Dead. Done.
Throat torn out? Dead. Done.
Crushed under the weight of a dragon who ate too many cows? Dead. Done.
Readers absolutely WILL stop caring if your MC takes a deathblow and then walks away in the next scene or two. If you REALLY want to up the threat level of violence in your story, you can learn and grow your writing by setting up reasons they’d survive early on. A lot of stories out there do this well.
Remember that movie where the space agent shoots an alien’s head off and it grows back? The writers set a dadgum good precedent for why one character could shrug off such an injury and another couldn’t.
Remember that TV show where the Mary Sue leading lady gets shot and then has seasons and seasons worth of fears and physical hindrances afterward? The writers established a friggin’ good baseline of the woman being in a place to get treatment and help recovering from an injury that others couldn’t.
And you better believe there are well-known stories that break the hell out of that rule.
A character’s throat gets torn out and they’re still able to crawl across a whole highway.
An MC’s face gets literally EATEN by bugs and the last half of the book still goes on as though this was an afterthought.
So learn the line and how to believably toe that line. Do the work, fellow writer/adventurer. Set the stage. Build that believability. Make the injuries count for something.
‘Cause we both know we have been through some intense pain in our lives. We had to live through it. Function through it. Cry and learn and remember because of it.
So should your characters. They’re people too.
Now get out there and write some fantastic stories. I have faith in you. Even when you torment those characters.