1. gala
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    gala New Member

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    How to describe pain in a story

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by gala, Mar 29, 2012.

    My main character was just shot and I am trying to describe the agony he is going through as he slowly realizes what happened. Any ideas on how to accomplish this?

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  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    My suggestion would be low key and from some emotional distance, rather than with lots of dramatic adjectives. I realize that that advice may not help.
  3. killbill
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    killbill Member

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    where the mind is without fear...
    It will take a while to register that he is being shot (adrenaline at work) and there will obviously be blood. 'Numb and wet' is what comes to mind to describe the initial feeling. If he is conscious and able to see the blood there will initially be more panic than pain unless the character is used to blood-- like a military man. The adrenaline will stop working and the pain will explode like a bomb inside him. He will feel the pulse in his gushing wound and every beat of his pulse will be like a hammer banging on the wound. The panic and the pain will make his breathing irregular and make him sweat!

    I am no scientist nor have I experience any gun shot, but this is how I feel it might happen.
  4. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt New Member

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    I'm guessing if the pain didn't register in a suddden intense burst then it would appear gradually similar to the symtoms of passing out. A buzzing in the ears that intensifies into a roar - the room disappearing as black splotches appear - the feeling of millions of needles crashing over you - the noise in the room becoming deathly silent even though it really hasn't stopped
  5. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I had the same problem. I went minimalist.

    My lead character dies by T-boning a semi-truck. I think most people will expect a lintany of pain.

    The problem was that I had personally done the same. Hit a truck, and broke my neck in five places in 1987. I didn't feel a thing. I was in the hospital for three days, and released. No prescribed pain killers, just go home and rest. I had broken C2 in half, and C5 into three pieces. Within two months the bones had fused. And I had been going to the gym.

    My problem with fiction vs. reality was that I wanted to tell a good story. Do I desribe a scene that doesn't always exist in reality, or just write "gore" in an interesting fashion?

    I decided to do both. I wrote that my character watched the impact akin to watching a movie. The recognition of his injuries were not evident until after he hit the ground and fog of the experience lifted.
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    depends on where in the body he was shot and by what sort of weapon... need more info to give valid advice...

    there's a big difference between being shot in the arm with a .22 and having one's innards blown out by a shotgun blast...
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Nobody slowly realises that they've been shot. The pain is instant and excruciating unless it severs the spine, in which case there's no pain but also there's no movement, or unless the bullet kills you straight away.
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye New Member Contributor

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    If you read war stories (authentic ones included), that very thing seems to happen all the time.

    One time I crashed my motorcycle straight into a fence and my leg got jammed inbetween. I had no idea I had sustained an injury before a cop pointed at my bloodsoaked trousers. I didn't feel anything what so ever until the day after.

    @OP: If I were to describe a situation I hadn't experienced myself in a believable way, I'd read (or listen to) how it's described by those who have experienced it. I'm sure there's material around to give first hand descriptions of almost any kind of event.
  9. Jowettc
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    Jowettc New Member

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    Read a story or two about REAL people who've REALLY been shot somewhere in the vicinity of where your character's wound is / will be. Pain is a subjective experience and has many physical and psychological factors associated with it. Some major wounds are hardly painful at all due to the mass trauma while some smaller wounds can hurt like hell.

    I've never been shot and never known anyone who has so can't comment on the specifics. In writing about pain, in general, I do not think it necessary to get too detailed. Most near everyone has been in pain at some stage - we know what what we think it will be like - be broad and let the reader's imagination do the hard work. I think it avoids trying to be too specific and then dulling the moment down.
  10. gala
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    gala New Member

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    Thank you everyone for your helpful suggestions!! :)
  11. LeMasterTJ
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    LeMasterTJ New Member

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    This is your best little trinket of advice you've been given yet. Also, describe how the character looked down, saw the red liquid dripping down here leg in a "show, not tell" matter, and reacted to the shot (unless he got shot in the head/neck area, of course). The initial reaction would clearly show the agony he was in. Also, don't mention how he heard a buzzing noise like it was the worst thing in the world: make it more centric on the pain, not the symptoms. That's my advice.
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but it's totally not true that for every single gunshot, in every part of the body, from any kind of weapon 'the pain is instant and excruciating'...

    in fact, with probably most gunshot wounds the pain is not 'instant' since it takes time for the brain to register damage to the nerves that cause pain and in many cases, the shock of being wounded blocks the pain from being felt till a good time later... can be seconds to minutes... and many gunshot wounds do not cause 'excruciating' pain at all... the pain can often be anything less, from a sting to an ache, depending on the amount of damage done to what body part...
  13. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    You are quite right, in fact, that very thing is taught at combat schools and classes.

    Many years ago I collected and used many customized 1911 pistols as used at The Gunsight Raven school near Prescott. A regimen was taught called "The Mozambique."

    Simply, it is two initial shots fired center mass, with a third shot fired directly at the philtrum. The idea was to instantly shut down the aggressor's ability to attack. Contrary to movies, most shots are fired in dim light and at incredibly close range. Shots fired "between the eyes" can actually bounce off the skull, but fired into the nasal cavity is the better choice.

    I believe in this. I felt nothing during my most serious injuries.
  14. xhawkeyex
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    xhawkeyex New Member

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    It really depends on where the person was shot and with what weapon. For example, if the person was shot in the foot with a pistol, chances are that the person will feel a lot of stinging as if it was being bit by a dog. If the person was shot in the gut with a rifle, it would be described as slow and very painful. Now if the person was shot in the head, that person would feel a little jolt, but barely anything because the brain can't sense pain inside itself.
    Also depending on the situation, adrenaline would change the reaction timing. Sometimes it could take hours for somebody to feel pain because that person knows that if they don't get help, they will die. The pain is usually felt later when the character finally get help.
  15. MVP
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    MVP New Member

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    You could pick up a copy of S.King's "Misery" from the library. The first few chapters describe his MC in pain.
  16. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Member

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    Depends on where he was shot and with what. Shotgun pellets sting like hell. Hard solid bullet isn't near as bad as a hollow or soft one that spreads on impact. Consider two types of pain. One from the impact another from the exposed nerves. A lot also depends on adrenaline and shock. Get shot in the spinal column you'd not likely feel anything.
  17. Ezyro
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    Ezyro New Member

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    Was he shot during the excitement of a crowd/protest..etc? There needs to be a rush of adrenaline first in order for someone to not realize they've been shot. You can't have him sitting there drinking coffee and he gets shot out of the blue and then have him sit there for a few minutes more before he realizes anything.

    If it's the former, you should probably explain how he's trying to get up and then grimacing in pain. If there is another person there with him, have him/her talked some sense into him. Here is where you can work some dialogue into the scene that explains the pain he's going through.
  18. names
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    names New Member

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    Just put yourself in their place. After all you are not the same as that person. That way you can get a bigger picture of who they may be.
  19. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Only one way. Empirical observation.

    Find a biker bar in your area. On the back of one of the member's colors will be patch like "Club Enforcer."

    Throw a drink on him, and call him a 'poser.' Then report back here.

    My guess is that you'll be able to describe in detail the idea of "pain" and the ancillary condition of abject fear. I think it would improve your writing immeasurably.
  20. Just Jon
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    Just Jon New Member

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    Sarcasm aside, this is actually a very good point. However, most people have not been shot, so they really do not know what it feels like. So do you write it based on actually descriptions from gunshot victims, or do you write it based on common perceptions? If the two do not coincide, then one of the two groups of readers (the shot and the unshot) may perceive it inauthentic.

    More importantly, has the editor ever been shot?
  21. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Just Jon, seriously and respectfully, I find this idea a mish-mash of a circular argument.

    On one hand, lots of writers ask me to suspend belief and accept the idea of vampires, Martians, katanas with the power of levitation and the concept of an organized hunting party comprised of the undead.

    Following that premise, why doesn't the writer just make up his idea of pain from whole-cloth?

    Taken in that vein, the bite of a zombie might be as cold as ice, as scalding as a branding iron, make the victim "taste purple," or register no feeling whatsoever. It's a fantasy, so why not 'fantasy pain'?

    If the pain of a story must be authentic, then how will we ever be able to research getting impaled by a unicorn?

    Ask a shooting victim? Good start. What did he get hit with? Large caliber? A small 22LR? Rock salt? Rubberband gun? Hollowpoint dipped in garlic?

    We're writers, so write. Steven King once described one of his characters having a headache in terms of "chromium pain."

    Now, that's writing!
  22. Just Jon
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    Just Jon New Member

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    Well, yeah. But I thought the original question was more of a realistic world, so the pain should be realistic. Steven King can get away with "chromium pain" but if an unknown wrote that, they would bounced to the curb. Although the idea of "plutonium pain" is tempting to slip into my story.

    But yes, I do see your point. If it's fiction, then let it all be fiction.

    I am dealing with similar issues trying to determine a good way to describe the pain of a sword wound.
  23. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Hey, there I can help you! As a professional sharpener, I often work late into the evening/morning. One night at 2:00AM I had a caping knife slip out of my hand, do a 180 and stick into the top of my left foot.

    Later at the ER, a doc told me it was a nice, clean wound with easy to repair, cleanly sliced edges. My wife said I gushed, smiled and told him I tried to be the very best polisher.

    A polished Japanese edge feels like a feather floating across your skin. I've felt it quite a few times, and I must say, the gentle feeling of softness now spooks the crap out of me.

    BTW, if you've seen "Underworld" where the last katana slice takes off half of the guy's skull then you'll know how the wound from a polished edge bleeds out. First nothing, then a drop or two, and then floodgates.
  24. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Member

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    That last scene was cool.
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    don't see how it can relate to a gunshot wound, though...
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