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January 22, 2020

First off, that’s not an absolute statement. Characters quite often get sick, but not like we do. Not if they’re going to carry on the story.
Let me explain.
In a fictional world, stuff needs to happen. That means, you, as the writer, can’t take time out for a character to loll around and suffer. There has to be something moving the plot around.
Unless that suffering is specifically part of the plot.
Everyone gets sick. It’s inevitable. For some, it may be quite often while for others, it may happen only once every few years. When it does occur, the reality is that while some inconsiderate people soldier on and make everyone else around them sick as well, most give in to their bodies and go home (or stay there) and suffer it out.
Being sick is a miserable experience. We lay around, sleep a lot and don’t do anything, depending on what we caught.
Now, ask yourself, does that make for compelling reading?
On the other hand, to get wounded, such as banged up, shot, stabbed, means a stay in the hospital, surgery, recovery, rehab, maybe being wheelchair bound, and other things far more dramatic. The reality of that is far different from fiction.
In the case of fiction, we, of course as writers tend to dramatize getting wounded a lot better than getting sick. The dramatic factor or excitement factor with a wound versus getting sick is much higher, especially if that wound came from doing something heroic in pursuit of the plot.
There are plenty of examples of characters getting sick in stories, however, not the normal sick.
It has to be dramatic sick, something to move the plot along, or your bout of the flu or pneumonia or strep throat is a momentum killer.
Can you just see your story plugging right along when your character catches strep throat. He or she then has to lay around for a week in their pajamas, stuck watching daytime TV, taking antibiotics and feeling like crap.
Yup, makes for a compelling read.
Now, if a character gets exposed to ebola, and has a day to find an antidote, then starts to show symptoms…we have a clock ticking and there’s some skin in the game. Now we have plot tension and something to work with.
While it’s almost cliché that one or many of the characters in a thriller get banged up at the end of a thriller, during the course of almost any story, what about your character? Will they get wounded for some reason for dramatic effect? Is this wound beyond dramatic effect?
Is this wound specifically part of the plot?
While you could get that broken arm fixed, then sit around in your pajamas and watch daytime TV for a week before getting back to the world, just like being sick, this instead, gives you the opportunity to use it for more dramatic effect.
Reality is something that should not be taken for granted. As writers, we should also be readers. We all should know that in fiction, everything is exaggerated reality. If we wrote reality, our stories would be pretty boring.
The reality of being sick, the reality of getting wounded is far more mundane and boring than what’s needed for a good story.
If you want to write reality, that might be a different thing altogether. Being shot, suffering from pneumonia, getting cancer, all of this and many more things in reality make for compelling stories on their own. However, when it comes to fiction, they’re distractions unless woven properly into the plot. If you can do that without distracting from said plot, killing the momentum, or changing the entire focus of the story, so be it. Don’t waste it.
Otherwise, leave it alone and stick with the unreality.
The whole point here is that whatever physical barriers you place on your characters, they can’t sit around in their pajamas, watch daytime TV, and feel miserable. This is the reality of either being sick or being wounded. While most authors use being wounded in their prose, being sick can be used for either color or a plot point if used correctly.
Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2020 4:36 pm

    That put me in mind of The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. Absolutely right, Fred. If I had to watch Divorce Court and Dr. Phil all day I’d jump out the Rear Window.

  2. January 25, 2020 12:51 am

    Funny you mention The Bone Collector. Love Deaver and have read all the Lincoln Rhyme series. The original movie was pretty good and the new series is as well. Different but still not too bad, considering they have to “tweak” it for TV. A lot better than Dr. Phil!

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