Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pain, Agony, and Misery by Vivian Zabel

My body aches with twinges of sharp pain thrown in for good measure, letting me know that I’m very much alive. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia affect joints, muscles, and even skin. Pain is a constant companion but not a friend. Different methods or combination of methods help people manage living with pain, but not all work consistently. Knowing and using some of these methods in writing about a character helps develop that character more fully.

Pain medications are the main line of defense for many pain sufferers. Everything from aspirin to heavy-duty narcotics help delete or deaden the pain that wracks bodies. Also, often those medicines only deaden the level of pain, without dispersing it completely. However, the use of such drugs can allow a person to have a better quality of life. A person in a book or story might use pills and/or injections to move and do things.

Massage and/or manipulation helps alleviate some aches and pains. Such treatments also relax a person, which in turn causes pain to decrease at least somewhat. When the arthritis in my neck and back is severe, massage works with my medication to reduce the levels of agony. Another bit of information which could be woven into a plot.

A warm bath, or at least a shower, relaxes a person and eases the pain in muscles, tendons, and joints. Climbing into a hot tub with jets pounding against sore places brings relief, too.

Some people practice bio-feedback to help manage pain. The results seem to vary from person to person. At times, a person can develop a method that greatly reduces pain levels; at other times, the results are little to none.

Exercise appropriate for a person’s condition, age, and/or situation helps with pain. With my many problems, my physical activities are quite limited, but swimming, short walks several times a day, and isometric exercises help reduce the level of pain. When I’m in a lupus or RA flare, activity has to be limited, but exercising in warm water helps. One of my characters not only had to endure the agony of pain from an injury, but also the misery caused by therapy.

When all methods have been tried, often some pain remains. Then a person has to learn to live with it. I know that I’m never completely without pain, and if I should be, I would be like the old woman in a joke. She woke her husband, insisting that she was dead. He assured her that she wasn’t dead. She would state again that she was dead. Finally he asked her what made her think she was dead. Her answer was, “I’m not in pain, so I must be dead.” I laugh because it’s so close to the truth, and crying just makes the pain worse.

But, you ask, what does that information have to do with writing mysteries? The best writing has believable characters, and a character who lives with constant pain needs to exhibit how he does. Knowing about methods to deal with pain, a writer can invest some of that knowledge into his character. A hero who lives with pain but still acts and reacts “heroically” despite it appears more human to readers. Villains, who suffer physically, also seem more human. Every character, at least major ones, should be well-rounded, three dimensional, not flat. Therefore, the protagonist shouldn’t be without flaw, and the antagonist shouldn’t be all bad, completely evil.

In my mystery/suspense novel Midnight Hours, the protagonist is recovering from being shot in the back. He lives with pain as he attempts to regain the use of his legs. I used "real" life solutions and experiences in the book.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap


Morgan Mandel said...

Good advice. I love those books or TV shows where people got shot or in fights and then bounce back as if nothing happened. Very unrealistic.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

Prescription drugs is the theme that runs through my soon-to-be-released novel, Diary of Murder. Most prescriptions are deadly if not carefully monitored and can certainly be used as murder weapons, which my book trailer points out:

Vivian Zabel said...

Yes, prescription drugs can be used wrongly or misused, but sometimes they are necessary for people to manage to live.

But my protagonist fights using pain meds, and one of his coping methods was to go online to a game site -- where he met Midnight.

conarnold said...

Vivian, I totally relate to what you say about pain since I have the same conditions as you and am never free from pain either. I think I would wonder if I'd died if I woke up without pain too! I don't write mysteries, but the pain certainly influences my writing. Your writing about a character who is experiencing pain is something the reader can almost feel themselves.

Lee Lofland said...

Morgan - Here's an FYI for you. I was in a shootout with a bank robber a few years ago, and I shot him five times. Each time I shot the robber he fell. But he immediately stood back up and started shooting again. Four of those rounds hit him in the chest, nearly dead center, and one in the side of the head. After the last bullet hit him he started running. He did eventually die, but not before I tackled and handcuffed him.

If I'd read that story in a book I wouldn't have believed it.

Oh, and there's the guy who was shot 33 times and still continued to walk toward officers.

One more - I was stabbed twice one night while attempting to arrest a guy. I still managed to handcuff him and his partner, a big man who tried to free his buddy by hitting me in the head with a board during the scuffle.

Now, if they'd tossed a spider on me I might not have fared as well...

Anne Carter said...

Well, Vivian, that's making lemonade with life's lemons! Taking something so painful and debilitating and mining story enrichment from it! It's a great thought and thanks for sharing it with us.


Vivian Zabel said...

Hi, Lee, thanks for stopping by. Yes, those examples of unbelievable real life would be considered too "fake" for fiction. What a shame. They are all interesting.

Connie, I'm afraid I would be just like the old woman who knew she had died.

Anne, I do believe in using what we experience to make our characters "real."


Dana Fredsti said...

Vivian, I've had chronic migraines all my life and therefore when a character has a weakness like that, I totally relate and yeah, it does make them more three dimensional. I'm sorry you're in such chronic pain!

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks, Dana, I'm sorry I am, too, but things could be worse. At least my migraines don't hit four times a week or more. There's always some reason to be thankful.