Some of the best writing of my life came from when I was in a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to write. But I had a journal then, and sometimes from great pain came great inspiration. It’s a lot easier to describe pain when you’re in it — it’s kinda like method acting in that you understand how it feels because you’re feeling it.
Now, I’m not condoning getting smashed out drunk, or taking drugs, or causing bodily harm to yourself or someone else to experience it first hand just so you can write about it, but rather, to take advantage of any pain you’re currently in to sort it out in words.
There’s a stress reduction method called ‘journaling the problem’ — it’s effectively writing out what’s bothering you so that way you quit internalizing it.
Write with the freedom of knowledge that you can delete anything you write at the end, though to be effective, you’ll want to keep it instead, so you can see where you’ve been and how you’ve fared since then.
Art sometimes imitates life. In that sense, you can characterize a situation in a story by giving your characters the ability to handle a similar situation — do they do better or worse? Do they take a different path with different choices?
Then there is the aspect of physical and emotional pain, and what it does to your ability to cope. Heroes should not be able to hop out of bed hours after being shot, and a sprained ankle doesn’t just impair running away from zombie hordes, but often prevents you from even standing on it. It can last for days, too.
Then there are moods; high and low, angry and sad, happy and excited, confused and contrite. Using the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ in another form, how do you describe feeling blue?
“Inherently, I didn’t give a damn what happened to her. She was having one of her patented meltdowns, the kind that made her unpleasant to be around, because she would make these unreasonable demands on you, your time, and your efforts, and then treat you like you were the crappiest friend a girl could have.
Today wasn’t a day I could deal with that sort of crisis. I was having one of those days where I just wanted to go back to bed, even though I wasn’t tired, and the idea of pulling the pillows up on top of me and blocking out anything but their comforting weight and semi-concealment sounded really appealing.
But that would require energy and effort, and braving the wrath of my boss, who frowned on ‘taking mental health days’ because Sally, down the hall, used that as an excuse to take a trip to Cancun.”
Realize that your mind and mood are like a place in a way; and so is your physical “state”, to turn a phrase. The next time you get down, or really high up, don’t just visit. Write a journal entry about the experience, take mental pictures, that sort of thing — and start your library of experiential learning ideas that can form a ready-made reference for the next time you put your characters through a similar situation. Treat anything you can experience outside of your normal baseline as a possibility, even something as ordinary as working up a sweat:
Ira shambled back to his chair, letting gravity drag him back into it as he felt the blood still pounding in his ears. He grabbed clumsily at the sports bottle full of tepid water from the water cooler and chugged it; his face felt hot and his shirt was soaked in several places. He peeled it away from his chest and swiped underneath with the gym towel in an attempt to get dry; it didn’t work very well, since his body just produced sweat faster than he could blot it up.
“Next time… walk.” he told himself as sweat dripped down his nose. “Running in this weather is a good way to get yourself in the ER.”
Good notes form the beginnings of an outline checklist item. The written word has more power when it comes to telling a story if you do the homework to relate what it felt like to you when it happened to you, instead of just expressing a condition in a few words. It also makes you think of alternatives to reusing tropes and trope expressions:
Before: “He labored at the giant novel through blood, sweat, and tears.” (Me: “I’ve worked on novels. It’s not like that at all!”)
After: He labored at the giant novel late into the night, until his fingers were aching from all the typing, and he was having trouble focusing on the screen. His mind kept wandering off, as if to tell him he ought to have been in bed hours ago, and he’d retyped the same typo four times in a row.
Bottom line: Make the pain fit the deed. Take notes on anything that you might find interesting to write about later. You never know when you’ll be able to use it.