Monday, August 16

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, August 16, 2010 15 comments
My daughter is home sick today instead of having an outing with her grandparents. I found myself wanting to make her tea, even though she doesn't like it, because it's what my mother did whenever we caught a cold.

Sickness or injury may not be a factor in your work, but I'm realizing it appears frequently in mine. I suspect that "coping with human frailty" might become a theme I continue working through my whole career.

Here are some questions I think through when approaching a character's sickness or injury:

~Is this character a "good patient" or a "bad" one?

~How is his "badness" manifested? Is he whiny, demanding, violent, non-compliant, in denial, depressed?

~How does the character feel about having physical limitations?

~Who is the usual family caregiver? Why?

~What does caregiving and comfort look like for this family?

How have you approached character sickness or injury? Is there any theme that seems to appear repeatedly in your work?


  1. I think even if a character doesn't get sick in the book, this is a good character building exercise. How a person behaves when they are not at their best is highly revealing.

    Good post!

  2. I agree with JEM...and of course, you, Laurel.

    I hope your daughter feels better.


  3. In my middle grade novel two best friends are lost in the mountains. One is a diabetic who has run out of insulin. And they are attacked by a bobcat. I realized that I had Anna talking too much after the attack. So I had to go back in and make changes. I mean, if I was attacked by a bobcat, I don't think I'd feel like talking. So I had the other girl to do most of the dialogue and showed Anna's pain in description and her thoughts.

    This is an excellent post. :)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I hope your daughter feels better. Great post. I will have to try this with my characters. My main MC is more "sick" in the sense of depression. She is a challenging patient for sure.

  6. Hoping for a quick recovery for your daughter. I have an injury in my latest wip. I'll have to check I've got your questions covered!

  7. In my wip, one MC is not a good patient! She pouts and stomps a bit. The other MC isn't used to the job of caregiver, but he copes :)

  8. JEM: great point. Maybe that's why the injuries keep worming their way into my stories--because those moments of weakness are so revealing.

    Lola: thanks for your thoughts and well wishes.

    Robyn: I have a vet as a CP who questions every medical-related thing in my work, which has forced me to really use my journalism fact-checking skills. Like you, I had a spot where my injured protagonist was too energetic and I had to tone down the action in the scene a lot to make it believable.

  9. Christine: Thanks. Approaching illnesses like depression is an intriguing undertaking. My new project has a depression-prone character who gets injured and has major surgery. He'll be quite the antagonist, I think.

    Elle: hope these questions prove useful as you write your new character.

    Jemi: bad patients can be fun for adding tension to a story. So can inept caregivers. :-)

  10. Excellent questions to ask, and a good way to cause drama and realistic reactions.

  11. Funny, I haven't really written about sick or injured people. It's not something I've ever thought about. Interesting!

  12. Great exercise, one which would do any character good, sick or not!

  13. I write fantasy, and I notice I like to have my characters able to read minds. I don't know, I just think that's so much fun! I've completed two books, and both had at least one mind-reading character. I guess I'd better cut back on that. :)

    I hope your daughter's feeling better!

  14. Mary: Thanks, and I agree of course!

    Talli: I'm sure you have different kinds of plot complications you lean towards. But feel free to toss in a little pneumonia or broken leg to mix things up once in a while. :-)

    Damyanti: great idea--having a sense of what each character is like in vulnerable moments.

    Susan: Interesting. I'm curious to know if there was some life experience that draws you to mind reading. I know my illness and injury motif/theme/trope definitely comes from my life experience.

  15. Hi Laurel! Hope your daughter is feeling better... I just went through an entire week of my kids being sick and it was MISERABLE! Anyway, i read on Rosalyn's blog that you just scrapped the entire middle of your story. How's that going? I totally agree with you that a total rewrite is better than trying to salvage something that isn't working. Good luck!