I put a call out on the web, asking people who work in various fields or who have certain hobbies to step forth and tell me what bothers them when reading a book that talks about what they do or what they know quite a bit about. Here is one of the responses to my call out. –Mandy M. Roth
Injuries in Books by Sharon Cullen
Give a little background about what jarred you out of the book or what made smoke come out of your ears.
There are a lot of things that jar me out of a book—like safeties on Glocks and police calling people “perps” but that’s a different post for a different day. What I’m talking about today is injuries.
Authors like to torture their characters and I have no problem with that because I torture my own characters pretty much all the time. What bothers me is when the injury occurs then is forgotten.
A good example is the movie Unknown starring Liam Neeson. Good movie. Fast paced, lots of action. What made me want to throw my tub of popcorn at the screen was when Liam’s character spends four days in a coma with a head injury due to an automobile accident. After four days he suddenly wakes up, jumps out of bed, runs out of the hospital and is chased all over Berlin.
I consider myself sort of an expert on injuries—especially head injuries as my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury in May. Now I’m not comparing Liam’s character’s injury to my husband’s. My husband’s was far worse but still, some comparisons can be made. For instance there is no way possible a person can hop out of the bed and run around like that—not after being bed ridden for four days. Your muscles start to cramp and atrophy. My husband was in a coma for nine days and he had to relearn how to walk.
Another example I find a lot in romantic suspense is characters falling long distances, then getting up and running away. Again, I will refer to my husband who fell off my parent’s roof (yes, he’s accident-prone. Very accident-prone). He fell a mere ten feet off a ladder and broke his fall by landing on the ladder. He didn’t get up and run away because he couldn’t. He was put on serious pain medication and couldn’t sleep on his back for almost a year. It took over a year for him to fully heal and that was only a fall of ten feet. Think of what would have happened if he fell a longer distance?
Q: How should an author handle this, what tips do you have to help them better their book?
Obviously we’re not all going to give our characters head injuries (or back injuries) but I can pretty much guarantee that at some point in your writing career you will injure your character.
My advice would be to first research the injury. If possible, talk to people who have experienced a similar injury. Find out what it feels like, what the healing process was, how much pain was involved, etc.
Also, once your character is injured that injury must become another character. You can’t forget it was there. You have to develop it, make it a part of the story (or at least the next several scenes depending on the severity of the injury). If you don’t want it to overtake your story line then I suggest opting for a less serious injury.
But, please, I beg you, don’t introduce the injury then forget about it for the rest of the story because you’ll leave your readers shaking their heads at the least. Some will put down the book and never pick it up again.
Of course if you’re writing about superheroes or supernatural beings then you can write your own rules and forget about everything I said J
Bio: Sharon writes romantic suspense, paranormal romance and contemporary romance. She considers herself somewhat of an authority on injuries considering she spends way more time in the emergency room with her accident-prone husband than her three kids combined.