So, I had a minor procedure on my shoulder recently that left me with eight stitches and a really cool scar. Nothing major. I was in and out of the doctor’s office in less than an hour. But it got me thinking about injuries I’ve had over the years, the bangs and bruises, the breaks and the blood. I’m amazed at how well the body can bounce back and heal from these things. It also makes me wonder about how injuries can change us and how the experiences can be reused.
In most cases, at least for me, the injuries were a result of doing something stupid or not paying attention. For example, I have a scar on my knee from when I was a kid. I was riding my bike on the sidewalk and looking back over my shoulder – instead of stopping to look at whatever it was – and I rode straight into a telephone pole. My knee located a protruding nail on the pole and taught me a valuable lesson: Look where you’re going, dumbass!
As a writer, I tend to use these experiences to help me in my stories, specifically when describing pain, or how it sounds when a bone snaps, or the sensation of being stitched up. I’m not entirely sure how much realism this allows me to add to the stories. Is accuracy here that important to the reader? Is it something they notice?
It reminds me of a story about the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was shooting a scene with Christopher Lee where a character gets stabbed. Jackson wanted the victim to cry out and thrash about, but Lee pulled him aside and said that wasn’t realistic. You see, Lee had worked as a spy during World War II and had personal experience with this situation. Although he didn’t come right out and say how he learned it, but he knew how someone would react when stabbed a certain way. Jackson was impressed and went with Lee’s recommendation for the scene.
Which then brings me back to the old adage of “write what you know”. I know what it feels like to be cut by glass and by knives (both sharp and dull); I’ve stepped on nails and fallen off of roofs; I’ve wiped out on motorcycles far too many times; and I’ve had a few broken bones. And yeah, I’ve learned a few tough lessons. Like, taking my time when carrying heavy items on my shoulder when climbing a ladder. And while bushes will break ones fall, the branches will still puncture skin.
Of course, your life experiences may not be quite as adventurous as mine. Probably because you have more common sense than I do. But I do tend to look back on my past injuries with a sort of fondness. Lessons were learned, experience gained, and now I have a small library of real-life experience to pull from when I write.
When I was laying on the examination table in the doctor’s office while the nurse coaxed the stitches out of my shoulder, I thought about a story I’m working on where my protagonist gets drunk and ends up in a fight. I wondered about what injuries he was going to end up with (I haven’t written the full scene yet) and I tried to concentrate on my experience so I could use it. The soft snipping sound, the slight tugging at the skin as the nurse pulled the fibers out, the way it itched later in the day.
Yeah, that’s definitely going to be used.
But don’t take this as encouragement to hurt yourself just so you can write about it later. My point is that we can use life experience, our personal experience, in our writing.
And be careful on ladders.