I'm writing a story in first person. There's a point in the story where two characters are having a dialogue, while the narrator is listening. The problem is that the narrator is also in pain while this dialogue is occurring (think super-villain explaining their evil plan while the hero is injured). There are also a few points where the narrator asks questions during the dialogue, although these questions are very short.

The dialogue is actually pretty long -- it's about two pages in length. The dialogue needs to make it into the story -- it contains important information for the audience.

What's a good way to multitask and convey that the narrator is in pain, while also including the dialogue in its entirety into the story?

5 Answers 5


There are several tools you can use to infer distress through your narrator.

  • Have your narrator ask a confusing question, and then correct themselves.
  • Have your narrator ask for clarification on something the other person said as if they missed what was said due to distraction from the pain.
  • Have your narrator interrupt part of the dialogue with thoughts of the pain or distress they are going through.

You can also do this from the other persons point of view by having the speaker demand the narrator pay attention, or they could ask the narrator if they understand because they look confused.

  • 1
    +1 for suggesting doing things from the opposite PoV without actually changing the PoV. That's a great way to convey pain without stopping the dialogue. Obviously the protagonist will need some internal dialogue also, as it's first person, but still a great idea. Sep 9, 2016 at 19:29

If the story is in the first person from the narrator's point of view, then simply have the narrator think about how much pain they're in, you could even have sections where the dialogue fades out while the narrator focuses on their injury, leaving you ways to have some mystery elements in the story. For all the reader knows, they were talking about where the evil bomb is kept during those breaks, or what they want for dinner.

You often read the narrator's thoughts in books written in the first person, because it's from their point of view, and character's thoughts are often very important in explaining their motivation and actions, so having the narrator think about their injury - even complaining about how distracting it is - would fit in well. If this is too complicated, then simply show the readers that the narrator is injured and in pain, have them "hiss in pain" a short time after they were injured, as a simple reminder that they got hurt badly. The important part is making sure it doesn't take away from the dialogue and make sure the reader gets all the information they need from reading this dialogue.

  • 1
    An excellent answer. I might add that if the dialogue is two pages long, the pain is likely going to change in some way during that time. You have the initial shock, the unbearable pain, the lessening... I'd recommend the OP research the kind of pain he are dealing with and try to find out what it feels like over time. Sep 9, 2016 at 19:28
  • @ThomasMyron I agree, pain changes. Like when you burn your tongue, it hurts a lot at first, sharply but over time it fades and becomes bearable. It will also depend on the person. I have an Aunt who pierced her own ears in boredom with a pin, not worried by how much it would hurt, and friends who complain with the slightest injury Sep 9, 2016 at 19:47

Everyone has made very good suggestions about this, and a few other ways to convey that your narrator is in pain is by utilizing the short questions they ask: their voice can be strained or quaver, their breathing labored.
They can sweat with the agony as well.
Good luck with your writing!


It also somewhat depends on what kind of pain, but in general I would use the second person here ("You don't look good, are you OK?", "Is anything wrong?", etc.) The narrator could then could answer truthfully, giving more details on the pain, or could try lying, giving his reasons to the reader only.


He felt certain he would black out. Tony snapped his fingers. "Hey! Hey! Wake up! We're not finished yet!"

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