My main character gets shot and survives. One thing that bothers me is a character who is injured and keeps going like the energizer bunny.

I try to set up for a rapid recovery, mentioning training that instilled stoicism, etc, but there are times and situations when he will be in pain and show it.

I add some realism by mentioning changing dressings and have him try to patch himself up a bit before limping off etc.

I want to be reasonable in this situation, but a point comes when someone might say ‘enough already he’s hurt, get on with it’.

Should I just wait until I reach that point?

  • 4
    Not that I don't like the extra reputation (thanks!), but you might not want to accept an answer straight away, before the question has been open for 24 hours. You never know what other useful answers people might give you, and since we're all in different time zones, some people won't get to see your question before some time has passed. When you've already accepted an answer, it discourages others from posting alternatives. The first answer you get might well be the one you accept in the end, (there's even a badge for 1st & accepted answ,) but why not wait and see what else people might say? Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 2:32
  • @Galastel There were cases when I accepted an answer which turned out to be wrong, as was shown later in another answer which I accepted later. If I recall correctly, a few days passed before correct answer was posted. But that was on the site where an answer could be wrong.
    – rus9384
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 10:55
  • Depends -- is his name Marvin the Paranoid Android? Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 19:06

6 Answers 6


It's a fine balance you're trying to strike, between "unrealistically resistant to pain", and "we get it, get on with the story".

I'd say, try to use the reminders that "character is in pain" to propel the story forwards, rather than have them stall everything.

For example, in The Three Musketeers, when Athos is introduced, he is gravely wounded, and in fact collapses right in Treville's office. The scene illustrates the character's stoicism. Further on, the same wound serves as an excuse to set up a dramatic duel, and as means to make that duel scene more interesting and challenging. It is mentioned yet again when it serves to create a situation where d'Artagnan is separated from his new friends and lands in yet another duel, and once more quite some time later, when it is the excuse d'Artagnan & Co. get to leave Paris and go on the diamond studs quest. Athos is not superhuman - it takes his wound several months to fully heal, and at first it is a serious impediment. But each time it is mentioned, the story gains more than "he is in pain".

A different example: The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo is wounded with the Morgul Blade, his situation becomes the focus of the story. Each time his pain is mentioned, it serves to increase the tension - will he reach Rivendel in time? When Frodo is wounded again, in Moria, it is a setup to show Aragorn's imperfection as a leader. Wounded again by Shelob - it leads to major character moments for Sam (he takes the Ring, and does all kinds of stuff by himself). Yet another mention of all the past wounds, upon the return journey - this time we're talking about PTSD. This example is different in that Frodo is far from being a stoic warrior. Yet here too, each time pain is mentioned, it propels the story forwards.

For your story, how to apply the aforementioned theory: your character is in pain - what does it affect? How does it serve the story? What situations are made available by the fact that he is in pain?

  • His wound renders him more vulnerable and two of his colleagues will try to protect him while he is injured. One of them, a young woman he is teaching, knows that she needs him to take her to the next level of skill, needs him alive and more or less well.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 21:26
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    @Rasdashan Then you have all the setup for a scene that showcases the characters' relationships with each other. You can also have those characters grow through having to deal with the MC being incapacitated, similar to how Sam grows when Frodo is out. Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 22:01
  • It might get very interesting as she will be wounded saving his life.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 1:37

Galastel gave an already excellent answer about using the pain to propel the story forward.

I'll add my two cents:

What you want to avoid is showing the pain for the sake of it. As you said, you don't want your character to be immune to pain, and adding details such as changing dressings and dealing with a wound will add realism to the story. You should, however, indulge in those themes; since the readers can tell if you're overdoing it (to the point of misery porn, maybe).

Now it's a fine line between doing it properly and doing it too much. Since you want your character able to act after the wound (as opposed to being incapacitated by it) you need to keep the pain at a manageable level. For the sake of simplicity, I'm assuming that the bullet has exited the body and there is no major internal damage.

The point is mentioning the pain when it makes sense doing so: for example, if it's a gut shot, it may be worth making the character grit his teeth when he needs to bend over, putting weight on the wound.

But when does it make sense? I'm going for a metaphor, so follow me. It'sa bit like describing the character's appearance: it makes sense doing it at the start of the novel. If your protagonist has some striking physical feature, it's only natural that you'll want to describe it in detail. But it's usually a bad decision to go over the same information, at the same level of detail, twice: you would not be giving new data to the audience, nor you will be progressing the plot.

In short, even if your character has the most beautiful blue eyes, you don't want to fill paragraphs about them halfway trough the novel. You're still allowed to remember the audience that - mentioning them as the character does other things - but you can't linger.

Describing pain should work similarly. There is a initial peak - were the character feels the most pain and you can go over it in detail as much as you want, and it will be allright, since it would be a "new" experience that both character and audience need to go through. After the peak, the pain intensity should gradually lower - and so your descriptions should shorten. You're still allowed to describe it when it's relevant and when something new happens: how does the wound "reacts" when the character walks? How when he changes dressings?

But you don't want to go over the same description everytime the wounded character takes a step. After all, if the pain is so unbearable, he shouldn't walk after all!


People in good health and top physical shape actually can shrug off a surprising amount of damage, especially when they're in a fight/flight situation. Pain becomes more important later when they're trying to get on with their normal comings and goings. You can get a lot of millage out of the bruised and/or broken state of a recovering character as they realise just how badly injured they got in a fight where they thought they got off lightly. This usually takes the form of things like wincing when they reach for things and discover that they've pulled muscles or kissing someone and realising that their lips have been bruised and/or cut on their teeth somewhere along the line.

When it comes to real serious wounds it's a bit different though, they take a lot of time and many narratives don't include otherwise empty time; there seem to be two approaches that are taken most often:

  • lose time, skipping over large spans of recovery time allows you to have characters back in fighting shape reasonably without boring your audience with too many of the details. This can as little as a few hours or it can be months depending on the needs of the story and the character. I've even read a couple of series where the protagonist spends almost all the time between books in a hospital of one kind or another, in one case this is several years of psychiatric care.

  • focus on the character's recovery, as Galastel points out stories can in fact be driven by the recovery of an incapacitated character. This lets you focus on the wounded character just about as much as you like but tends to force you into using either a third person or a first person peripheral point-of-view when your main character is laid out for an extended period.

However you handle the situation you need to make sure that you're pushing the story along, time should be shown to pass, and events should continue accordingly. Also unless they are pushed into drastic efforts and/or are in drastic conditions people will heal so mentions of pain and injury should show a recovery under way or point to deterioration due to drastic circumstances.

Old wounds can also get mentioned reasonably often without being disruptive to the narrative. Such as characters noting the way old breaks to bones still ache in cold weather and others noting their scars for example.


Both existing answers are excellent in talking about what the effects of pain are on the character and the plot, so this will just be a short answer to address the fact that injuries don't just cause pain and the pain isn't just at the injury site.

injuries also use up a huge amount of energy as your body copes with the trauma and potentially fluid loss. When you use up energy you get tired, injuries are exhausting.

I've never been shot but I've smashed a wrist in a fall and then had to walk a mile to our car and then be driven 20 miles to hospital and then wait 45 minutes in Casualty before I got any pain relief... I have never been so shattered in my life. My wrist hurt a lot, yes, but keeping the rest of myself focused and moving was so hard, everything took a gargantuan effort and that lasted to a large extent for days. I was laid up in hospital over the weekend waiting for surgery and even that seemed like more effort than I could deal with.

Try and think too about his injuries not just causing 'a pain in the bit that got hit', but also think about what bits of him that connects to. If he's hit in the shoulder for example, look up people's experience of shoulder injury and see what you can learn about what movement restrictions that might cause, does it affect his balance and make him walk/run differently, does that in turn cause muscle and tendon pain in other places because he's holding himself differently, does his back end up hurting because he has to stand differently?

What effect does all this have on his mood, his determination and his resolve?

  • 1
    I was in a car accident so know what you mean. I am making his movements more restricted and certainly his stamina is drained by the effort of healing.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 12:01

I'd say mention it whenever it affects the character's thoughts or behavior, or the outcome of plot elements. If the injury has no affects on the choices of characters or on the plot, then you can just say "It hurt, but it got better".

"The group started talking about changing the plan to a long hike tomorrow, and our hero put down his food. Our hero had lost his appetite thinking about making that journey on his wounded leg."

"Our hero clutched his wound as he walked and stumbled from chair to chair, and was unusually grumpy to his friends."

"Our hero took much longer to get ready to go, and avoided eye contact with Our Allied Antagonist, hoping to avoid ridicule."

How a person deals with an injury says a lot about them. Who do they share their pain with and who do they hide it from? Are they dejected or determined about the healing process? Do they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge how badly they are really hurt, or do they assess their limitations realistically and strive to nurture themselves back to health? Do they become grumpy, sleepy? Do they project their frustration or pain onto other story elements? Sometimes a traumatic injury can cause significant social tension only because the injured is looking for any excuse to vent anger and frustration, or because the injured is grumpy or needy and someone else gets easily offended.


The other answers are excellent, I wanted to add one thing though.

Don't mention the pain or the injury as a thing in of itself.

i.e. a scene where he changes his bandages. Ok, fine. He's doing it he's bandaged, he's keeping them clean. Great. But has it actually advanced the plot?

Now instead have a scene where the characters are talking, some plot dump is happening. One of his friends is pacing around the room, he's changing his bandages. Build the injury as just another flavour detail mixed into the real action as incidental notes.

If he's going to be in a fight for plot reasons show his opponent noticing the injury and attacking that area.

If he's going through airport security maybe he uses the bandages to smuggle something...

There are lots of options but the point is to have each mention of the pain or injury be as a background feature of something that is important. If a sci-fi adventure on an alien world has a huge gas giant in the sky you don't mention it every paragraph and after the first description you don't devote huge amounts of time to it. But what you do do is mention it and weave it into the flavour at appropriate times in order to remind people that it is there.

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