Realistic writing – It’s all in the suffering #amwriting #writingtips

How many times have you read a book where Mr Average is thrown into an extraordinarily strenuous adventure, and never a moment’s consideration that they may be ‘a wee bit tired’ or ‘suffer a spot of muscle ache’? Perhaps our heroine has to hang onto a windowsill by her finger tips, but she is not a former circus acrobat or the high school gymnastics queen.


It happens all too often. It’s as if they forget to feel pain, to ache, or indeed to suffer once their adventure kicks in. Even a regular jogger would be out of puff if they were suddenly expected to engage in a marathon length sprint!

The last thing we want is a whiny protagonist, but I do think it adds realism to our story if we see through their actions and words the suffering they endure.  When I think of a really good example of a hero suffering, I always think of Indiana Jones—the guy spends most of the movie looking half-dead! That doesn’t stop him getting the job done, but you do get a deep sense of the effort involved.

It is often this gap between those natural physical limitations, and what they push themselves to achieve, where the character growth comes in.

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40 thoughts on “Realistic writing – It’s all in the suffering #amwriting #writingtips

  1. Great reminder. And Indiana Jones is a great example. They say that the famous “gun-to-a-knife-fight” scene was an adlib because Ford was sick and didn’t have the energy to get into an actual knife fight with the other guy, so he just took out his gun and shot him. 🙂 It fit great, because Jones looked tired and not ready for hand-to-hand combat.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a good thing to add to a scene checklist to make sure all elements have been covered. I keep a spreadsheet with a line for each scene and make sure I have things like opening hook, clear point of view, senses etc. I’m going to add suffering to my list.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I can’t think of an example where I came across this in a book but I do see it in my own writing! I was halfway through writing my book when I realised my characters hadn’t eaten or slept for at least six chapters. I tried to rectify it and … well … it just ended up with long Tolkienesque accounts of food and no plausible way for them to carry such supplies around with them on their long journey. They’re still stuck starving in the middle of some barren plain in the dark waiting to be fed… Poor guys.

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  4. Haha I really liked this – I think a similar thing happens all across any sort of media portrayal of fictional characters, where there are often large gaps in their human experience. We’re just so used to it that we don’t always notice.

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  5. Hi,
    I do agree with what you are saying to some extent, however sometimes we as readers don’t want to know every time the character goes to the toilet, or when he has a stomach ache in the middle of a heated discussion or battle.
    Sometimes it is better off not knowing about it, unless sometimes it is relevant to the plot.
    ideally a line in the middle can be drawn between the two sides, this can hopefully lead to a better story.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I read a book that uses realistic limits throughout most of the story. I don’t seem to remember the title, but it had two teenagers against an entire government corporation destroying an alien planet. Throughout the book, they get hungry. They get physically injured. They get too tired to do anything. It’s a great example of character limits.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The genre can definitely influence how much detail they give to either mundane activity, such as eating, or general suffering . Post apocalyptic often place great focus on food, what they eat and how often, as well as the health of the character. A romance or crime thriller, probably don’t care when they last ate or if they are tired to the same extent.
      A great example. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  7. I think you have a really good point. The characters aren’t human unless we show how tired they are, or how worn they are. But then that can be often difficult because, like you said, we don’t want them to whine. What I’ve found through my writing is that yes, they may be tired, but they don’t dare to show it because of the people around them. They don’t want to let others down. Just something to think about…
    I also post writing quotes and suggestions/encouragements on my blog. Maybe take a look?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing. That’s an excellent way to keep them from appearing whiny 🙂 I must admit I am pretty brutal to my characters and sometimes they can barely stand or walk! Poor things 😉 And thank you for the invite to your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I really do agree with this! I’ve known writers that want their characters to be pretty much perfect in every way, and they don’t give the slightest bit of thought to making them tired. I also believe that making them tired doesn’t just make them realistic but more relatable at the same time. In my opinion, a flawed relatable character is the best kind.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. a very good point, when creating characters I enjoy developing flaws for them, and seeing their progression. I do think that the ‘average becomes hero’ is a very overplayed idea and character, originality is key.

    Liked by 1 person

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