Monday, January 12, 2015

The Pain! Characters and Sensory

Peter Leavell
My daughter helped me add depth to my characters.

Each person perceives pain differently, a lesson learned when I heard a sizzling sound and saw my daughter’s hand on the hot stove burner.

She didn’t cry.

We rushed her to emergency, and the doctor said the burn wasn’t horrific, but the poor child needed a therapist. (Her parents did too, but that blog comes later—after we see how things turn out). So we took her to a specialist, and doggone if she wasn’t more scared of a session with the therapist than when she smashed her finger in the door, ripped her nail off, had to get x-rays—and didn’t cry.

Peter, his wife Tonya, and kids!
Each person, the therapist explained, feels pain at different levels. My daughter, for example, falls out of chairs, climbs trees, breaks her arm—and barely feels it. Understand, the therapist explained, that she’s simply trying to feel something. Anything. She may seem like a thrill seeker, but instead, she’s desperate for sensory input.

Desperate wasn’t the word. All encompassing sums it up. My six-year-old’s unwitting search to feel anything was the basis for many, well, rather poor decisions. After months of therapy, through specific exercises, her brain was able to recognize pain.

Characters in our work should have specific pain thresholds. Each day, people make decisions based on pain or pleasure. It’s a great way for our readers to connect to a character.

Everyone enjoys the soft touch of a rose petal, but the thorn we avoid. When our favorite rubber ball bounces in the bush, how long do we hesitate before braving the thorns and grabbing it? Where that line is drawn for each person is different. Tad, the main character in Gideon’s Call, is like my daughter and longs to feel, so he is forever full of bumps and bruises (climbing trees) and searching for hot or cold (fire or swimming). His girlfriend, on the other hand, feels pain easily, and likes only the softest touch. It makes her shy.

Pain thresholds aren't at the forefront of every novel, but it does add an extra element to your character’s makeup.

My daughter is eleven now, and dances ballet. She likes the pounding, the spinning, and most of all, the leaps. And she has a happier set of parents.
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Peter Leavell is an award winning historical fiction author. He and his family research together, creating magnificent adventures. Catch up with him on his website at www.peterleavell.com, or friend him on Facebook: Peter R. Leavell. 
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Multi-Award Winning Gideon's Call
Based on true events from the Civil War, Tad longs to better himself, but is hindered by his skin color. When his plantation owners evacuate, they leave their slaves without any money, education, or leadership. Can Tad overcome unimaginable prejudice and family secrets to become the deliverer of thousands? Gideon's Call is winner of Operation First Novel 2011 and Christian Retailing's Best First Novel 2013.

11 comments:

  1. That had to have been scary for you and Tonya, Peter! But what a great trait to give a character! I loved Gideon's Call. It was a wonderful story. Now I'm waiting for your next book!!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ane! Your support means so much, ever since I met you as a scared kid in Dallas with a new book out! Next book: April 1st! No joking! Western with romance in it...

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  2. Fascinating subject, Peter. Thanks for sharing your experiences with your daughter. As a parent, I can imagine how difficult it was for you to see her struggle with wanting to "feel."

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  3. You never knew what she'd do next! Thanks for reading, Dawn!

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  4. Yowzee! How scary! Great topic, Peter, and I enjoyed how you incorporated "pain threshold" into your characters. :)

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    1. After writing this, my bones hurt. Sigh. Thanks, Dora!

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  5. That is a terribly scary experience and I can totally relate. I, too, have a daughter who longs to feel and it has given us plenty of grey hair and our own reserved parking spot at the ER. *sigh* Thanks for sharing and showing us how use those pain thresholds to develop depth in our characters.

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    1. It makes it hard in school, that's for sure! Yes, ER has our insurance numbers memorized, and they send us Christmas presents. Hope you and yours stay happy and safe, Natalie!

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  6. Thank you for this insightful post, Peter. Eeeks, on your daughter's experience. I would have been traumatized, as the parent. :) I'm reminded of how writers should consider personality types so our characters are diverse. Your post today goes right along with that. Great post!

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  7. Peter - how brave of you to incorporate personal experience into your story. I'm thankful things have worked out well. And hey, I met you at ACFW in Dallas a few years back.

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