Pain plays a very central role in my creative writing. Most of my characters endure a great deal of pain (torture, fights, capture, etc.), so I have to get a bit creative when writing the pain that they experience. Often easier said than done!
One thing that helps me to write pain (hopefully) without getting repetitive is a paper published by Lancaster University in 2010. This research paper examines the neuroscientific and psycholinguistic research of pain–specifically, the way people experience and describe different types of pain.
As the paper states, “Pain is…the kind of subjective and poorly delineated experience that is difficult to express satisfactorily in language”. Everyone has their own unique ways to describe the pain they are feeling.
The paper gives examples of creative descriptions (“sharp pain going down the bottom of my leg”), as well as similes (“like a small garden rake over my eyes and the top of my head, digging in and scraping away”).
It describes different types of pain in terms of physical damage:
- Insertion of pointed objects: stinging, drilling, boring, pricking
- The application of sharp objects: slicing, stabbing, piercing, lancing
- Pulling/tearing: tugging, wrenching, squeezing
- Application of pressure/weight: crushing, pressing, tight, pinching
It compares it to high and low temperatures (boiling, burning, freezing, scalding, etc.), as well as comparing it to basic movements (shooting, jumping, pounding).
The paper lists dozens of different ways to describe pain, giving an explanation of each. For authors who want to find new and creative ways to communicate the suffering they are putting their characters through, this is a paper worth reading. It’s a bit technical, but the information it contains is VERY useful!
Bonus: The article led me to a Spanish paper that describes pain in different ways:
- a sharp object
- a tormenting animal
- a fire
- a burden
- an enemy to beat
- an angry person
- a possession
- a substance moving within a container