Make Your Readers Feel the Pain

I’ve been neck deep in research and editing, enjoying every minute.  And letting the days slip past before I come out of my red-pencil fog to check my deadlines.


I planned to write about layering your characters’ backstories, referencing scenes from the movie “The Homesman.”  In the meantime, I read Sue Coletta’s post over on The Kill Zone blog about researching torture methods.  Coletta is the author of the Grafton County series (Cleaved, book 2 is now available), the Mayhem series, and the criminally inspiring 60 Ways to Murder Your Characters.  This is one author who believes that first-hand experience makes her crime thrillers darker and scarier.  And she doesn’t hesitate to enlist her husband or a neighbor to assist her in the search for realism.


Just reading about her experiment inside an oil drum was enough to make my breath hitch and my ears ring.


Now I’m not saying every writer should bribe someone to bury them in a box with a short hose leading to the surface.  And please don’t play with sharp blades.  You don’t want to end up describing your visit to the nearest emergency room instead of the fight scene you roleplayed.


But don’t allow anything to stop you from getting deep into your character’s emotions and physical responses.  Because in the middle of the action, that’s what happens.  The body responds to physical stimuli while the mind assigns feelings and emotions to those actions and reactions.


Don’t think of the character as a cardboard cutout you’re creating with ink and paper (or ones and zeroes).  Put yourself in the middle of that scene.  Become that character as each word finds its place on the page.


Your knife-wielding assailant isn’t thinking about what he’s going to defrost for supper once he takes you down and saunters home.  He’s thinking about getting in close, sliding his knife-hand under your deflecting arm, and driving his blade into a space between your ribs.


You don’t wish you had worn lower heels.  Your mind is desperately sorting hundreds of ways to survive.  You attempt to grasp one before they all disappear.  Kick your shoes off–turn sideways to offer a smaller target—move into the middle of the street for maneuverability—scream your lungs out to attract attention—run like hell!


Even as your brain processes these commands, your senses pick up the smell of the man’s sweat as he grabs you, the sound of your voice echoing off surrounding buildings, the hot bite of the blade as it slices across your raised hand.


Dive into the experience, and take your writing to another level by increasing the depth of each scene.  And like Sue Coletta’s readers, yours will sleep with the lights on.


Next time we’ll unwrap layers of personality in “The Homesman” characters.


If you’d like to work with me in 2017, I’m currently setting my editing schedule for June through September.  Email me at and let’s start a conversation about how I may help you take your writing from idea to signing party.