characters / descriptors / research / teacher resources / writers / writers resources

My Character is Sick–How to Show (Not Tell) Some Illnesses

Fiction writing is about communicating as much as possible within the story line. Every writing class you take will exhort you to show not tell. As Samuel Clemens said,

“Don’t tell us that the old lady screamed.
Bring her on and let her scream.”

You will often have your characters become sick in the novel. It creates drama. It helps the reader feel empathy for the protagonist or enmity for the antagonist. Maybe it serves the plot line. Here are some ideas you can use if your character is sick:

Dehydrationdehydration___01

  • Dark urine with a very strong odor.
  • Low urine output.
  • Dark, sunken eyes.
  • Fatigue.
  • Emotional instability.
  • Loss of skin elasticity.
  • Delayed capillary refill in fingernail beds.
  • Trench line down center of tongue.
  • Thirst. Last on the list because you are already 2 percent dehydrated by the time you crave fluids.

Scorpion Stings 

Scorpions are all poisonous to a greater or lesser degree. There are two different reactions, depending on the species:

sting

Photo credit: Grovlam

  • Severe local reaction only, with pain and swelling around the area of the sting. Possible prickly sensation around the mouth and a thick-feeling tongue.
  • Severe systemic reaction, with little or no visible local reaction includes respiratory difficulties, thick-feeling tongue, body spasms, drooling, gastric distention, double vision, blindness, involuntary rapid movement of the eyeballs, involuntary urination and defecation, and heart failure. Death is rare, occurring mainly in children and adults with high blood pressure or illnesses.

Treat scorpion stings as you would a black widow bite.

Snakebites

Deaths from snakebites are rare. Snake venoms not only contain poisons that attack the victim’s central nervous system (neurotoxins) and blood circulation (hemotoxins), but also digestive enzymes (cytotoxins) to aid in digesting their prey. These poisons can cause a very large area of tissue death, leaving a large open wound. This condition could lead to the need for eventual amputation if not treated.

Bites from a nonpoisonous snake will show rows of teeth. Bites from a poisonous snake may have rows of teeth showing, but will have one or more distinctive puncture marks caused by fang penetration. Symptoms may be bleeding from the nose and anus, blood in the urine, pain at the site of the bite, and swelling at the site of the bite within a few minutes or up to 2 hours later.

Breathing difficulty, paralysis, weakness, twitching, and numbness are also signs of neurotoxic venoms. These signs usually appear 1.5 to 2 hours after the bite.

Stings

8928

See the image at the right for an image. After your character is stung, be sure to follow these instructions to relieve the itching and discomfort:

  • Cold compresses.
  • A cooling paste of mud and ashes.
  • Sap from dandelions.
  • Coconut meat.
  • Crushed cloves of garlic.
  • Onion.

Spider Bites

The black widow spider is identified by a red hourglass on its abdomen. The initial pain is not severe, but severe local pain rapidly develops. The pain gradually spreads over the entire body and settles in the abdomen and legs. Abdominal cramps and progressive nausea, vomiting, and a rash may occur. Weakness, tremors, sweating, and salivation may occur. Anaphylactic reactions can occur. Symptoms begin to regress after several hours and are usually gone in a few days.

The brown recluse spider is a small, light brown spider identified by a dark brown violin on its back. There is no pain, or so little pain, that usually a victim is not aware of the bite. Within a few hours a painful red area with a mottled cyanotic center appears. Necrosis does not occur in all bites, but usually in 3 to 4 days, a star-shaped, firm area of deep purple discoloration appears at the bite site. The area turns dark and mummified in a week or two. The margins separate and the scab falls off, leaving an open ulcer. Secondary infection and regional swollen lymph glands usually become visible at this stage. The outstanding characteristic of the brown recluse bite is an ulcer that does not heal but persists for weeks or months. In addition to the ulcer, there is often a systemic reaction that is serious and may lead to death. Reactions (fever, chills, joint pain, vomiting, and a generalized rash) occur chiefly in children or debilitated persons.

Tarantulas are large, hairy spiders found mainly in the tropics. Most do not inject venom, but some South American species do. If bitten, pain and bleeding are certain, and infection is likely. Treat a tarantula bite as for any open wound, and try to prevent infection. If symptoms of poisoning appear, treat as for the bite of the black widow spider.

I know. Not a lot, but these are the only illnesses my characters have come across in my novels so far. Would you share yours so we-all can develop a database?

For more descriptors for characters and settings, click here.

Share

About these ads

10 thoughts on “My Character is Sick–How to Show (Not Tell) Some Illnesses

  1. I didn’t know whether to shriek or laugh when I saw those freaky photos. On behalf of the victims, I chose shriek. Then, on behalf of your hilariously earnest advice to us writers who are trying to keep it real, I had to laugh. Thanks for giving my imagination something to chew on, and possibly throw up. My memoir is already finished and is coming out next year, but I’m still working on my novel… and I could probably use a gruesome image or two. I’ve already chopped off someone’s head. Wonder if I can top that?

    Thanks,
    Cara Lopez Lee
    ”They Only Eat Their Husbands”

    • You’re so funny, Cara. I’m going to have to read your memoir. I write thrillers, so I s’pose that colored the illnesses I selected. They are rather gruesome, but catch the imagination don’t they?

  2. Pingback: The Post I Wish I Hadn’t Written « Word Dreams…

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review « Word Dreams…

  4. Pingback: 10 Hits and Misses for 2011 « Jacqui Murray's WordDreams…

What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s