24 Ways to Describe Pain

physical painPhysical pain seems to be part of every thriller I’ve read. The main characters always get stabbed, stomped, smacked, punched, or shot, and that hurts. Of course, the author has to be much more creative about sharing that agony. I’ve collected the ways they do this that resonated with me.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).

Here’s my list:

  • His head hurt too much. His body hurt too much. It seemed that everything hurt too much. Slowly, his sense started to send reports back to his brain. There were bruises and cuts and scrapes and maybe some breaks. He kept his eyes closed, not because he didn’t want to see where he was, but he thought it would hurt too much to open them.
  • Bogier hurt everywhere. His nipples hurt, his toes hurt, his watchband hurt, the elastic in his underpants hurt. His mind hurt. But his chest was the worst.
  • A dull sciatic ache had settled into Gurney’s left leg.

  • Ten seconds passed, and then twenty and thirty, and finally the pain started to pull back like the tide going out. It left his fingers first, and then slowly worked its way up his arm. Rowe took a couple of deep breaths and then started to walk again. He needed to find a pharmacy.
  • Not just pain-tolerant, or pain-resistant—he’s pain-defiant
  • A harsh half-stifled yell
  • Every jostle sent ripples of pain through his shoulder, back and neck.
  • The flesh wound still oozed blood and the entire right side of his body wore a purple-yellow smear of bruise. It hurt so bad he could hardly negotiate the raw landscape that strobed in and out of focus all around him
  • Pain sheeted through him with a terrible intensity
  • Pain felt like a sharp-toothed creature eating him from the inside
  • The pain in his wounded thigh was searing.
  • Ignoring the pain in his thigh, the blood seeping from the cut in his left arm and tried to move as quickly and quietly as possible
  • grunted as he shifted, trying to keep his ankles from paining him
  • in the thick soup of his brain
  • did her ragged little insults result even in a flesh wound?
  • didn’t so much regain consciousness as he began sensing pain
  • He absorbed the trauma, swallowing the pain, then kicked his way slowly back to the surface.
  • Pain was just an illusory sensation that his mind could shut down if it needed to, he told himself.
  • Searing pain in his right shoulder
  • Adjusted his position in the chair and felt fresh pain sear across his stomach
  • he jammed his knee into my groin, sending shock waves of dull nauseating pain deep into my abdomen
  • The Russian squealed in pain, dropped his gun and held his hands up to his blinded eyes.
  • As he doubled over in pain, Carver karate-chopped the back of his neck
  • he made a low growl again, straining to stand up to the pain

spiderSpider 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.

More painful descriptors:

37 Ways to Describe Depression

How to Describe a Fight

29 Ways to Describe a Headache

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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77 thoughts on “24 Ways to Describe Pain

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      • It’s a good list. 🙂 I do agree with the others on them telling more then showing. But, with somethings its best to pull back and use a little telling, as it can get too intense. I had a chapter (revised now) where the protog was being dragged down the stairs after being stabbed. I did it without any filters and such. That chapter ended up being canned. I jave to be careful not to get too obsesed with making every few chapters hell for the protog as after a while won’t that cause readers to become numb to it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s a good point. Being wrenched in a tornado every scene–it would be a bit much for me though there are authors who write that way and they have loyal followings. It’s just not me.


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  13. Jacqui, I noticed in the list the words ‘hurt’ and ‘pain’ are often used, as in “doubled over in pain”, “squealed in pain”, “dull, nauseating pain”, “pain like…” and so on. When I write about pain I like to use words and descriptors which summon the image and sensation of pain without using the actual word ‘pain’.


  14. As you said, protagonists in thriller books get hurt a lot. But in thriller movies, the protagonists not only get hurt a lot, they survive obviously fatal situations a lot. I guess you just have to amp it up for the movies.


  15. Wouldn’t have realised there were so many different ways to feel pain. Thanks for the compilation. When they come as a list, one can get the nuances a little better as relativity gets highlighted.


    • I agree. Yet, when I put myself in their shoes, I can see it. It helps me a lot when I need to describe pain in my novel (which I do, with my SEAL and a reckless terrorist who revels in pain).


    • That’s what we’re commonly told all the time. I was all about this topic in school. Aw, I miss New Mexico. I really do like these points you have made here but I really doubt many can be used to reality. Do you create this type of great content yourself or are you part of a team? Your article is liked by this guy I recently met.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Personally, tarantulas are very cool spiders! Those other two not so much!! Does any one remember a song with the lyrics “I don’t like spiders and snakes. . .”; well I’m total opposite of that song! As long as neither poisonous, I’m perfectly happy with them around me, especially snakes. I had thoughts of owning a boa constrictor, when I was much younger.


  17. Sneaky, eh? I’ll jump right into pain descriptors–but I’d have scrolled on by spider info. Oh well, nothing I didn’t already know. But now I’ll be watching for movement in my peripheral vision…


  18. I love these lists. They serve to challenge my own descriptions of pain and emotion. It’s so easy to fall back on familiar word choice. But every person experiences pain differently so the language should reflect that 🙂


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