Archive for the 'Writing Fiction' Category

Why you should dontate to 49th Parallels from Bundoran Press

Below, I’m going to encourage you to support Bundoran Press’ Indigogo campaign for 49th Parallels—their latest anthology of science fiction.

But I’ll start by saying: I don’t think crowdfunding is a stable or reliable business model for publishers. There comes a point where readers say: “Why do I need to pay for something that you, as a business, should have the money to produce?”

I’ll also say that I have supported and appeared in anthologies that have benefited from crowdfunding.

And here’s why.

First, the publishing business is becoming more and more challenging. Sometimes there needs to be a show of support from fans before publishers will take a leap of faith and publish. Also, short story collections and anthologies do not sell as well as novels.

And yet, it’s short story collections that provide readers a better option. Novels and collections by a single author are all or nothing. An anthology, especially a themed anthology, offers you many voices—a few of them are bound to resonate with you and make you believe your money was well spent.

This is where the Indiegogo campaign for 49th Parallels comes in. Bundoran has produced award-winning anthologies around thought-provoking ideas like life extension through technology, life on Earth 50 years after contact with aliens, and the effects of resource scarcity. 49th Parallels will examine how the world would be changed if Canada had been different sometime in the past. Think about it: Often, alternate timeline fiction has revolved around major powers. But Canada, a soft power, has influenced the world on many levels, but levels that don’t often make it into mainstream history.

49th Parallels will happen with or without the Indiegogo campaign’s success. What the campaign does is increase the rates Bundoran will pay for stories. Higher rates will attract the interest of leading science fiction authors who their livings from their writing. Do you want to see these leading voices sharing their visions of a future where Canada’s role in world events had a major impact? That is what donations will lead to: sharp minds, big ideas and amazing stories.

This campaign is not asking you to take a financial risk that business will not, but to attract the amazing stories we all hope to find in science fiction. I hope you will consider supporting it.

Conventions as “safe spaces” for the shy and introverted

can-con

Can-Con 2016, Ottawa speculative fiction convention, is coming up in a few weeks. It’s taking place September 9 – 11, 2016 at the Novotel in downtown Ottawa.

If you are a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, horror or anything like that, but have never been to (or considered attending) a convention, please give this a try. A bit of my history: When I began writing seriously, I was encouraged to attend Ad Astra in Toronto. I was very hesitant. I am a shy person, very introverted, and a weekend surrounded by strangers seemed overwhelming to me. Like, panic-attack overwhelming.

But I went and was transformed. Here were people like me: shy and thoughtful, but away from the loud-and-boisterous braggarts who dominate just about every public space, we could be ourselves. Was Robotech as good as we remembered, is Star more SF or more fantasy, when does horror go too far? I could talk to people if I wanted to, or be off by myself and no one bothered me. And not just did no one bother me, no one made me think that being on my own was somehow wrong.

A speculative fiction conference is a safe space in a lot of ways. We actively fight sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. But you are also safe to be in your own shell. We’ve all had experiences where sitting and reading our book is viewed as pitiable or even a justification to “save” us from being alone. This does not happen at a speculative fiction conference. And something like Comiccon, even with all its geeky goodness, can be overwhelming with so many people.

SF conventions, like Can-Con, are places to observe and think. It is as contemplative as it is social. You can go to the room parties, read in the bar, or chill out in your room—it’s all OK. If you don’t say one word to anyone else, no one will judge you or think it’s wrong or you’re being a jerk.

If you’re a fan of SF/F/H and feel like no one at work or in your family really gets you, and you have to pretend to be someone else to get by every day, please come. Experience what I did. Make strong friendships even after a life-time of finding it hard to make new friends. We might not all love the same things, or see eye-to-eye on The Force Awakens, but we will respect who you are and what you believe, and welcome you into our community even after so many others have excluded you.

Please come: http://can-con.org/cc/registration/

2016 Limestone Genro Expo schedule

I’ll be attending the Limestone Genre Expo next weekend and my full schedule is below. When I’m not on panel, you’ll probably find me behind the ChiZine Publications‘ dealers table. CZP is the publisher guests of honour this year and it’s my privilege to represent them.

This is Limestone’s second year and it shows no signs of stopping! It’s a great and growing convention in Kingston, Ontario so I hope you can make it out.

The two-day schedule is on their website and online registration is available until July 21, so go sign-up!

Saturday

10:00 – 11:00: Where is Fantasy taking the modern reader?
I’ll be moderating a panel with Tanya Huff, Violette Malan, Sean Moreland, Kit Daven, Nancy Baker and Marie Bilodeau

Sunday

11:00 – 12:00: Far Out: What’s happening in Science Fiction?
I’ll be moderating this panel with Nina Munteanu, Kate Heartfield, Charlotte Ashley, Ira Nayman, Andrew Barton and Derek Kunsken

2:00 – 3:00: What Horror trends are scaring you these days?
I’ll be on this panel with David Nickle, Karen Dales, Alyssa Cooper, James Moran and Sean Moreland with moderator Evan May

The Five Stages of Luke Skywalker’s Hero’s Journey

Star_Wars_Logo

The first of the Star Wars films, Episode IV presents storytellers with a lot of structures and models worth noting.

Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope may be one of the most perfect examples of the hero’s journey and three act structure. No doubt, Lucas outlined the heck out of the script to ensure it hit every beat, twist and milestone that screenwriting manuals insisted a story should have.

But something I never considered, and think might be an interesting model to follow, is the five distinct phases in Luke’s development. I will call these phases:

  • The Child
  • The Adolescent
  • The Man
  • The Warrior
  • The Hero

In each phase, Luke become more pro-active and gains more power over his fate. What’s more, in every phase there is another male character influencing Luke’s decisions. And the male character from the next phase will be introduced and clash with that phase’s influencing character. This clash forces Luke to broaden his outlook and grow as a character.

What is this important? It provides a model one can use to develop and grow a hero (of either gender) through not just one, but several contrasting mentors.

Luke the Child

Luke begins as a child. He is naïve about the world, plays with toys, whines when he doesn’t get his way, and lies to his Uncle about where he is going. At this phase, Luke’s seeking adventure is contrasted against his Uncle Owen’s pragmatism. Luke being beaten unconscious by Tusken Raiders shows that Luke is unprepared for a larger world of adventure.

Then Luke meets Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan is the gateway to his next level of development. Clearly, Obi-Wan and Owen do not see eye-to-eye, which puts Luke into conflict. While Obi-Wan’s offer to teach Luke the Force is appealing, Luke’s fear of his uncle causes Luke to decline Obi-Wan’s invitation to adventure. It is only through Owen’s death that Luke the Child is free to grow into Luke the Adolescent and follow Obi-Wan. (Had Luke arrived home and found his aunt and uncle safe, it’s likely he would safe said “So long” to Obi-Wan and never left the Jundland Wastes.)

Luke the Adolescent

Free of his Uncle, Luke seeks adventure with Obi-Wan, who assumes the role of Luke’s influencing character. Stating he’s “Ready for anything” in Mos Eisley, Luke is (again) not up for the challenge and must be saved (again) by Obi-Wan.

While Obi-Wan represents an idealistic vision of a future life, the introduction of Han presents Luke with a realistic, utilitarian and selfish existence.

However, rather than being meek, as Luke had been with his uncle, Luke meets Han’s “But who’s gonna fly it, Kid? You?” quip with anger, not deference. Luke is growing.

And, just as Obi-Wan and Owen were at odds, Han and Obi-Wan argue over the best course of action and make all the decisions at this stage of the story. This leaves Luke as a follower and unable to be pro-active until Obi-Wan goes off to shutdown the tractor beam’s power generator. Before Obi-Wan leaves, he rejects Luke’s offer to go with him and instead instructs him to watch over the droids. In a subtle way, Obi-Wan is telling Luke it is time to stop being a follower.

Seconds after Obi-Wan leaves, Han and Luke get into an argument, showing that Luke the Child, who would have backed down, is no more. Seconds after that, R2-D2 locates Princess Leia and Luke becomes pro-active. Understanding from Obi-Wan that Han is motivated by money, Luke appeals to Han’s greed to go rescue the Princess. Once again, Luke is growing.

He proves himself in getting into the detention level and freeing Princess Leia. Still, Han is the more pro-active of the characters in these scenes.

Luke the Man

While it’s a moment played for laughs, this look unscores that Han has come to respect Luke as an equal.

While Han has been the dominant character with Obi-Wan’s exit, it is Luke who finds a way out of the trash compactor. Once freed, Han treats Luke like a comrade and equal with the line: “If we can just avoid any more female advice, we ought to be able to get out of here.” When Leia lectures him, Han looks to Luke for support—acknowledging him as an equal—and Luke responds with one of the greatest eye rolls in cinematic history.

Luke’s actions have won Han’s approval, validating he is now a man. Han is now the character against which Luke is compared.

Luke continues to grow through getting the princess to the Millennium Falcon and fending off the TIE fighter attack, but in the process witnesses the death of Obi-Wan. As with Owen, the man who held Luke’s future is now gone.

Once free of the Death Star, Han continues to treat Luke like an equal, first through teasing him about Leia and then offering that he should go with Chewbecca and himself: “Why don’t you come with us? You’re pretty good in a fight. I could use you.” This is high praise from Han Solo.

A seemingly simple shot, this shows that Luke and Han are no longer seeing things the same way. Luke is eager to join the idealistic cause to attack the Death Star while Han is dismissive. Luke has grown past Han, so these two men must part ways.

But Luke is on the cusp of becoming a warrior. It is the other rebel pilots, Red Leader especially, against whom Luke is comparing himself. In the pilot briefing, the conflict between Han and the rebellion is seen in a short shot of Han waving dismissively at the plan to attack the Death Star. For Han, it’s suicide; for the rebellion, it is what they must do.

With words of validation from Biggs and Red Leader (in the extended editions), Luke has outgrown the practical and selfish Han Solo to the point where, in their words of parting, Luke is in the more powerful position. Now it is Luke forcing Han to explain himself.

We have come 180 from the first confrontation in Mos Eisley.

Luke the Warrior

With Han gone, Luke finds himself among a group of warriors, accepted as an equal. He survives wave after wave of assault. Finally, with most of Gold and Red squadrons destroyed, Red Leader picks Luke to lead the second attack run. Luke has proven himself a warrior.

The male character against which Luke will be compared in the next phase is Darth Vader, who destroys most of the remaining rebel fighters. Finally, it is not an ally but the antagonist against whom the hero must tangle.

Luke the Hero

In the trench run, Luke is alone. Most of Red Squadron is gone, Obi-Wan is dead, Han has left and even R2-D2 is disabled. The villain, Darth Vader, has isolated Luke and has the boy in his sights. So what happens?

Luke rises to become a hero in two ways.

The first is the return of Han Solo. While we credit Han for saving Luke, Han would never have returned without Luke’s admonishment. Luke could have just let Han go, but Luke’s appeal to something beyond simple greed is what forces Han to return. In this way, Luke has saved himself.

Freed of pursuers, Luke becomes a hero in a second way. He believes in the Force, opening himself up to the “larger world” Obi-Wan spoke of, and makes the shot that none of the other, more experienced pilots could make.

Luke returns to Yavin IV to find a hero’s welcome.

So what does this mean?

A hero’s journey is a very common but also very tricky story arc to get right. In Episode IV, Lucas used a series of mature, established characters to act as signposts for his hero. Except for Han’s change of heart at the end, none of these mentor characters needed to change, allowing the story to revolve on the character development of only the hero. And since they all played different roles—parent, wizard, hired man, general—their role as mentors did not feel repeated or trite as Luke encountered each one.

If you are telling a hero’s journey, it’s a powerful and useful model to follow.

My CAN-CON 2015 Schedule

CAN-CON 2015—Ottawa’s original conference on SF/F/H—is coming up in Ottawa from October 30 to November 1. There will be readings, panel discussions and presentations, plus book launches and room parties. Registration is open and it’s $60 for the whole weekend with discounts for students.

A description of all the panels is up on their website. And you can download a PDF of the daily schedule. My schedule is below.

Something that is not listed are my Blue Pencil Cafés, which you have to sign up in advance for, but they are free for attendees. I hope you’ll sign up!

Friday

2:30PM: Workshop – Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats
I wrote a blog post with some more information on this workshop. Short version: creating tension means knowing how to structure a story and create threats to your hero. If you’re interested, you can register on the CAN-CON site. It’s $10 with a $1.25 service fee.

7:00PM: Live critic panel
Matt Moore, Kris Ramsey, James Bambury, Kevin Quirt, Agnes Cadieux
Come hear us crack wise about whatever the audiences says they love.

9:00PM: Bundoran Press/SFCanada Party
I’ll be attending. We’ll have to see how the evening goes, but I might be reading a snippet from “As Below, So Above” from Bundoran’s Second Contacts anthology.

Saturday

10:00AM: Our Monsters are our Children
Matt Moore (m), Sean Moreland
Why do we love monsters, and what does that say about us?

3:00PM: Horror Reading: What is scaring the $#@% out of you?
Matt Moore (m), Peter Halasz
Looking for some good horror novels to read? Come check this out.

6:00PM: Extreme Weather Slapdown CANCELLED
Marie Bilodeau (m), Matt Moore, Eric Choi, Leah Petersen, Mark Robinson
Famed stormchaser Mark Robinson poses a severe weather event, and we authors have to create a story around it.

7:00PM: Scifi Cult movies (Buckaroo Banzai, Mystery Men, Repo Man, etc)
Ira Nayman (m), Timothy Carter, Matt Moore, Eric Choi
Why do we love them?

9:00PM: The ChiZine Publications’ Party
I will be there.

Sunday

11:30AM: Reading
I’ll be reading “The Weak Son” from Tesseracts Thirteen. It’s an older piece, but one of my favourites to read aloud.

12:00PM: Contract, Contracts, Contracts – What’s a Good One?
Matt Moore (m), Matthew Johnson, Eve Langlais, David Hartwell, Caroline Frechette
Are you an author wondering what makes a good contract? Publishers and experienced authors will let you know what to expect, what to fight for, and what’s just crazy to ask for.

How to Write Monsters, Part Two: Fighting Them, and Monstrous Villains

In my last blog post, I talked about how to write monsters. That post came about when I was writing a story with a terrific monster, but an unsatisfying ending. I realized I was treating the monster too much like a villain. Once I realized it was a monster, and it needed some monster “rules”, did things fall into place.

The topics I covered last time were:

  • What’s the difference between a monster and villain?
  • A monster must be invoked instead of just showing up
  • The monster must be monstrous—both physically and morally upsetting to the natural order of things
  • The monster reflects the hero’s weakness, forcing the hero to fight harder than they ever have

In this post, I’ll take about how the hero fights back and even contradict myself to show that villains can be monstrous.

[Note: Below I am speaking in absolutes, but consider it advice. It’s just easier to write in absolute terms than conditional ones. Also, I use “hero”, but it’s a non-gender specific sense.]

The hero must be able to resist

While your monster is a serious threat to your hero, the possibility of victory must exist. Imagine Conan or Harry Potter fighting Godzilla—the battle would be over in moments. (Unless avada kedavra works on Godzilla, but such a short fight would not be a satisfying story.)

jaws

Here is how Jaws could have ended. If the people had stayed out of the water, Brody would not have had to go out to kill it.

You can run from Jason, barricade yourself against the zombie horde, stay out of the water or drive away from the tornadoes in Twister.

Lesson: The monster must present a near-hopeless situation. Some glimmer of hope motivates the hero to fight (or, at least, try to survive), which keeps the reader engaged.

The monster must have a weakness

A monster strikes at the hero’s weakness, but the hero must learn how to strike back. Searching for and exploiting a monster’s weakness makes up a good chunk of monster stories. Jason Voorhees can be confounded by his mother. Silver, garlic and sunlight are effective against several forms of monsters. The shark from Jaws was just a shark.

It great stories, the hero overcomes their own weakness in exploiting the monster’s. Chief Brody—with his fear of the water—killing the shark in Jaws from a stable, well-equipped boat is nowhere nearly as satisfying as him clinging to the mast of the sinking Orca.

Lesson: The monster’s power must be offset by a weakness. The path to find and exploit that weakness must lead straight through the hero’s own weakness.

A villain can be monstrous

I’ve been talking as if villains and monsters are two different things, but a villain can be monstrous.

seven

John Doe, the killer from SE7EN, is both morally and physically monstrous. While he’s a villain, he has many monstrous qualities.

John Doe, from SE7EN, fits this bill. A villain of the highest order, he plots and schemes, seeing himself as a hero in a corrupt world. But to us his morality is monstrous. So is his self-mutilation to cut off his fingerprints. While he literally walks into the story, he is actually invoked by the daily immoral deeds we see (and commit) every day. His strength is his cunning, which strikes dead-center against Detective Mills’ weakness in seeing the killer (during the investigation) in the most simplistic terms. And Doe’s weakness lies in Mills’ ability to resist his urge to kill Doe. However, Mills cannot resist and his rage completes Doe’s monstrous plan.

Pinhead is another example. Clearly summoned, in some incarnations Pinhead is reactionary to his invocation. He has no plan other than to torture whoever summoned him. He is more a force of (super)nature than a scheming villain.

The demon from the The Exorcist is a better example. Clever and manipulative, its actions and very nature are monstrous. To say nothing of the physical effects it has on Regan McNeil. It is invoked by Regan and exploits at Father Karras’ weakness—his loss of faith.

As I’ve said, take all of this advice. But I hope these “rules” about how to write effective monsters gives you some tool you can use in your writing.

If I’ve missed something, please let me know!

Writing About Monsters, Part One: Powerful, but They’re Not Villains

Creating a good villain and a good monster in your story is not the same thing. I discovered this while writing a story with a terrific monster, but an unsatisfying ending. I realized I was treating the monster too much like a villain. Once I realized it was a monster, and it needed some monster “rules”, did things fall into place.

[Note: Below I am speaking in absolutes, but consider it advice. It’s just easier to write in absolute terms than conditional ones. Also, I use “hero”, but it’s a non-gender specific sense.]

What’s the difference between a monster and villain?

A villain is a person. (At least, it is person-like.) A villain  has consciousness and free will. It has motives, an agenda, and the ability to anticipate. It is the (proactive) hero of its own story.

Jasonf

Jason Voorhees is not so much a villain as a monster. He doesn’t plan or have an agenda, he just reacts.

A monster works on instinct or the laws of nature. It can be an animal (natural or not—a shark, a werewolf, Godzilla), the environment (e.g., tornadoes, a malfunctioning space ship) or even a person stripped of human qualities (e.g., Jason Voorhees). But, like all things in nature, it can learn and adapt.

Lesson: Your monster doesn’t start with a plan. It acts on instinct and, at first, is predictable. But to make your hero sweat, your monster must learn how to fight against the hero while still being animalistic.

A monster must be invoked

A monster just showing up and wreaking havoc can be fun. (A villain, though, has a motive. It is exactly where it wants to be at a precise time for a specific reason.) Think Godzilla, Night of the Living Dead or The Day After Tomorrow.

But having to invoke the monster adds a layer of guilt or responsibility to the story. Think of Pinhead’s puzzlebox (the Lament Configuration) or the Micmac cemetary. In some incarnations, a vampire must be invited into your home. Reckless campers, well aware of the legend of “Camp Blood”, still enter Jason’s domain.

Even Jaws has its invocation—splashing swimmers attract the shark. If the people of Amity had listened to Chief Brody and closed the beaches, the shark would have moved on.

Lesson: Through invocation, a hero deals with the monster and their own guilt. Invocation can also foreshadow how to destroy the monster. In more advanced stories, like Jaws, the hero must convince others that a seemingly harmless (or even necessary) action is the invocation.

The monster must be monstrous

We think of “monstrous” as big. But the origin of the word “monster” comes from the Latin indicating something is wrong with the natural order. That is, monsters stand in contrast to natural biology.

hellraiser-pinhead

Pinhead is another monster with a very clear way to invoke him. Rather than have a plan, he reacts to those who summon him. He symbolizes unbridled lust, a taboo in our society.

But they also contrast our sense of right and wrong. Monsters are both physically and morally aberrant and abhorrent.

Godzilla—a massive, destructive beast—embodies our guilt (and comeuppance) for reckless nuclear testing. The relentless killer Jason Voorhees—disfigured and massive—was caused by teenage desire. One summons Pinhead in the pursuit of ultimate pleasure. (And don’t forget the original movie’s murder and infidelity.)

Lesson: When creating a monster, focus not only on its physical attributes but what taboo created it, or what taboo it embodies.

The monster reflects the hero’s weakness

A monster pushes your hero to their limits. The hero cannot defeat the monster at the beginning of the story, but grows and learns in order to win.

To push your hero, a monster must embody your hero’s weakness. Is your hero small or weak? The monster must be huge. If your hero has a simplistic outlook, the monster must be clever. Perhaps your hero cop has lived her whole life in the city; she must confront the monster in the depths of the forest.

In The Day After Tomorrow, the young protagonists are untrained for the climate shift, plus they are not in their home city. Jaws has Chief Brody as a former New York City cop with a fear of the water. Also in Jaws, the shark hunter Quint underestimates the shark’s cunning.

Lesson: When creating your hero and monster, find how the monstrous elements—physically and morally—exploit your hero’s limitations.

So, is that it?

No. There will be more about monsters coming in a later post. This next post focus on the hero and how he/she fights back. For now, I hope this helps.

Come to My Blue Pencil Café at CAN-CON 2015

CAN-CON, Ottawa’s SF/F/H convention on October 30 – November 1, 2015, is offering free Blue Pencil Cafés. And I will be taking part.

A Blue Pencil Café is a 15-minute one-on-one session with an established writer. You can talk about the business of writing, get your work critiqued, talk about inspiration or structure, or anything you want.

To sign up, you must be registered to attend CAN-CON. Then go the Blue Pencil Café registration page and pick which author you want to spend time with and the author you prefer. You can pick me or:

  • Marie Bilodeau – four-time Aurora nominated epic fantasy, space opera and horror author
  • Leah Bobet – Andre Norton and Aurora-nominated author
  • Nina Munteanu – science specialist and writing coach
  • Jay Odjick – comic book creator and TV producer
  • Linda Poitevin – bestselling romance and dark urban fantasy author
  • Dr. Robert Runté – SF Academic and editor at Five Rivers Publishing
  • Hayden Trenholm – Aurora-winning author and editor, publisher of Bundoran Press
  • Ed Willet – This year’s guest of honour and author with DAW, Croteau Books and Bundoran Press

I hope to see you there!

Writing workshop: “Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats” at CAN-CON on Oct. 30 in Ottawa

I will be teaching a 2-hour writing workshop on how to keep readers on the edges of their seats before the official start of CAN-CON, Ottawa’s SF/F/H convention coming up October 30 – November 1, 2015.

This workshop is one of four workshops being run before the convention officially starts, so you won’t miss any programming by attending. Even if mine doesn’t sound interesting, check out the others.

If you’re interested, here’s the short version:

  • WHEN: Friday, October 30, 2015
    2:30 – 4:30
  • WHERE: Sheraton Ottawa Hotel (Room TBD)
    150 Albert Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
  • HOW: Register online
    Space is limited
    You do not need to register with the con to attend
    No same-day registration
  • COST: $10 plus $1.25 service fee

Why should I take this workshop?

This workshop is for writers of all genres who want their stories to be page-turners that readers can’t put down. If you have been getting rejections or feedback like “Started too slow” or “Just didn’t grab me”, this workshop is for you.

There’s more to maintaining tension than just writing short, clipped sentences, the “ticking clock” or cutting between scenes. Stories, and the scenes within them, have a structure. (And do not confuse structure, which is descriptive, with formula, which is prescriptive.) That is, we are introduced to a scene, something changes for our characters, and they move on to the next scene. This can involve saving the universe or looking for their car keys. To create tension, you need to understand how the pieces of this structure work—plot, pacing, characters, conflict, etc.

We’ll look at things like:

  • How to end a scene in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading, but by giving a pay-off and not “cheating”?
  • What kind of threats and challenges can you throw at the main character that aren’t tired, clichéd or too easy?
  • Who or what is working against your main character?
  • What is on the line if your main character fails?

There is limited space and you have to register in advance online. You won’t be able to register at the convention.

I hope to see you there!

On Being in Pain

I have been in a lot of pain recently (I’m fine; this is not a bid for sympathy) and it has changed how I see writing characters in pain. It has also made me appreciate the difference between an injury’s immediate pain and the kind that lasts for days, weeks or a lifetime.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve broken a few bones and dislocated my shoulder, but that’s been it.

Recently, I pinched a nerve in my lower back. The result was sharp, grinding pain in my left buttock, down the outside of my leg and into my ankle. It makes sitting, standing or lying down anywhere from uncomfortable to excruciating. Unlike a broken bone, this pain is on-going and the only relief are medication and exercises to warm up and stretch the muscles, but the exercises are painful.

And come morning, the muscles of tightened up and the medication worn off.

Pain is tiring

Even though I spent many of the first days inactive, I still needed to nap. Not just rest, but sleep for a few hours in the middle of the day.

Constant pain is draining. I don’t just mean that doing something as simple as climbing stairs or preparing a cup of coffee requires more effort, which is true. Being in pain zaps your energy, your concentration, your strength. It wears you down to the point of exhaustion.

And being in pain makes falling asleep difficult and sleep itself is lighter than normal. I found myself in a mental fog for the first week.

Without a name, your condition might not generate sympathy

Many diseases can be measured. How many parts per million, how many millimetres. No one doubts a spot on an X-ray or positive bacterial culture.

Pain is subjective. It is usually measured on a scale from 1 to 10—1 being barely there and 10 being the worst pain of your life. And pain is a symptom, not a disease, so being in pain has no medical name. Without a diagnosis with a fancy medical name, some might doubt the severity of your condition.

And the same injury for one person might be a nuisance, but for another might be excruciating. Since everyone has been in pain, some might doubt the amount of pain you are in. Or, not understanding its nature, tell you to “suck it up”. This might even come from health care providers.

This reaction can demoralize and isolate someone trying to deal with their pain.

Time is measured until your next medication

When I look at a clock, I don’t see the time of day but how long it will be until my next dose of medication. I’m not taking anything hard core or addictive. Simply Tylenol and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. They bring relief, but it wears off as time passes. So what time it is doesn’t matter to me. How long I have to wait for more relief is my top concern.

You are in pain in the future

It’s only a few weeks until Ad Astra, one of my favourite conventions since I get to see friends who live in Toronto and beyond. I moved into a new home in November, so am looking forward to improvements I can make on my new home once the weather turns warmer. And since I live downtown for the first time, I am excited to spend a summer in the centre of the city with all it has to offer.

But all of these future events seem impossible. Because I look at the future—in a few days, a few weeks, or a few months—and I can’t imagine them without the same pain I am in now. I can’t imagine walking through the Ad Astra hotel without my pain-induced limp. I don’t have the strength to work in my new backyard.

Being in constant pain colours everything, even your plans for the future.

You will try anything to be free of pain

With intense injuries, you might receive some intense pain killers. They can have intense side effects, but the medicines are stop-gap measures until your body can mend. For long-term pain, the side effects can be damaging to your liver or other organs. And since there is no way to objectively measure your pain, your doctor might tell you to get by on something like acetaminophen.

Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t. Dreading the pain that comes each morning and follows you, the fatigue, the lack of understanding, you might consider alternative therapies.

Now, I am not knocking all alternative medicine. I have found great relief in acupuncture. But there are a number of unregulated and unproven “therapies” out there. But when you are desperate, you will consider something that before your pain you might have considered more hand-waving than medicine.

I know I am lucky

In time, I know I will get better. Every day, I feel a little better—the pain easier to deal with, the exercises not as challenging. Every medical professional I have spoken with say I am following a normal and predictable path to full recovery.

Not everyone gets this optimistic prognosis.

So if you have never had to deal with persistent pain, but are writing a character who is, I hope this post gives you insight into what life is like. It’s one thing to take your experience with a broken bone and try to translate it into some other immediate injury. But the long-term, day-after-day pain that can follow you will change your character’s perspective.


Upcoming Appearances

ChiSeries Ottawa Presents Max Gladstone, Brett Savory & Rich Larson - Host
April 4, 2017
Royal Oak, Laurier @ uOttawa
161 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, ON
Ad Astra - Panelist
May 5 – 7, 2017
Sheraton Parkway North
Richmond Hill, ON
Ottawa Comiccon - ChiZine Publications Dealers Table
May 12 – 14, 2017
EY Centre
Ottawa, ON
Limestone Genre Expo - Panelist
June 3 – 4, 2017
St. Lawrence College
​Kingston, ON
CAN-CON - Panelist
Oct. 13 – 15, 2017
Sheraton Hotel
Ottawa, ON

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Email me at MattMooreWrites@gmail.com


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