How a person copes with pain reveals a lot about their character – an observation that will usefully serve for us writers. After all, our job is to put our creations through a lot – to show what they are made of.
Maybe they are injured but keep quiet and stoical. This may be as brave as it seems, or perhaps later you have them let slip the stored resentment because no-one took the hint. Or show someone else crumbling under same stress to bolster the point.
What about the prima donna type wanting to be waited on hand and foot? That’s fine – but it could be fun to have your demanding diva set all that aside when it really matters. Always good to have different sides to a character – especially if you set up a pattern of behaviour and then break it.
Their attitude to medicine can be telling too. Do we see them reach for painkillers straight away, dispute with doctors, reject cures or heal themselves? Do they ask advice – or dish it out? Hypochondriacs can be a source of amusement – and so can the gullible.
A bit of realism doesn’t come amiss. I loathe adventure stories and thrillers where people carry on and on despite broken limbs, near drownings and shootings. I remember Richard Lester’s ‘Four Musketeers’ where Christopher Lee and Michael York tottered with exhaustion. We need to write like that – as near as dammit feel what our characters suffer – and show it.
Likewise their response to others in distress is important – rush in with sympathy but little thought, offer practical solutions, actually do stuff? The characters we love to hate can be straightforwardly callous – but how much more loathsome is the much-advertised kindliness which is far more about image than substance? How calculating to have an apparently concerned ‘friend’ who later abuses their place of trust.
Whatever time period your work is set in, pain is something common to all humans and other animals. It can work well to increase sympathy and credibility – be it a stubbed toe or a dreadful fever. So go on – give your protagonist a poke and see how they react.