I’ve had a cold this weekend. It’s been an annoying one. I’m not coughing, sneezing, or sweaty with a high fever, instead I’m constantly fatigued, find myself getting dizzy while reading, and I’ve noticed that my thoughts aren’t making the transitions to my fingers. There’s a resistance inside that slows up the process much like a traffic jam on the freeway.
I got me thinking. Why don’t we see this in character’s in books or on the screen? Everybody gets sick, yet unless it’s a key part in the plot-line or a comic relief sub-plot, you never see it.
If a writer wants their character to be as real as possible, why not give them the same mundane maladies that we get year in and year out.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see Harry Potter screw up a levitation spell because is pronounced the second word, “Levyotha”? Or maybe the main character in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” story starts out his hike with the strike against him of having a cold or flu.
Minor illnesses give us the ability show how stubborn or stupid a character can be. It also allows us to show the psychological side of the characters as well.
There’s this great documentary called, “Alone in the Wilderness”. In it, a man named Dick Proenneke moves to the wilds of Alaska and chronicles how he builds his homestead and lives his life away from modern society. Yet, throughout the story, he never talks about getting sick. What was it like? How much of a difference did it make in his life there than it would if he lived in town? Did he have medicine or did he just suffer through it? Imagine if he had talked about it.
“I took a hike today to get some fresh air and clear the fog in my heard that this cold has given me. It’s taken me twice as long to go the same distance I usually do, but that’s no matter. Along the way I found some wild blueberries fully ripe and ready to pick. The congestion in my head caused it to hurt every time I bent over to pick them, but I knew this sweet bounty was well worth the effort.”
Or maybe it the middle of winter and he’s up late with the flu.
Imagine being covered in blankets as a fire roars in the fireplace while the window reveals only the long dark of winter. With a great distance between him and the nearest town, the isolation would start to weigh heavily on his head. What if his fever was dangerously high? 103 or 104. What thoughts would he have? Would he worry about dying and not being found until the next flight in, or would he just chalk it up and muddle through? What ghosts would take form in that dark moment?
The conflict from a cold doesn’t have to limited to an isolated place either. What would it be like to have a cold in another country? Do they have pharmacies in Europe, or do you have to go to a hospital or clinic instead? If they do have them, what do they look like? Are they in stand-alone buildings or are they tucked in the back of another store? Would I be able to recognize the sigh even if I can’t read the language? Would they have the brands I am used to or would it be something else, altogether? Can I get it off the shelf or is it an insurance/doctor prescribed rule over there? The same questions could be asked of any country outside of yours.
Colds and minor illnesses are great ways to add dimension to a character or a real person’s account. I’d like to see more of this in books and on the screen; but for now, I’m going to just take some medicine and lie down. This cold is killing me.