Writing is all about empathy. It’s about putting yourself in a character’s shoes and doing your best to understand their perspective on life. Sometimes your characters have a lot in common with you, so it’s relatively easy to step into their head. Sometimes they don’t, and it isn’t. When it comes to the latter, research is your best friend.
If you’re here, you’re probably researching how to write a character with chronic pain. Or you’re my mum (hi mum!). So, welcome! I’m here to tell you a bit about what it’s like to be in pain 99.9% of one’s time. Because I have first-hand experience in this arena and boy HOWDY do some writers get it very, very wrong.
Spoilers for The Shape of Water ahead!
The Shape of Water is out in cinemas and I’ve never been more creatively in love with Guillermo del Toro. This isn’t a surprise, honestly. Del Toro’s previous movies are some of my absolute favourites and I have a long-standing obsession with all things fairytale, both as a reader and a writer. So I entered the cinema with high hopes and left with actual, literal tears of happiness on my face.
But while I could spend 1000 words waxing poetic about The Shape of Water in general, I instead want to spend 1000 words waxing poetic about what The Shape of Water can teach writers. Because, my dudes, this movie is a finely-crafted masterclass of storytelling.
Here, in no particular order, are the main writing lessons I took away from The Shape of Water.
The forest is magnificent. Giant yew trees reach for the sky, their leaves sending dappled sunlight down toward the moss-covered floor like a parting gift. Even Shiloh can’t deny the majesty of the place, as much as she might have preferred the wood around her a little more dead, with four legs, and holding up a tankard of beer.
But alas, good things apparently come to those who wait. And wait. Shiloh sighs, pulling her pelt more securely around her as she shifts into a warmer patch of sunlight.
“Are you almost finished?” she asks. “It’s nearing dusk, my love.”
The nearest tree is a monster. As thick around as three broad men standing in a circle, arms outstretched, fingertip to fingertip. It hides Shiloh’s wife from view. Just.
CONTAINS SPOILERS: Read at your own risk if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi just hit cinemas and, in some ways, has rebounded off the screen to sprawl sadly on the popcorn-strewn floor. As of my writing this there’s a disparity of just under 40% between the critic and audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes making it a divisive movie to say the least.
A few of those half and one star reviews no doubt belong to the same fans that were offended by the idea of a black stormtrooper and female lead in The Force Awakens because The Last Jedi is probably the most diverse Star Wars movie to date.
Women are everywhere – wielding the force, sacrificing themselves for the cause, and just… well… existing. X-wing pilots, admirals, tech runners, control room operators. It was legit lovely to see.
But for every review screaming PC Culture Gone Mad there are some very solid, very relevant arguments against The Last Jedi having earned it’s 93% critic review score.
The boy watches from his dias, ruffled dress pressing in uncomfortably on all sides. They insisted on a corset this morning, ignoring his winces as the maid pulled it tight around curves that are becoming harder to ignore. It wasn’t the first time he had borne this sense of wrong as someone worked to present all the most awkward parts of him to the world. After all, he is the princess, and with that title comes certain obligations.
Including, apparently, suffering the groggy afternoon heat as a goatherder’s son tries to tug an ancient sword from a stone.