Since I haven’t felt well of late, I’ve wondered how illness is portrayed in stories. Sometimes it feels like illness is hardly ever mentioned – like the science fiction story I’ve finished reading lately, where it progresses forward in a very play by play manner, and everyone is always perfectly healthy. No one ever suffered from anything that could delay, hurt them, exhaust them, or anything. It makes a bit more since, I suppose, in a science fiction universe where perhaps there is medicine to keep everyone perfectly healthy, but I still wonder if really that is even possible. To have this future where even sleep isn’t always needed, and one’s healthy is always superb. It just makes the book feel flat, unrealistic, and bizarre. I think there was only two or three scenes where someone was shot, but the injury seems to magically go away after awhile. A few people die, and that at least helped me feel a bit better since at least they weren’t immortal?
This second book I’m reading that I just started has someone suffering from a stroke by the ninth chapter. This plays a huge role in the plot and how the characters’ lives change by this event. The character who suffered the stroke has to deal with the real consequences, and there isn’t an awesome medical doctor who can magically fix the person into perfect health. Already, this story has gripped me because the tension here, the real consequences from the stroke, and how it has a profound effect on not only the person suffering from the stroke, but those working for him. It’s a really interesting glimpse into how illness can come into play in a story, and how it gives the world a bit more depth, makes it seem less like a healthy paradise and more like a gritty, true to life tale.
Two different portrayals, and the second definitely caught my attention far more than the first. It also makes me wonder how else is illness portrayed? What about mental illness? That is also a very legitimate and often debilitating category of possibly illnesses – physical illness isn’t the only illness one could have.
This in turn makes me wonder about trauma in stories. In our real lives, very, very few people can easily bounce back from severe trauma. Often people, who experience severe trauma, suffer from a variety of physical and/or mental illnesses – the most common being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – yet stories often have a terrible time depicting it in any manner. People just magically recover. This just doesn’t happen in real life. There is no magical plot device that erases the pain, anguish, fear, anger, and/or grief from a traumatic event – not in real life, and I really don’t think we should just let our characters get that cop-out. Mental illness – and a lot of different physical illnesses – are already looked down upon and treated badly in our society, and the way it’s often neglected, pushed to the side, or diminished as not real just adds to the already sour outlook our society holds for such illnesses. Our literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither do we. How us, as people, view the world is often influenced by the society in which we grew up, by the books we read, the games we play, the media we watch, the schools we attend, the friends we make, the family we have, and so on and so forth. We often internalize a lot more than we may realize, and all this can add up. If multiple sources across the board are depicting survivors of trauma as able to bounce back magically, then we’re internalizing a false reality far more than many realize. The truth is most don’t bounce back, in fact, most struggle to heal from such trauma. The real struggles and pain of those people don’t need more apathy or pressure from society to just magically ‘get over it.’ They need support.
In the end, I think a lot of writers miss out on amazing opportunities to really dig deep into their characters, to really address how trauma – no matter what it is, whether from war, abuse, sexual assault, betrayal, horribly or painful accident… ect. ect. – affects their characters, the plot, and those around them. There’s so much potential there to really develop the character, and perhaps even push the plot along further, but I often find that there’s writers out there that just don’t even bother. They go the “magically shake it off and get better” route, which just diminishes what that character went through, diminishes the characters, and makes the story seem flat and unrealistic to me. As much as I may read to suspend my disbelief and escape into a new world to explore and tackle interesting ideas, I still like stories where characters not just seem real, but feel real to me. Magically bouncing back from all trauma or injuries, or magically always being healthy just isn’t real to me.
What’s all your thoughts? I realize this post is slightly incoherent in its pacing – I am still recovering from illness, but just ask for clarification, and I’ll clarify any confusing points.