This started as a comment in Justine Larbalestier’s post about writing physical pain. I thought it might interest some of you here, so I’ve ported it over:
In my first published novel (WebMage) I wrote a good bit about a knee injury my central character incurs in the first couple of chapters and about how it affects everything he does from there on out. In that case I was writing from the personal experience of the aftermath of a torn cartilage injury that I lived with for more than a decade before I had the insurance necessary to get surgery.
Rather than focus on the pain itself (which sucks but isn’t all that interesting) I focused on the things that it simply made impossible. With my injury the pain was intermittent depending on whether a bit of the torn cartilage had flopped into the cup for the end of my knee bones or not. If not, I could do many things just fine, but always with the awareness that might suddenly change. If so, there were all sorts of things that were simply too painful to do–long walks, walking any distance more than about 50 feet without my cane, running, stairs, etc.
I think the random length cyclic nature of being able and unable to do things was the most interesting thing about the injury, so that’s what I focused on. Since that’s a component in many injury type pains it’s not a bad departure point.