As writers, we create new realities, which demands we use our experiences to inform our work. A stroll with a friend in a park or a dance in a fountain will translate into chapters.

Sick Characters: 3 Tricks to Write Even When You're Sick

We don't just have to grab the good times. We can do this with illness as well. When we are sick, we should try and take a step back and learn about how our characters will feel when they are struck with a disease. Our own experiences can become useful research for writing about our sick characters if we leverage them properly.

3 Ways to Leverage Illness in Your Writing

I’m a part-time fiction writer. During the week I work a full-time job, and my wife and I are raising five crazy children. If you are like me, then you know how precious writing time is. There is no room in the schedule for illness.

Unfortunately, the flu does not abide by my demands. It descended on my house recently and hit me on Saturday. Unwilling to surrender my writing time, here are three things I l do to keep writing even though I’m sick:

1. Journal Your Symptoms

Nothing brings realism to your writing like a splash of your real life experience. Readers become engrossed in our stories when the feelings and emotions of our character match their own. Think of illness, therefore, as an opportunity to take notes on how your sick characters might feel under the same circumstances.

When I’m sick, I like to keep my journal handy to record how I’m feeling and what is happening in my body. These details come in handy when I’m writing a sick character in a story.

2. Record How People Respond

People respond differently to illness. Some people become nurses, wanting to help and take care of you. Others become frustrated at your illness on your behalf, wanting it to go away so life can go back to normal. Some treat you as they always have, pretending that there is nothing wrong.

Journaling the reactions of others to our illness provides us with notes we can use in future stories. When your protagonist goes down with an illness, how will all the other characters respond and why?

3. Dream Your Story

When I am sick, I spend a lot of time lying around. While my body may be defeated, my mind is fine.

I try to make good use of this downtime by dreaming through my story. I examine each piece in my mind. I imagine my characters in the scenes. I look for holes in my plots. Because I’ve dreamed through my story several times, when I am well and it is time to write, I’m ready to go and can pound out the story with little hesitation.

It's All Writing Fuel

Illness may slow us down, but it doesn’t have to stop us cold. The experience we have can inform our story and shape our writing.

How has illness shaped your writing? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes and write about someone who is sick. Lean on your past experiences to bring realism to the story. When you're done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

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