I had a classmate in grad school who became a bit obsessed with the idea that his protagonists should be somehow impaired: injured, disabled, ailing. He was interested in characters who were at war with their own bodies, taking the whole “man vs himself” dilemma to another level.
I didn’t think about it too much then, but since I got my wisdom tooth pulled yesterday, I’m thinking about it now.
Probably the most famous example I can come up with is Hitchcock’s Rear Window, where Jimmy Stewart’s broken leg is the impetus for the whole story. Of course, not all examples are so extreme. In Richard Russo’s novel, Straight Man, the protagonist is struggling with a prostate problem that always seems to act up at the most inconvenient (or for the writer, convenient) times.
So that’s my challenge for you this week: get your character laid up. Make him or her work against his own body.
I hope it’s not too painful.