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Recovery In Literature - The Grand Taboo

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

This article seeks to affront the lack of semblances of physical healing motions in modern literature and how addressing recovery can grow the bond between a reader and a book.

Heal by Megan Sebestan

Have you ever read a battle scene in which the main character has been mortally wounded? Have they been shot? Maybe broken multiple bones from a fall? After the injury occurred, how long did it take for them to recover?

In most stories, you won’t really hear about that injury again. Sometimes in fantasy books this is explained away by a healer of sorts that allows for a quick and painless recovery.

However, we know that serious injuries can’t be wished away, not in real life. Many people who break even one bone have issues with that body part for the rest of their lives.

Literature tends to treat the topic of healing as a waste of words and as if it is unnecessary to talk about. This is harmful to readers and is avoidable by breaking some of the stigma that recovery holds in the literary world.

For one, many authors cut scenes where characters are in recovery because publishers and agents usually see these scenes as unnecessary filler material. The truth is quite different. When recovery is written well, it provides character depth and can add scenes where backstories can be revealed comfortably. It can also help develop relationships between certain characters.

I thought a great example of this could be found in the series The Queen’s Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. The main character loses his hand and instead of it miraculously healing or causing no issues, a large part of one of the books is dedicated to his recovery. Not to mention, later books mention the adaptations and struggles he’s had to live with resulting from his injury.

Sometimes authors will begin to write about recovery, but then miraculously the injured character recovers. Some instances will have a character be blacked out from pain for many days but then, as soon as they wake up, they are able to fight. As much as I love the Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, this happens several times throughout the series and makes the story difficult to follow at times. This occurrence is not only harmful to the flow of a story but also to the expectations readers may have about their own recovery.

Instead of immediately recovering in these situations, the character can receive information and make plans from their bed. Slowly, they can learn to walk at the same time as they are mapping out their next attack on an enemy. Eventually they will be able to join meetings, but maybe they won’t be able to fight for a while. Instead of making that character seem strong through battle, make them seem strong through their intense worry for their friends when they are out fighting and your character is stuck back at base. This creates deeper character development than them just being able to fight immediately after being mortally wounded.

Healers in fantasy stories are typical work-arounds for using book space to discuss healing. This still promotes harmful ideas that healing is a matter of moments.

I personally prefer when authors provide limits to these kinds of characters. Maybe they can “fix” an injury outright, but it still leaves scars and lasting pain. Showing realistic healing through stories helps to break the stigma surrounding recovery. Perhaps there’s a drawback to the healer’s powers. For example, the injuries that they heal on someone else appear on their skin and they have to carry that burden.

Another way that authors can use healers without undermining the difficulty of healing would be to create laws against healers working too quickly. Whether this is a situation where the healer gets tired or the process of healing is dangerous, it provides a more realistic healing time for characters and helps remove the stigma around healing in stories. These problems can be easily added into the plot. Inexperienced healers could take more energy to heal or it could be more dangerous for them. As you follow this character, they grow and so does their skill. Making healing beneficial to the plot helps to ensure these scenes will not be cut in the editing process and readers who have struggled with recovery won’t feel alienated.

Readers often look to their favorite stories for comfort during difficult periods in their lives. Recovery is typically an example of a challenging time where people will look towards their favorite authors to offer them comfort and encouragement.

As of right now, readers struggling with chronic pain, healing from an injury, supporting someone else’s journey to recovery, or fighting through mental illness don’t get to see their own difficulties. In most books, the problems characters should be facing as a consequence of the story never catch up to them. The story of recovery is usually only told in a novel where healing is the main focus.

It’s important to have healing as a general storytelling element characters must work through when it would realistically present itself. By providing this avenue to talk about human healing through literature, we destigmatize recovery not only in books, but in readers' minds.

Nothing is more important for recovery than support and authors have the ability to provide that through storytelling that validates human struggles as opposed to pushing them to the side.


Corey DeCristofaro is a 16-year-old history buff and writer. They have studied history ranging from ancient Rome to the Russian Empire while also indulging a passion for reading. They also manage an instagram writing account that (occasionally) features their plant. If you ever want to have a random conversation about the origins of a word or phrase, they are the one to go to.


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