Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 27, 2014

Achilles’ Heel: A Physical Weakness Beyond Our Control

We all know the story of Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. His mother dipped him in the river Styx to make him immortal, but where she held him (his heel) was left vulnerable. He was later killed when Paris shot him in the heel with an arrow. Had Achilles been intelligent enough to wear a boot or some sort of protective gear over his heel, the legends might have been quite different!

Everyone has an Achilles’ Heel, some physical weakness they cannot control. Some people faint at the sight of blood. Some fall to pieces at the slightest pain. Some have panic attacks (which have a mental aspect but can be triggered by purely physical stimuli).

Me, it’s my stomach. Overall, I have a strong stomach. I never got stomach bugs as a kid. Threw up twice my entire life, and both were because of food poisoning. So when my stomach does act up, I shatter. I can’t concentrate and everything becomes a huge effort. I can handle pain or limited mobility (although gore makes me queasy) but when my stomach goes crazy, I just want to curl up and cry.

And my stomach goes haywire for no reason. What I assume is acid reflux blindsides me from time to time. No change in diet or exercise, just severe reflux of unknown origin. At those times, I feel like I can’t even force water down, the upward pressure is so bad. And the nausea and burning in the throat make me cry. When this idiopathic acid reflux strikes, it can take me weeks to get back to normal.

Which of course makes me think that my characters all should have an Achilles’ Heel. A food allergy. A fear of needles. Vertigo. The Achilles’ Heel should be picked with care—something that seems harmless at first, but eventually plays a major role in beating the overwhelming final obstacles.

When thinking of weaknesses in characters, I tend to think of mental or emotional wounds. But I can increase conflict by adding a physical weakness out of my character’s control—a betrayal of his own body.

What are some more Achilles’ Heels that would be fun to use in a story?

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Responses

  1. I like to employ achilles heel in my characters – usually something physical that leaves the protag thinking he or she is too weak to fight the enemy. Of course, the character will mature and realize he/she is stronger than they thought.

    For example, I struggle with night vision, and some of my characters have poor night vision, too.

    Great post!
    Barbara of the Balloons

    Like

    • Thanks! I think we all tend to use weaknesses we ourselves have, or those close to us have, because we know them well.

      Like


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