Paul Sheldon is the main protagonist of Misery. He is the author of the Misery Chastain novel series, and is imprisoned by Annie Wilkes (his self-described "number one fan") after a devastating car crash.
Paul lives in New York City and Los Angeles, but writes his novels in a remote cabin near Sidewinder, Colorado. It has also been revealed that he has been married and divorced several times, although he is a bachelor in the events of the novel.
Paul is the author of the Misery Chastain novel series, which take place in Victorian-era England. Paul believes that these novels are little more than dime-store romances, despite their success and the fortune they've brought him. In the latest installment Misery's Child, Misery has died giving birth to her first child, an act that Paul believes will free him from the character and allow him to pursue other writing ideas.
Paul settles in to his writing cabin in Sidewinder, Colorado. After finishing his latest novel on car thieves (Fast Cars), Paul celebrates with champagne and decides to drive to California with his finished manuscript.
While on his way to California with his finished manuscript, a snow storm that reports had said wouldn't hit the Sidewinder area brings hazardous driving conditions. Paul, still somewhat drunk from the champagne he drank to celebrate completing Fast Cars, swerves off the road and crashes his car into a snow bank. He is rescued from the wreck by Annie Wilkes, a woman who claims she is his "number one fan." Back at her house, Paul awakens from a drug-induced haze to discover that Annie has taken him from the site of the crash. Both of Paul's legs are severely broken with multiple fractures and his left knee is shattered, leaving him incapacitated. Annie keeps him dependent on "Novril," a (fictional) codeine-based pain pill. The Novril also represses his breathing, prompting Annie to perform mouth-to-mouth resucitation on him a few times while he was unconscious.
Paul is subject to (and terrified of) Annie's fits of rage. During one, where she critiques the foul language of Fast Cars, she spills soup on his bed cover, smashes the bowl against the wall, and very slowly and methodically cleans up the soup over a full hour while Paul writhes in agony for his pain pills. She forces Paul to drink the dirty rinse water in order to wash down the pills. He complies and is satisfied but humiliated. He lies back, vowing to kill her.
After a few days, Paul begins to realize that Annie is dangerously obsessed with him and his Misery novels. Annie reads Misery's Child and his enraged that Paul would kill off her favorite character. She leaves him locked in the room without food or water or the means to relieve himself cleanly, hoping he'll die while she's gone. Paul is also left without Novril and lies helpless in excruciating pain, unwilling to drop out of the bed for fear of injuring himself further.
When she returns, she has a new plan: she makes him burn the only copy of Fast Cars as a penance. Paul had refused to make a copy of the manuscript because he fears it will bring bad luck. After he does, she forces him to write a new novel, bringing Misery back to life.
Through a series of abusive and dangerous events, Annie tortures Paul by locking him in his room whenever she goes out to do her shopping and other errands. Paul breaks out of his room using a bobby pin that had fallen out of her hair and finds the Novril for himself. In another one of her episodes, Paul breaks out of his room again and, while he gets food and water, sees a memory book on Annie's life. The book contains newspaper clippings that tell the story of all of Annie's murders from her time as a child in Bakersfield, California to her time as a nurse across the country, including her time in Denver where she was brought to trial for the murder of infants when she was a maternity ward nurse. She was cleared of all charges, but was labeled "The Dragon Lady" by the media.
When Annie returns, she claims that she has left her hairs strung across the house and has found them broken, knowing that Paul has gotten out. To stop him from getting out again, she chops his right foot off with an axe and cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch. Paul almost dies from the shock and, once he recovers, is cowed and seeks to finish Misery's Return. Another argument with Annie about the typewriter and its missing keys sets her off and she cuts off his left thumb with an electric carving knife.
Early in Spring, Paul calls out to a Colorado State Trooper who has visited Annie's house looking for him, presumably because his car has turned up somewhere. Annie stabs the trooper multiple times with a wooden cross. Surprisingly, he survives and as he crawls towards his car, Annie runs him over with her riding lawnmower, later telling Paul that he killed the trooper by shouting out.
Annie puts Paul into her rat-infested, damp cellar to ensure he cannot signal to any visiting vehicles, leaving Paul terrified with the beginnings of a urinary tract infection. Annie returns from stashing the trooper's body and vehicle and tells Paul that he must finish his novel before the police obtain a search warrant. They reach an unspoken agreement that once the novel is finished, she will kill Paul and then herself.
Paul feverishly finishes Misery's Return in a matter of days, being interrupted only by two troopers, local police officers, and "gawkers" interested in Annie's infamous stream of death that follows her. Paul keeps his promise to Annie and makes no attempt to signal them.
Paul enacts his plan on the day he finishes his novel and asks Annie for a cigarette and a match to celebrate. She agrees and allows him one cigarette and one match. He also asks her to bring in the bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, prepping his revenge when she leaves the room. He soaks the manuscript with the lighter fluid and when she returns with the bottle and glasses, he sets the novel aflame. As Paul predicted, Annie grabs the flaming stack in terror, meaning to douse it with water. Paul slams the heavy typewriter into her back, bringing her down on the flaming stack of paper. A struggle ensues and Paul stuffs flaming sheets down her throat. She marches toward him, threatening to kill him, trips over the typewriter and hits her head on the mantle of the room's small fireplace, knocking herself out. She regains consciousness briefly until Paul can escape, locking her in the room, believing her to be dead. He crawls to the bathroom closet and takes Novril to help his pain and passes out.
The same police officers from earlier come back with the search warrant, finding Paul injured and disheveled and an empty bedroom. Annie herself had clawed most of the paper from her throat and escaped the room through the window. She is found by the two cops later, dead in her barn from a fractured skull, clutching her chainsaw.
Months after his ordeal, Paul sells Misery's Return and it becomes a best-seller when boosted with the real-life ordeal he went through writing it. Paul, now sporting a prosthetic foot, suffers from both writer's block and PTSD, plagued by visions of the murderous Annie. He has since become an alcoholic after his doctors weaned him off the Novril. One day, during his recommended daily one-mile walk, he sees an odd sight, a young boy pushing a shopping cart with a skunk in it, which inspires him to write again, unaware that he is weeping while doing so.
- Misery's Quest (novel & film)
- Misery's Lover (novel only)
- Misery's Child (novel & film)
- Misery's Return (novel & film; lost in film version)
- Misery's Journey (novel only)
- Misery's Paradise (novel only)
- Misery Unchained (novel only)
- Misery's Search (film only)
- Misery's Challenge (film only)
- Misery's Trial (film only)
- Misery's Triumph (film only)
- Misery's Dilemma (film only)
- Misery's Love (film only)
- Fast Cars (novel & film, Lost, untitled in film)
- The Higher Education of J. Philip Stone (film only)
Possible Connections to other Stephen King works
- To It (Novel): Paul Sheldon tells a story that his mother and a "Mrs. Kaspbrak" went to Boston one day. This could be Eddie Kaspbrak's mother either in Derry or after they move out of the town.
- The small town of Sidewinder, Colorado, which is near to Annie's house and Paul's retreat where he writes, was a central location in King's 1977 novel, The Shining. In the course of the story, Annie mentions the Overlook Hotel and how its caretaker went crazy and tried to murder his family there.