Believability: Common Injuries
In stories, everybody loves drama. Whether they’re just starting out in writing, and it’s only for the sake of drama, or they’ve been writing for years and the dramatic event serves a purpose, stories simply cannot be told without some sort of dramatic incident.
In our case–us in this instance being Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Young Adult writers– drama often manifests itself in how a character manages to injure themselves this time.
I have read stories by beginning authors that are so full of injuries (at the end of each chapter, for instance, many people will knock out their character) that none of the cast would be able to walk away after it, or even walk ever again. That, however is a topic for another time. Instead of talking about how frequently you should injure your character, today I shall type (it is easier than talking when one is running a blog, as I’m sure most of you know) about what happens when you do injure your character.
[Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, but I have done rather a lot of research on each injury here. I shan’t be using technical or medical terms for the sake of my readers who won’t understand, just as I didn’t. If you look up what I say, though, you’ll be able to verify it with medical terms and official information.]
Something very common in fiction, be it television shows, movies, or books, is that the character will be shot in the shoulder. (In case you were wondering, if you go to a minion training school, you’ll see person-shaped targets in the shooting areas, with the bulls-eye on their shoulder.) They’ll grimace, say “Oh no! I’ve been shot in the shoulder!” and proceed with whatever they were doing before. There was one point in a story where I saw someone bleed extensively from being shot in the shoulder, but afterwards he was perfectly fine, and even did things with that arm.
What people seem to not understand sometimes is that being shot in the shoulder is very serious.
In spite of the fact that there are no vital organs in the shoulder (unless you’re writing a novel with creatures other than humans, in which case you might find a heart in one’s shoulder–but that’s not very likely), there is a very large artery, a terribly complicated joint, and a bunch of nerves.
If your bullet hits the artery, your hero is going to bleed more than you want them to. An average adult human male has somewhere between eight to ten pints of blood in him. After losing 40 percent of one’s blood, a hero would need an immediate blood transfusion to survive.
If your bullet hits the nerves, your hero could very likely have a permanently paralyzed arm. If your hero has a bullet hit their nerve group, they’ll most likely need follow-up surgery to get their arm working at all again. They’ll likely lose all feeling in their arm, and maybe never get it back.
If your bullet hits the joint, it could shatter, and no surgeon on this earth has the ability to piece the joint back together after that. This seems to be actually the event hardest to deal with. In some stories, you’ll want your hero to have to, say, lose their arm or their ability to use their arm, because it’s part of the character development. In others, you might want your character’s arm to stay intact, as it’s kind of difficult to shoot a gun, or do other exciting action-adventure things. This has a lot of potential in stories, but most people just don’t know that it will happen.
Another common thing (indeed, probably more frequent), is a blow to the head strong enough to knock someone out.
Knocking people out is oftentimes an essential part to many stories. It’s considered a convenient way to get the hero out of the way without killing him or her, and without lasting effects. It provides a moment when your villain can get in while the hero is conveniently unable to do anything, but when they wake up, they’ll gasp, say, “Oh, no! I was knocked out! I need to go catch that dastardly villain who managed to get past me and do whatever his evil plan was!”
What writers need to know, though, is that a blow to the head that’s strong enough to cause unconsciousness is very serious. Aside from the normal symptom arising in fiction, memory loss, a blow to the head can cause severe long-term problems–if it doesn’t kill immediately. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of trouble arising from head injuries–so much I wouldn’t have time to finish and post this today if I went into all of them. However, there are some common ones that writer’s should know about before thrusting their character into this particular situation.
Your character could die immediately. Pretty straightforward, that, yes?
The blow might cause a dent in your hero’s skull. When a person is knocked out, it takes a hard blow. Humans have hard skulls, so it takes a lot to get past them–but once you get there, you’re going to do a lot of damage. With unconsciousness, the blow might cause the skull to cave in, which could lead to immediate death, or lasting brain damage.
A common reaction to a concussion is seizures. Your brain controls basically all of your body. It’s the place of origin, where all of the nerves go to, where all of the commands come from, and when it’s damaged, there might be problems in connecting to certain parts of your character’s body, or commands might be skewed. Your character may end up suffering from long-term seizures after a strong blow to the head.
Your hero will vomit. I know, not very glamorous is it? Vomiting is one of the most common reactions to a head injury, though. And while we can create our own worlds, our own rules, sometimes it’s just best to stick with the way it is in our world.
Your character might suffer from lasting mood swings. With the brain being the origin site for chemicals, which influence what our emotions tell us, your character might very well go into a phase where they’ll be very happy one instant, and most displeased the next. The most common psychological reaction is depression, though.
Of course, there are other common injuries, and perhaps some other day, I’ll go over them. For now, though, just know that injuries are often made out to be much more simple than they are in fiction. They’ll have serious consequences in the short-term, but none in the long-term. That’s not how we work, though.
Research your injuries before you inflict them on your character (research carefully!). Perhaps your search history will make you look like you often get yourself into the hospital, but you’ll be able to write much more realistic injuries if you do.
And we, as readers, appreciate that. Not only does it enrich the story, it shows us that you care.
Do you struggle with unrealistic injuries in your writing? Do share! (As a reward, I’ll share some embarrassingly bad injury in my writing.)