Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the tag “Injuries”

Hold that Miraculous Healing, Please!

Hold that Miraculous Healing, Please!

“Please, Neil!” I sobbed, pushing the bandage harder against the wound. Regardless of the pressure, the bleeding didn’t stop. His body convulsed with his uneven breaths. His face glimmered with sweat. 

Blood mingled with my tears as they fell upon the cobblestones. “Please, don’t… don’t die,” I forced out through tremulous lips. 

The wound didn’t listen, the dying didn’t stop, and I knew – this was the end.

Then, all of a sudden! No worries, someone random steps out from behind a bush and magically heals Neil. Everything’s fixed, Neil can still save the day, and all you readers who were worried about poor Neil — you don’t feel cheated at all, do you?

Putting conflict in our stories requires things to be hard for our characters. Sometimes, we take that to an extreme level before realizing that, since we’ve done our research on injuries, we can’t get away with having the characters heal rapidly.

Ah, we awkwardly say, he still needs to save the world…

The easiest solution springs into our minds: we can just miraculously heal the characters! Problem solved!

After the characters have been magically healed with no troublesome after-affects, they go quickly back to living their life. Everything is fine.

Except… maybe it’s not.

Your reader had clutched the book in their hands, their grip tightening as the tension rose. How would Neil get out of this? “What if… What if he doesn’t?”

Your readers were expecting a dramatic rescue (or a tragedy). They certainly wasn’t expecting a sudden and anti-climatic departure of the drama.

Suddenly, with Neil okay and charging off to defeat the bad guys, your reader slowly backs up.  Their grip on the book loosens as their eyes remain wide.

While certainly it wasn’t your intent, you just cheated your reader. The emotions you brought up, the suspense you formed, the desperate, “No, Neil, don’t die!” running through their brain just disappeared in a whiff of smoke. The emotions were forced and – apparently – worthless.

Even if your reader doesn’t care about dear, dear Neil, you would have shocked them from the story and left them feeling bewildered.

Furthermore, even if your reader isn’t the bewildered type, you just sacrificed the drama of the long nights of your heroine sitting by Neil’s bedside as he hovers between life and death. You’ve lost the possible growth and character arc caused by the near-death experience. You no longer have the ability to have Neil continually suffer from the half-healed wound as he dramatically waves his sword around.

Miraculous healings can be done well (though I can’t at the moment think of a time I’ve seen it). If the healing takes away the mortality of the wound, but leaves the pain, you would have an added layer of tension and emotion. If miraculous healing requires the death of another character, you’ve kept up the tension and have more potential in your story.

Perhaps once, these sudden healings were original, but now, they reek of overuse. While your books is yours to decide about, always think twice about miraculous healings. Always ask yourself: is what you gain worth what you lose?

Injuring Characters: How much is too much?

Injuring Characters

When we talked about realistic injuries, I mentioned briefly how some people over-injure their characters. Instead of going into it on that post, I said that it was a topic for another time. That time is today.

Before starting writing this, I did a Google search with the words “How often should I injure my characters?” When that failed to bring up any satisfactory results, I switched around the words, used only certain words without any proper sentence structure, tried more specific questions and came up with—

Oh, you guessed.

—absolutely nothing.

I found several pages worth of why you should hurt your characters, how to write realistic injuries, how to describe hurt characters, how to deepen characters through injuries, and many other things, but I didn’t come across how often you should injure your characters. Maybe Google just doesn’t like me today, or maybe I picked the wrong words to search for, but even before today, when I’ve been on hundreds of writing sites, I don’t remember ever seeing any article on how often you should injure your characters. So today, I write this post to right (admit it. Puns are running through your head at this very moment) that wrong.

When most writers start out, they’ve already done quite a bit of reading, so they know that injuries are usually considered good things in stories. You injure your characters, you get a reaction from your readers. It seems perfectly simple, so when they start writing, the earliest stories are peppered with random injuries. In my first story, within the first two thousand words I had two characters injured; one fatally so. Cue miraculous healing. (That is another topic for another time.)

Even now, I sometimes struggle with finding the balance between injuring characters at the correct times, and going overboard with injuries, though now I have the opposite problem. After I realized that the characters were just getting injured too many times, I may have developed a slight phobia of injuries in my stories that even now I have yet to entirely break free of.

I never intended to eliminate injuries from my stories. I write fantasy and science fiction, during which characters have to go through some hard, dangerous times in which they have a good chance of getting hurt or killed. There were times where if I didn’t injure my characters, it would have been too convenient and illogical, something every author must avoid. I was faced with two decisions: Injure the characters—and what if I was injuring them too much?—or change the plot.

After a little while of considering the question, it brought me to my first conclusion regarding this subject.

Injure your characters when your story demands it. 

Don’t randomly injure your characters. Injuries are major things, and so they need to be caused by something in the plot and affect later events.

Occasionally, it’s best to change events so that your character won’t be injured. At several points, I’ve decided to change a part of my story because I needed my character to be able to walk immediately afterwards instead of having to spend the next three months recuperating. That’s all right; when you need to keep your character up and about, by all means, change things so that your character won’t be injured, but please don’t resort to the evil henchman without the ability to aim. Don’t under-injure your character to make it convenient for yourself or the character in question if it’s only doable using cheesy, unrealistic means.

But there’s another question for the topic, and one that more authors struggle with. What about over-injuring? 

First off: Don’t give your character injuries that would end up killing them. Research your injury choices and use logic when you decide how hurt your poor lad or lass is going to end up.

We authors like getting a reaction. When we’re new, we use injuries in an attempt to get a reaction (every now and then along with other reasons), and though we don’t really care to admit it, we occasionally still use injuries as a way to get a reaction. Who doesn’t like to hear readers gasp over how your character was just, in rapid succession, whipped, tortured, thrown off a bridge, half-drowned, and then nearly killed when their enemy attacked the hospital they ended up in?

Every author I know is made happy when people react like that. The problem is, after the third nearly-deadly event your character goes through, the readers don’t feel like giving a reaction anymore. Yes, the character is in a life-threatening predicament—again—but they’ve gone in and out of those dozens of times. Why be concerned now?

In my experience as a reader, the best injuries where I’ve seen done are the ones that happen rarely. When, three episodes into a television show, we first see the character battered, it’s more powerful than when he’s hurt in every single episode. If your character is injured every third pages, or even every chapter, people will stop caring. It will become old and no longer carry the heart-pounding tension it could have.

Deciding when, where, how, and especially how much to injure characters can be difficult. There’s a lot of options to consider and sometimes you have to decide between two good things that could happen in your story. When we randomly throw in injuries, the reader can be irritated at the fact that you expect them to be worried again. I cannot count the times when I’ve been irritated by an author because they’ve once again managed to hurt their character just to get a reaction, and they expect us to buy it. When a well-timed injury comes along, it’s lovely.

Have you ever struggled with when and how much to injure characters? What did you decide?

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.) 

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