OH GOD, I'M DYING - You Know What, I'm Fine.
Since I woke up this morning in agonizing pain, I thought it was probably about time I wrote something about writing injuries.
In pretty much every piece of writing, someone is going to get injured in some way or another, depending on what you’re writing of course. If you’re writing a thriller or a murder mystery, your hero will probably get injured while going after the villain. In a teen fiction, a lot of people use a potentially life-threatening injury as a climax. And if you’re writing a book with zombies in it, well, you’re going to be injuring your characters left right and centre.
The first thing to think about is what is ‘normal’ for your character. A normal resting heart rate is between 60 - 100 beats per minute. Someone particularly fit will have a lower heart rate. If your character is paralyzed in any way - think Bran from Game of Thrones - then they may not have feeling in the place where they get injured. This could be a good or a bad thing. But before you injure your character, you need to work out what is normal so you can decide how they’ll be afterwards.
The next thing to work out is how your character will react to being injured, because everyone reacts differently. Some people, like me, have a very high pain tolerance. Others, like my sister, do not. So obviously, we would react differently. My sister yells and screams and makes very loud noises. I curse very loudly, and then do what I need to do.
If your character is used to being injured, like a warrior or superhero or something, they’re likely to take being injured far more casually. Punched in the face? No problem. They’ll get even later. Shot? That hurt, but they’ll deal. However, a normal person, say a teenage girl who has rarely if ever been seriously injured, is likely to make a far bigger deal out of it, mostly because they’ve never experienced it before. Some will yell and scream. Some will stay quiet and probably be a bit shocked. But once you’ve worked out how your character reacts to injuries, stick to it, unless they’re going to get injured a lot and slowly get used to it.
After working out how your character reacts to being injured, you get to do the fun part: how to injure them.
Minor injuries are inconvenient and probably a bit painful, but not massively debilitating. Bumps, bruises and cuts all fit this category. Things like sprains and torn muscles are also fairly minor injuries, but depending on their severity, they can be extremely debilitating.
A lot of people use head injuries in writing. There’s nothing wrong with it. But if you’re gonna do it, do it right.
Human skulls are fairly hardy, but head injuries are nasty things, so look up what you’re doing so it’s realistic. A minor head injury can leave a person feeling dazed and with a headache. They may also have blurred vision or ringing ears, depending on what happened to them. Keep in mind that a head injury will not immediately mean that your character’s face will bruise like crazy and make them look like they’ve had their face dunked in purple paint. If you want something to show for the injury, then remember that most head and facial wounds bleed like mad and make everything seem worse than it is.
A more damaging blow to the head can lead to concussion, often temporary unconsciousness. Temporary meaning that if you don’t want your character permanently damaged, make it quick. Shockingly, it may also lead to headaches and dizziness.
Severe head injuries are not something you want to throw around lightly. Prolonged unconsciousness may lead to brain damage, and there’s always the possibility of fractures or brain bleeding and swelling, which can be fatal.
Broken bones, if you’ve experienced one, hurt. A lot. Most of the time if you break a bone, you’ll know, but sometimes if it’s a minor break and there’s no obvious bone sticking out of your arm, it might not be immediately noticeable that you actually broke something.
When the bone is sticking out of your arm or whatever, it’s called a compound fracture, and they are nasty. This will cause blood loss, and if you don’t get it sorted quickly, can lead to infection.
Broken ribs happen a lot in writing. I guess it’s because writers are merciless bastards who like throwing their characters around. If a rib is broken, you’re likely to notice pain when breathing or moving. Interestingly, children are probably less likely to break ribs than adults, since their ribs are apparently more likely to bend slightly than break.
In time, your broken rib will start to hurt a lot. Shallow breathing is likely, which can cause its own problems. And of course, a broken rib could always puncture a lung or even your heart. Punctured lungs can led to death in 3- 15 minutes.
Cuts and Stab Wounds
A lot of people get stabbed in writing or movies. A lot. And presumably, having never experienced being stabbed myself, it isn’t fun. Humans have certain instincts that try to make them avoid being stabbed, which involves putting their hands and/or arms in the way.
Cuts or stab wound severity depends a lot on where you’re stabbed. If you are stabbed in the neck, you may probably die. Being stabbed in an area with less protective flesh means that your bones and muscles can be damaged, which is bad, obviously.
In general, the deeper the wound, the worse it is. If you hit the aorta, you’re dead. If you hit a femoral artery - in the thigh - or renal artery - around the kidneys - you can lose a fatal amount of blood in 2 - 3 minutes. Internal injuries to organs lead to bleeding, infections or slow death. I heard somewhere that if you are stabbed/shot in the stomach, you die slowly and painfully. Bleeding from the spleen or liver causes death within around 20 minutes.
Major blood loss will kill you. This is not surprising. For an average person, losing about a litre of blood is enough for shock to set in. Losing two litres is when you either get a transfusion happening stat or start saying bye-bye to your character. And if you lose more than two, two and a half, you’re probably unconscious and also probably dead.
So hopefully now you have an idea of how to injure your character. But remember to keep it realistic. If you’re in the middle of the desert and your hero has already lost two litres of blood, they’re not going to make it to a hospital, regardless of how brave, handsome and fearless he is. He’s only human, and probably a dead human. If you’re shot, you’ve actually got a pretty good chance of surviving, but that means that so does the enemy.
Writing Tip: Before you injure your character or decide to kill them off in a bloody, violent way, look up what you’re doing. Stabbing your victim in the stomach won’t kill them instantly, and shooting them once probably won’t either. Unless, y’know, you get a head shot. But also remember that if this is how you’re injuring your character, this is the same way your villains get injured. And if a normal human can survive being shot 20 times - it happened, I looked it up - that means your hero can, and your villain can too.
They won’t, however, enjoy it.
Interesting Reading - Probable Gore Alert
- 6 Deadly Injuries You Think You’d Survive Thanks to Movies