View Full Version : Falling from 20 feet up

02-12-2013, 06:09 AM
One of my characters is a fairy who can't fly and gets bullied for it. He gets shoved off a platform twenty feet in the air and falls on his back in the grass.

What happens? I don't want him to die, but I want things to be scary.

I'm thinking:

-He gets knocked out, as he smacks the back of his head on the ground when he lands.
-Breaks a bone. He's landing on his back, so I'm thinking possibly shoulders? Ribs?
-He has wings, and would try to spread them to break the fall, so he's going to have damage to them too.

Other than that I'm lost. Any medical people out there (or roofers) know what to expect after a fall like this? If it's easier just pretend he's human and that he's wearing a thick coat to represent the wings, which I'm fairly certain I'm going to say are pretty badly damaged.

If it turns out that twenty feet up isn't high enough to do any real damage, that's fine too, just let me know.

02-12-2013, 06:53 AM
WHAT is the surface? Concrete? Rocks? Hard turf? Soft Turf? Hedges? A pile of leaves? Three feet of snow?

A human who fell twenty feet onto their back... could be dead. Could be paralyzed for life. Could be partially paralyzed. Certainly have their breath knocked out of them, possible concussion, Broken back, broken pelvis, ruptured organs - really bad stuff all of it.

"Wings"... well I don't know how Fairy wings work. I know the 'real' wings - something that would provide liftt for a human - just utilizing air currents - are the size of a HANG GLIDER. Something that would generate lift from a stand-still would be in the order of thirty feet or more in length.

Which, I'm guessing in your story - is not how big they are.

He's a 'fairy'... what do you WANT to have happen? You've already given them the magical ability to fly - something beyond human ability - so how 'human' is his internal structure? Your world, your decision.

A human would be seriously f'd up with that fall. Even with a 'padded' jacket. Now, if they had a 'hang glider' set of wings attached to them... that's a different story.

"That's not flying - that's falling with STYLE" ~ Toy Story

02-12-2013, 07:55 AM
Yeah, I was assuming human save for the wings. He's falling on grass-think a grassy field. I would recommend forgetting the wings entirely and just assuming human, then, as it sounds like wings the size that I imagine wouldn't do much to cushion the fall.

And it sounds like a human would be pretty screwed up from a fall of that height, which works for me. I can take concussion and a few broken bones.

Is it unbelievable to think he wouldn't be dead or minutes from death?

02-12-2013, 08:52 AM
Imagine getting hit by a car going 24 miles per hour. Will it hurt? Heck yeah. Will the surface you're hitting being grass help? A little.

That's assuming falling flat and smashing straight into the ground like a klutz. If you tuck and roll when you hit the ground you can redirect some of that energy so that it doesn't smash you up so bad. Of course a 20 foot drop is still going to mess you up but you can make the collision a lot less destructive if you don't hit flat.

Mostly: splat.

Come to think of it, chickens can't fly worth a darn but they can flutter their stubby wings like crazy when needed and get a little lift. If you don't want your fairy to end up in Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy book then he could flail his little useless fairy wings like crazy and end up getting smashed up but not dead.

Chasing the Horizon
02-12-2013, 11:31 AM
I've seen videos of Parkour practitioners jumping from close to that height and rolling right back to their feet, completely uninjured.

I have two characters fall about 20 feet in my finished book. The height isn't coincidental--I made the fall the height where landing uninjured and being seriously hurt are both possible, depending on luck and skill, because I wanted one character to be fine and the other to be seriously hurt from the same fall. So you chose a height where any outcome from walking away unhurt to dying is totally reasonable. Your character will be as hurt as you *want* him to be.

02-12-2013, 12:59 PM
As said: from no injury at all to death.

I believe, broken ribs (often, more than one) or broken leg or arm are typical.

My neighbor was hanging from a tree branch, with his feet two feet above the ground; he fell and broke his arm.

One cross-country skier fell into a hole near the racetrack, 10 feet deep, with her side directly on the rocks and broke five ribs (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/magazine/sportsman/11/17/epstein.majdic/index.html#).

An actor Jim Carrey during filming a scene performed a fall to his back (from the ground, I believe) while lifting all four limbs in the air - he ended with three broken ribs.

Broken rib can (sometimes) go with a lung puncture. A nasty fall on the left side can result in a ruptured spleen, which is a life-threatening injury.

02-12-2013, 02:56 PM
Maybe my experience will be of some help. When I was a dumb kid (10 years old) I jumped out of a tree house that was 30 feet off the ground. I landed on my back/right side and instantly blacked out. I don't even remember falling or hitting the ground. When I woke up, my brother and cousin were standing over me and my cousin was saying, "Oh phew she's not dead! Dad would kill me!"

I actually managed to stand up and hobble with my brother and cousin back to my cousin's house. Then played his Sega the rest of the day. For some reason we thought he'd get in trouble with his dad over it, and managed to keep it hidden from our parents for about a week. After the visit ended I told my parents because I was still really sore and my mom took me to the doctor, but they didn't xray because I was walking and they just figured it was a sprain.

Injuries sustained were:

A broken off spinous process midback
Fractured right hip
Really screwed up back

When I finally went to a chiropractor 4 years later, he found that my right hip was jammed up so crooked that the right leg was three inches shorter than the left, and the vertebrae in my neck were all jacked up too. After several years of chiropractic it's mostly straightened out. The doctors at that point went and did a barium bone scan, but it turned out pointless anyway because they couldn't do anything about the old fractures. There's still a weird bump where the spinous process healed crooked.

I fell on forest litter stuff. It was several inches worth of dead cedar leaves (needles? this stuff is flat and kind of pokey) on top of dirt.

02-12-2013, 04:15 PM
All depends how heavy your fairy is. Air resistance/gravity stuff.

If it's fantasy you can make it as scary as you want, remembering to show what is scary to the fairy, not what may be scary to a human falling twenty-feet.

For how long has the fairy not been able to fly? Why can't he fly? Why has it taken till now to shove him off something? And if he can't fly, how did he get twenty feet up on a roof?

Hypothetical questions, by-the-by, that occurred to me as I posted.

Good luck.

02-12-2013, 04:21 PM
One of my characters is a fairy who can't fly and gets bullied for it. He gets shoved off a platform twenty feet in the air and falls on his back in the grass.

What happens? I don't want him to die, but I want things to be scary.

It depends what he lands on and how. I mean, you could fall 20 feet and walk away without a mark if you land properly.

Or you could fall three feet, land wrong and die horribly.

I'm thinking:

-He gets knocked out, as he smacks the back of his head on the ground when he lands.

What sort of ground? If it's hard - brick, concrete, road and he hits his head from 20 feet it's probably going to splatter.

-Breaks a bone. He's landing on his back, so I'm thinking possibly shoulders? Ribs?

It depends. Flat on his back is likely to cause a lot of head trauma, possible broken ribs, pelvis, vertabrae.

-He has wings, and would try to spread them to break the fall, so he's going to have damage to them too.

If he lands on his back they are probably going to be crushed.

If it turns out that twenty feet up isn't high enough to do any real damage, that's fine too, just let me know.

20 feet is high enough to do a lot of damage if that's what you need for him.

02-12-2013, 04:23 PM
All depends how heavy your fairy is. Air resistance/gravity stuff.


This reminds me of a line from a terry pratchett novel where one character is hanging from a ledge judging what would happen if they fell.

Pratchett wrote that a mouse would walk away, a horse would break every bone in it's body and an elephant would spash.

02-12-2013, 06:09 PM
Having fallen, and jumped, from that height a number of times, I have never been injured more than the breath knocked out of me, bruises and scratches. Jumping from 20 feet is a breeze, you jump out, not down. Falling is different. I went off a roof with a ladder, fell through a broken ladder, stepped backwards where I shouldn't have and fell through a roof. I never landed on concrete or rock. Snow and a swimming pool don't hurt. Bushes and trees scratch and bruise. Hard lawn makes you stop and think about how stupid you were.

Also, I've never just fallen on my back from that height. Some natural movements always take place, trying to roll when I hit, tucking limbs in, etc. Mostly simple reflex, like clawing at the air on the way down. Or screaming like a little girl. I've never had my fairy wings fail on me though...


02-12-2013, 07:03 PM
As others have said - almost any level of injury from walking away unscathed to death is believable from that height. In high school, I saw a gymnast nearly die from a fall off a 4' balance beam onto a 4" gym mat because she landed badly on her neck. It was a one-in-a-million fall, but it can happen.

02-12-2013, 07:28 PM
When my son was three years old, he unlocked a window, pushed out the screen, and fell two stories onto concrete. He required two stitches on the top of his head and he limped for a few days, but he had no broken bones, no concussion, no serious injury. He didn't lose consciousness or anything.

(and yes, every window in our house is now nailed shut)

02-13-2013, 11:25 PM
When I was 9 or 10, I was going across one of those jungle gym/monkey bars things and my hand slipped. I fell and landed flat on my back, on a thick, padded surface. It completely knocked the breath out of me. I lurched to my knees and started wheezing desperately, trying to breathe. Scared the crap out of my friends. The teacher sent me to the nurse's office, but I don't recall seeing a doctor about it. My back was bruised and pretty sore. I still have trouble with muscle spasms and that was more than twenty years ago.

When my mother was a toddler, she fell out of a second story window and survived. I don't think she broke anything, just got banged up.

One thing to remember is that any sort of physical trauma can cause complications later on, because it's a shock to your body. Some people develop fibromyalgia* a few months after a car accident, or major surgery, etc.

* A chronic disorder characterized by intense muscle pain, trouble sleeping, constant fatigue, and a lot of other symptoms.

02-14-2013, 03:31 AM
Thanks everyone, this has been really helpful. I'm going to tweak the scene using the information you all gave me. :)

02-14-2013, 11:09 AM
I'm a bit late to the party, but... I don't know how big your fairy's wings are, but if they're large enough to provide any lift at all (in other words, if in your world flying isn't entirely magical, with the wings just decorative), then they would provide some "glide"/wind resistance that would help to break the fall.

02-20-2013, 08:41 PM
I just had one of my characters falling from a 25-foot building and onto the nearby roof of a factory which one of those gravely, non-solid rooftops. He shattered his shin-bone and absorbed the rest of the fall by tumbling over and over. There are consequences to falling, but if it hurts the story you may need some divine providence... especially in the fairy world. if you have magic at your disposal maybe they can slow the fall or something.

Either way, I actually have an old co-worker (idiot) that fell out of a three-story building at my old job and landed on a dirt surface in Newport, RI. He landed face first AND LIVED! His face needs putting back together, but ultimately you CAN survive a thirty-foot fall if you land just right.

02-24-2013, 07:45 AM
A bit late, but here's my two cents: the injuries sustained on impact depend on the weight and drag of the person falling. A fairy is probably lighter than a human, so he's less likely to break a major bone, and the wings would increase drag, but it's up to you. He'd probably get the wind knocked out of him at the very least, he might black out or get a concussion, and - if he hit the back of his head - he might go temporarily blind.

02-24-2013, 08:56 AM
well my mom fell off of a cliff, when she was 16, some 85 feet and landed head first on the rocks below. Lots of witnesses to this event. She was in a coma for six weeks and according to her sisters "she wasn't the same afterwards" She became even more of a wild child, this happened circa 1963ish.

After she passed in 2005, I never believed the story because she was always telling wild stories, her sisters confirmed at her funeral that she did indeed fall off of a cliff. And the MRI and CT scans she had days before her death, she had suffered a massive stroke, showed that a good portion of the front of her brain was severely damaged from a previous event. I think the neurologist thought we were lying when we told him what had happened to her. Now I know that her wild uninhibited behaviour is a type of schziophrenia that is caused by blunt trauma to the brain.

So maybe your faerie undergoes some sort of mental transformation after the accident. Once timid and cowardly now he's got roid rage and attitude?