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View Full Version : Injuries--when to do and not to overdo?



Indy Tarquinson
07-22-2008, 08:52 AM
I reworked my plot and now it's a lot more action adventure with a Bounty Hunter coming after my MC's, and with such there's a propensity for more violence.

I'm at about my third Bounty Hunter encounter and my MC (we'll call him Gav) has been pistol whipped, bruised, choked, and sliced badly in the shoulder. And it ain't over yet. I feel like I'm being redundant in hurting him though, I'm at the fight where Gav quits running and starts standing up for himself, and I want to teach him a lesson (that says don't fight this Bounty Hunter or you're toast! Bwahaha). I know that there are people that like to steamroll their characters but I feel that it's a bit too much, especially that he's getting hurt at every encounter. I don't want to get that corny melodrama thing going on (Ack, I'm injured, everyone care for me!)

But, realistically, if you were getting into fights every two hours you're not gonna necessarily come out of it unscathed if this guy is a professional assassin.

So anyway what I'm really trying to say is, what's a good rule in letting your characters get injured? When's too much, too much or when is too little, too little?

MoonWriter
07-22-2008, 09:21 AM
It's all in how Gav handles it. If Gav gets hurt and others comment on his injuries but he's not focused on them, we know he has a great tolerance for pain. Then, when he's hurt again (hopefully during the climax) and he reacts to those injuries, we know he's really hurt and we're really concerned for him and question the outcome. If it's the same old whoop-ass over and over, Gav might have to worry about people reading to see what he does at the end.

geardrops
07-22-2008, 09:57 AM
pistol whipped

I'm going to assume in the face. This could be concussion, broken cheekbone, or if he wasn't hit too hard and rolled with the blow well, severe bruising, maybe a nice black eye.


choked

Going to have a hard time talking as his throat will be swollen.


sliced badly in the shoulder

That arm's going to be pretty rough to use as the shoulder bears the brunt of the large movement. Also depending on where and how deep the slice is, that could cause some major problems.


But, realistically, if you were getting into fights every two hours you're not gonna necessarily come out of it unscathed if this guy is a professional assassin.

A good fight-for-your-ass fight really takes it out of you. You're sore for days after a solid row. Every two hours, with that stack of pre-existing injuries, the guy should be sucking down pain meds like they're going out of style.

virtue_summer
07-22-2008, 10:51 AM
Yeah, I'm wondering this about my own story a little bit too. My poor guy has been in a car accident, then didn't fully recover before leaving the hospital. Very soon after, he's wrestling with a police officer during which his nose gets broken, and then he's shot. I'm really working on trying to deal with the repercussions of all this (the pain meds he's going to be wanting desperately, doing something about that broken nose and the wound from the gunshot when he's on the run from the cops). I wish I could help you out more but at least you know you're not alone. In general, though, I think it's good for a story to have a large amount of action, as long as there are some down times as well. Try to strike a balance. That's my advice.

Higgins
07-22-2008, 05:42 PM
I reworked my plot and now it's a lot more action adventure with a Bounty Hunter coming after my MC's, and with such there's a propensity for more violence.

I'm at about my third Bounty Hunter encounter and my MC (we'll call him Gav) has been pistol whipped, bruised, choked, and sliced badly in the shoulder. And it ain't over yet. I feel like I'm being redundant in hurting him though, I'm at the fight where Gav quits running and starts standing up for himself, and I want to teach him a lesson (that says don't fight this Bounty Hunter or you're toast! Bwahaha). I know that there are people that like to steamroll their characters but I feel that it's a bit too much, especially that he's getting hurt at every encounter. I don't want to get that corny melodrama thing going on (Ack, I'm injured, everyone care for me!)

But, realistically, if you were getting into fights every two hours you're not gonna necessarily come out of it unscathed if this guy is a professional assassin.

So anyway what I'm really trying to say is, what's a good rule in letting your characters get injured? When's too much, too much or when is too little, too little?

I try to avoid injuring the MCs too much. The fights can tire them, but getting medical attention seems too much like narrating bodily functions.
So I've had one scraped forehead, some badly improvised shoelaces and a brief immersion in cake batter, one passing case of briefly being a werewolf, one misdiagnosis of "braindead" and one misdiagnosis of nerves bathed in isotopes and wound around wires and electrodes in the brain, one injection with a "new drug", one truckload of special soda pop to curbe being a werewolf, one torture with electrodes and one case of getting shot in the forehead and coming back from the dead sorta. What's with the forehead obsession? the brain thing? the electrodes? Visibility? Simple to describe?

SPMiller
07-22-2008, 05:48 PM
A good fight-for-your-ass fight really takes it out of you. You're sore for days after a solid row. Every two hours, with that stack of pre-existing injuries, the guy should be sucking down pain meds like they're going out of style.Opportunity here for decent character flaw: he develops an addiction to prescription painkillers.

Tasmin21
07-22-2008, 05:58 PM
I follow the Jim Butcher school of thought: If it makes my character's day worse, I throw it in there.

DeleyanLee
07-22-2008, 06:03 PM
But, realistically, if you were getting into fights every two hours you're not gonna necessarily come out of it unscathed if this guy is a professional assassin.

Professional assassin just means he's a good hunter of people. He can set up a target, take them out, and get away to hunt another day. That doesn't say to me that the guy is a good street fighter, so I don't think that means the guy is going to automatically kick butt in every encounter. Stop thinking that every assassin is Jason Bourne--especially if that assassin isn't your hero. ;)


So anyway what I'm really trying to say is, what's a good rule in letting your characters get injured? When's too much, too much or when is too little, too little?

The best massive series of injuries I can remember--though it's a movie--was in the original Die Hard. It impacted, it hurt, but there was never an exasperated sense of "oh, God, he's hurt AGAIN?" The injuries made good story sense, cost him appropriately (whether in pain, blood trails, etc), and made John McClain all the more human and heroic for going through them. It made very good story sense.

If you're beating the snot out of your hero for some other reason that good story sense, that's the time to stop and reconsider. If you ever get the feeling of "Oh, God, got to describe ANOTHER injury", then it's time to stop and reconsider.

The fact that you thought to make this post is probably a hint that you should reconsider what you're doing. If this is an action/adventure/thriller novel then there shouldn't be a problem with the hero walking away barely touched on more than one occasion--he's the HERO after all. He's supposed to be able to kick ass gloriously. It's part of what we love about that genre--at least, part of what I do.

starrykitten
07-22-2008, 06:10 PM
I've never written anything that had those issues, so I'll talk, rather generally, out of my ass.

Which is to say that how much you can get away with depends on the rest of the context. 24 has managed to stay on the air this long because most of its viewers believed that suspending their disbelief was worthwhile enough to enjoy the action of the show. If the fight scenes are well done and important to the plot and something people will enjoy reading, I doubt it'll hurt your story to milk them for all they're worth. If this is supposed to be the Great American Jungian Novel or a romance, I'd take it a little easier.

That's likely far too vague to be helpful, but I felt like I'd throw that in as far as what my expectations would be as a reader.

Minister
07-22-2008, 07:17 PM
You're right about costing your MC something in his encounters with the bounty hunter -- if the bounty hunter is ineffective in every early encounter, I'm not going to worry too much about him in the final one. Be careful about the cliche injuries, the flesh wounds and grazes that happen in the fight but seem to disappear immediately thereafter.

How much you can get away with will depend in some degree on the readers you're targeting. Apparenty, nobody but me complained about having Aragorn act and fight like nothing was wrong in defending the fortress -- right after being left unconscious after falling down a cliff in the fight with the wargs -- in The Two Towers movie. Some readers will put up with a lot and just think, "Wow, this guy is tough," or, "Wow, this guy has it rough." Your genre and readership go a long ways toward defining this line.

Others are a bit more skeptical. It really bugs me when a guy is slugging people two days after breaking the arm he hits them with. Injuries are fine, but, in my opinion, you can't have them happen in the fight just to show the fight was tough -- then pretend they aren't there in the next fight. Your character can play through pain (professional athletes play all the time with injuries, and play effectively -- see Plaxico Burress through last year's NFL season, among a plethora of other examples), and you can help him do that with medication, with careful strategizing so that he doesn't have to expose that particular weakness in the next fight, and so on.

Others have pointed out how draining fighting for your life is. You have aches, pains, and often sprains and injuries you didn't even notice at the time. You're pushing muscles beyond what they even know they can do. Notice how rarely the top boxers fight -- they really need that much time to recover from the last one completely and prepare for the next one, if they're going to be at the absolute top of their game. Something you might do, if you want to be analytical about the injuries, is check the injury report from an NFL roster -- it's a high-impact sport, with guys hitting each other hard, going all-out. A lot of the injuries are ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints. It might be cooler to have a character gashed, or someone's leg broken, etc. -- but in actual high-impact striving, it's often the muscles and tendons that go first.

Jim Butcher is a tremendous example of how (again, in my opinion) to do it well, especially in his Dresden Files. His MC is almost always sleep-deprived, more or less beat up, and fighting off some injury or another by the end of the book. It never gets to be quite too much (the point where you roll your eyes and say, "Oh, c'mon, no way he lived through that"), but he rarely goes overboard with the injuries that are inflicted, and it raises the level of peril throughout. They influence how the rest of the plot and fights go. (so that you're constantly saying, "How is he going to live through THIS?")

DeadlyAccurate
07-22-2008, 07:58 PM
Yeah, I'm wondering this about my own story a little bit too. My poor guy has been in a car accident, then didn't fully recover before leaving the hospital.

I can tell you what it feels like to be in a car accident bad enough to total the car (our Neon t-boned an SUV that pulled out in front of us). No serious injuries but I had the breath knocked out of me by the seatbelt (which, by the way, is terrifying).

You'll spend the next day feeling like you have the worst flu you ever had in your life. Your entire body just aches.

Kalyke
07-22-2008, 08:16 PM
I tend to think that some writers (and film-makers) tend to deify their characters, allowing them to take beatings that are way overboard, and which would pretty much kill the majority of real human beings. My character goes through a few "thwacks" but I like to keep it real. Until the very end, there is no "real" physical confrontation. I think keeping the fight scenes in reserve leads you to a grander scale of threat. However this would not work if you are writing Tolkienesque epics where people seem to have titanium bones, and skin made out of sheet metal. So I guess it depends upon which reality level you write. on.

Kryianna
07-22-2008, 09:06 PM
I beat the crap out of my MC in my urban fantasy. I do make it part of the plot, and I consciously tried to give her recovery time and have the injuries carry over in plot in the next scenes. My manuscript is over a couple of months, though, so I can get away with glossing over the recovery time.

I think the main thing is realism, like everyone else said. The reader has to buy that someone gets hurt and can continue doing the actions they are doing. If most people break a bone or get a concussion, they are *done* for that day and the next -- they are taking off work, they are ordering a pizza for dinner, and everyone else in the house can tiptoe around them. So if you have someone breaking an arm then punching someone two days later like Minister says, people won't buy that.

SPMiller
07-22-2008, 09:34 PM
In some fantasy stories you can give your characters horrific injuries without having to kill them. Healing magic may not be able to take care of everything, but your protagonists could probably recover much more quickly than ordinary humans can.

But outside of fantastic solutions, an injury as simple as a shoulder dislocation can permanently ruin anyone's range-of-motion, and even partial recovery can take anywhere from months to years. The pain from the injury will put the character completely out of commission for days or weeks. That is, the character can't do anything except lie around moaning in pain.

Phaeal
07-22-2008, 09:36 PM
My first thought is the professional assassin needs to look for another job. How many shots has he had at Gav and Gav's still trucking?

I look at it this way: the more cartoony the story, the more injuries you can inflict on the character without putting him out of commission; the more realistic the story, the fewer injuries you can inflict. Note that the cartoon-realism spectrum extends over all genres -- there are fantasies that are extremely realistic apart from the designated departures from the known. Those are the ones I like and try to write.

For example, in one novel, I had a warrior character who was lucky to come out of a fight with only one deep slash on the forearm. Lucky, did I say? Well, he didn't die, but the wound became seriously infected -- you just can't trust the enemy to disinfect their swords, damn 'em. The character had to hightail it to a healer and spend the next week or two recovering to the point where he could drag his sorry butt out of bed.

Overall, if you need the character to keep moving without a break for appropriate medical attention, don't hurt him too bad, or I'll practice hitting bugs on the wall with your book. ;)

dkglenning
07-23-2008, 05:04 AM
It depends. On your main characters attitude, what kind of book it is, and also what it contributes to the plot. If your character is inconsistent with the reactions to his injuriies, it might get confusing. If your trying to write something that you feel you WANT to have violence and injuries, you may think about how MUCH you really want. And if its all just sensless violence, "oh yeah, he's injured. chapter three, he's injured again. Huzzah, chapter five, he's laid out once more' it might get boring. Unless his injuries give him a realization, or further the plot some other way. I dont know. It's just things to think about.

Jackfishwoman
07-23-2008, 05:08 AM
Indy, I agree with Phaeal's comment above. I had some of the same issues with excessive violence in my book, and that is fine, but my editors said it was unrealistic that the MC never got treated for her injuries. So I went back and wrote that in to make it more plausible.
But do your research when it comes to medical treatment! It helps to talk to someone who actually had broken ribs, etc. so that you can portray it authentically.

Quossum
07-23-2008, 06:14 AM
I tend to think that some writers (and film-makers) tend to deify their characters, allowing them to take beatings that are way overboard, and which would pretty much kill the majority of real human beings.

Of course, then there's the opposite scenario, usually seen in movies or TV, in which the merest tap on the chin from our hero renders the guard / bad guy utterly unconscious long enough for heroic acts to be done. :tongue

--Q

Indy Tarquinson
07-23-2008, 10:03 PM
Thanks so much for all your great advice everyone, it really, really did help! I keep coming back to this thread as I write to make sure I'm not forgetting the things you all told me. XD

I studied screenwriting so I have this tendency to get as much action going as possible and I think in terms of 'what would make this movie more exciting' and I sometimes forget that this novel is going to be a lot longer than 100 pages and I don't have to have everything happen at once. T_T

Stormhawk
07-24-2008, 01:45 AM
I used to put my MC through buckets and buckets of hell - over the revisions, I've toned it down quite a lot.

Now, in book one, she just has a minor fall (~10 feet and lands on something soft), have her get shot (in the stomach, but there are psuedo-magic doctors), punched by a colleague (well, she knees him in the crotch), then have a building collapse on her.

She gets a couple of new scars, and a truckload of painkillers, but there's no lasting angst about the injuries, nor is it done in a way that feels repetitive.