Bookish Musings: Realism in Books – Injuries

 
 

A few weeks ago I talked about how realistic I like characters to be in the books I read, inspired by Cait’s post, but this time I want to talk about injuries.

Unrealistic injuries seems to be a big problem—nay, an epidemic—in books, at least the ones I read. And once again, I’m on the side of realism.

I want characters to have realistic injuries. Give me the realistic injuries! (Well, don’t give me the injuries. I’m a masochist in that I like to suffer through the characters, but I’m not that much of a masochist.)

Anyway, there are certain things that bother me in regards to injuries in books, and probably certain things that bother you all too, or maybe you don’t want to read about any injuries ever which is also fine, so I’m once again looking forward to everyone’s thoughts!

 

 

Consequences/Aftermath of Injuries

 

Ok, I’m once again referencing Cait’s post about realism in books because she mentioned that she likes responses, or reactions, to be realistic, and I completely agree. And her example was that, if a character gets punched (the action), there should be a bruise (the response/reaction). And I fully agree. But, for some reason, in so many books, injuries just disappear or have no effect.

For example:

– A 17-year-old human taking on ten super-strength paranormal creatures who have 100 years of practice and then having no bruises, no scrapes, not even fatigue by the next page is not realistic.
– A character getting injured enough to be hospitalized but then popping out of bed to go run and jump and fight the next day is not realistic.
– A character passing out or getting knocked out but then waking up with not even so much as a headache is not realistic. (And really what is up with this ridiculous plot device of characters constantly passing out or getting knocked out? In twenty-something years of my life, I’ve never once had that happen to me. Yet even I know that when people do pass out or get knocked out, they wake up feeling like shit. And getting knocked out could cause some serious damage. Not to mention actually knocking someone out, especially in a “safe” way, is probably not as easy to do as it looks. Now I’m off-topic rambling, but I swear I could write a whole post about this alone since it seems to be in 90% of the books I read. Seriously, authors, if you’re reading this, please stop using this in your story unless you’re going to do it right.)

Injuries linger. They have temporary or sometimes permanent consequences. They need time to heal. The body needs rest. Sometimes injuries get re-injured. And as a reader, I just want these things taken into consideration!

So whenever I read books in which characters actually do feel their injuries, do take time to heal from them, etc., it makes me really happy. And just to celebrate those types of books and the authors who write them, here’s a list of some of the good books I’ve read in which characters actually get injuries and don’t magically, immediately recover:

– Incubus by Amanda Meuwissen: Ok this actually doesn’t really come into play until the second book, but one of the characters gets injured, and throughout much of the second book, he’s taking pain pills, getting adorably cranky and groggy from the pills and taking naps, and re-injuring himself when he stupidly jumps into action. (Book Review)
– Soul Breaker by Clara Coulson: This MC gets his ass handed to him numerous times, and boy does he feel it. Plus, when he gets knocked out, he does, in fact, feel like shit upon waking and has to take it easy until he recovers. (Book Review)
– Untaken by J.E. Anckorn: One of the characters gets knocked out and gets a concussion. For days he’s dizzy and mostly just sleeps, so the other character does the driving during that time.
– North to Zombieville by Meg Bawden: The MC dislocates his shoulder near the beginning, and it keep hurting him throughout the entire book. (Book Review)

See?! it can be done! A book can have realistic injuries without slowing down or negatively impacting the plot. It can even be done without being gory or gruesome because the consequences, the after-effects, whatever you wanna call it, can be realistic without graphically showing the actual injury.

Descriptions of Injuries/Gore

 

I do also happen to like when the descriptions are realistic though, to an extent. While I don’t particularly enjoy reading about gruesome stuff, I respect it when it’s included because it makes the story more real. For example, if someone is bludgeoned to death, there would be lots of blood and gore. If a character just walks right up to the crime scene as though it were simply a person taking a nap on the floor, no mentions of anything gruesome, it feels less authentic. It also makes death and violence seem less serious than it really is, but that’s kind of another matter.

Why I Prefer Realistic Injuries

 

I get that many people don’t want to read about anything gory and gruesome, and that’s one thing. It doesn’t actually bother me if gruesome scenes aren’t described in detail. It’s just those unrealistic after-effects of injuries and the lack of injuries that throws me out of the story. The realistic injuries are what make everything seem more real, and as I’ve said many times, the stories that feel the most real (in their context) are the ones that pull me in!

 

Check Out the Rest of My Realism in Books Posts!

Realism in Books – Characters
Realism in Books – Injuries
Realism in Books – Big Things vs. Little Things
Realism in Books – Basic Necessities

 
 

Talk to me!

How realistic do you think injuries and their after-effects should be in books?
Are you as tired as I am about the passing out/getting knocked out plot device?
Are you bothered by gruesome scenes, or do you prefer those to be realistic too?

 
 
 
 
 

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  1. Greg

    What happened to the bear? Lol poor guy. Yeah I’m all for realistic injuries/ aftermath too. I love in shows all the time how people just get out of the hospital bed and “sneak” out of the hospital to resume their badass ways. Yawn. And in epic fantasy there’s always some magical food or whatever lol that heals you. I like the trend towards more realism in fantasy (Game of Thrones pulls no punches in that regard) and I imagine urban fantasy is different since it’s not so “magical” maybe.

    One example of a consequence from traditional fantasy is Frodo from LotR. He pretty much is always affected by the wound he takes at one point, to the extent that it still aches years later even when he goes over sea to the Undying Lands or whatever. Tolkien did that nicely.

    Greg recently posted: Game of Thrones- Show vs. Books

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t know, it was a stock photo, but I like to believe no teddy bears were harmed in the making of this post ;-)

      But seriously, the disappearance of injuries in fiction in ridiculous. Like, the injuries are too inconvenient. But that just makes things too convenient and easy. And trust me, urban fantasy is not immune to this problem. It’s just dependent on the author.

      I haven’t seen/read GoT, and I only saw the LotR movies a long time ago, but that’s great that they actually have realistic injuries. And yeah, sometimes injuries never fully heal or they act up. I mean, hell, I still have a finger that gets sore sometimes from an injury like 15 years ago lol.

  2. Nicola

    I have a very low tolerance for the gruesome, but I stil like injuries to be realistic, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. For instance, a person can receive a head wound that causes nausea, confusion and headaches without the narrative lingering on the blood glistening in their hair. In a way, I think realism in response to injury is even more important to me because I’m squeamish; I can’t handle the imagery of injury, so I need the effects of it to be real so it feels realistic at all.

    And I totally agree about conveniently knocking people out. No, just no.

    Nicola recently posted: Tropes I Love and Hate

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, I agree, I don’t think you need to have both in order to have one. Plus, some injuries don’t even have anything gory or bloody or even visible. And you’re right, if there aren’t going to be any visible details pointed out, that makes the other effects all the more important.

      But seriously, I think I could make an entire post just ranting about the people getting knocked out thing lol.

  3. sjhigbee

    I know what you mean! Even to the extent that after a major fight/duel/battle you’d feel sore, bruised and definitely second-hand – but often protagonists are bouncing around as if they’re wearing superman’s boxers…

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! Even if the character wasn’t seriously injured they’d still be kind of battered and beat and need some rest after a big fight. Nice analogy though ;-)

  4. Paula Berinstein

    Of course the same kinds of things happen in movies and TV, Kristen. But I think it depends on the type of story. If it’s supposed to be a realistic story then the injuries should be realistic. If it’s supposed to be exaggerated, then to me it’s okay.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree, most of what I post probably also applies to movies and shows. You do have a point though, some books aren’t meant to be realistic, and in those cases it makes sense. I’m just used to all the books I read being ones that are *supposed* to be realistic in this regard.

  5. Lola

    Like you I always prefer things to be on the side of realism. If someone gets hurt there needs to be consequences, unless they have super healing or something like that, but then it gets explained why they don’t feel as much pain. It also seems to happen in some romance books that they have sex while someone is in the hospital or recovering and in positions that should hurt with their injuries, but don’t. And the knocking people out without damage seems to be pretty common indeed, it seems to happen way too often in books.

    And sometimes it happens the other way around where injuries seem to get exaggerated. I once read a post that if you fain or get knocked out you only stay unconscious for a little while, but in books they always seem to be out for hours. Or the whole sleeping for multiple days things. I read a romance book once where the main character bruised her ankle and they kept referencing to it and it was quite annoying, especially as she basically bruises her ankle so the author could get the couple together. And after a few chapters it kept annoying hearing about her bruised ankle, it got a bit too much attention. Although I think that’s still preferable to things seemingly healing instantly, but it also seems like authors always go too far or not far enough, getting the injuries right seems quite difficult.

    I can remember a few books where they handled injuries right, but I an’t remember any at the moment. except for the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong where character injures his main arm (something paranormal so he can’t use it as well anymore) and even int he later books they keep referring to that and how he now trained his other arm better to compensate and does his best not to show anyone his weakness in his previously main arm.

    I am not a fan of gruesome details, but I do think it’s realistic to mention there is blood in a room. No need to describe everything in detail, but giving a overall view is usually nice. I also think this really depends on the genre, for example in cozy mysteries they include murders without making them gruesome and there are usually very little details about the murdered person, but in most books you still get the feel for what happened and if there is blood or not. So I think even without going into too much details you can paint an image of the scene. I do prefer those scenes to be realistic, but I usually don’t want all the gruesome details. I often feel like there is such a thing as too much details at least for me, but it does mater how the author describes or writes the scene. Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Characters are always having sex at the most inappropriate or nonsensical of times, are they not? Lol. That’s another epidemic. And yeah, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed the knocking out thing.

      Huh, I don’t know if I’ve read any books with exaggerated injuries. I don’t know how long people stay passed out for, so I can’t speak for that one. But yeah, if you’re sleeping for multiple days, I think you have a serious problem and need medical attention stat. Not only that, I always wonder who exactly is taking care of their bathroom needs, how they’re staying hydrated, etc. when characters end up sleeping through whole days like that. And a bruised ankle really doesn’t seem all that serious, so I can see why that might’ve bothered you.

      That’s great that Armstrong actually took into account which arm was injured and all that in that series.

      Yeah, I know you’re not a fan of anything gruesome. I’m not a *fan* of it either per se, I just respect it when it adds to the realism. But different genres definitely do have different standards for. I agree it’s still possible to paint an image of a scene without the gore, but I think whether it’s included or not and how much is included paints a different image, gives it a different feel. Thanks!

  6. Ashley G.

    I do understand the not wanting to read gruesome things. I don’t mind it if it’s not being gory just to be gory and complete disgust the audience. If it’s being going for the sake of realism and showing the seriousness of the situation, then yes, I appreciate that. Like you said when someone walks up to a crime scene and it’s clean, hardly any blood and the narrator and/and or other characters (especially if they are unaccustomed to death/crime scenes) have no reaction, it kind of desensitizes the audience to death and pain. We think it’s no big deal. We cheer in the movie theaters when there’s fighting on screen but do we really think about all the damage being done? Do we take into the account of the loss of life, or even how the loss of a limb would effect someone’s daily life? Yes, we want to cheer for the heroes, but what of humanity in general? When we depict injuries and pain realistic it impression up the audience the reality and gravity of it. It’s not necessarily something to cheer for all the time. Yeah, we want to beat the bad guys, we want to win, but we want to keep our humanity too, don’t we?

    I actually had to stop myself while writing the other day. I was hyped up to move to the next major plot point and then I looked at my cast. Rocky was unconscious from loss of blood and Peril was near unconscious and half delirious from dehydration and I realized, “Oh, we need help and recovery, NOW, if we’re even going to recover, okay, so rest first then we move on.” Sometimes I wonder if characters seem to magically heal is because as writers we’re afraid that the plot will stagnate with the down time and the pacing will drag? But at the same time it gives the characters time to think and re-evalute after a dangerous and fast paced scene wherein they were probably only focusing on surviving.

    Anyhow, awesome post! It obviously brought up some good points for me to think about. :)

    Ashley G. recently posted: 2016 Review Train: Rebel of the Sands

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, I agree completely. I don’t really like gore, per se, as in, I don’t want it to be included just for the shock factor or the sake of it, but I respect when it’s included in legitimate ways because it makes everything feel more realistic to me and drives home the horror of the violence, the death, etc. I didn’t go into the whole making-violence-seem-less-bad-than-it-is thing since my post was long enough lol, but I do agree with everything you’re saying. I remember reading something online once about someone who saw The Hunger Games in theaters and was kind of horrified by the way the audience was cheering for all the death because she felt like the audience had become like the people in the book/movie. So yeah, that alone is a great reason not to romanticize or tidy up violence. Or, if nothing else, if the gore isn’t going to be shown, then the characters’ reactions to it should portray the horribleness of it.

      That’s great that you stopped and realized your characters needed to recover though. I do think authors worry that having characters heal will be bad for the plot, but that’s exactly I included some examples in my post, just to prove that it can be done and can work :-) (I mean, my examples are obviously subjective, but still.) And exactly what you said, it’s good for there to be scenes in between the action in which characters assess and re-evaluate and have things sink in. Plots need those in addition to the action.

      Thanks! Glad I could make you think :-D

  7. Laura

    I totally get what you mean with this! Short recovery times annoy me the most, because it almost seems like the author has forgotten what happened just a couple of chapters ago where they were really seriously injured.
    I’m not keen on too graphic descriptions though because I’m seriously squeamish, so I prefer to see other people’s reactions to the injuries. For example, in the situation you mentioned with the crime scene, i don’t personally want a detailed description of the corpse, but people being horrified by it would clue me in on how gruesome it is.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! Why injure them in the first place if it’s just going to disappear? And oh, I agree. If the gruesome scenes aren’t going to be described, then the author needs to use the characters’ reactions to portray the gruesome nature of it, and that works too because it at least does acknowledge it and keep it realistic.

  8. Jess @ POB!

    To be honest, I don’t really mind when injuries aren’t realistic in fantasy books! More often than not, I don’t worry when the MC gets into a scuffle since more than likely they’ll walk away close to harmless. Even though it’s kind of predictable, I like having a reliable hero (at least in the physical sense). For contemporaries/ realistic fiction, I only mind if the injury is realistic if it’s a giant part of the plot. If it’s just a minor action, it’s okay if they walk away harmless. But if it’s what drives the story, then it matters.

    Thanks for stopping by Princessica of Books!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Huh, so you have the opposite preference of me lol. I would prefer my MC not actually die or get seriously and permanently injured, and it’s always fairly predictable even if they do get injured because most MCs don’t die, especially not before their series is over, but I still just like the realism that healing time and whatnot provides. And in a way I guess it makes the character more relatable and makes the fact that they’re kicking ass seem even better lol. But I can see your point too :-)

  9. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    Realistic injuries definitely does bring a very realistic layer to the overall story and plot as well, the only time I don’t think about it much is with paranormal characters – they’re supposed to heal really quickly and all. However, I’ve even read some of those (Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series and her Guild Hunter series) have even paranormal characters being so badly injured it takes a lot of time for them to heal and more or less get back to normal. And it makes it much easier to really ‘feel’ the characaters’ pain when it doesn’t stop after two paragraphs :D
    As usual, I love your discussion post, Kristen! Realism is important, and sometimes, it’s ‘details’ that make a story that much more believable.

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted: Up Close and (un)Conventional – Classroom Reads

    1. Kristen Burns

      Actually, I do agree that it doesn’t bother me with paranormal creatures because I’m accustomed to things like vampires and shifters having healing abilities. And I’m even used to vampire blood giving humans healing abilities. But I still read plenty of books in which it’s just a normal human or something, and they have no special healing anything, yet their injuries still disappear. But hmmm… I don’t know if I’ve read about creatures really needing time to heal, so that’s interesting.

      Thanks! Actually it’s funny you mention details because I was just planning out the next realism post about little things vs big things!

  10. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Ooooh I feel you with this! It’s the same for me as the whole hygiene/bodily functions realism. Like come on, these characters never have a stomach virus? Or their periods? Bad breath in the woods has to be a thing. NO ONE talks about chapped lips, and I complain about them if I forget my chapstick at home when I run to the store!

    I digress. And agree with everything you said! When I watched Allegiant, there’s this scene that a jeep that this guy is riding in BLOWS. UP. And he saunters away. The jeep was AFLAME for goodness sake! He was thrown MANY feet across a desert IN said flaming jeep! Then there was Four who was shot in the leg, and then like, two frames later, he is JUMPING ON STUFF. Just stop.

    I will say that some books, thank goodness, DO get it right. Though sadly not as many as there should be! The Hunger Games (come on, you KNEW I’d go there ;) ) does have Peeta dealing with not just losing his leg from the tourniquet and blood loss, but then trying to navigate the fake leg. AND Katniss basically almost dies from thirst. And while she does force herself to climb the tree with a burn, she talks about how awful the pain is. And she goes deaf from the bomb. Suzanne Collins, doing stuff right :D I think The 100 (the show, Idk about the books) does this really well too- when someone is injured, they are DOWN, for awhile, and there is usually more than one reference to the healing injury after the fact too!

    The passing out thing… seriously. I have never passed out either. That is some severe trauma, basically. No one just passed out randomly in the street! I hate that trope too. And when I was younger, I used to think I was weird because I didn’t pass out which has to be some kind of side effect of all the passing out randomly in books, right? πŸ˜‚

    LOVE this post, it is all SO. TRUE.

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: Reviews in a Minute: Already Released Edition

    1. Kristen Burns

      Well you know what’s kind of hypocritical of me, I suppose, is that I like realistic injuries, but I really don’t want to read about characters getting sick lol. Like, I actually do think about it, how they would so be getting sick running themselves ragged, eating off floors if they’re like thrown in a cell or something, I don’t know, you get what I’m saying, unhygienic stuff, but I still don’t mind that there’s no sickness. But haha, that’s all so true. I also wonder about things like what about characters with contacts? Does everyone have perfect vision? So many health things just disappear lol.

      I do love those few books that actually get it right. That’s true about The Hunger Games, I hadn’t thought of those books (don’t hate me for saying that haha).

      I mean, I’ve *almost* passed out a few times and came especially close once after having blood drawn, but characters in books just seem to pass out like once a week for no apparent reason and never have side effects from it -_- But oh my goodness, haha, I love that you actually wondered why you never passed out.

      Thanks!

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  13. Got My Book

    I blame TV and movies for much of this.

    I was just listening to an audiobook and someone grabbed a heavy item and knocked someone out. My thought was that, as described, they would most likely have killed the person; but, nope, the person was back to irritating everyone just a few hours later.

    I totally agree with your points. I have passed out while ill and it is awful. And when I broke the baby toe on one foot, my whole body was affected for a long time (since I walked funny to avoid having it hurt and that threw everything else off).

    I’m all for limiting the gory details though, since I’m squeamish.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Movies and TV definitely have unrealistic injuries too, but are they really any more to blame than books? It’s just a problem all around.

      Seriously, I think most people in books would be dead from their injuries if they had realistic consequences -_-

      I imagine that passing out would be awful :-/ But yes! I’ve had injuries that made me limp, and the limping would end up causing pain and problems in complete other parts of my body.

      That’s understandable :-) I generally don’t have a problem with gore in books, but I can’t watch it in movies or shows. I think it’s just that I can control how bad it looks in my head.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, I agree. If I didn’t let some of the unrealistic injuries slide, I’d never enjoy any book because they’re just in so many lol. But I still prefer them realistic. Thanks!

  14. Kaja

    I dislike senseless violence in books, so I’m not super fond of a character participating in a battle where loads of people are killed but the character him/herself is left unscathed. Like you said, if they’re going to fight, they better get smacked around a bit. :) I dislike characters who have it easy when fighting – not that I like to see them tortured or anything but being super powerful and invincible lacks credibility.

    And yeah, what’s up with fainting? I don’t know a single person who faints just out of the blue – it would mean a serious health problem and no way could they bounce back up without consequences!

    Great post, Kristen, you’ve given me food for thought! :)

    Kaja recently posted: Reading Novellas

    1. Kristen Burns

      Agreed. If the characters are just going to come out of every fight unscathed, it lacks credibility and realism, and it becomes so predictable that it’s just bland.

      Seriously, the fainting thing bothers me so much! That would definitely be a sign of serious health problems, and they would NOT just be perfectly fine ten minutes later.

      Thanks!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, you can easily have one without the other, so there’s no excuse for not making the injuries realistic! But if they’re supernatural creatures or there is some sort of magic, then I am more accepting of injuries healing quickly.

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