EelKat Wendy C Allen - Dark Fantasy Author

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Please be aware that nearly every page on this website contains spoilers to something. I talk about a lot of fandoms, and go into great detail analyzing them when I do. If I am talking about The Witcher series, InuYasha, Disney Ducks, the Quaraun series, or any other fandom, you WILL encounter spoilers about it. 

The Fainting Trope & Fade To Black Cliche Writing Illnesses Accurately

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The Fainting Trope & Fade To Black Cliche Writing Illnesses Accurately

The Fainting Trope & Fade To Black Cliche Writing Illnesses Accurately

Fainting and "faded to black" cliche from r/writing

The Fainting Trope & Fade To Black Cliche Writing Illnesses Accurately


As someone who has had catalytic seizures in my childhood, PTSD & Agoraphobia in my adulthood, was attacked from behind at college and left paralyzed for 5 months, and has PMDD and suffered 7 miscarriages (all these things resulting in fainting spells) and as a child grew up with high level of abuse, that included among other things being beaten over the head with a shovel, I have very vivid memories of being jolted awake, with absolutely no memory of having fainted.

I am well acquainted with passing out and what it really feels like to experience it, as well as how it is different with different causes. And this is why I write my main character as I do.

Because fainting causes a loss of oxygen to the brain, the person suffers a state of panic, confusion, and momentary loss of memory, so when waking up, do so in a state of jumping up in a sheer panic. Depending on how long they were out, it is possible that they go anywhere from a few minutes to a few days before they remember who they are and who the people with them are. These lapses in memory lose can be truly terrifying for the person, as they can not remember who anyone they are with is, and have a temporary scene of having been abducted/kidnapped. They may try to flee or run away. This is why if a patent starts to have seizures in the hospital, the doctors tie their arms and legs to the bed, as a way to prevent them from leaping up and running out of the room, pulling out all their IVs and such in the process.

Plus every time is different.

For example, in real life, I passed out once because of a pinched nerve in my spine, and the sharp lightning bolt pain that it caused. When I woke up, I remember laying on the floor and telling myself over and over again "Get up!" and I couldn't make my body responde. It was terrifying. When I finally did get up, I couldn't walk, and had to drag myself my grabbing hold of furniture and pulling myself along until I reached sofa to climb up on. Then it was several hours of my laying there feeling like my head had floated off into another room and left me behind. It was a full 3 months before I recovered from this and was able to walk again.

Another time, I had a broken hip, and I passed out from the pain... that time, my body went full on flush every thing at the same time, so in addition to passing out, I also vomited, pissed, and diarrhea, all at the same time. While passing out is always a scary experience, that was definitely my LEAST fun experience with passing out. :(

Another time I passed out, because the linoleum floor was wet and I slipped and fell backwards slamming my head on the floor. When I woke up, I had a splitting headache that lasted for several days and left me unable to walk steady for well over a week.

In books (and movies) you often see a character pass out, then get back up and continue on as normal. I've passed out dozens of times in the last 50 years and never once have I ever been able to just get up and act like: "Oh look, I fainted, ha ha, now where were we?" At best it'd be a few hours before I gained my bearings again, and at worst it was a week or more before I could function again.

I think far too many writers, write a character fainting, without really realizing how serious a medical condition, the act of fainting really is. Even if a person faints from being scared (as is often the case on Horror books and movies), that person still has suffered a brief period of no oxygen to the brain, and they are NOT gonna just jump up and continue running from Big Bad.

Another thing is time... depending on how bad the person is injured, they may not wake up for hours or even days, but in fiction it's always BOOM unconscious then 5 seconds later they are awake again. While there have been a few times that I woke up only seconds or minutes later, in most cases I did not wake up for 3 to 5 hours later, and in one case 3 days later.

And about the whole "fade to black" part. Why I vaguely recall experiencing in, what I usually experience is white not black. It'll be like I'm blind and all I can see is the blinding whiteness of the inside of my skull, or in most cases what happens is, a few seconds before I pass out, black spots start floating in front of me, then they start exploding into giant white snowflake shaped "fireworks" going off inside my head, and suddenly I'm blind, everything is white and then, next thing I know I'm waking up 3 hours later... often in a large pool of blood, another symptom of real world fainting that is often neglected in fiction.

My main character has catalypsies, due to a bad heart. Because of this he faints multiple times a day. It is therefor common for 4 or 5 chapters in each novel to end with him fainting and the next chapter start with him waking up.

Because he is the POV character, the endings of the chapters cut off suddenly, with no warning, and no explanation as to why it stopped. There usually is some signal that he's about to pass out, or at least that he knows he is, and a long time reader of the series would pick up on these cues, but someone new to the series might not. For example, it'll say something like: he paused momentarily, looking around for something to learn on or he stumbled, as the ground seemed to shift beneath his feet, as though the world had suddenly been turned on it's side, knocking him off balance. He doesn't always faint suddenly, often there will be a moment of him becoming dizzy or hyperventilating first. Generally if you see him try to make his way to a chair or bed, you know he knows he's about to pass out. In some cases, if he's with someone who is aware of his condition, he'll turn to that person and try to say something to alert them of what is happening. In any case, because he is the POV character, the chapter ends abruptly the moment he loses consciousness.

The next chapter then begins with him jolted away, suffering a massive panic attack, confused, uncertain where he is or who is with him, and an entire 4 or 5 pages are needed for him to regain his bearings and become fully aware of his situation again. The next chapter, in some cases almost seems to have a different POV character, because his fear levels are peaked and people who are his friends are suddenly seen as his captors. He is never able to get back up and go on with his day as planned. Blacking out is rarely a thing with either minor causes or effects. It is actually a very serious condition that is alerting your body to the fact something is seriously wrong.

This is actually one of the things I get the most questions about from my readers, who tell me this aspect makes the series rather unique, because of the way I handle his fainting spells.

Reader response falls into 2 types:

1: Readers who say: "OMG! That's exactly what it felt like when I passed out!"

2: Readers who say: "WTF? You totally threw me out of the plot. That was so unnecessary! No one in real life faints as often as he does. What was the point of all that?"

Most readers, who comment of this, fall into the 2nd group. It is not uncommon for readers to complain that they do not like this aspect of his character and for them to ask: "Why do you have to have him pass out?"

The fact of it is, the story of every novel is about his every day life and how he struggles with all the things he has to deal with. Living with a health issue like catalypsies is one of the things he has to deal with every day, thus, it's there, even if it may seem to not be "part of the plot" it is part of his life and it deeply affects how he deals with "the plot".

As there are 130+ novels in the series, most readers are familiar with this and realize he has passed out again when the scene cuts short ending the chapter. Though someone new to the series, it may take them a couple of times of encountering this, before they fully realize it's a reoccurring thing that happens to him.

A lot of people get it in their heads that they have to have a disabled character to be "diverse" and then they pick some "popular fad disease" that they have never personally experienced in their life and write it full of in accurate stereotypes. (Autism, PTSD, OCD, and Schizophrenia, for example are all commonly used in novels, but rarely are they written accurately, because rarely does the author actually suffer from it to know what it's like.) I think it would be interesting to see more characters with "less popular" illnesses, by written with more accuracy because it was an illness that the author had actually experienced in real life. Just something as "minor" as a fainting spell, could be written so much better coming from some one who has been there and experienced it themselves. I wish more authors would look to their own health for inspiration when creating characters.

So, I was over on Reddit, you like I often am, and found this question. And answered it, like I do. However, the answer I initially gave was a simple generic answer. If you want to read my original answer unaltered, simply click on Reddit's embed feature links which Reddit provides for webmasters to be able to post their answers on their websites, while linking back to the original thread on Reddit (if you didn't know Reddit offered and encouraged the use of this feature, look for it in the "share" features underneath every post, comment, and reply on Reddit).

I am answering random questions today about world building, over on Reddit and decided to take my answers from there and expand upon them even further over here. So that's what this page is. Me rambling on about various aspects of world building techniques I use when writing the Quaraun series. The questions I am answering are embedded here. Clicking the link in the embedded question will take you to the original Reddit page where you can see the original answer along with other people's answers. If you wish to comment, you can do so on the Reddit page where a place to do so is provided.

In any case, as with all of my Reddit answers found on my site here, my original post on Reddit is much shorter then the article here.

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