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.
>>>How to write a character passing out without it being too cliche?
>>>One of my characters currently is dealing with some head injuries and passes out as a result. The problem is I'm having trouble coming up with pretty much anything other than 'everything went dark' (or similar cliches.)
>>>Any help/advice would be much appreciated!
>>>This takes place in a 1st person point of view! But any advice on fainting/passing out in general is appreciated!
The problem with: "everything went dark" is that for most people that is not what happens, so saying that, brands the author immediately as someone who has not only never passed out, but also didn't research any of the many medical websites where you can find, hundred, often thousands, of actual patients describing to online doctors what they saw and what happened. I can't recall the names of the sites. One was something like WedMD, maybe? But if you look up some medical advice forums, where people can ask doctors for help, and search for "passing out" or "fainting spells" you should be able to find lots of descriptions written by patients on what happens to them.
It seems to be different for different people and even different with different causes for the same person. For me, "everything went dark" is not what happens.
I've passed out many times in my life, for various reasons: as a toddler from my uncle beating me in the face with a cinder block brick; from having PMDD (which makes PMS seem like a walk in the park); from having a miscarriage because psychopathic white men think it's fun to kick a pregnant non-white women in the belly until her baby is dead, her spine is broken, her legs are broken, and oh yes, they used metal golf clubs as well, I was paralyzed for 5 months and it took me 18 months to relearn to walk, it's been 8 years, I'm still crippled, can't walk unaided and will never run again; from having a stroke; as well as more normal general reasons such as standing up too quickly after waking up in the morning, having a high fever from the flu, or getting overheated because the ac broke during a heat wave (2 days ago).
For myself, what you see is a bright blinding whiteness, as though a massive spotlight was just shined in your eyes, along with horrifying pain in your head, and lots of tiny black spots floating around you, then bright burst of colour - like fireworks going off inside your head, and than nothing at all. When you wake up, everything is black because your eyes are closed.
Also, seconds before losing consciousness, there is a weird "floating" sensation. I'm not exactly how to describe it, but it feels sort of like your head is filling up with air and getting ready to pop like an overfilled balloon, and your ears feel like they will "pop" like when you drive up a high mountain road in the car. And at the same time you get really dizzy, really fast, and feels like someone is spinning you around in circles, even though you aren't moving. This entire mix of sensations happens wicked fast, and it happens same time the white spotlight effect starts blinding you. It starts maybe 10 seconds before you pass out, so you don't have time to react.
Also there is this weird, terrifying sensation, of your lungs "freezing up", like they are filling with hot air and you can't breath, and your brain goes into full on panic mode, but again, this all happens same time as everything else, and it happens so fast that you don't even have time to think or react or even realize you are passing out.
Usually when you open your eyes everything is a thick grey fog, all fuzzy and blurry for 10 or 20 seconds before things start yo come back into focus and you can see again. Sometimes though your site is gone for a few hours or even a few days. The time my uncle held me down and pounded me in the face with a brick, breaking my jaw and shattering 7 teeth... I was blind for 3 days after I woke up and to this day am still legally blind in one eye, and nearly blind in the other, my sight never came back.
Also people who faint, tend to faint a lot. And I mean a LOT... a couple times a week to a few times a day. Unless someone just beat the crap out of them and they passed out from traumatic injury, or they gave too much blood, or was sitting on the beach in the sun too long and had heat stroke, most people who faint, do so because they have some kind of medical condition, like a brain tumor or a blood disorder, or something like that.
Lots of illness can cause chronic fainting, so you'd have to do some research into the many various causes of fainting and figure out what it is causing your character to faint if they were not beat up by someone.
People don't just faint from fright or swooning or any of the things you usually see causing fainting in novels. So, having a character who has never fainted before, suddenly faint because a hot guy walked by or because a friend jumped out of the bushes in gorilla suit to scare them, and than never faint again, is not going to be realistic at all.
People can faint for those reasons, but they'd be people who had a history of fainting because they have severe low blood pressure and resting high heart rate of 121 bpm or higher, so a person who faints when a cute guy says HI to them, probably already fainted 2 or 3 times before breakfast and will faint a few more times before bed.
Also fainting is a SERIOUS medical condition... you can die from it. A lot of people do. I forget the exact number but it's something like 33% of people die when they faint, because no one was around to do CPR. Fainting is a temporary loss of consciousness because the brain is not receiving enough oxygen. People who faint often also stop breathing when they faint, and if no one is with them, they can die from suffocation before they wake up.
Novels, movies, etc. often make fainting out to be no big deal, but there's a reason doctors go into a panic when a patient passes out - it's because that patient may not wake back up.
If someone faints, it really is a reason to rush them to the hospital immediately, but the way fainting is usually portrayed in books and movies, it's always made to seem like it's no big deal, and it really is a life threatening big deal.
>>>One of my characters currently is dealing with some head injuries and passes out as a result.
As your character is dealing with a head injury, you are looking at blood pooling in the skull cavity or even in the brain... meaning he has a concussion, which in itself can be very serious and requires medical attention.
Know that a concussion doesn't go away quickly and can linger for a year or more, some people have effects that stay with them for decades later.
You are talking about actual brain damage here and that's quiet different from just passing out.
You are definitely going to want to do some research into head injuries, particularly concussions, for writing this scene.
If he has a head injury and he's fainting, he really needs to get to a hospital, if hospitals are a thing in your novel.
Writing Disabled Characters
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