Concussions in Fiction

So here’s an issue I often freak out about: concussions in fiction. Whether it be books, movies, comics, whatever, I think 90% of the fiction I’m exposed to involves concussions that produce temporary comas, which people miraculously come out of moments later.


What’s wrong with that, right? Well, you’re nerdy and loquacious, so I’m sure you’re aware that receiving a concussion that results in unconsciousness is not good for one’s long-term health. Unconsciousness immediately following a head injury indicates significant brain trauma, and there’s no real guarantee that the concussed person will come out of their unconscious state. Slapping the unconscious person is only likely to lead to more trauma and not to waking them up for the next plot point.


Stories require a bit of suspension of disbelief–I’ll grant you that. But this over-used trope bothers me not only for its massive scientific inaccuracy, but also because it points to very lazy writing. As a writer, I’ve found I often reach points where I don’t know how to get the characters from where they are to where I want them to be.


I think most of the unrealistic concussions in stories come from the writer needing an easy way to get the character involved from one scene to the next without having anything happen in between. And that need makes some sense. The audience experiences stories that way where we cut from scene to scene without seeing the bathroom breaks, etc., that go on between those scenes.


So say Mr. Writer’s just had Sergeant Jane of the NYPD discover a major clue. But if she goes back to the precinct, she’ll have to fill out paperwork, and then get a task force together, and then… He just wants her to be at the killer’s hide out confronting said killer right now. He could take us, the viewer or reader,straight to the hide out, but then he’ll have to fill in what happened between Sergeant Jane being in the old apartment finding the clue and then being in the sewer tunnel where the killer plots his dastardly schemes. Not wanting to have Jane experience all that anymore than wanting to have the reader slog through it the writer goes with this–the killer sneaks up behind her and blamo! She’s out. Perfect. Now she wakes up at the killer’s hideout. No need to worry about writing that other boring stuff or figuring out a valid reason for her to get there without a SWAT team in tow.


I get it, but I think 9 times out of 10 it’s sloppy writing. What about you? Do you think unrealistic bludgeoning producing temporary but harmless unconsciousness is a valid way to advance a story? Ever been guilty of this one yourself?

1 thought on “Concussions in Fiction

  1. When I learned that getting whacked over the head didn’t actually knock you out for a few hours and then miraculously wake up with a mild headache, I was devastated. My movies lied to me! I’m trying to think in my own writing if I’ve ever done that … I know that I have knocked characters out, but I’m pretty sure it always involved the use of an alien stun laser (not the actual name). Does that count? 🙂

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