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Believability....opinions please.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Fireproof, Jul 22, 2017.

  1. Fireproof

    Fireproof New Member

    Hi, so one of my characters gets into a fight with my bad guy. There's fireballs being hurled and knives and swords flying around. My bad guy stabs my "good" guy in the shoulder with a small dagger. Being the not so nice bad guy that he is he twists it a couple times to make a point. He doesn't want to kill him, he's just a bad guy you know. My question is do you think it's believable that my guy could survive this, being in he middle of nowhere surrounded by woods with no available healers available for the foreseeable future. Reason I ask is it was brought to my attention that he very well could bleed out or hit an artery or something. I know we write fantasy but I do want my book to be a little believable and not rely on magic all the time. Thanks for your time and your thoughts on the matter.
  2. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

    The shoulder?
    Dude you can easily have him survive, there are basically no important veins or arteries there as well as clusters of nerves.
    Mostly just muscles supporting the neck, back and hand.

    If you had a normal human sustain such an injury so a small knife twisted trough the shoulder... that person could make a full recovery and if they managed to completelly ignore pain they'd have about 30% functionality in that arm.

    Some nerves might get hit, but no important ones.

    There is danger of an infection, but that's a random factor which could not happen and an infection can be prevented by just shoving a burning piece of wood or heated piece of metal to desinfect it.

    I think your scenarion is way to mild.

    Why not have the bad guy do the same hing to one of the lungs? Having a whole bored trough your torso would make you very sick. But if your protagonist is smart he could deal with it by blocking that lung up and solely relying on the other. Unless infected, you can't really die from a shoulder wound.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    One of the issues with shoulders is there are a lot of muscles connecting there. Your guy will probably heal and survive, but chances are he'll have issues with his neck, shoulder, and arm for a long time to come. If it doesn't heal right it's possible he'll end up suffering from muscle pains and reduced mobility for years to come.

    Then again, he's probably a hero, so he'll make a full recovery in not time - unless of course you need him to drag around a semi-crippling injury for a while. ;)
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  4. Malik

    Malik Auror

    The old trope about a shoulder wound "just winging him" is Hollywood B.S. Would you "wing" your hero by stabbing him in the knee?

    The shoulder is as complex and delicate of a joint as the knee. Once it's damaged, it's ruined for life. On top of that . . .

    - The acromiothoracic artery -- which becomes the brachial artery -- if hit, is a horror show. It bleeds like a thumb over a garden hose, and you're dead in less than a minute. It's a bastard to work on, because of the complexity of the joint. It's basically the Jamie Smith surgery scene from Blackhawk Down, only on a shoulder instead of a hip.

    - The brachial plexus, the branch of nerves inside the shoulder, is as critical as it gets. I once scored a KO with a shovelhook to the armpit cavity. It surprised me as much as it did him; he went down like he'd been kicked in the nuts and they had to carry him out of the ring. And that was with a boxing glove on. Hit that nerve center with a knife and he'll pass out or possibly die from shock. Start severing those nerves and the arm will never work again.

    - The network of tendons, sinew, and fluid capsules that make the shoulder function are a delicate balancing act. So much so, in fact, that professional athletes in pretty much any sport devote a good chunk of gym time to ensuring that the muscles and tendons inside the shoulder remain balanced, because once one muscle or tendon becomes significantly stronger or less flexible than another, you develop chronic shoulder issues. Dig in there with a blade and start snapping things off and rupturing random bags of fluid, and the arm is ruined for life.

    - The whole point of twisting a knife, or wiggling it around, is to kill someone. (A sentry removal standby is to plunge a full-sized knife or bayonet downward through the axis of the neck and shoulder, then wrench the handle quickly from side to side.)

    - A stab or slash to the medial head of the deltoid, the big sexy cannonball of muscle on the end of the shoulder that all heroes seem to have (ahem, myself included :cool:) would only be a flesh wound, sure. And it would hurt like hell. Once you move proximally a few inches and start wrecking things inside that joint, though, you're talking mortal injury, and likely crippled for life.

    TL;DR: Shoulder wounds are nasty.

    There's really no place on a physically fit man that you can stab him very much without hitting something that he needs. We're packed in there pretty snugly. This is why swords work so well. Now, if your protagonist was 5'6" and 400 lbs . . .
    Simpson17866, arboriad and Butterfly like this.
  5. Alyssa

    Alyssa Troubadour

    Depends on so many factors, size of the dagger, location of stab wound and how much twisting of knives goes on.

    Hitting the significant parts of the shoulder from the front and twisting the knife will probably kill your hero. There is a small sweet spot in the sort of shoulder area with very little in it, but the moment you start wiggling a knife your hero is going to bleed from an artery or die from a pneumothorax as the pleural cavity gets ruptured.

    Being stabbed in the back is a different matter. I'm going to assume that, with the presence of fireballs, magical healing exists, so any problems caused can be magicked away.

    If your not very nice guy stabbed your hero in the scapula he would probably survive. Although it would be more of a cowardly sneak attack from behind gone wrong. Given a lack of penetration depth there would also be very little point in twisting. Of course there are other interesting things that can happen. Bone is sturdy and can cause all sorts of issues, from simply jarring the hand of an attacker holding a dagger to getting the dagger jammed in the bone itself. Muscular contractions can also cause issues, powerful enough in some cases to bend steel which could hamper easy retrieval of the blade.

    Rather than twisting the knife, why not just have him struggle to retrieve it and the get interrupted and forced to flee before he can start in on round two.

    Of course it raises a separate issue of why a person living in a medieval magic society doesn't know that stabbing bone when you could easily target more vital spots is going to give you a bad time. Ultimately though, you're writing fiction. Most people don't care as long as you make it sound believable.

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    Last edited: Jul 22, 2017
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Malik (who knows a troublingly lot about this sort of thing) makes a good point that might get overlooked; namely, working the knife side to side is way easier than twisting it. A moment's consideration on the shape of a blade should show you why. Not that it cannot be done, but twisting the night away works best on very soft tissue like the belly. The shoulder, not so much. Rock it back and forth.

    (is it old-time music night or something?)
    Malik likes this.
  7. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Lots of good points here. Also, there are very few places where a dagger won't be the start of a horror show.

    Specific to the shoulder, a lot will depend on the dagger's size, trajectory and power of thrust. All those arteries and nerves are accessible from the armpit or the upper part of the thorax (just south of the clavicle). Not so much from the shoulder itself, as there's rather a lot of bone and muscle in the way. Note that the dagger is a small one, thus probably not going to hit very deep anyway.

    Driving a knife down parallel to the neck might work on a sentry unaware of an enemy sneaking up behind, but probably won't be an effective tactic in a face-to-face confrontation. With a small dagger. What with swords and fireballs and so forth flying about. The natural trajectory of the blade would be a downward arc heading posterior. Not likely to hit anything major in the shoulder this way, though the bad guy might could hit the carotid which is in that neighborhood. Yet another horror show waiting for network approval!

    When I read the OP I got the image of a (kind of) lucky stab, as you say later, out on the deltoid or perhaps in the vicinity of the acromion or smack right into the humeral head. Neither are pleasant places to be injured, for sure, but neither is the good guy going to die pretty immediately from blood loss if he's hit so peripherally. Or, if the positions are just right, bad guy could pull a Comodus and twist his little knife up under the good guy's scapula.

    The only place where a good stab might do many men some good is down in the auxiliary brain.
  8. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

    The it's ruined for life bit can be used to add depth to your character in later books - magic could alleviate some of the ruin, but having a constant reminder of being stabbed somewhere by "the not very nice guy".

    Using the knee example - I can speak on this from experience having popped my left knee twice and having to have surgery - I now hate walking downhill - it hurts - I prefer to run "bounce" down steep hills when hiking, walking slowly puts lots of pressure on my knee. There is also the trust issue, when I started playing sports again I didn't trust that my knee wouldn't pop again, I wouldn't (psychologically couldn't) turn left sharply especially on the run.

    The point that Malik makes is essentially, it won't be realistic getting stabbed anywhere much and not suffering, especially with twisting. But that is what magic is for in Fantasy. Your character doesn't have to be The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but a little bit of putting up with wounds more serious than a vanilla human would survive is possible with a fantasy hero. I think there is a subtle difference between realistic and realism - the latter being describing life in a way that is presumed to reflect life as it actually is. Is that life in this world or your world?

    Whats at about an alternative in the fight? - the two end up grappling and "NVNG" sticks a thumb into a shallow "flesh" wound that already exists - less risk of tearing anything like a knife would, but also pretty painful.
  9. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I agree with Malik. Getting stabbed with even a small knife in the shoulder is likely to lead to serious injury or death. And don't forget disease. Before WWI the greatest killer of soldiers on the battlefield wasn't bullets or swords or anything else so obvious - it was tetanus.

    Cheers, Greg.
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I've long had the notion of writing a story about a wounded warrior. He's a veteran and the wound is old, so it's more a matter of chronic pain and restricted range of motion. The sort of thing where he worries over whether he ought to retire (but what would he do?) and is he really a danger to his comrades. A short story, likely.

    Not to veer off-topic, but the idea of being wounded magically, in a manner analogous to the above, is intriguing. The wizard is "wounded" in a way that weakens him permanently. In most fantasy, combat magic rarely has long-term consequences ... besides death, that is.
  11. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

    Perhaps something that is moving through his body towards a vital part, that he has managed to use magic to slow but not cure - Tony Stark and the metal heading towards his heart type thing, or the creeping stone flesh disease in Game of Thrones. Or perhaps the overuse of magic has caused a tumour to form in his brain, which may have all sorts of conseuqences
  12. arboriad

    arboriad Scribe

    Homagosh. Best answer ever.

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