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It's Knockout Time


How do you handle characters who have been knocked out, especially when writing from their POV?

To my knowledge, I’ve never been KO’d.

Does anyone have any experience of this happening to them, particularly if it involves a wall?

What does it feel like falling into sudden unconsciousness?

How does it feel to wake from it?


Myth Weaver
When I slipped on ice and KOed there was a half second of realising that something was going wrong and then it was probably going to hurt.
Then the world just stopped. I don't even remember my head hitting the street.
I came round after a few minutes [I was told later] but all I could feel was my body throwing up and my vomiting. It was very out-of-body. I knew I was throwing up, but it wasn't me at the same time as I was watching it happen... The closest I can come to a description of this is when you see footage from those head mounted camera on cyclists [et al] - you can see what they are doing and it sort of looks right but it isn't you...
There was blood everywhere [head wounds really bleed!] and immediately I was worried that the blood was in my vomit. I knew enough to know that that was a very bad sign. so I tried to stand up.
I kept trying to stand [to go and get help for me] but couldn't because of three things; first it was still icy and I kept slipping on ice and vomit, then there was a very strong woman holding me fairly still and telling me not to move [no idea who she is or was...] and when I tried to sit up or even move too quickly I whited out with pain and fainted. I was told that I tried to get up about a half a dozen times and fainted doing most of the attempts. The fainting was like loosing my train of thought and having to start over again. I didn't seem to learn that it was going to hurt and not do that hurty bit...
Then the paramedics arrived and I must have fainted again because the next thing I remember was someone doing something like the Glasgow coma test on me. After that things just hurt and I threw up a lot more...
I have never been knocked out; I was sedated for my wisdom tooth removal surgery, and that was very weird. Sort of things just going black, and then when you wake up, it is very out-of-bodyish. Obviously, much less traumatic than being physically knocked out, but the sense of losing a huge chunk of time is definitely there.

There was also a time I had a serious reaction to some medication and that rendered me unconscious. I came to now and then (thank God my roommate called the ambulance) but all of the memories I have are really strange, as though I was watching myself.

So, there are some chemical knockouts for you. Similar in terms of memory structure being totally weird, but obviously not a traumatic as a physically induced knockout.

@ CupofJoe:


The only time I fainted it wasn't sudden. I had just gotten out of my shower and didn't realize the water heater was malfunctioning and the windows were closed. I had just slipped inside my robes when I noticed I felt really light, my head was light, my legs were light. Then they melted. I knew they wouldn't support my weight, clutched at the sink to not fall and didn't realize I was fainting (I was a child). I passed out before hitting the ground.

When I woke up first I thought the I was dreaming; then that people were being really noisy this morning. I didn't remember immediately what happened and it was actually evening. I could hear the conversations, but not make sense of them, only a word here and there; the sound seemed to travel really slowly between my ears and my brain. My mind gradually worked faster and I was able to open my eyes, confused. They said I opened my eyes a couple of times when being carried to the living room, but I remember nothing. My legs were still shaky for a half hour, but after that I was as good as new.
(Should this be a Research question?)

This is about what I went through too:

When I slipped on ice and KOed there was a half second of realising that something was going wrong and then it was probably going to hurt.
Then the world just stopped. I don't even remember my head hitting the street.

There I was shifting lanes on my motorcycle, and I had the thought "Is that the curb right there?" Then, drifting.

The other side of knockouts is that they aren't nearly as convenient as stories like to make them. Hitting someone's head hard enough to knock them out without fracturing the skull --or killing them-- takes either knowing just where the nerves are, or more likely a lot of luck. It's much less likely that someone would be knocked out cleanly than that they'd pass out from blood loss and shock from maybe minutes of struggle. (Even boxers get knocked out as much because of the battering they've taken as the one blow hitting them right.) Or, the classic way to lose a real fistfight isn't a knockout at all, it's as much losing the confidence to get up again as being too weak to do it.

So I'd rather structure my action so people don't get knocked out all at once, or if they do they're at risk of it being a lot worse. Just-a-knockout can still happen, but I don't want it to be routine.

But, is it different for martial artists who know how to hit those nerves? That is, if/once you get a proper shot at them?


I just finished "Violence- a Writer's Guide" by Rory Miller. Rory is a well-respected guy in martial arts and law enforcement, and has written several really good books about violence. He addresses this as well as many other topics regarding making it "real".

When I was about eight, some other kid came up behind me and dropped a big rock on my head. I never saw him coming. One minute I was picking flowers, the next minute I was being carried through the hallway of my apartment by my mother. I had no idea WTF was going on, and was more confused than hurting... but when she put my head in the sink and ran water over it, and I saw a sheetload of blood going down the drain, I started shrieking like a banshee. Then she carried me back up the hallway again, and I saw the wall painted with bloody streaks from my long hair and bloody handprints from where she'd carried me through the first time, and I started screaming about ten times louder.

When someone is blood-choking (strangling) me in class, and big black roses start blooming in front of my eyes, I know it's time to tap because I'm about to go out. Many others speak of their vision tunneling.

Surgical sedation- I tasted mint at the back of my throat and said to the anesthesiologist- "Oooh- minty!" Then there was an eyelash flick, and there I was fully cogent in the recovery room. Out like a light, back on like a light. Unlike Deilaitha, I had absolutely *no* sense of time having passed... it was not like sleeping, it was like a time warp. Freaky.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Thanks for the book reference, Kit! Totally just checked it out and bought it. Our series is pretty violent, and even with the training I've had I can use all the help I can get.


I've been knocked unconscious several times in various training and sparring scenarios. Kit mentioned both of the scenarios I have experience in above, but I'll reiterate them for support.

Sudden KO - It takes surprisingly little impact force to render a person unconscious for a second or two. I've been on both ends - you catch their head just right, and it's lights out. What you notice from the outside is a sudden and total limpness. They immediately fall. What you notice when it's you is that you don't remember the exact moment of losing consciousness - that couple seconds is gone. All you know is that you were fighting, and suddenly you were on the ground.

Strangle KO - Being choked is extremely alarming no matter how used to it you get. You struggle to get air, and like Kit said there are blooms of darkness that start playing across your eyesight and tunnel vision also usually sets in. As far as memory because it is much more gradual I've often remembered pretty much everything when I regained consciousness (again, a couple seconds later), but I've also had times when my memories of the moments before were much spottier. Couldn't say why.

I'd recommend looking up youtube videos of MMA knockouts. That will at least familiarize you with the outward physical effects.

This one is a favorite.

Mostly cuz it's freaking awesome, but it also is a good example. The guy goes entirely limp and is just flying through the air. I actually think he regained consciousness before he hit the ground, and then the sudden impact - before he'd really regained his bearings - stunned him again, causing his arms to flop limply.


Article Team
Getting knocked out is nothing like the movies. There can be very serious consequences. From my understanding, to knock someone out, you are concussusing them, hitting them so hard that their skull accelerates so fast that it hits their brain, giving them a severe concussion. This is a kind of brain injury that can have life changing aftereffects. Once you get one concussion it becomes easier and easier to get one. People do make a full recovery, but that depends on severity of the concussion and how many one has had.

I've never been knocked out but I've come close. While playing hockey, a guy threw an elbow at my head. I saw it coming, had enough time to realize this was going to hurt, heard a loud crack as he hit my helmet, and the next thing I knew I was on my knees with tweety birds circling. This is kind of like what they portray in movies. You feel like you're withdrawing from the world, like you're watching it from a thousand miles away, kind of like you're underwater. It's almost like you can feel your brain wobbling.

Depending on the type of story you're writing, you don't have to have any consequences to being knocked out. It just depends on how real you want to make it.
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So far, all your answers have been of amazing help, so thank you all. And I'm happy to hear that everyone has had a full recovery from all these little mishaps. So hugs all round.


The only problem I have now is actually writing it... perhaps having him wake with all these broken memories, a headache, nausea... after 3 or 4 hours.

Is a few hours being unconscious a plausible time length?
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As Penpilot said, the idea that you can be knocked unconscious for a few hours is sort of a no-man's land in the real world. Minor KOs last seconds, and major ones perhaps a minute or so, longer when you include the delirium after technically regaining consciousness. Any longer than that and you are dealing with life-changing events.

At the same time...well, we sort of have the hollywood myth drilled into our heads because it is used SO OFTEN. It's just such a convenient plot device that it's hard for people to not use it, even if they know better. You may be able to chance using it and hoping it doesn't bug people that know better.

Then again...what's the plot purpose of this? Is it an accident, or is someone doing it to him? There can be other things that fill the same role and are also more plausible.


Well... he's standing guard over a prisoner who escapes, and acts to stop it. Ends up with his head being rammed against a wall... so the escapee is trying to kill him... but he survives due to super-strong bones that take a lot to break (it's one of his abilities), however... the soft tissues such as skin, muscle, organs are just as fragile as any other normal human.
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Sounds like you could work this any way you want. With a hard skull he could take a hit that might kill many of us, and what he's really dealing with is the concussion ("sloshing brain") inside it. You might give him serious consequences from that, that he has to recover from.


Yeah, concussion is probably the way to go. When you're concussed you are definitely still awake but in no position to do anything about it. A moderate to severe concussion will leave you nauseous or vomitting, so weak you can't stand, too dizzy to stand even if you wanted, unable to speak correctly and confused. There is no way someone in that position would be able to stop someone intent on escaping, they may not even remember they were trying to stop them until the person is long gone.


At the risk of sounding cliche, check out some of the most famous UFC knockouts. MMA is unique in that a flash knockout ends the fight -- you lose consciousness, you're done. That differs from boxing, where there's a 10 count after a flash knockout and the fighter can continue if he is able to get to his feet. (It's also why, appearances notwithstanding, MMA is actually safer than boxing -- in MMA fighters are not made to endure 12 rounds of repeated blows to the head even after they've been technically knocked out. The more we learn about concussions, medically, the more we understand just how dangerous boxing can be.)

But it's not just the knockouts in MMA that are telling, it's the aftermath. Usually you see guys go to sleep and they have no idea what happened after a span of anywhere from 5 seconds to several minutes. It's not unusual to see a fighter get knocked out, lose consciousness for a few seconds, then try to wrestle down the referee who runs in to call the fight. That's because, in the confusion, they think the ref is the opponent. Likewise, you see some fighters who are incredulous that the fight has been called because they simply don't remember losing consciousness.

Often you'll see a fighter get knockout out, and you can see him mouthing "What happened?" to his corner crew or the ref.

And, finally, another interesting thing to observe is the almost-knockout, when a fighter eats a huge power punch, elbow or knee and wobbles, but does not fall. In some fights you can see the precipice of the knockout, and it's extraordinary to see how some of them are actually able to recover by creating distance for a few seconds and/or dodging follow-up strikes.


I've never been completely knocked out before. I've almost been, three or four times. So when I find my character is going to be KO'd I go back to that moment in my life and instead of having my vision swim in and out of darkness with the world rocking below me, I hold onto the moment when everything was black and exaggerate it. Amplify it. This rule also goes for other scenarios, emotional or physical.