Knocking People Out: Easier in Fiction Than in Real Life

During some recent TV viewing I noticed a few characters getting a little too conveniently knocked out, which got me wondering how many of the ways writers commonly use to render characters unconscious are actually plausible. To try and answer that, I did a little researching and wrote an article for Fantasy Faction about how true to life these fictional “fade to blacks” might be. Here’s the link in case the topic is of interest to anyone following along here: 

It’s a common scenario in many kinds of fiction, including fantasy: a character passes out, either because they’ve been knocked on the head or injured or drugged, and the world “goes black” or they “fall into darkness”. The unfortunate character usually wakes up several hours or days later in a new place, disoriented and sometimes a prisoner or a patient of another character.

You can see why this happens often in books, films and TV shows, because there are good narrative reasons for it::

  • it’s the perfect fade-to-black moment for an end-of-chapter (or end-of-scene) cliff-hanger.
  • it allows the narrative to jump forward in time and also makes a quick change of location possible.
  • it’s an easy way for one character to kidnap another without a whole lot of kicking and screaming.

As you might have guessed, things aren’t quite so easy in real life.

Read the full article on Fantasy Faction >

8 thoughts on “Knocking People Out: Easier in Fiction Than in Real Life

  1. Thanks for the share. I agree its a problematic cliche. I think the only “fade to black” moments I’ve written were the result of massive blood loss. Come to think of it, that happens to a lot of my characters. I’m a bad man. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In the case of a magical knock-out, you wouldn’t necessarily have to do this with an arcane blast causing physical trauma. D&D has the old favorite Sleep spell, which forces the target to fall asleep despite whatever battle may be going on. The victim remains asleep until certain conditions are met. The spell will have a set duration, or taking damage may wake the victim.

    So theoretically a mage could continue casting Sleep to keep a victim unconscious for extended periods, as long as they aren’t harmed in a way that would wake them. Side effects of this would be included with the spell description or the GM would have to decide.

    A similar effect in science fiction could be achieved by people with mental powers who could take control of a target’s mind and render them unconscious. Or force them to obey the aggressor’s will and forget about it afterward. How’s that for a side effect?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing post, Nicola! As always, your essays are so on point and interesting I don’t know how you come up with such cool topics 🙂 I always wondered about these myself, so thanks for clearing up some of the misconceptions. The chloroform one surprised me the most, as I really assumed it was instantaneous. Turns out it takes 5 minutes?? Ain’t nobody got time for that xD
    But yeah, brilliant assessment ^^

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Social Media Tag – the orang-utan librarian

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