Don’t ‘Black Knight’ Your Characters

One thing that drives me nuts is when I read a book or watch a movie/TV show and characters ignore injuries.  Running full-speed with a broken leg, bouncing around with busted ribs, and so many other mistakes that seem sloppy. My characters get hurt all the time, so I have to remember to slow them down or add in something that explains how they can keep going.  A barbarian’s rage or a magic spell can work, but you must always remember to have them react to the injury once that boost is over.  Unless that boost comes with a healing spell, they’re going to be hurting later.

I can only think of three reasons (here with solutions) for this to happen:

  1. The author forgets about the injury, which is something that should be fixed in an editing run.  Once that character is hurt, you have to read through the rest of the action with that clear in your mind.  Every move should be analyzed to make sure it doesn’t ignore the wound.  For example, if Luke Callindor breaks his arm, I can’t have him swinging away at full strength with that arm.  If he manages to use it, his aim will be off, he’ll have an expression of pain, and he probably won’t do any damage.
  2. The injury is thrown in only for suspense and then only mentioned as an aside.  You want your reader to realize that the character is in danger, so you hurt them.  This one has a simple solution: Don’t do it!  Yes, there is a rush when the hero is bleeding from a bad wound and the villain is closing in.  You still need to have your character react to the injury.  A burst of adrenaline is one thing, but blatant disregard for physical pain is another.  I’m thinking of the Inigo Montoya vs Count Rugen fight here as an example of how to do it right.  (Watch the movie if you don’t know what I mean.)
  3. “My character is so badass that pain doesn’t slow him down.”  LAME!  BORING!  COP OUT!  This is a personal opinion here, but the ‘immune to pain’ stuff is ridiculous.  It brings in too many problems.  If a character doesn’t feel pain then they shouldn’t feel pleasure either.  This denotes a numbing of one’s sense of touch.  Even if a character is able to mind over matter their way through pain, they’re still injured and their inability to be slowed down by any injury takes away from the story.  Wolverine can heal, but he can still be hurt and has a moment where the injury effects him (usually).  Superman can still take a beating or get knocked around (usually).  This ‘too badass to be slowed down’ is really overdone and I see it as the ultimate laziness in fight scenes.  You don’t want to weaken the reputation of your hero or villain?  Then don’t let them get hit in the first place.

I’m going to end here on the biggest ‘Black Knight’ maneuver that drives me up the wall:

Guys that are immune to groin kicks!

You ever read that book or watch that movie where the hero kicks the big guy in the junk, but the big guy only stands there grinning?  When did that become the sign of evil badassery?  I feel sorry for that villain’s wife or girlfriend because he’s obviously either a eunuch or suffering from severe erectile nerve damage.  A kick to the groin slows down, if not stops, every male.  It’s our weakest point and it can make the biggest man in the world curl up in the fetal position and cry.  So, STOP with the immunity to groin kicks unless you have a damn good reason for it.  Again, your choices are:

  1. Eunuch
  2. Severe erectile nerve damage.
  3. Codpiece (requires a clang and the hero to hurt his/her foot)
  4. Alien where the junk is somewhere else like the knee (Star Trek VI, anybody?)

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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51 Responses to Don’t ‘Black Knight’ Your Characters

  1. sknicholls says:

    Seriously funny, but true and annoying…like yeah right!

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    • I’ve actually raised my hand and openly asked about injuries while reading a book. As if the author will magically appear to answer the question.

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      • sknicholls says:

        Haha. My husband gets mad watching tv also…they get shot, and don’t even say, “Ouch, wth you ugly mf!” and proceed to run 18 miles to tackle and bring down the bad guy.

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      • Bullet wounds are nothing more than mosquito bites in television. Unless they need drama then the bullet wound is some epic gusher along with internal bleeding. You were shot in the foot ten seconds ago, so why are you bleeding from the mouth?

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  2. whylieto says:

    Some writers have no respect for their readers. It’s like when the FBI agents go to storm the building and the suspect’s car is sitting out front the entrance. Instead of neutralizing the tires, they proceed in. The felon escapes. A rational thinking man would have either:
    1. slashed the tires
    2. assigned a lookout to guard the vehicle.
    I forget which movie I saw this in.

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  3. tjtherien says:

    I agree with you Charles… by the way “it’s only a flesh wound…”

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  4. Oh dear, I so enjoyed this post! You should be a teacher! Please try to find the post on the fighting scene! You have the ability of telling the things and make people laugh!
    And yes I found Inigo Montoya vs Count Rugen fight weird too, but I love the movie!
    A question; if someone explain the not feeling pain like the result of a training aimed to that (like the slaves in the GOT) what would you say? Are they going in the group with the ones who shouldn’t feel anything at all?

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    • I think it was a guest post, but I don’t remember who I wrote it for. It happened after I posted a fight scene on Community Storyboards. I might to re-write it for next week’s Wednesday Author Thought post.

      The Inigo vs Rugen fight isn’t that weird if you think about it. He showed that he was hurt and was barely able to move. The final blow was a burst of adrenaline instead of him shrugging the wound off immediately. I’ve been hurt (not stabbed) in sports and it takes time to gather up enough strength to pull off a short burst of fast movement.

      I’m leery off the ‘trained to ignore pain’ because authors take it too far. Blunt damage like hammers, fists, and kicks can be handled that way. Though, I still refuse to believe a non-eunuch can handle a groin kick without at least a grimace. Stabbed and broken bones shouldn’t be shrugged off though. You can train someone to ignore pain, but if their arm is destroyed then they should still have some restriction of strength. Fantasy takes more liberties than other genres because of magic. This also goes back to the ‘if you can’t feel pain then you shouldn’t feel pleasure’. Ignoring pain is one thing, but not feeling it at all means the nerves are altered. At least in my mind.

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      • Actually yes it makes sense! Even if you can ignore, if they’re cutting your hand minimum you have to flinch! Great post!

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      • Thanks. I mention to another commenter that there are exceptions. Characters enraged before the injury can work because the brain might not register it completely since it’s so crazed. Like an athlete pumped up on adrenaline that won’t notice an injury until they calm down.

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      • Or like the berserk!

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      • Berserk is definitely an option. I think that’s one of the safer ways to go, but it does require a history or set up. I have seen characters suddenly berserk and there was no sign of this being a possibility earlier in the book. There is a difference between a pain-ignoring berserker and somebody who is simply mad.

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      • This is true! And I suppose it’s the difference between the good and the bad writer as well at some extent!

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  5. Great points, Charles. I have a problem with #1 – I tend to forget that I’ve done damage. This was easily solved with colored tabs as I’m editing: red for injury and so on… They alert me to “something” happening that needs follow up or reference.

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  6. OMG – this post had me laughing (not quite out loud, b/c I don’t want to wake the kids – more sniggering into my hand). I love that scene from Monty Python – one of my all-time favs! And I also HATE it when authors injure their characters and then have no consequences from the injury – why put it in there at all if you are just going to have your character react like it never happened? My other pet hate is when characters do things that just seem impossible. I read one book where the character (an ordinary non-fighter type) put an large, unconscious bound guard atop a horse. I am still scratching my head as to how that would actually work in real life….

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    • I had that problem in one of my books. A small caster knocked out a barbarian and had to move him. I was like ‘uh . . . oops’. Thank god for strength-enhancing spells. I’m always trying to remember the limits of my characters. I might even downplay it most. Best author/wife conversation from the current book:

      Me: Can an enraged barbarian bash through a 4-foot thick stone wall?

      Wife: Have you made him strong enough to do it?

      Me: I think so. He’s already tossed around a monster the size of an elephant. Pulled a muscle doing it.

      Wife: Then bash away!

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  7. Wanderer says:

    I have a question about point #2 — are you saying that injuries thrown in for suspense/to show a character’s mortality in a fight are bad across the board or only if said character shakes it off as “only a flesh wound”?

    Also : “Wotcha gonna do? Bleed on me?!”

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    • Only if the character shakes it off immediately and it really doesn’t effect the fight. I use the Inigo Montoya example because his injuries were for suspense, but they also led to the point where he slowly (key word) worked through them. It’s entirely possible for a character to work up the strength and will to fight through an injury, but that requires time. Also, it helps if the character collapses or reacts to the injury after winning.

      There are always exceptions. I have a scene where a character charges forward takes two arrows and a claw up the back. He’s fueled by rage, which is an acceptable method of working through injuries for suspense. Yet, that rage should be in place before the injury in order to maintain the power and speed. It’s more believable for a character to be so angry that pain isn’t factoring in than for the pain to come first.

      Like

      • Wanderer says:

        I read the Inigo Montoya example (and have seen the movie a million times) but my brain is slow this morning. I understand and agree with that point.

        I guess I keep thinking of Boromir as the example of extreme pain of course (SPOILER ALERT) he dies from his wounds, but most people wouldn’t be able to kill giant man-eating Orcs with one arrow stuck in them much less five or six. I suppose that would fit with the reaction to wounds after winning.

        I’m glad you posted this though…I’m thinking of several scenes that I may need to revisit in my writing.

        What is your opinion on mortal wounds healed by magic? Is it cheating/a cop-out or does that more depend on the role of magic in the story/how often it happens?

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      • Poor Sean Bean will always be the example of a character that dies. 😀

        Arrows are an odd one because they can hit a centered, non-lethal spot. They lose some of their punch with certain armors too. A sword or axe tends to be a slash or a deeper wound. So, I can see how a character can keep going with an arrow shot in a non-lethal spot. I want to say I remember Boromir taking most of the shots around his shoulders, stomach, and hips. Those are bleed out areas and slow if a major artery isn’t hit.

        Depends on the role of magic in the story. I have a high-magic world, so magical healing is fairly common. The trick is getting to them in time and scars can still happen. I’ve even done the minor fire spell to stop bleeding trick. Magic is definitely a way around this, but it does have to established.

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  8. So true Charles! 🙂

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  9. LindaGHill says:

    This is one of the main problems I have with the new Dan Brown book. It’s seriously …. UGH!!!!
    I’d write about it, but I don’t want to give it away.

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  10. LindaGHill says:

    Reblogged this on lindaghill and commented:
    Excellent advice from Charles, and a great great movie clip to boot 🙂

    Like

  11. L. Marie says:

    For some reason, the like button isn’t loading on any post I’ve seen today. Anyway, I have to laugh not only at this Monty Python video, but also because I just watched The Princess Bride last night, so I totally see your point. Great advice. I’m guilty of number 1. A friend read my chapters and had to remind me of the injury I inflicted on my main character and the fact that she needed to be sore for days afterward.

    One of my pet peeves is when characters are in a fist fight and neither has bruised knuckles. Punching someone in the jaw hurts!

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    • You can click on the like button next to the faces of those who already liked it. The one with the blue star. Found that out recently if it’s the same problem.

      That’s what happened to me, which made me focus, but I caught myself. Luke had busted his ribs and kept bouncing around. I always forget the ribs.

      I never remember bruised knuckles, but the most common fist-fighter is the caster who keeps a small defensive shield around her body. I do a lot of slapping though.

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  12. mswoolsey22 says:

    I agree. I’m not a huge fan of characters that don’t feel pain or recall pain. On the other hand, I don’t mind when characters can push passed certain injuries or find temporary solutions to suppress pain, but only if the character recalls the pain later or it worsens.

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  13. These are all such great points and examples. It’s even worse in movies where you can SEE the damn injury. I mean its one thing to get punched in the face and still be running on adrenaline but its entirely another to lose a leg and still be running…

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  14. Bastet says:

    Reblogged this on Bastet and Sekhmet and commented:
    Agree so much with Charles here…how is it that the injured never hurt…something wrong with the writer?

    Like

  15. Pingback: Double, double, toil and trouble | The D/A Dialogues

  16. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya; You are injured – I do not think that word means what you think it means. 😀
    An enduring comment is from Predator; Bain shrugs off pain and says ;I ain’t got time to bleed.’ I think Boromir was a fine example of determination to succeed mixed with his own disbelief that he could be stopped. My pet peeve is human beings who can outrun explosions or are immune to the resulting pressure waves
    The entire city has just exploded!
    Turn away – you’ll be fine once the special effects have died down.
    My poor main character in ‘A Construct of Angels’ suffers beatings, burns and a broken leg in the course of the novel. Thankfully I remembered to make sure that she had a few hairs out of place (read;make her into a complete mess) by the end, otherwise it may have served as another fine example of ‘super-healers.’
    Worst ever movie line;
    Bad Guy; ‘I’m gonna blow this place sky-high!’
    Cobra; ‘Go ahead – I don’t shop here anyway.”

    Like

    • Movies definitely do it worse than books. I think they are able to get away with it more often because there is so much to distract you. With books, the reader has to imagine it along with the words and that leads to them noticing inconsistencies more often.

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  17. C.N. Faust says:

    Beautiful post, required reading for every author! Though I’m sure I’ve made this mistake myself a few times…. XD

    Like

  18. melissajanda says:

    Great advice, Charles. If a character is immune to pain, then the writer misses an opportunity to humanize them and allow the reader to make a deeper connection.

    Like

  19. Jennwith2ns says:

    Reblogged this on That's a Jenn Story and commented:
    The Tuesday Reblog
    Yesterday (or maybe it was the day before) I made a new blogging friend who has self-published a book. It is going for a great price and is a genre I dearly love, so I anticipate it’s finding a place on my Kindle app in the next day or two. In the spirit of doing unto others what I would have them do unto me, I’d like to share some publicity for this guy and his work. This post isn’t directly about his book, but it IS some good writing advice . . . and you can find the book info on his blog.

    Like

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