How do I convey a dazed character? I know it’s bad to confuse readers, but what if I want them to feel the hero’s confusion? If he experiences a sudden event too fast for him to process, like being hit by a car, or a bout of concussion, how do I describe their disorientation without frustrating the reader?
Related to this, what’s a reasonable limit for how long the disorientation can last? Can multiple sudden events occur in quick succession? Or is it just best to avoid realism here and describe the events clearly?
Thank you for reading,
That’s a great question. I’m assuming you’re writing in close narration and are thinking about changing the narration up to reflect the character’s dazed state.
You can do that, but if it isn’t done the right way, it won’t give readers a good experience. Readers need to know why the narration has changed in bizarre ways, or instead of feeling what they’re supposed to, they’ll just be confused as to whether it’s a mistake in the narration or if they’re interpreting it correctly.
Generally, fixing that means giving the narration some level of self-awareness. Clearly showing what causes the daze, stating that your character feels like his head is stuffed with cotton, and letting him think, “What the hell is happening?” would be means of doing that.
As to how long it goes on for, that depends on how smooth a read it is and how disorienting it is. If the sentences are all broken up and it’s difficult to piece together what’s happening, you’ll need to keep it really short, one paragraph at maximum. However, if the read is pretty smooth and readers can tell what’s happening, but the narrator is just using a funny or simplistic voice, you could keep that going for a while, maybe even a whole scene.
You might want to look at one of my critiques, Lessons From the Purple Writing of The Witcher. It includes a disorienting action sequence that goes on for too long.
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Comments on How Do I Write From a Dazed Character’s Perspective?
One technique is to have another character comment on it
“Get up,” she said. “You’re dazed.”
“My days are just fine,” I said.
But his means you’re accurately reporting what the other character said
Another method is to separate the dazed narration, say, by italicizing it or something, though this has its own pitfalls
And you don’t want the dazed state to go on too long, because while the character is dazed they have no agency, nor can they respond to, or even understand, events. The plot can’t really advance. Of course, you can use the dazed state to have the character reveal a secret or blurt out their true feelings, letting things advance that way
I had precisely this problem! I wrote in super close narration and had the MC:s thoughts become confused and disconnected. Some beta readers immediately got what was happening, but one was like “uh? Why is she thinking about this irrelevant stuff all of a sudden? Why is she so weird?” I just added a little bit more self-awareness.
In one of my scenes my MC had a panic attack and i just described whatever he felt: dizzines, problems to breath, chest pain that he thinks is a hearth attack…
But since is sudden and unrelated to what he was doing i think it convey the confussion.
I suppose I would be up front with the reader; verbally describe the character in a smashing car crash or taking a huge blow as it happens. Prior to that moment the character is still “with it,” so the description shouldn’t navigate too far from what you’d normally write for them. If they’re quick witted and prone to their vocabulary, reflect that in your prose, because it will provide a contrast.
After a while, maybe, instincts. Just running on instinct. Sluggish. Do what needs to be done. Lizard brain. Gotta do it. Do the thing. (short choppy sentences work well.)
Things happen. Plot develops. We readers are not really sure what’s happening.
Finally, the character is post-conflict, and wakes up. Memories are foggy, but usually a side character is able to fill in the details, so the reader knows what happened.
I boxed Golden Gloves for many years, and while I didn’t get my bell rung often, it did happen from time to time. The best way I can describe being dazed to you is that you go completely “robot mode.” Consciousness ends. Your corner is shouting things at you; you can’t hear them. Their words are pointless. Higher thoughts evade you. Weirdly bizarre lizard brain level thoughts enter your cocoon of a mind too. For example, you observe yourself bludgeoning some poor sap in the face with a counter right and think something weird like, “boy, I could sure go for some ice cream right now.”
When you’re out of it, the weirdest thoughts come to you. For example, in my very first fight the bell rang and my immediate thought was, “Well, I suppose I should probably go punch this guy now,” as if that wasn’t the whole point to begin with!? My own thoughts seemed bizarre to me, even at the time. I had trained for four months to punch a guy, why was it suddenly so weird?
In describing receiving punches, I would separate blows that “hurt” from blows that “damage.” It is rare when they can be both. A sharp, stinging jab hurts, but any punch that only hurts can be easily shrugged off. Punches that damage are worse, but they often don’t hurt all that much. You get hit and you feel a loss of wind, or energy, or your legs get weak suddenly. Its weird that it doesn’t “hurt” but you know something super bad happened. You take enough of these damaging shots and eventually your brain shuts off. So then it becomes; those combinations you threw in practice? Once your brain’s done, that’s suddenly all you know; your brain is just firing those. There isn’t any thinking anymore; stuff is happening and you are reacting, and FAST!
You wake up and you either won or lost.