“Damnit,” thought every writer somewhere, once. “I really wish there was an easy way to get my character from A to B without having to describe the boring journey stuff in between. By what means might this be done? How can my character’s faculties cease to function just long enough for the reader to be spared this boredom?”
“I know, I’ll knock him out!”
“Damnit,” thought every writer somewhere, once. “This fight is really uneven, and I need the underdogs to win. By what means can the odds be leveled?
“I know, I’ll knock someone out!”
Cheap tricks, ladies and gentlemen. Cheap writerly tricks. Lord knows, I’ve done it many times. I’m actually just redrafting a variant of the good old ‘knockout scene’ for Ironfang, wherein the protagonist is tasered, tied up and has a bag stuffed over her head. No car ride descriptions for you, Valerie!
But given the amount of times people are laid out cold in novels, films and TV shows you would imagine a brisk gust of wind is sufficient to send the homosapien cognitive system into shutdown. Unfortunately for us lazy writers, that isn’t the case,
Sure, it’s perfectly possible to knock someone out with a single blow to the cranium. But it has to be a pretty damn hard blow, with all the weight of arms, shoulders and good forward momentum behind it. It also has to be well placed – the jaw or the temple. Whacking someone on the cheek isn’t going to cut it.
The reality is that smashing your fist into someone’s skull in a fight is a pretty bad idea. The head, you see, got the lion’s share of our organic armour plating, namely a big hunk of bone called a skull. When it comes to a proper street scrap, most techniques involve going for an opponent’s softer parts, and not relying on an all-or-nothing crack to the head which has a 50-50 chance of simply breaking your own hand. In it’s most brutally simplistic terms, the best way to win a brawl is the tried and tested technique of getting your opponent on the ground and then kicking until he stops moving.
As stated, it is quite possible to knock a character for sixes with a single head-strike. However a secondary problem arises when your character, having now been dragged unconscious through the winding streets of boredom, wakes up in the villain’s lair ready to go at it once again. As many professional boxers can attest, the sad truth is that getting smacked repeatedly around the head leaves the human body with a plethora of both long-term and short-term difficulties. If you get hit on the jaw chances are you’ll damage the cranial nerve and send a shock to the brain that shuts off all non-automatic activity. A hit on the temple rattles the brain around the skull wall and will likely cause a concussion due to trauma to the brain stem. So having your character come to without so much as a headache minutes after going down is more than a few steps removed from reality.
The simple fact is that as a writer you have to come up with more interesting and unusual ways of doing stuff. If a section of the story has the potential to be boring, ask yourself two things – what can be done to make it interesting and, if nothing, how easily can it be dropped? Knocking a character out of the fight is too much of a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
That’s not to say it should never be used. I still allow myself a quota of one knockout (or semi-knockout, re the taser incident) per story, occasionally two if it’s a novel. But be aware that using it too frequently becomes predicable and gimmicky. And for goodness sake, remember to describe the bruising afterwards!