I'm currently writing an apocalypse themed story. As with the territory, death and/or injuries happen. I'm wondering how other writers write these scenes realistically as far as science, medicine, and biology are concerned?

Meaning, if I injure a character's eye, knowing what happens if I do that, what methods can be used on the injured character when there is no sufficient medical expertise available, or the consequences of not having that medical treatment. Do writers just go by reading other materials of the same theme, looking into medical articles? I'm not really sure where to go to research this.

Google doesn't seem to be sufficient because if I look up an injury, it's going to tell me, "Seek medical attention" on some medical site and well, if this is the end of the world, what's going to happen to this character who can't seek this medical attention?

Thanks in advance for any resources or tips. :-)

  • 1
    See a doctor, meet a few injured.
    – user10811
    Oct 6, 2014 at 19:47

6 Answers 6


Seek medical advice. Find a medical or health care professional who will answer your questions. If you can't figure it out from a book, find a doctor, nurse, EMT, etc. who is willing to sit down with you for half an hour.

  • 1
    Ironically (considering the first few words of this), this is a good answer. I think that @KaguraRap needs a general understanding and then a guide to resources. So perhaps the second stop will be a medical library, with a request for materials understandable to the lay person. Oct 6, 2014 at 17:35
  • I unfortunately don't know anyone in the field, so resources would be the next best step as Neil Fein suggested. @Neil Fein, a medical library sounds like it would help - I'm assuming if someone hurt their eye, I'd look for books on optometry? A regular library wouldn't have these resources?
    – KaguraRap
    Oct 6, 2014 at 19:20
  • 1
    You might try going to a regular library first. University libraries are very good for this, since the larger ones sometimes have specialized libraries. Oct 6, 2014 at 21:14
  • 2
    And you may know some EMTs and not know it. Put am inquiry out on Facebook, it can't hurt. Oct 6, 2014 at 21:15
  • 1
    Also, realize that different medical professionals will give you different assessments. An EMT/Paramedic will know how to treat an injury in the field, but may not know all of the potential damage and how to fix it in a clinical setting. Much different knowledge and skillset than an opthalmologist.
    – JohnP
    Oct 7, 2014 at 19:10

The difference between a successful writer and a wannabe writer is that the latter says that "unfortunately I don't know anyone in the field," whereas the successful writer grabs a copy of the yellow pages, finds a doctor, and makes an appointment.

A further difference is that the wannabe writer uses Google to find information, and that the successful writer knows about publication databases such as PubMed or Google Scholar and uses these from within a university library that has access to the paywalled content.

The successful writer also knows that there are medical libraries full of books that teach medical students about injuries, what they look like, what effects they have, and how to treat them, and he has the confidence that if first semester medical students can grasp this information in the few weeks they learn for an exam, he can do so too, so he finds the next medical or university library and takes the next bus to read a copy of The Wills Eye Manual: Office and Emergency Room Diagnosis and Treatment of Eye Disease or something similar.

  • 2
    Ooh I didn't know about PubMed/Google Scholar and also thanks for the book recc. I'll definitely see if I can get a hold of my cousin who used to be an EMT or stop by a library where I can access these books. Thanks! (I need 15 more rep to upvote this and then I will) :-)
    – KaguraRap
    Oct 7, 2014 at 7:37

Since doctor appointments cost actual money, which not every writer has, 'successful' (according to someone's standards - what a snooty, elitist response!) or not, let me point you to this excellent resource I found while writing character injuries. From a range of normal reactions to pain, to how fast a person will bleed out without immediate medical intervention: http://www.users.totalise.co.uk/~leiafee/ramblings/realistic_injuries.htm

I didn't see any specific info on eye injuries (hopefully your EMT cousin can help!) but there's plenty of useful info there. I hope that helps you as much as it helped me. Just remember that every writer is successful - by actually writing! And all of us - even the published ones - are 'wannabe' writers. We all started that way, and we never stop wanting to write!


Read a textbook on forensic science. They cover all the fun topics like:

  • if ripped apart with a nail, which direction does the skin shear
  • was she really raped
  • bullet exit wounds
  • hacked apart cadavers
  • this was the first 20 pages.

Find it at a bookstore near a medical doctor university or online.

  • 1
    Honestly, can't upvote this enough! It's really clever to know what each looks like, since they need to determine if it's this or something else. Thus it goes into vast detail on strange subjects like the ones mentioned.
    – Murphy L.
    Dec 15, 2021 at 20:44

Considering you are describing situations where serious injuries happen without the proper equipment (or people) available to treat them, there is a field of expertise very familiar with this problem: military field medicine. Soldiers get injured all the time on patrols or in the heat of battles, sometimes very far away from the medical facilities that can treat them in time.
That's not post-apocalyptic setting, but it is as close as it gets.
Start your research with keywords like "battlefield medicine" or war-veteran stories. That may give you the insight you need before having to dive into medical jargon.


Optimally, you will find all the answers you need via medical journals, medical dictionaries, doctors, and the web, however, this is unrealistic. You will find that some 'injuries' you write about do not have an explanation because they are too specific or esoteric; in this case, it is important to use prior knowledge and critical reasoning to infer what might happen in such a case. This being said, make sure to do as much research as possible before resorting to inference.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.