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What are some words that can help me vividly describe a motorcycle accident as if it was being seen by the reader? What are some words that can describe that crash, with such detail that the reader can listen to the noises, smell the air, and really visualize what happened...?

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  • The smells and sounds (rubber burning on the pavement, screaming of metal, etc) are your friends more than the images. For the actual images, I'd suggest using metaphors/similes. Motorcycle accidents are horrific because of the near certainty of being maimed/killed. Oftentimes family members are terrified when the person gets the motorcycle, that there will be some horrific accident (unlike if the person was driving) and so there can be more survivor guilt too.
    – SFWriter
    Nov 8, 2017 at 14:50
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    As opposed to death-like motorcycle crash?
    – erikric
    Nov 8, 2017 at 15:12
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    a whole bunch of youtube videos will show crashes that can help you get a visual on this. Take in the scene from what you see and translate that into words.
    – ggiaquin16
    Nov 8, 2017 at 15:35
  • My character will have a crash and be in a coma after, what I'm currently stuck in is in how I can describe the sound of the accident, the glass breaking, the wheels etc... i don't want to just use words like "boom" or "honk", "plop" etc
    – Acatalepsy
    Nov 8, 2017 at 19:05
  • I really like metaphors, so I'm saying it again. "The motorcycle hit the highway barrier, sounding for all the world like the grim reaper of death bringing his sickle down. But Michael would have none of it, and fought back, refusing to die." "The wheels screamed, like all of his forebearers chastising him for the purchase, saying "I told you so...."
    – SFWriter
    Nov 8, 2017 at 22:27

4 Answers 4

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As one who has experienced three (fairly mild) motorcycle crashes (two front-wheel lockups, and one caused by changing lanes over a lane divider curb), one with mild injury, I can tell you one fairly realistic way would be to jump-cut from the instant before the crash (after it's inevitable, but before anything hits the ground or the rider), to after everything stops sliding.

I recall all three of my own crashes in great detail, but that would likely be best handled in flashback, since the actual event took less than five seconds from "Oh, crap" to picking myself up. If you try to describe the events as they pass, you'll spend four or five pages covering as many seconds. That can be done, but many readers won't want to read in that level of detail for that long. If you write memory snippets later, a paragraph or two interspersed with other story material, you'll be less likely to cause readers to "work too hard."

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  • :) I am glad you weren't maimed or killed.
    – SFWriter
    Nov 8, 2017 at 15:04
  • @DPT Me, too, no question.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 8, 2017 at 17:05
  • @ Zeiss I'm glad you're okay! and yes I know everything happens so fast, things can happen in a few seconds but I want to freeze that moment and describe it.
    – Acatalepsy
    Nov 8, 2017 at 19:09
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    There's always the "oh, shit" moment when crashing a bike, isn't there?
    – user18397
    Nov 8, 2017 at 21:22
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    @Acatalepsy - from experience, yes, in a bad crash time does seem to slow, but honestly, the first thought is "F@#k", followed by several iterations of "Oh S@#t this is going to be bad". No time for internal monologues or flashbacks/montages
    – user18397
    Nov 8, 2017 at 23:13
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The human perceptual system runs on anticipation. We understand things that play out in predictable and foreseen ways. We are disoriented by things that happen suddenly, violently, and out of the blue. We come away from those incidents with a jumble of poorly integrated memories of light and noise but no clear recollection of the specifics of the event because it was entirely outside our system of anticipation and therefore hard to interpret and remember in real time.

In a movie, you can create this kind of experience for the audience. You can strap a hero cam to the handlebars of a motorcycle and run it into the side of a wall and you will create a cinematic experience quite similar to the disorientation that we feel when we are involved in or witness a crash ourselves.

But it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to create this same effect in prose. There are two main reasons for this. First, while a movie is recieved directly, by the same sense that receive input in a real event, prose has to be interpreted. Some writers try to create the impression of confusing events with confusing words, but the problem with this is that the confusing words interfere with the interpretation of the text, so that rather than receiving an impression of confusing events, the reader receives an impression of confusing words, which is in no way a recreation of the impressions of the event.

Secondly, while film is a synchronous media, in which multiple sounds and images can be presented in real time, prose is an asynchronous media. You can only read one word at a time and therefore things that happen simultaneously in life happen sequentially in prose. By spreading out the events into a sequence, you inherently make them less abrupt and confusing, thus lessening the impact.

Because of this, while movie are a medium of direct experience, prose is much more a medium of recollection. Stories are told after the fact (and using present tense does nothing to change this). They are recollections of events.

This does not in any way prevent them from being vivid. Our recollections can be very vivid. But our recollections are also reconstructions of events that impose and order, significance, and importance to events and sensations that was not present in the raw data of experience. This is well borne out by studies of memory and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. It is also why the novel is a fundamentally more powerful medium than the movie.

But what this means is that the recollection of a traumatic event, such as a motorcycle crash is far more orderly than the sense impressions that occurred at the time it was happening. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our memories of such an event are really reconstructions which draw heavily on evidence gathered after the event.

So you are not going to be able to create the immediate vivid experience of a motorcycle crash in prose the way you could in a movie. That is just not what the medium is good at. Rather, if you want to portray it vividly, you must work with the recollection of the event rather than its immediate sensations.

And remember that prose depends heavily on memory in all cases. It paints no pictures and makes no sounds. Rather, it drags the memory of pictures and sounds and other sensations out of the reader's memory by a kind of leading process, which walks the reader up to the precipice of a traumatic event and then lets the reader fill in the sensations of the event from recall of events in their own lives. Most of the strong sensations produced by literature, therefore, are not produced by the prose of the moment, but by the way the writers has build anticipation in the reader. Anticipation is the source and heart of all drama. Build the anticipation to a fever pitch and you can trigger the emotions in a few words. ("Reader, I married him.")

As a writer of prose, therefore, your tools are anticipation and recollection. Don't try treat subjects the way a movie would treat them. You don't have the tools for that in prose. But you have fundamentally more powerful tools. They simply must be used in a different way.

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  • (+1) For (again) an amazing answer. While I agree with it I should argue that although the visual aspects are difficult to re-create, an emotional response from the reader might be more approachable (and consequential). For this case in particular I can imagine that, for example, making the character raise its head after the fall, and discovering its arm is missing might effectively stagger the reader, especially if it breaks with the previous tone of the story. The consequence would last throughout the novel but we can truly shock/scare/sadden/etc. if we raise the stakes.
    – armatita
    Nov 8, 2017 at 16:46
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    @armatita Absolutely. In prose we can use anticipation and recollection to manipulate the reader's emotions in more powerful and subtle ways than movies can achieve.
    – user16226
    Nov 8, 2017 at 17:14
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My approach to this, which I stole from other authors, is to not worry about time or space and describe the action of the accident in detail, use as much space as you want.

There is an actual real life phenomenon in which adrenalin floods the brain in an emergency and it seems to slow down time. I have felt this in a rollover (car) at 75 mph, and my best friend in a separate incident was in a car crash where a coked up driver of a stolen car broad-sided him, in an intersection, traveling at over 110 mph. This threw him him through the closed driver side window of his car, which shredded both his clothing and his body, causing dozens of cuts, and sending him flying through the air to land in the street in front of another car stopped for the light. He said it felt like it took sixty seconds to complete, but in that time he could barely move his arm up so his face hit his forearm instead of the pavement (which he doesn't remember happening, but his face did hit his forearm instead of the pavement).

Regardless, just describe the scene, moment by moment, cut out what is not necessary (like any other scene). Keep track in your head that you are taking many seconds to describe something that may happen in literally less than one second, so while your narrator can take the time, don't let your fictional characters move or think at super speed.

Think of it as if you saw, in a movie, a super slow motion video of a motorcycle crash. Pick around three key points in that slow motion video to describe. How much of the broken bones, flesh left on the pavement, dismemberments or impalements or spurting ripped open arteries you want to describe is between you and your audience and what you think they can handle or expect from you, from PG to porno-horror film explicit.

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  • Yes!! I absolutely agree, that's what I'm trying to do; describe the scene as if it was a slow motion video of a motorcycle crash.
    – Acatalepsy
    Nov 8, 2017 at 19:20
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    @Acatalepsy the only thing you want to be careful of if this is what you are trying to do and be realistic is, a lot of tv shows and movies have the character see stuff like a woman standing on the side of the street they find pretty or go into these side thoughts that simply don't happen during an accident. As Zeiss stated, you could easily turn a 2 second crash into a 5 page description, but honestly most people will skip over it if it get's too deep into purple prose. I am not saying to cut out the actual action like zeiss is, but you also should be aware that over describing something
    – ggiaquin16
    Nov 8, 2017 at 20:44
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    @Acatalepsy can be detrimental to the story too. People will end up spending so much time trying to focus and picture your description that it ends up being disctracting and takes them out of the story to focus on the words they are reading. Most people know what an accident looks/feels/smells like. Everyone gets into at least 1 in their life. So you don't need to describe the accident as if you are talking to an alien. Just give enough detail that allows the person to wander to the scene you want to paint.
    – ggiaquin16
    Nov 8, 2017 at 20:46
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    And don't forget to leave a shoe lying on the pavement. There is always a shoe that comes off
    – user18397
    Nov 8, 2017 at 23:15
  • @Thomo haha! I promise to not forget the shoe... Thank you, I will try to give detail but not too much that it will make me fall out of the subject.
    – Acatalepsy
    Nov 9, 2017 at 4:17
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I agree with those who say the briefer you are the better. You want to make it realistic, you need to keep it short. A paragraph, maybe two (for me 1 is enough), imo. An accident is an action scene and action scenes are fast moving with short, choppy sentences. If it's a flashback, then it can be slightly longer. As one pointed out the senses of smells and sounds are important. Also, don't forget the feelings of the MC, his thoughts in that split second. The accident might be part of your story but it's not the real plot, it might just lead to the real plot.

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  • I agree! I now see that i have too keep it short to make the accident more realistic, thankyou!!
    – Acatalepsy
    Nov 9, 2017 at 12:56

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