My character has super-senses, so anything that we feel, see, hear, etc. are heightened for him. So much so that when a flash bomb is set a few meters from him, he is greatly affected by this.
Symptoms are loss of balance (b/c it affects the ears), a ringing? sound, and only seeing white for about 5 seconds and then some after images.
How do I convey the loss of balance without too much description? I want it to cut-cut-cut without using "--" too much. The ringing as well. How do I convey that without an obnoxious onomatopoeia? I can imagine it clearly in my head as if it was a scene from a movie but dang action scenes are difficult for me. But I couldn't avoid it and so here.
Also, here's an example for one of my drafts. Forgive me if it falls flat or short or confusing.

What—exhale— too bright, too fucking bright—can’t—can’t see—
Falling deep.
Falling hard.
It hurts.
Everything is spinning.
What the—what’s hap—
Stop—stop, it hurts, fuckfuckfuck—

A deafening ring resounds.

“…ter—stand up, get up, please!”

There are feet running past him.

(Running into him, digging into his flesh, hurting, hurting, hurting—)

He can hear the fear in their hearts, and feel the pain in their screams. He lies on the ground, feeling agony like a faraway dream.
And even though it hurts, his body is healing far too fast to fail him.
He doesn’t know what to do.
He can see things, but he doesn’t quite understand why it’s happening.


  • Your draft makes a good job of describing what you want. I honestly though it was more visceral without all those line breaks, but it also had the disadvantage of being harder to read.
    – laancelot
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 18:12
  • can you please clarify about the disadvantage of being harder to read? What was? the line breaks or losing it, but retaining the cut-off dialogue? If so, can you suggest a new method of conveying that? Im sorry, Im just really desperate at this point.
    – Lisa_Yo
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 16:41
  • I write a reply as an answer because it was impossible to explain in a simple comment.
    – laancelot
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 21:34

4 Answers 4


I think that communicating extremes of physical situations are very challenging for writers, because of the inherent contradiction. The page of text can't be overwhelming in itself, not like a movie can.

This means that to really communicate disorientation, you need to really have your audience hooked on the character so they want to empathize and share their experiences.

I think one technique to use dichotomy or comparison to relate the experience. If all along through your story, you've consistently related or established the character's physical sensations as they are using their talent, and the audience is at the point were they understand what sense they are engaging by just the physical sensations the character is experiences, then you are in a good position to start throwing everything out of whack with the flash-bang.

And, you can even throw in some synesthesia showing that nerve impulses are overflowing their brain regions and sounds are stimulating taste, and sight is flooding into touch.

But, I think this only works if the audience is already thinking in terms of your characters unique physiological responses as they relate to the normal use of his super senses.
Just making stuff up as examples --

  • his ears tickle as he strains to hear faintest sounds
  • his eyes get scratchy if he trying to look a really small things, but feel hard and stony when it looks at things really far away
  • oh! Ive never considered that before. Thank you so much for opening a new field of perspective for me. I think i can play this better than I did in the drafts xD
    – Lisa_Yo
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 12:40

Related writing.SE literature:

We can break down the problem into separate components.

The style

Increasing the pace of the sentences is a great idea to convey immediacy. Breaking paragraphs more frequently is another way to accelerate too. This increasing of pace should come in steps, and increase to the point where either it all goes away, or the character passes out. Gradually switch to shorter words and shorter verbs. To a degree, choose pace over correctness. For instance:

  • All spins, instead of everything is spinning
  • Feet run past instead of there are feet running past him

In this sense, making words harder to read works against you. Glueing together words in the attempt to furtherincreasethepace will actually slow down your reader and thus it is counterproductive.

Also, note that in a sensory overload scene you should have already switched the entire focus on the sensations of this particular character. There is no need to remind the reader that "he" is at the center of the narration for the time being.

On top of this, alternating a 3rd POV narration with the direct thoughts of the character may further help showing confusion:

He curls. Stop! Stop, please. The feet are unforgiving. He braces, frozen by the fear flowing in their hearts. Stop! Stop this pain!

The content

Focus on the narration. Keep it to the point. Show the reader the increasing sense of loss and confusion. Subvert the obvious points of reference to create confusion in the reader:

The floor comes to him, smashing into his face.

Consider for instance that sensory overload may also imply sensory confusion, and this in turn may generate hallucinations. You could show some amount of hallucinations.

A bell rings. Two bells. Ten. An infinity, all ringing. Loud like bees. Buzzing in the ringing bells. Buzzing in the ears. In the nostrils. In the throat. Choking, slashing, stinging.

Also, consider abstracting the images of pain in quick repetitions of the same image. This provides the impression that the pain is increasing and even transcending.

An avalanche of feet. Crushing heels. Stomping hoofs. The bulls are fleeing in fright and he has nowhere to hide.

A final note, one swear-word may communicate immediacy, but a series of them is just a filler without any content. They do not say much in a narration, and just make the text look longer when you need it to keep it quick-paced.

Fuck, he screams. His molten lips won't divide. He shouts. His shrieking teeth are cracking. His throat full with bees. Buzzing. Ringing as inside a bell.

  • oH MY God thank you so much this was very very educating, and now Im more inspired to write the chapter!
    – Lisa_Yo
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 12:35

I highly recommend that you read some exerts from the Animorphs series as it deals with all sorts of sensory issues in the fundamental premise. The heroes all have the ability to change into different animals and will often describe in detail the sensory overload of heightened or diminished senses, and what is dulled vs. what is heightend. The process has a story mechanic that basically results sensory overload induced overwelming instincts of the animal upon morphing into that animal for the first time and it happens often in the book.

This also leads to descriptions of pain and response in fight sequences that are rather well and the author does not hold back... in at least one book, one of the heroes is tortured and the description of it is rather graphic.

While never having been near a flash-bang, I'm familiar with an audio sensory overload and generaly blacking out. Basically the ringing is a singular tone... It sounds like the high pitched version of a telephone's dial tone. As the hearing returns, voices sound muffled, like you're listening to them speak underwater. You'll also feel a general confusion about what just happened.... to the point you honestly do not know where you are. If there is a momentary blackout, there might be some kind of dream that is just as chaotic and will be subject to the real environment a bit more than ordinary dreams... especially if your physical body is moved almost always translating into motion in the dream. The result is that when you come too, it's like sudden transitions in dreams where you don't realize your environment changes until it's too late... only this time you're in the real world and trying to process what happened.

  • thank you so much! I needed that first hand experience of blacking out, of which ive never experienced, so thank you for sharing yours! itll equip me more with how to handle that part in the story :D
    – Lisa_Yo
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 12:38

Here, I wrote this into an answer because what I want to show cannot be written as a comment.

When I first read your post, it had not yet been formatted by Galastel. That's what I was referring to in my first comment. Here, I reproduced it the way I read it:

Without the edit:

Breathe— Breathebreathebreathebreathebreathe FUCK! What—exhale— too bright, too fucking bright—can’t—can’t see— Falling. Falling deep. Falling hard. It hurts. Everything is spinning. What the—what’s hap— Stop—stop, it hurts, fuckfuckfuck—

After the edit:

What—exhale— too bright, too fucking bright—can’t—can’t see—
Falling. Falling deep.
Falling hard. It hurts. Everything is spinning. What the—what’s hap—
Stop—stop, it hurts, fuckfuckfuck—

See, both versions have their own qualities, but I liked the first one for the use you wrote you had for it. It felt more visceral. It's a flow, a frenetic verbal assault which conveys it's own intensity. But, on the other hand, it's also quite disorienting - which is also how the character feels, so it's not all bad.


Writing is, in a way, a form of telepathy. It's a mean to share a though from one person to another one, sometimes through a lot of extra steps. The clearer the writing, the better the communication.

Sometimes, a writer may want to sabotage this clarity for a specific reason, a reason often related to feelings. As an example, several authors will play on the meaning of words to add something to their texts, whether it's for the laughs or some non-literal poetry.

In your case, it's not the words which are confusing, but the amalgam they compose. The reader is pulled forward by this frantic writing without beginning nor end.

In controlled dosage, this can be very efficient.

If you overdo it, reading your work becomes laborious instead of exciting. The reader should never have to re-read a passage because it's written in a way which makes it confusing. Then, you get Maldoror, by the Comte de Lautreamont, and as much as it's a work of art, it's still an hard read, not worth the work in many people's opinion.

I found that a way to achieve balance between frantic rushs and readability is to alternate short "inner dialog" bursts with visceral feelings and actions.

One last thing: this is debatable, but I think that a writer shouldn't sacrifice the content for the form. An understandable text always wins over some nice piece of art which, meaningful as it is, doesn't convey it's meaning to the reader.

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