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One of the characters in my book, the narrator, is suddenly knocked unconscious. How would I describe what he sees/feels?

Do I just have a big timeskip, with him confused as to what happened when he wakes up? Or do I add something along the lines of "I hear ambulance sirens || Back to silence"?

For those who want to know, he got bit by a zombie, but it was pulled away quickly enough that he wasn't turned into one.

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It depends on who your narrator is. In many cases, it does not make sense to for the narrator to say what's happening when they are completely unconscious. I think of my first person present narration as the stream of thoughts in the character's head, and they won't have any thoughts if they're knocked out (i.e., a time skip), plus they'll likely be disoriented after. In other cases, you can justify explaining what's happening. For example, if the narrator is recounting an experience they had years ago where they would have been told what happened by witnesses. If that happened, I'd expect to see your narrator commenting on other parts of the story they're telling as they go. And other stories may decide to switch narrators to someone else while the main narrator is out of the action.

But you have more options. It's also possible that your character isn't fully unconscious and therefore could describe some of their experiences. As a fantasy disease, it can have any symptoms you find necessary. Can you use the narrator's description of the symptoms to make the condition feel real? Can you use it to show that the character is in a declining mental and physical state? Your choice what you do in the end, but it may help to write at least two versions of the scene so you can pick the one you — or maybe your beta readers — like best.

For inspiration, you can research how people describe their real conditions that result in partial or total unconsciousness. One of the most diverse and easy to research is seizures.

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In one of my stories (not first person, 3PL), the hero (a woman) is knocked unconscious in a car accident. She is stuck in traffic, she sees the other car (a van) coming, she knows it is going to hit her, she instinctively tries to escape but cannot.

The passage is long for something that happens quickly; describing her actions, at the last moment she can't escape and just thinks "no No NO!".

She turned away, belted but wanting to escape, she wanted to scream, there was no time. The van hit, it jolted her, the window exploded, then something hit her in the head.

That is the end of Chapter 1, 28.25 submission format pages (5375 words, roughly 190 words each).

The beginning of the next chapter, she wakes up from a coma, disoriented, not remembering the accident at all. It takes a thousand words before she understands she has been in a coma for 10 weeks, and a few thousand more to understand what has happened in those ten weeks, to her and to others.

When writing, do not fall into the trap of thinking word count is a clock. This whole accident, which happened in a few seconds, is a page long. Elsewhere, her full day at work was two pages long. In other words, just because something happens quickly does not mean it needs to be described in a paragraph.

In another story, I have described a warrior in a knife fight that lasted thirty seconds from attack to victory, and I spent two pages on just that.

At least for me, "Bit by a vampire" could be a few hundred words, easily.

Readers in a dramatic moment with life and death circumstances do not mind a lot of words, as long as they are not repetitive, obvious, and are making progress; i.e. the situation is changing in some way. My woman trying to escape the car doesn't give up easily, she tries two sensible things before she is finally hit.

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    The length of it compared to time also is neat because it helps show how time seems to slow down when you are in deep fear. As for the example, it doesn't help overly much, since she knew it was coming. This is sudden, the only real forewarning he has is his friend Arthur shouting his name, which gets cut off. (Nothing against it though, sounds interesting!)
    – Murphy L.
    Dec 10, 2021 at 20:54
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Show the character trying to work through exactly what happened before they fell unconscious, and have them try to sort through what they know and don't know.

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  • I have done that, it was the first thing I thought of. It helps that I'm a discovery writer, and I've been piecing together the story of what happened to him myself!
    – Murphy L.
    Dec 15, 2021 at 20:14

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