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How do I describe when a person falls unconscious with enough sensory details?

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    If they're unconscious, they can't sense anything, can they? Jun 30, 2023 at 7:30
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    @KateBunting You're right, but OP wants to know what the character would sense while they're falling unconscious.
    – F1Krazy
    Jun 30, 2023 at 10:30
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    @KateBunting It's not an on/off switch but a dulling of sensation. It's like going to sleep and waking up. You don't realize you fell asleep when it happens, and when you wake up, you don't realize the processes is happening right away. There are cases where reality can bleed into subconscious experience resulting in a dream where real sensation is interpreted into not real scenarios. For example, I once had a dream where I was hanging with Scooby-Doo and co. and we were trying to find a source of a mysterious beeping sound... turns out, it was my parent's alarm clock in the next room.
    – hszmv
    Jun 30, 2023 at 14:44
  • @hszmv - Yesss - I know all that; I was being a bit sarcastic at the OP's expense for not providing enough detail about what they really want. Jun 30, 2023 at 15:48

2 Answers 2

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This is a tricky challenge. We don't usually notice things like falling asleep, or falling unconscious, so it's hard to describe it in real time.

Here are a few options.

Have the character struggle against it

This is a common trope for characters who notice they've been drugged. Think of trying not to fall asleep: you drift out of consciousness and then jolt back awake. Or maybe the world slowly fades into a a dream scape with your thought becoming illogical and disjointed.

You can go back and forth a few times, and then have the character lose the struggle.

Jump cut

This is probably closer to how the experience feels to us. Everything suddenly stops. You can emphasize this by having another character say something that suddenly cuts off.

Then, your character wakes up with a jolt and they have no idea where they are or what happens. They probably feel like crap and they have to figure out what's going on fast. Always a good starting point for some dramatic action.

Intercut with a flashback

This is another trope, but it's a useful one. While the reader is trying to figure out what happened and where the character went, go into a flashback.

One big benefit is that is helps to convey the passage of time. For some reason, when we're unconscious we still get a basic sense of time passing. With the jump cut, you don't get this, which makes it feel a little different from the real experience.

The flashback is a way of putting some time between falling unconscious and waking up. It could be any scene, you could also cut to some other character doing something else (if your point of view allows it), but the flashback has the benefit of feeling a little like a dream the character might be having while unconscious, or some general subconscious processing.

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I recently had surgery, and I clearly remember how I was applied an anesthetic and lost consciousness while the medical personell was still talking to me. To me, the experience was similar to falling asleep, with the difference that there was no transition into dreams. When we fall asleep, our thinking continues from conscious thought into dream seamlessly. You become aware of this transition when you startle awake when you are falling asleep: internally, you had a continuous thought process, but when you wake up again you realize that you had already been dreaming, because in hindsight what appeared to be "thoughts" and "perceptions" had become increasingly unreal and illogical. When I fell unconscious after having been given an anesthetic, all of my perceptions – internal (thoughts) and external (vision, hearing, and other sensory perceptions) – simply faded to nothing over the course of a few seconds. It was very quick.

I don't know how falling unconscious due to other causes might feel. If you are "knocked out", the loss of consciousness is perhaps quite sudden and you do not notice that you lose it, only realizing that you had been unconscious when you wake up (see these questions about how to describe someone waking up from unconsciousness: How do I write a scene when a character wakes up from being unconscious? and Help with describing an unconscious character). Falling unconscious because of psychological (e.g. shock or dissociation) or organic reasons (e.g. due to a decrease of blood flow to the brain) might feel quite different again.

So, to answer your question:

The common approach when you don't know how to describe something you haven't experienced yourself is to do research. You need to find descriptions of what falling unconscious feels like. There will be reports online or in books or articles, or you can find someone who has experienced it and will describe their experience to you.

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