Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Bullet to the Shoulder

Have you ever noticed how many mystery novel characters take a bullet to the shoulder and bounce right back into action in the next chapter? Is this realistic, or are some modern day writers simply following a pattern created by dime novel authors back in the years when fictional tough guys were all the rage?

Sometimes it's necessary to the story to let your hero take a beating or be shot by the bad guys. After all, criminals aren't nice people, and if your hero is involved in catching criminals for a living -- say he is a cop or a P.I. -- he stands a good chance of needing medical care at least once or twice in his life. 

Lydia Chin, a P.I. in S.J. Rozan's CHINA TRADE, took a classic beating in that book. Chin didn't miraculously recover from the attack in one day flat. Instead, Rozan portrayed her painful physical recovery over a matter of time, including limiting her ability to perform certain activities for the first few days. Rozan dealt in realism, unlike so many writers who minimize the effects of physical assaults on their characters. 

Now let's consider that bullet to the shoulder I mentioned earlier. If you look at the picture on the left, you'll notice there are more bones than muscle showing in the upper arm and shoulder area. Sure, a writer could simply "wing" his victim, grazing the upper outer arm with a bullet and leaving a nice gash there, but little other damage. That gash might require stitches, and it would certainly hurt like heck for a few days, but a tough hero could probably grimace his way through the pain while fighting off the bad guys, especially if he had the biceps of a football player with lots of muscle between skin and bone. 

But what if he's shot a little higher in the shoulder? Or what if he's lacking big biceps? And what if he's a size 4 she?? What then? You can probably deduce from the picture that a bullet of any size could do considerable harm to the clavicle, the scapula, or the humerus itself. Damage to any of those bones means our hero -- or heroine -- will be out of the competition for a while. 

And what about blood? In these pictures, the red indicates arteries, the blue indicates veins.






 "Winging" someone wouldn't cause much bleeding, but a bullet to the inside of the shoulder area could cause massive hemorrhage.

Shooting a character in the shoulder requires some thoughtful decision making on the part of the writer. Can the character be out of heavy duty action for anywhere from several days to several weeks? Can he do his job while wearing a sling on his arm or a figure-8 clavicle strap on his upper body? Will he bleed a little or a lot? Will he experience the minor but annoying pain of a simple gash, or the more exquisite pain of a shattered bone?

It's all up to the writer -- if the scene is to be written realistically.

So, how much damage would a bullet do to you? Check yourself out in a mirror. If you're a small woman like I am, you might be surprised at how little muscle separates skin from bones in your shoulder.

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14 comments:

  1. Interesting facts, Mary, and a good reminder to writers to make sure their characters are human. Flesh, blood, and bone, with all that that entails. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Glad you could drop by, Jenny. I agree with what you said. Sometimes our fictional heroes are too super-human, which makes them unbelievable.

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  2. After I had arthroscopic shoulder surgery to remove calcium deposits between the tendon and bones in my shoulder, the pain level was incredible for the first week. It was two weeks and a few PT sessions before I could type for a few minutes with the affected hand. It took 5 months of aggressive rehab to restore my arm to 90% of my original throwing speed. I never made it back to 100%. Yeah, injured shoulders do cripple a person for quite a while.

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    1. Sounds like you went through a lot with your shoulder, H.L. I'm grimacing just thinking of your pain. Glad to hear you're pretty much back to normal now.

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  4. Excellent description of what would happen. I always get so upset when tough-guy movies show the "hero" getting beat up or shot and going on as if nothing happened. My hubby cuts his finger and he's "severely wounded". (At least according to him.)

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    1. LOL, Maris! Yes, a lot of guys are like that. I used to see them in the ER acting like they were practically dying from a small laceration. It was hard not to laugh sometimes. :)

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    1. Thanks Mary, you've given me a lot to think about. Now, I've got a question about stab wounds in the back. As you can tell, I'm in the process of writing my next novel. I think I may have to email you with that question.

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    2. Email me at maryvwelk@gmail.com, Evelyn. I'd be happy to answer you questions on stab wounds.

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  6. This is excellent information and a real heads-up for writers. I laughed when I read that the author could simply "wing" her victim in the upper arm to avoid serious injury -- this is the injury my detective recieves in the first scene of my novel. I'm hoping it's not too much of a cop-out! (no pun intended)

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    1. Ha! Yeah, winging him would work fine for you, Monica. Back when I was a kid and watched The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid shows on TV, the good guys always "winged" the bad guys rather than kill them. That was back in the days when kids weren't supposed to view violence on TV. Very different times now.

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