Category Archives: The Writer’s Academy

Body Language Reference



In Which Medical Facts Can Save Your Character’s Life


Sometimes I read novels or watch tv and I wonder about some medical details that scream at me: “Damn! this is too perfect!”. So, being the curious littleMädchen that I am, I checked some of them out. Some are as textbook as it can get, some are as false and incoherent as it shouldn’t get. Below is my top 10 of medical facts that should be known when writing a scene that involves a medical intervention. It basically could save your character’s life.

  • Surgeries leave scars: It sounds logical, then why do some authors never address the issue? Yes, it’s not pretty-yummy. Yes, perfect characters are just more in our comfort zone but the truth is: surgeries inflict trauma (call it stress if you will) onto one’s body. It leaves psychological and physical scars. Let me tell you one thing: when you look down at your belly after having a c-section, you should/have every right to be complexed. Surgeries on lungs and heart can leave you breathless whenever you will go up the steps in the future. Depending on where the wound is, repercussions will be A or B or C. It can add drama so please, don’t leave those issues out anymore.
  • Electrocuted characters should be a smelly sight: it is disgusting but when you are electrocuted, you basically evacuate everything that should have been evacuated later on down the toilet. This is romanced in movies mostly, but it should be as funny as it is smelly. (Not so funny after all, heh?) Thus, the protagonist will either smell bad or smell bad and die.
  • About the pain of breastfeeding: I write pain as in physical pain (no metaphor was intended). I know this isn’t what most women want to hear but breastfeeding even though it is perfectly normal, it’s hard on the nipples. Imagine having one patch of your skin moist about all the time and you will get an idea about how dry and aching nipples can get. That’s only if the infant has good reflexes. It can be even more painful if he/she doesn’t. Yes, I know romancing the whole maternity thing is almost a reflex. We want it to be as cute as the newborn infant but a realistic character would be going through pain; just thought you may want to know.
  • Elevators as murderers: Elevators usually have a minimum of four strong operating cables, as well as an inbuilt braking system and a backup braking system in the shaft which forces a wedge into the shaft to prevent a too rapid drop. In other words, one snapped cable isn’t enough to cause it to fall. If your character is the unluckiest man/woman in the fictional world and all four cables were to snap, the cars braking system would detect the free fall and automatically apply. If that also fails, the shaft’s braking system takes over. Simply put, your character would have to one hell of an unlucky kid to get killed in a falling elevator.
  • The infamous resuscitation technique: this is often left out and it makes me roll my eyes while my boyfriend throws a tantrum about fiction and everything it implies. The thing is as you compress someone’s chest, you will break the ribs. It’s a simple physic fact: apply pressure, a force, and eventually something will snap. The break is normal, it gives better access to the heart.
  • The second infamous resuscitation technique (CPR): More often than not patients vomit during chest compression or/and when CPR is performed. The problem is: it complicates the effort of the rescuer to free the patient’s airways. This is why CPR is now performed with a mask.
  • The Super-Adrenaline symptom: I only have one sentence prepare for this hormone: it does not last forever. I’m used to seeing characters with adrenaline pumping down their system and becoming this new-aged Superman for the length of a magical never-ending battle. However, in reality, it lasts as long as its production does and that’s one or two minutes tops. This is the required amount of time for the fight-or-flight response. That is because in large amount adrenaline is toxic to the human organism.
  • Antidepressants and the unicorn myth: I have read only one story with a depressed character and the medication was just wrong. There are side-effects to antidepressants, yes, but the thing is, you don’t get better instantly. It takes 3 to 6 weeks for change in mood to manifest. There is also the fact that as it is often reported that before your character sees unicorns, the “black cloud” gets thicker. Antidepressants affect the balance of serotonin in synapses so it will affect the mood, just not the way your character will hope at first.
  • Heart condition: Defibrillation is for patients (and characters) in “ventricular fibrillation”. In simple terms, the electrical activity in the heart is irregular and shocking can reset this activity. That is something, medical personnel will see with a monitor. So attempting reanimation with a crash cart just upon seeing a patient is a big stretch. This being said, if there is a flat-line (also called asystole) on the monitor, defibrillation is not the way to go. In fact, it will do more harm than good and decrease anyone’s rate of survival.
  • Hmm, let’s suck that venomous bite: I know: it’s the perfect romantic and demonstration of selflessness scenario, but it’s also the worst idea ever. The tongue is in fact highly vascular which means, attempting to suck venom out of a snake/scorpion/lizards bite will result in your character dying. In fact, the venom will reach his bloodstream in matter of seconds. So: no antidote= death.

Reprinted from The Writer’s Corner



  • The average human body has about 1.3 gallons (5 L) of blood
  • It accounts for 7% of total body weight
  • Veins are large blood vessels carrying deoxygenated blood to the lungs. The lungs oxygenate the blood with oxygen from the air. Then, the blood goes into arteries. Arteries are large blood vessels that carry the newly oxygenated blood to every corner of the body

This is a map of major arteries and veins in the human body.

  • If one of these arteries or veins is cut open, the victim may bleed out within several minutes. Bleeding to death is called desanguination (massive loss of blood) or exsanguination (complete loss of blood)
  • Alcoholics or those with liver disease are particularly at risk for de/exsanguination because an impaired liver reduces the blood’s clotting ability

Bleeding (scientifically known as Hemorrhaging (America)/Hæmorrhaging (Britain))

  • Class I – loss of 0-15% (0-0.75 L) of a victim’s blood; vital signs stable; transfusions and saline solutions not necessary; just to be safe, victim should not engage in vigorous physical activity
  • Class II – loss of 15-30% (0.75 L-1.5 L) of a victim’s blood; victim experiences a faster heartbeat; skin cools and appears pale; victim appears dazed or irritable; saline solutions may be necessary
  • Class III – loss of 30-40% (1.5 L-2 L) of a victim’s blood; blood pressure drops; heart rate increases; victim goes into shock; victim is mentally deficient, dazed, has difficulty moving, is hard to understand, and acts strangely; saline solutions and blood transfusions necessary
  • Class IV – loss of 40% (+2 L) or more of a victim’s blood; victim passes out; saline and blood; heart goes into ventricular tachycardia (the heart beats unsustainably fast); transfusions necessary; require resuscitation to prevent death;
  • A cancer patient was found with just 25% (0.9 L) of her blood in her system and survived. She lost the blood over a period of weeks, not all at once
  • Donating blood about takes 8-10% (0.4-0.5 L) of a person’s blood
  • The average woman loses 1 cup (0.24 L) of blood during menstruation
  • Redheads do not bleed faster than other hair types

The Color of Blood

  • Humans and other mammals have red blood because of a compound called hemoglobin. Blood from veins is darker red than blood from arteries because arterial blood is oxygenated. Veins appear blue because of the light-scattering properties of skin, not because the blood is actually blue.
  • Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning have bright red blood
  • Victims of cyanide poisoning have bright red blood in their veins
  • Skinks have green blood
  • Squid, cuttlefish, snails, slugs, and horseshoe crabs have blue blood
  • Sea squirts and sea cucumbers have blood that turns yellow when exposed to oxygen

Blood Types

  • Blood types are determined by the presence or absence of antigens – substances that trigger an immune reaction to foreign objects in the body. An A blood type has A antigens, a B blood type has B antigens, an AB blood type has both A and B antigens, and an O blood type has neither A nor B antigens on red blood cells, but A and B antigens in the plasma
  • Type O can donate to A, B, AB, and O; Type A can donate to A and AB; Type B can donate to B and AB; AB can donate to AB
  • The universal blood cell receiver is AB
  • There is a third antigen called the Rh factor, which can be present (creating a + blood type) or absent (creating a – blood type)
  • The universal red cell donor is O negative
  • The universal plasma donor is AB positive
  • O+ and A+ are the most common blood types
  • B- and AB- are the least common blood types

Blood types are inherited through the parent. This Red Cross chart will help you figure out someone’s blood type



Reprinted from Reference for Writers

What Do Private Eyes Do?


Courtesy of Hasbook& Hasbrook Investigators

Writing Blood Loss



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The Emotion Wheel


Helpful Things for Action Writers to Remember


  • Sticking a landing will royally fuck up your joints and possibly shatter your ankles, depending on how high you’re jumping/falling from. There’s a very good reason free-runners dive and roll.
  • Hand-to-hand fights usually only last a matter of seconds, sometimes a few minutes. It’s exhausting work and unless you have a lot of training and history with hand-to-hand combat, you’re going to tire out really fast.
  • Arrows are very effective and you can’t just yank them out without doing a lot of damage. Most of the time the head of the arrow will break off inside the body if you try pulling it out, and arrows are built to pierce deep. An arrow wound demands medical attention.
  • Throwing your opponent across the room is really not all that smart. You’re giving them the chance to get up and run away. Unless you’re trying to put distance between you so you can shoot them or something, don’t throw them.
  • Everyone has something called a “flinch response” when they fight. This is pretty much the brain’s way of telling you “get the fuck out of here or we’re gonna die.” Experienced fighters have trained to suppress this. Think about how long your character has been fighting. A character in a fist fight for the first time is going to take a few hits before their survival instinct kicks in and they start hitting back. A character in a fist fight for the eighth time that week is going to respond a little differently.
  • ADRENALINE WORKS AGAINST YOU WHEN YOU FIGHT. THIS IS IMPORTANT. A lot of times people think that adrenaline will kick in and give you some badass fighting skills, but it’s actually the opposite. Adrenaline is what tires you out in a battle and it also affects the fighter’s efficacy – meaning it makes them shaky and inaccurate, and overall they lose about 60% of their fighting skill because their brain is focusing on not dying. Adrenaline keeps you alive, it doesn’t give you the skill to pull off a perfect roundhouse kick to the opponent’s face.
  • Swords WILL bend or break if you hit something hard enough. They also dull easily and take a lot of maintenance. In reality, someone who fights with a sword would have to have to repair or replace it constantly.
  • Fights get messy. There’s blood and sweat everywhere, and that will make it hard to hold your weapon or get a good grip on someone.
    • A serious battle also smells horrible. There’s lots of sweat, but also the smell of urine and feces. After someone dies, their bowels and bladder empty. There might also be some questionable things on the ground which can be very psychologically traumatizing. Remember to think about all of the character’s senses when they’re in a fight. Everything WILL affect them in some way.
  • If your sword is sharpened down to a fine edge, the rest of the blade can’t go through the cut you make. You’ll just end up putting a tiny, shallow scratch in the surface of whatever you strike, and you could probably break your sword.
  • ARCHERS ARE STRONG TOO. Have you ever drawn a bow? It takes a lot of strength, especially when you’re shooting a bow with a higher draw weight. Draw weight basically means “the amount of force you have to use to pull this sucker back enough to fire it.” To give you an idea of how that works, here’s a helpful link to tell you about finding bow sizes and draw weights for your characters.  (CLICK ME)
    • If an archer has to use a bow they’re not used to, it will probably throw them off a little until they’ve done a few practice shots with it and figured out its draw weight and stability.
  • People bleed. If they get punched in the face, they’ll probably get a bloody nose. If they get stabbed or cut somehow, they’ll bleed accordingly. And if they’ve been fighting for a while, they’ve got a LOT of blood rushing around to provide them with oxygen. They’re going to bleed a lot.
    • Here’s a link to a chart to show you how much blood a person can lose without dying. (CLICK ME)
    • If you want a more in-depth medical chart, try this one. (CLICK ME)

Reprinted from the Tumblr blog, “Let’s Write Today