How To Not Kill My Character

Forums Fiction Plotting How To Not Kill My Character

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    I have a character who must, due to plot reasons:

    (a) Fall into the sea and be rescued
    (b) Be incapacitated for at least a few days (unconscious/severely sick)
    (c) Ultimately survive and recover fully from the ordeal

    Unfortunately, my story takes place in a historical setting where a little water in the lungs = death since there’s no CPR etc. available. As such, I am unable to figure out how to have both (b) and (c) happen.

    I considered having my character experience ‘dry drowning’ for a few days after being rescued but I did some research and the treatment consists of being given oxygen/ventilation… which I don’t think a historical setting would have.

    Another idea was for my character to fall ill because of swallowing a large amount of seawater (and maybe experience some sort of poisoning because the seawater was polluted?). But again I don’t know what sort of symptoms that would bring about or how that can be treated in a historical setting.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

     @rochellaine @jenwriter17 @ashira @catwing @dekreel @ericawordsmith @samantha-pen @selah-chelyah @anyone-else

    I, David



    Since it’s historical, I’d look into the temperatures of the place this happens at. While maybe he swims nist fine, the water might maybe give him something like a cold or fever, which while normal could possibly lead to death back in older days. I’d at least check it out and see if it’s possible for whatever time you’re in.


    Ariel Ashira

    @valtmy (This sounds like my characters, lol!)  Well, your character could get sick because of being cold and wet, depending on the weather.  Or maybe hit his/her head on some rocks and get knocked around or something, just bad enough to have a minor head injury.  Those are ideas that come to mind.

    "No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets, or how hard you fall, you are never out of the fight."


    @valtmy Oh boy… Sounds like my characters… Last year I ended up googling all sorts of odd things about drowning/helping a drowning person and through it all learned that it is illegal to get a fish drunk in Ohio.

    So… My response is I agree with @ashira and @i-david , the temperature would be an easy fix, or hitting their head could be a good way too. Or another option would be if there was something in the water, like a contamination or something, and a way for your character to get cut, thus getting an infection.

    The sea water idea… it could work possibly, but I’d just say do some research of the surrounding area and something about medicine in that era. How strong is your character/is it a guy or girl? Potentially the strength of your character, how long the fight the water/how they are treated afterwards could have something to do with being sick. If the character is utterly exhausted by the time he/she is rescued, is stuck in the rain or whatever for several hours, that could do it if the character was weak already. Or if they passed out in the water… A couple of things that people have done before has been shaking a person upside-down to get the water out, or pounding their backs to make them cough, maybe they don’t get much water in them, but passing out in the water and all… I’m still not very knowledgeable with drowning and am just thinking aloud pretty much…

    Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!

    Selah CJW


    Ooh, great question! (And great thoughts you all have replied with as well!) This sounds like my own characters, too… 😀

    I think having them weak before they fall in the water would maybe help, and then not having them in the water for too long so it would have killed them. Realistically, I do not know what era you are talking about, so it is harder to say what would have happened, but I know for a chunk of time (generally Medieval through Revolutionary eras), they would have wrapped the person in flannel and blankets and given them a hot drink. (Which probably would have been half and half beer/wine and water.)

    I think the fact that they are incapacitated for several days is quite realistic…would be true either way.

    Having them swallow seawater would be a little more complicated, and they might be out of commission for longer than a few days and come closer to death…assuming they lived.

    Without knowing the exact historical setting I would say the above would be true, and beyond that there would be more that was specific to the era. What kind of physical shape your character is in would make a pretty big difference as well! So there are some thoughts I have… 🙂

    Assistant Guildmaster of the Phantom Awesome Meraki
    ~ Created to create ~

    Chelsea R.H.


    What have you done to poor Myeongwol now!?

    The other guys before me have had some good suggestions. I definitely think severe hypothermia is the way to go, assuming that the falling into the sea incident takes place in autumn/winter. It wouldn’t work in summer, I don’t think…

    However, here’s a link to a page that details lifethreatening hypothermia  

    The only thing I disagree with on that page is the part about warming someone up by taking off your own clothes and lying next to them. That doesn’t work particularly well (romance writers are very fond of it though). Here’s another one about myths (though it still mentions the body-to-body warming)

    If this incident does, unfortunately, take place in summer, you could try heat stroke coupled with normal exhaustion and shock. It wouldn’t be directly linked to the water, but it would work. Though I’m not sure how hot it gets in settings inspired by old Korea?

    Mahalo keia huiʻana

    Jenna Terese


    Hmm, let’s see…

    I watched a show once where a girl was stuck underwater for a while. And when they rescued her, she had some damage to her brain because of going so long without oxygen. Basically, she had trouble talking, stuttering a lot, very clumsy with her hands/walking, etc. But she did recover over time. I don’t know if her condition had a name, but that would only take a little research. 😉

    Sorry, I don’t have many suggestions; what everyone else said was good too. 🙂

    "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." -Martin Luther

    Chelsea R.H.


    That sounds like it would be a mild brain injury. (my dad’s job was actually rehabilitating people with brain injuries, so I know a little). It would possibly be a little to complex for Valtmy’s needs, but I’ve heard of similar sorts of things happening in real life, so it’s definitely realistic. 😀

    Mahalo keia huiʻana


    @i-david @ashira @ericawordsmith @selah-chelyah @jenwriter17

    Thanks for all your inputs! 😀 I think I will consider cold/hypothermia since that appears to be the most fitting so far.


    Who says this is about Myeongwol? 😛

    By the way your point about body-to-body warming is hilarious. (Why have a drowning rescue scene and not milk it for all its dramatic/romantic worth?) 😛

    Sarah Inkdragon


    Another option, depending on how long your character is in the water, is starvation, coupled with possible heat stroke(water reflections are not nice to stare at all day while you’re clinging to a piece of driftwood, and despite common belief, the more skin you show the hotter you will be in actuality), bad sunburns, and severe exhaustion. A person who’s left in the sea for to long, depending where you’re at in the world, can develop any of these things. If your story takes place in the Bahamas, is very likely that your character could risk severe heatstroke(which in turn, leads to brain swelling/bleeding/bruising and possible death, which can also cause stuttering, mental trauma, and many other things) and starvation/exhaustion(it’s very tiring to keep one’s self afloat, even with a piece of driftwood or such to hang onto). If your story takes place in cooler climates like the north Atlantic/etc, it’s very possible that your character will risk severe pneumonia(which is very serious and life threatening, but can be treated sometimes by ancient medicine. It will most likely cause permanent health/immune damage though, due to the nature and limited reaction of ancient medicines).

    Hypothermia is something that can be coupled with pneumonia, as people often develop pneumonia after getting hypothermia. Just remember one thing–hypothermia can set in very fast, especially in winter conditions. Don’t have your character still hanging on to a piece of driftwood after five days in frigid water–sorry, but unless he’s a fire-bender he’s going to be dead. XD

    It all really depends on A.) How long he’s going to be in the water, B.) what the climate is, and C.) what his natural resistance/strength is. Some people have stronger immune systems than others, some people have stronger bodies than others and are therefore able to hang on long.

    Anyhow, I hope this helped! Let me know if you have any questions. 😉

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

    Jenna Terese

    @valtmy Okey-doke! I hope everything goes well with your story. 😉

    Okay, I see. 🙂 Don’t be surprised if one day I want to tap into your knowledge about brain injuries for book research. 😉

    "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." -Martin Luther

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