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You've probably all read books or seen movies in which a character passes out. The heroine might swoon gracefully and collapse onto the floor or into the hero's arms. People rush to bring water, a doctor, or something to revive her. She then wakes up, rosy-cheeked and a bit distressed, and she fans herself for a while while insisting that she is fine.
Fainting in real life is not nearly so beautiful. Authors, especially ones with no experience, can sometimes fall for such idealized descriptions. I am (un)fortunate enough to have experience in this area, so I will share it here.
Quick Losses of Consciousness
Usually this involves an impact or a sudden pain. The character may have no idea what happened to him or her afterwards, and later results vary depending on the severity of any injuries sustained.
Real-life example: My mom used to work as a waitress during her teenage years, and Aunt Jennifer, her sister, would work with her. One day Mom was washing dishes and Aunt Jennifer came up behind her with a tray. The tray hit Mom's funny bone (a nerve in the elbow). Mom gasped, shocked by the pain. The next thing she knew, she was on the floor, looking at the worried faces of the staff peering down at her.
Quick losses of consciousness tend to be very abrupt and therefore sometimes confusing for the person who has fainted. This makes them fairly easy to write.
Sometimes the character may not lose consciousness immediately. For example, he/she may suddenly feel dizzy, see dark shadows around the edges of his/her vision, and then lose consciousness.
These instances can be very strange. For example, the deviant Ginnyree fainted after feeling a sharp pain on the back of her spine for no specific reason. She lost all awareness of what she was doing. People near her said that she arched her back and reached for the spot. She passed out with her eyes open and stopped moving for about a minute. She saw visions of Disney movies during that time, and then woke up, feeling a bit nauseous, and felt all right soon afterwards. This turned out to be a seizure.
-->When I was about ten years old, I fell off a playground and hit my head. Right when I hit the ground, I was entertained by a split-second vision of Tigger jumping joyfully right by a Christmas tree. I could even hear him whoop. (It was quite random... I was too old for Winnie the Pooh.) Then I woke up, and like the proud little girl I was, refused to cry. I had an awful headache.
Note: If your character hits the floor or a hard object when he or she falls, it will hurt when he/she wakes up. Don't forget to mention it. It adds realism and credibility to the scene. If he/she sustained a head injury (from getting hit in the head, from falling hard against the floor), then he/she should seek medical attention to see whether there was a concussion or not.
Slower Losses of Consciousness
This tends to be the whole heroine-drops-unrealistically-into-hero's-arms part. In reality, it is neither graceful, feminine, nor quick, and losing consciousness might take 1-15 minutes.
Reasons can vary a lot. They need to be realistic! For example, I nearly fainted twice--once when I was in a stuffy hospital room, and once when I had a cut on my neck that wouldn't stop bleeding. (I have a dreadful fear of blood.) Heat, bad injuries, over-exhaustion, dehydration (usually in combination with one of these), shocking experiences, bad headaches, illness, low blood pressure/blood sugar* and phobias are generally things that can make characters swoon.
*Low blood pressure is usually genetic. I'm going to talk about it more later.
This part should be believable. Personal experience is especially helpful in writing a fainting scene. Taste should be used; it isn't wise to list off symptoms for a whole page. Here are some of the things that characters might observe, in order:
~Feelings of being very hot; if the character is wearing a jacket, he or she will remove it
---->OR: feeling very cold cold
~Feelings of distress, which strengthen as symptoms worsen (a character will not neglect to notice that he/she is losing consciousness)
~The character will either become very pale or have a flushed face.
~Deafness or ringing in ears (This seems to be pretty rare.)
~Nausea, to the point where the character might be worried about vomiting. Nausea may or may not occur, and vomiting is possible but rare.
~Weak limbs; the character will probably stumble to a chair if possible
~A weak voice, which makes it more difficult for the character to call attention to his or her plight if nobody is close by
~The character will feel extremely hot, internally and to the touch. (I managed to call my mom over the second time I nearly fainted, after calling her name weakly about five times. She touched me with an icy cold hand. She was surprised by how hot I was and asked me if I was sick.)
~Exhaustion: If the character is sitting on something (such as a chair), the character will slump over it and [try to] rest his/her head on it. If the character is on the floor, he or she will lay down, regardless of the dirt. The character will feel like he or she doesn't have the strength and energy to keep his or her head up; he/she doesn't want to. The character would probably appear extremely fatigued.
~Colors will come in patches over the character's vision. These are the same colors that you see when you close your eyes. (Try it right now. Do you see the colors?) The lightness or darkness of the colors may vary depending on the lighting of the room, although usually they are dark. If you've ever stepped out of a hot shower or stood up too quickly and seen those colors swarm in front of your eyes, then you'll have a good idea of what fainting is like... except the colors don't go away after a few seconds. It is possible to walk with these colors in your way (you can still feel your surroundings), but it's not recommended.
~Crying or wanting to cry (Fainting isn't fun, people!)
~Blurry or darkening vision
----->OR: vision "whiting out" or blindness, sometimes for several minutes
~As the character comes very close to fainting, darkness will probably close in on the sides of his or her vision, sometimes in those grainy dots like those colors.
At this point the character will either faint or recover. (Recovery may happen sooner as well.)
The character rarely remembers actually fainting, although if a scary experience was involved, he or she will remember all the details preceding it. For example, the deviant Steeljren lost consciousness when she dislocated her knee while on a ladder. Terrified, she began to fall off, trying to cling to the rungs of the ladder. The last thing she remembered was the sight of the parking lot far below her, which was "engraved" into her mind. She woke up on the living room floor with her parents and sister.
When a character loses consciousness in a traumatic incident, the character is likely to forget most of it. The brain will sometimes avoid "recording" particularly traumatic events, especially accidents, which would leave the character clueless about what happened. (For example, I know someone who collided with a truck when driving a motorcycle several years ago. He has no memory of it.)
>In the presence of a medical professional or a person who knows what to do:
The character will be told to sit or lie down. If sitting, the character should bend over so that he/she is staring at his/her knees. Long hair will be smoothed out of the way, and a wet cloth should be draped over the back of the character's neck or on the forehead. The character may be given ice water to drink. Drinking juice or eating a cookie is also a good idea--it raises the blood sugar. Any sweaters, coats, or jackets should've been removed.
The character should be asked basic questions (such as his/her name) to make sure that he/she isn't too disoriented and, if in a hospital setting, the character's blood pressure should be taken.
>Lacking the presence of someone who knows what to do:
The character will probably just be told to sit or lay down until he/she feels better. The second time I almost fainted, my mom had me sit in the screened-in porch. (She later said that she thought the surrounding trees (nature) would help me calm down. Yeah, blood really scares me.) Standing up to move is not a good idea. The colors will multiply in front of the character's eyes, making it hard to see where he/she is going. The character will be able to continue, though, and perhaps might manage a small smile to assure others that he/she is all right.
Moderately intense experiences: (about 20-30 mins., couches are very nice to have during this time)
~Right away: The character will lay down or sit if there is not a bed, couch or cot available. It's a good idea to take deep breaths.
~Right away: If the character lost consciousness, he or she will probably be disoriented for the first few minutes.
~First 5-10 mins.: Any stomach pains or nausea will remain. Stomach pains may intensify... very, very painfully. Small children may end up crying, while older children, teenagers, and some adults might be whimpering on the couch.
~First 10-15 mins.: The character will still feel extremely hot. If he or she is alone, he/she will not hesitate to pull up shirts or skirts to try to cool down.
~First 10-15 mins.: If there is water available, the character will use it to relieve the heat. Drinking it, pouring it on his/her self, or dipping his/her fingers in in it and applying it to the forehead, cheeks, back of neck, and perhaps even legs or stomach are all ways to cool down.
~After about 15 mins.: If the character nearly fainted due to an experience involving intense fear, the character might calm down (as in, completely) around now.
~First 20 mins.: The character's limbs will still feel weak. I left the little screened-in porch after 20 minutes to finish making my lunch, and I still felt a bit shaky. (I wasn't noticeably shaky, though--don't have a different character point it out.)
~Within 30 mins.: The character is completely back to normal.
Recovery times VARY A LOT! I don't recall such a long recovery the first time I nearly lost consciousness, but that may have been because I was just overheated. (Note to self: Remove all winter coats before entering stuffy hospital rooms.) Recovery times can vary immensely, depending on the situation and character involved.
Real-life example: MiseryCordia once had a near-fainting experience in a hospital. Her dad had been involved in a collision. When she saw him, she was flooded with a mix of relief that he would be all right and horror at the sight of the blood. At first she felt like vomiting, and then she felt cold and began experiencing blurry vision and saw spots of color. The nurse had her sit and drink ice water. She sat there for five to ten minutes, breathing deeply, and returned to normal. She reports that her dad is doing better now, by the way. The full story is in the comments.
Heatstroke is usually more common in warmer places. Sometimes milder instances can even happen indoors! (I've laid down on the floor before because the house is too hot. I live in a really hot state, and my parents don't like to use air conditioning much because it's expensive.)
Charanty, a fellow deviant, has experienced heatstroke before. Here's her account of it:
"It was summer, so my parents and I went to the park. I was rollerskating for a while around an hour and then I felt really weird - my heart jumped like a crazy kangaroo, and I felt like if I was hit in the head and my temperature feelings got mixed together - I felt that my body is overheating but it wasn't hot as well as not really cold.... More like a fever, you know. My vision got blurry and perspective got a little funny (hard to explain if you haven't experienced anything alike); I started to see colour spots and they were flying. I guess somewhere here my step-father grabbed me and run to the car, because i couldn't stand on my feet anymore. Very odd feeling - from one hand you understand that something is wrong, but at the same time everything looks so distant.Feelings of fatigue usually accompany heatstroke as well. Sometimes this makes things difficult during minor instances of heatstroke, because a character should move to a cooler place, but the character lacks the energy to get up and doesn't really feel like it. Usually laying on the floor for ten minutes is enough. (My parents don't seem to like this when I do, though. Honestly, when you're that hot and tired, you don't care about the dirt.)
I didn't felt nausea or anything like that probably because my parents spotted that something was wrong early. In the car, I was given water, at first warm and colder a little later. Mom helped me to put off my roller skates and I felt better."
Low Blood Pressure
People with very low blood pressure can suffer from near-fainting or fainting experiences when standing up. There's a continuum of intensity:
~Fairly low blood pressure: When I stand up after sitting for a while, sometimes I see colors in front of my eyes, the same ones that you see when you close your eyes. A rush of heat occasionally accompanies them. They might come about 30 seconds after standing up, and last for another 30 seconds, sometimes less. It's minor enough that I can just continue walking (although when it's pretty bad, the colors block most or all of my vision). I've even gone halfway up the stairs, completely blinded by dancing colors, which faded away by the time I was halfway up. They're such an ordinary experience that I used to think that everyone saw them.
---->Usually this is genetic. My mom experiences the same thing too.
~Very low blood pressure: Feelings of dizziness can accompany standing up, and sometimes the character could actually faint. Usually he/she would recover within about ten seconds, and then just sit down for a bit to feel better. Recovery can take longer if the character hits his/her head while falling.
I've given you far more information that you need. Hopefully you have a basic understanding of what it feels like to [nearly] faint and recover. Perhaps you have a specific character and scene in mind, or perhaps you're just like a bored writer looking for resources. It doesn't matter. You have your description guide, so... go knock yourself out!