Question 53: Car accidents

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TheLastWeirdAuthor asks: Do you have any tips on writing accidents? Like car accidents for example, because I'm struggling with writing a car accident in one of my stories.

First you need to decide what the purpose of this scene is. Here are some examples:

1. It's part of an exciting action sequence.

2. It's part of an investigation, and they're looking for clues.

3. It's something that happens to the main character that changes their life forever.

With the scene's purpose in mind, you can decide on pacing, and how much emotion to put in. I'll use my examples above to go into further detail...

Part of an Action Sequence

The strategy you'd use here is similar to what I talked about in "Question 25: Fight Scenes" (I'll paste a link to it in a comment.) Keep the pace fast by not bogging it down with too many details. I'll make up a scene...

Jane stomped on the gas pedal and the car surged forward. She glanced at the rear-view mirror, dismayed to find they were still gaining on her. Who were these people, and why were they chasing her?

Her eyes returned to the road just as an elderly woman stepped in front of the car. She had no time to breathe or even blink. She jerked the steering wheel to one side. The car lurched, hit the cart the old woman was pushing, and smashed right into an oncoming delivery truck. She barely registered the look of horror on the delivery driver's face before her world went black.

Part of an Investigation

When the scene involves looking for clues and figuring out what happened, the pace is slower and more detailed, with less emotion and excitement. It's more of a thinking scene than a feeling one.

Lydia surveyed the wreckage, shaking her head. Probably another drunk driver. Snapping on a pair of latex gloves, she stepped past a smashed pushcart and examined the body of the elderly woman sprawled on the street. A hearing aid sat not far from the woman's ear. One bloody hand clutched at an unopened pack of hearing aid batteries.

The tone here is dispassionate and methodical. If the investigator knew the victim, however, then a lot more emotion would be needed. There would be a tug-of-war between the sadness and the need to look for clues.

A Life-Changing Experience

Here, the pace is also slower, but more emotional. The character will notice some details, but not everything. Sometimes what they choose to focus on is odd, because the mind is in shock.

Jane opened her eyes. The can of soda she'd been drinking before all this lay spilled on the floor, soaking into the carpet mats. Damn, she thought, that's going to be sticky.

Then she saw the deployed airbag, the smashed window, the blood. Was that her blood? In a flash she remembered the old woman and swiveled her body to look for her. Pain shot through her chest, and she unclipped her seat belt.

She tried to push open her door, but it was stuck. She looked out the passenger side window, and that's when she saw the police, the flashing lights, and... the old woman. No, no, no, she couldn't have hit her. She'd swerved! She'd hit a stupid truck instead! But an investigator was crouched there, poking around with gloves on like the lady was already dead.

Jane's body went limp with despair. First the car chase, then the collision, and now this.

When writing the accident, I encourage you to review the "Tailor Your Descriptions" chapter, to help you decide which details belong and which don't. Think about what kind of emotions belong in the scene. The information in "Question 22: Conveying Emotion" can be helpful.

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