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May 27, 2014

Writing About: A Car Accident


A car accident can be exciting, scary and devastating. In this post I will give you 4 steps that can help you write about a car accident.

1.    How does the car accident happen?

A car accident can’t just happen when a character blinks, although it can happen in a blink of an eye. Even if your character(s) don’t see the oncoming car, the reader at least should.

What causes the accident? Does someone run into the middle of the road? Does a car swerve into the wrong lane, or run a red light? Is the driver of the other car drunk? Is someone distracted by their cell phone?

In the first book of my series, my main characters get in a deadly car accident because they are kissing. . . . Hey, I know better than to kiss and drive! But my characters don’t. ;)

2.    Use Vivid Prose

Describe how the hood crumples, the glass shatters, and the sound of squealing tires. Tell the readers about the character’s impact into the steering wheel, airbag, and windshield.

Does the car roll? Show the readers what the car looks like when it rolls, and what happens to your characters inside the car. Do more cars become part of the crash? Describe each car as it slams into another. Give your readers a vivid image of everything that happens during the car accident.


3.    What happens after the car accident?

Does a fire truck and ambulance come to the scene? Do firefighters have to cut off the doors to get your characters out? Are they rushed to the hospital? Are their injuries minor or serious? Describe their injuries and the pain they feel.
TIP #1: Mention the bruises your character gets from the seat belt and steering wheel. And don't forget the burns from the airbags. (Thank you, Cherie, for reminding me!)
TIP: #2: Everyone reacts differently in traumatic events, so you can let one of your characters go into hysterics and another be calm. (Thanks, Slamdunk!)  
TIP #3: Shock (acute stress reaction) occurs after witnessing or being in a traumatic event. Common reactions are numbness and detachment. You can have your character go into a state of shock after their accident, which typical wears off in 24-48 hours. When it does pain becomes present and emotions run high. (Thanks, Stephanie!) 
 
4.    How does the accident play into the plot?

Everything that happens in a story has to be part of the plot. The car accident needs to impact the story even if it’s just for a few chapters, or is the climax.

In one of my (unpublished) flash fiction pieces, a man becomes paralyzed after being hit by a car. I reveal how he deals with this trauma and overcomes it. Even if your character doesn’t have long-term injuries, maybe they have a broken arm that makes work difficult. Or perhaps your character suffers brain trauma and is unconscious while his/her lover waits by the hospital bed.

Whatever the outcome of the accident is, follow through with it to the end, or until their injuries are healed and insurance money has been paid.


QUESTION: Have you been in a car accident? If you would like to offer some insight about what it’s like, I would be honored to read your comment.


80 comments:

Pat Hatt said...

Thankfully I have never been in one, came very very close once as some nut flew by me like an inch away from the front of my car, but other than that nope. Can set quite the scene indeed

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Other than a slight bump from the rear, I've never been in one. But I have seen them happen and there's nothing more awful than the sound of metal crumpling.

Chrys Fey said...

And the sound of metal crumpling is definitely something every writer should try to describe.

Chrys Fey said...

I've only had a side mirror ripped off by some moron who tried to pass me too close. So I've been lucky, too. Yes, car accidents can make exciting and frightening scenes in books.

Kelly Hashway said...

Luckily, I haven't been in one, but I have written about them. Great tips.

Chrys Fey said...

Nor have I, and it is one of my fears, so I'm glad about that! I've written about three so far and each is different. Some go into more detail than others, which is important as not all car accidents are the same and should be treated differently for each story. :)

J.H. Moncrieff said...

I've been in several. Thankfully, most were not serious. The one that was serious was less an accident than an attack--you recently read about it on my blog. It's incredibly scary to lose control of your vehicle or have another car slam into you. I live in a city that's renowned for having the world's worst drivers, so car accidents are a fact of life here. That may be why I use public transit instead of owning a car. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I don't own a car neither! It's actually a fear of driving and being in an accident that pushes me to use public transportation. So here's another thing we have in common. ;)

Lisa Thomson said...

Great tips, Chrys. In fact, in my novel that I'm supposed to be working on but haven't been (ahem), the main character gets into an accident by hitting a deer. She ends up in a coma. She time travels while in the coma and the story takes two directions; the devastation and journey of her loved ones and her experience in her time travel. Sigh...I love the plot but I'm stuck on getting her back in her body. It sounds crazy...

So, your tips are helpful and I'll go back and reread the car accident scene.

Cherie Reich said...

I've been in a couple of car accidents, but none of them were major. Only one had the airbag to deploy, and airbags are not fun. I had burns on my chin and neck from the airbag, and the seatbelt bruise wasn't fun either.

Great tips for car accidents in stories!

Unknown said...

Such a great post, Chrys. The beginning of my novel is actually centered around a car accident which foreshadows much of the events to follow. I love the "Prose" part of your tips. They definitely make me want to take a look at my manuscript again to make sure I am fulfilling the reader's needs=)
I was in several car accidents. The one thing that sticks out in my mind with all of them is how sudden they are. Especially the one when I was driving with my one-year old niece in the car seat in the back. These asshole degenerate kids were throwing bricks over the bridge and onto the highway. One of the bricks hit and completely shattered my entire front windshield. With only a quick intuition and reaction, I swerved before almost getting side swiped with other cars in the lane over. I don't remember how I made it to the side of the highway because everything was so clouded. In all honesty, I believe my Daddy C was watching over us that night and he somehow protected us from getting crumbled by the ongoing traffic on the highway. A true angel, he is.

Chrys Fey said...

That story sounds awesome!!! I really hope you can figure out way to to get her back into the body so that you can write it.

Chrys Fey said...

I'm glad the accidents weren't serious! The airbags and seat belt bruises, as well as bruising from the steering wheel is something that writers should remember to add, to make the accident even more authentic. Thank you for mentioning it, Cherie!

Chrys Fey said...

I find prose a must when I'm writing a scene like this. And I strive to make my writing vivid to my readers.

Yes, you told me about that accident because of those punk kids. I can't believe how foolish and dumb they were! And I'm glad you and your niece were okay!

Jocelyn Rish said...

Luckily I've only been in a minor fender bender, but I don't even know if you can call it that since no fenders actually got bent. But even a minor bump up was scary, so I can't imagine how terrifying a major on is.

River Fairchild said...

Great itemizing to make it real for the reader. Even if the driver is unaware of most of it, like you said, the reader needs the details.

Slamdunk said...

I like your advice in focusing on the what that happens. What was the impact like? What agencies responded? etc.

Having been involved in collisions as a driver and then working them for years as the police, I think it is good to remember that each individual is different the way that the incident affects them. Some are obviously shaken and scared, while others will find humor or be detached and all business. Certainly there is room for an author to be creative.

Tammy Theriault said...

holy Toledo! that was a great idea for writing! i have only been in 2 crashes, but now that you have me focusing on details, they are coming out clearly in my head.

Stephanie Faris said...

Great tips!!! I have been in a few car accidents in my time (mostly minor) and I can say, time seems to slow down. I'm sure that's what happens in any crisis-type event, like someone being held at gunpoint. It can be only seconds, but you seem to experience every millisecond of it, with all of your senses heightened. And you are SO sore the next day or two! I took a hard fall a couple of years ago and I walked all the way up the hill to the building where my meeting was before it all hit me. When I finally sat down in the clinic (there was a health clinic in the building--what luck is that!), I felt really nauseous and had to lay down. The nurse said shock got me up the hill but once the shock wears off, you feel everything.

Kyra Lennon said...

Thankfully, I have never been in a car accident - but I've seen a few and they are awful to witness.

Chrys Fey said...

Yes, minor bumps are scary. I've had those!

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly! Thanks for stopping by, River! :)

Chrys Fey said...

That is very true, Slamdunk! Everyone reacts differently and that should be utilized in a story. Thank you for your comment!

Chrys Fey said...

That's awesome! :D

Chrys Fey said...

The great thing about writing a car accident scene is that it does seem to slow down because of all the vivid details. :) Shock is definitely something that can be used. Thanks for your comment, Stephanie!

Chrys Fey said...

They are!

Crystal Collier said...

I wrote a car accident into one of my stories. It was awesome. I was like, "No, more detail. Slow it down MORE." You really have to stretch those intense moments, eh?

Chrys Fey said...

You sure do! ;)

Nas said...

I'm writing a medical story which has a car accident...so this post was really helpful. Thanks Chrys!

Nas

Chrys Fey said...

That's great! :D

Melanie Crouse said...

I haven't written a car accident, but now I want to!

Chrys Fey said...

I love that! :D

Erin L. Funk said...

Great tips! I don't have car accidents in any of my WIPs but I'll keep these points in mind if I ever do!

Anonymous said...

These are great points. I wrote a car accident scene in one of my drawer manuscripts, but I don't think it was that great. I will probably write another one and use this advice.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Erin! :)

Chrys Fey said...

I hope these tips help if you do write another one. :)

SK Anthony said...

Fantastic post!
If and when I write a car accident I'll know where to look for great advice. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, S.K.! :D

Loni Townsend said...

Great post! I agree with all of it.

I have a car accident in my novel, but it happened in the past. The main character survived. His parents didn't.

Chrys Fey said...

There's a car accident in my novella (soon to be released) that happened in the past too, so I didn't really use as vivid of details as I did with other stories.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I was involved in a crazy car accident that permanently injured me last summer. I would love to write about my personal experience.

Anonymous said...

maybe the girl that had the accident has locked in syndrome (a medical condition, usually resulting from a stroke that damages part of the brainstem, in which the body and most of the facial muscles are paralysed but consciousness remains and the ability to perform certain eye movements is preserved.) and her family members may not realsie that she is there and aware but she is and shes saying things in her head and responding to them but obviously they cant hear...? hope i helped :

Chrys Fey said...

That's a great suggestion! :)

Anonymous said...

I have been in a car crash before.
A van slammed into the left side of our car, as it did not see us when they were making a left-hand turn.
We later learned that there was a crying baby in the backseat.
No one was hurt, but my book might've gone flying and hit my brother.

Chrys Fey said...

That sounds scary!

Random Musings said...

Good tips, especially the one that it has to be relevant to the plot. You can't just stick a crash in for the sake of it!
Popping by on the A to Z Road Trip
Debbie
www.myrandommusings.blogspot.com

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks for stopping by, Debbie! :)

Car Crash said...

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Chrys Fey said...

You're welcome!

Gignsis said...

This is a very good read, I'm thinking about writing a book and I'm wanting to put an accident in it, thank you for writing this. As far as being in an accident myself, I was in one when I was 9. My Dad and I were in a 1 ton truck on our way home. We had stopped at a red light before we were to get onto the freeway when we got near the on ramp my Dad puts his foot on the gas petal as hard as he could, but w/the truck being so heavy it took it a while to go faster (like a semi does). I looked out my Dad's window and saw this huge truck flying through the air, stuff flying off of it, because it had hit the center divider in the street. The next thing I remember there were flames everywhere on my Dad's side of the truck. The truck that hit us apparently had hit the center divider and flipped over on top of the driver side of our truck, trapping my Dad inside. He was able to push me out of the passenger side window. I had turned around to try and open the door to save him (which I later received a metal of bravery for) and I remember screaming at him that he had blood running down his face. Then I was taken away from the accident by paramedics (they had seen the whole thing). 3 of the 4 people involved in the accident lived. The passenger of the other truck was severally burned, my Dad had some burns and trouble w/his hip and foot because his foot was trapped under the brake pedal and I suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns on both my hands. To this day I'm still scared of driving next to big trucks (I'm 35 now). Sorry for the long story.

Chrys Fey said...

Wow. That is scary! I'm glad that you and your dad survived that. And I'm sorry for the one person involved who lost his/her life.

I don't like driving period, and I've never even been in an accident.

Good luck with your story!

Unknown said...

thanks for the tips. I am writing a short story on a car crash, the girl who has it worst is also a nurse, so they need her most. I have never been in a car accident, and knock on wood hope I never will be. I just never know in what perspective to write them, and when I do my brain forgets so half way through my stories it goes from I to she . lol but thanks it helped a lot

Unknown said...

That is scary! I am just beginning to drive and my only fear is driving next to trucks. overtime we are near one even if we are just driving slow and on a straight road I come close to anxiety attacks. I just have a fear they are going to fall onto me. even tough I have never been in an accident personally.

Chrys Fey said...

Driving next to big trucks is always scary for first time drivers. It'll take a while to get used to them.

Chrys Fey said...

You're welcome, Maya! I also hope you never experience a car accident in real life. As for changing from I to she, at least there's editing that comes after so you can fix that. :)

EliasM said...

Again, late, LATE to the party but number four is spot-on. There is also tremendous drama that can carry over though the remainder of the book. The Mrs. and witnessed (first car on the scene) a double-fatality wreck that turned out to be a suicide. My Mrs. was an ER nurse. I've seen my share of /stuff/ but this wreck hung with us for WEEKS.

Chrys Fey said...

I actually rewrote this article for a book (that I hope to publish) and included more suggestions, such as writing about what the people on the scene do, the first responders, etc.

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Mandy said...

A lot to think about. You could easily make a crash a huge deal in a book or something minimal that merely changes the direction the characters are going. This was a great post on broaching the topic. I have not yet had a reason to write about a car crash, but if I ever do, I will definitely refer to this post.

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Unknown said...

You can still get a concussion even if you don’t hit your head on anything because your brain your skull. That happened to me when I was in my car accident. My mom drove me to urgent care and they asked me if the air bag deployed or if I hit my head on the steering wheel. I said no to both of those things. They did an X-ray and confirmed I had a mild concussion. The doctor then explained how it happened
.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks for the tip!

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Unknown said...

I was in a car accident recently at the end of July. The other driver admitted she had a red light. The crash sound is scary, metal bending, windsheild cracking or breaking. I had 2 sets of airbag deploy, 1 in front of me and a side airbag on my left. bruising along the left side of my torso, my left ear/side of face was very red, ear felt like it may have been burned a little from airbag. small burn on right hand, abrasion/burn on my left inner forearm.

Chrys Fey said...

Wow. That is scary. I'm glad you were okay (aside from the injuries you got) and hope you've been healing physically and mentally from this.

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