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  1. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member

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    How do you describe a badly burned body?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fernando.C, Feb 3, 2016.

    I'm writing a scene were two of my MCs find badly burned corpses in a building. now these corpses have been burned to the point that they're not recognizable. Problem is I don't know how to properly describe them, I'm struggling to come up with the right words.

    I do have several words already in mind - blackened, scorched, charred. - but I just don't feel their adequate for describing this particular scene.

    So, what other words and phrases are there for describing a burned body? What words would you guys use if you were writing this scene?
     
  2. King Arthur

    King Arthur Banned

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    Calcinated, seared, burned. How descriptive is the passage? Are they mentioned in passage (the scorched bodies) or examined in detail?
     
  3. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member

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    They are described in detail, the scene is pretty graphic. if it helps, the bodies are the victims of a deliberate fire started by the main villain. there are a lot more victims of course, but these are the first that the MCs happen upon.
     
  4. Greenwood

    Greenwood Active Member

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    I think words like charred, scorched, and blackened are just fine, and the most straight-forward in describing the bodies with 1 word. Might I suggest that what you should aim for are the details, not the 1-word descriptions?

    Things like pieces of clothing melted into the skin, the smell, the crooked positions of the bodies. Gruesome, but very effective in describing it in greater detail, without having to go and search for even more synonyms which describe pretty much the same thing.
     
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  5. sprirj

    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Read 'the gargoyle' if I remember correctly the author is Andrew Davidson, but may have that wrong. It's about a man who survives a car crash with terrible disfiguring burns. I'm sure it will inspire you.
     
  6. thatoneauthor

    thatoneauthor Member

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    You already did! A badly burned body gave me a pretty gnarly image.
     
  7. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member

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    Thanks I'll check it out
     
  8. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member

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    Well I'm happy to hear that!:-D
     
  9. Dirtrackfan3DH

    Dirtrackfan3DH Member

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    To me burned charred scorched would be good ways to describe it
     
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  10. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    The first phrase that jumps out to be me is "beyond recognition." That or something like it renders most description meaningless--there's simply not enough left to describe.
     
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  11. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally (answering the title of this thread) I wouldn't. But, then I write comedy.

    If you insist on doing it, though...

    Google for full-colour photos of your subject matter. Then describe them in your own words.

    The more you work at finding and using your own words rather than the words of others, the better you'll get at it.
     
  12. Startled Crow

    Startled Crow Member

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    In my firefighting experience, I was lucky to never see a corpse after the aftermath of a fire. However, many firefighters that I have talked with has. They go into detail during some of the training classes to give us all an idea to help motivate us to become better at what we do. One thing that was always said - the smell of burning skin and hair, quite sickening and disturbing to the senses, a smell in which a person will never forget. I think that would be another area to research for your writings as well.
     
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  13. MelFyre

    MelFyre Member

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    Is there room in your scene for a 'lack of recognition' due to damage bit? Once the human form becomes broken beyond a certain point our minds don't automatically associate 'person' with what we are seeing - almost as protection. I've seen this done a couple times when it comes to gruesome deaths that at first the character doesn't clue in to the fact that they are looking at a person - instead it is a 'lump of meat' or 'looks like a butchered cow'. You can blend it into the scenic view, possibly, with scorched surrounding and possible confusion with the environment. Something along the lines of not recognizing it was a person until the MCs are almost atop the body.
     
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  14. King_Horror

    King_Horror Member

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    Well after reading your post, and these excellent replies, I'd go with something along the lines of this:

    "I/They came upon something truly horrifying. There, laying on the damaged ground, was a charred corpse. The fire had most certainly did its damage, the skin was intertwined in its clothing, the smell of over-cooked flesh was in the air."

    Hope this helps, and good luck on your story! ;)
     
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  15. Lewis shepherd

    Lewis shepherd Member

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    I don't know how true it is but a friend of mind who worked as a fire fighter for many years said the smell of a burned corpse gives off an almost sickely sweet smell, don't quote me on it like but a little research and you could probably find out the truth of the matter
     
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  16. Lewis shepherd

    Lewis shepherd Member

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    Here's an example - the bodies were burned beyond recognition, the sickly sweet aroma of chard flesh still hung in the air..

    That's how I'd begin anyways..
     
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  17. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member

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    Thanks everyone for your tips and suggestions. Helpful stuff :agreed:.

    @Startled Crow and @Lewis shepherd , your suggestions of focusing on the smell is an interesting one, certainly a good way to convey the horror of the situation.

    @MelFyre, it is apparent to my MCs that the corpses belong to humans, even though they are burned to the point that you can't individually identify them, it is still clear that they are human. This is in part due to the fact that one of my MCs is a vampire who can detect a human scent, even a dead one.
     
  18. MelFyre

    MelFyre Member

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    Ah that works a little bit different then
     
  19. NobodySpecial

    NobodySpecial Active Member

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    go to walmart and get a cheap steak and burn it. Observe the before and after and try to describe the change. then apply the same to your cadavers. What does it feel like, smell like, is it charred just on the outside or how far in does it go. You can always visit a crematorium too. They may look at you a little funny but the worst they can do is tell you to go away. And maybe call the police...
     
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  20. Michael Pless

    Michael Pless Active Member

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    I can easily believe this, although I've never encountered a corpse at a crime scene when I was working as a fire investigator at Victoria's forensic science laboratory.

    We used to use a technique called steam distillation to extract residues of flammable liquids from fire debris (if we suspected arson). One day I got the clothing from a man who had died of smoke inhalation and the body was only slightly burnt. Because of the heat of the fire though, body oils and fats got into his clothing and there were many comments of "what's that godawful smell!" or similar. A colleague was annoying me that day and he somehow mysteriously got some on his clothing and was avoided for the remainder of the day.

    There is a fallacy that fire will destroy everything in a building, and the building itself. While much is lost if allowed to burn to completion, often firefighters step in and extinguish the blaze. There can be much rubble and debris around. I'm informed that bodies in the fire will tend to assume the fetal position as tendons in their arms and legs contract through drying. Skin dries and becomes brittle prior to charring, and bones tend to be the last to go. If there is much rubble around, it can be very difficult to discern a body as another colleague of mine discovered one day when he was sketching the scene. He stood to one side, was told to "keep an eye out for a body" (something he ought to have been told about earlier) and discovered he was standing on a rib cage. This was a very hot fire that had burned for a long time - a factory, if I recall correctly. It takes hours for a body to be cremated in an appropriate apparatus.

    At one stage, there was a spate of drug addicts stealing a television, selling it for their next fix and then setting fire to the residence they robbed. It was no hard task to check for a chassis (in the days of CRTs!), amongst furniture frames, fallen light fittings, curtain rails, etc.
     
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  21. Shbooblie

    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Bodies found in fires often assume a particular position as @Michael Pless mentioned . It's called a 'pugilistic stance' as in they contort like boxers holding their hands above their faces. If your stomach can take it give that phrase a google image search maybe and see if that's what you're going for.

    Also found this link which may be useful for you when you consider the circumstances surrounding the burning : http://forensicoutreach.com/three-ways-to-detect-pre-burning-trauma-on-burned-bones/
     
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  22. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributing Member

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    Thanks @Shbooblie. I just gave a quick read through to the article in the link, fascinating stuff. I don't know if I can use the information for this particular seen, but it's useful to know anyway. Who knows? maybe someday I decide to kill some other characters off in a horrifying fire for a future story - :twisted: - and these stuff could come in really handy.
     
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  23. Michaelhall2007

    Michaelhall2007 Member

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    The stench of the bunt flesh filled their nostrils
     
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  24. JLT

    JLT Contributing Member

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    Read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. He had the dubious honor of digging firestorm victims out of the rubble in the aftermath of the Dresden attack. He described them as "oversize grasshoppers" at one point, I think.
     
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