Shot Through the Heart…or the shoulder, or something.

This is an issue pertaining more to movies and television than novels but it still has relevance. I’ve written before about the need to pay attention to certain details.  Like a lot of CSIs and authors I pick up on certain editorial errors I see on film.  The other night I was watching the ending of a show entitled The Walking Dead on AMC. If you’re unfamiliar with the show its basically about a small band of humans trying to survive after most of the world’s population is turned to zombies. As you can imagine the surviving humans have to kill the zombies as they encounter them. So in this one particular scene the humans are gathered outside a barn filled with zombies. As the walking dead come out of the barn the humans shoot them. Sitting there watching one zombie drop after another I found myself asking “why do they keep shooting them in the left side of the chest?”

I don’t mean to pick on these writers as you can find this gunshot injury in a lot of films. It seems like even the most elite soldiers and law enforcement officers aim for the left shoulder. The reason is silly, but understandable. In the United States children are taught to place their hands over their hearts while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If you watch children and adults at sporting event they will place their right hand over the left side of their chest. This is exactly how I was taught. Apparently, sometime in our history we were taught that our hearts were on the left side of our chest.

In reality, our hearts are in the center of our chest. Apparently, no one has bothered to tell many directors. I have yet to read a novel making this mistake but, in truth, I haven’t read as many novels as I have textbooks.  If you look at a typical human sized target silhouette found on a shooting range you’ll notice that the center of scoring ring is actually in the center of the chest where the heart is located. Police officers and competitive shooters don’t get a lot of points for shooting the left shoulder.

When writing a scene you could have a shooting victim survive because they were shot on the left side of the chest. Your characters could dialog about how lucky they are and discuss some of the reasons mentioned above. But if you want to maintain accuracy (pun intended) in your writing remember that when police or military aim for the heart, they should be aiming for the center of the chest.

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About forensics4fiction

Hi there. Thank you for visiting my BLOG for crime writers. I hope you will find it interesting. I would love to hear your questions and thoughts regarding forensics and criminal investigations. I hope that the information here will help answer your questions or ignite your imagination. I am a retired senior criminalist with 15 years of forensic experience. I have served as the president of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, Rocky Mountain Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and the Rocky Mountain Division of the International Association for Identification. I am triple board certified in forensic related fields and one of only 40 board-certified bloodstain pattern analysts and 80 board-certified footwear examiners worldwide In addition to writing over 60 scientific papers, I have worked as the editor of the Journal of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, been interviewed by and consulted for television, books, magazines, and newspaper articles including documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Posted on December 13, 2011, in General, The Autopsy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. How important to do research!

  2. Thank you Clarissa, I really appreciate that. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Foiled again! :) I love the FBI crime scene files…sigh. This stuff fascinates me–is that a sick sign?

  4. Most zombie “experts” say that you can’t kill/stop a zombie with a body shot, heart or otherwise, since they are already dead. A kill shot is through the brain, or better yet, the head is taken off.

    The series, THE DEADLIEST WARRIOR, which pits different historical fighters or armies against each other to see who has the deadliest methods, recently did a zombies versus vampires scenario. Very amusing but gross. You should be able to find the episode online.

  5. Of course, if you do shoot towards the left shoulder you could puncture a lung. A nasty way to die. But ooh, the blood you get to describe as the heat pumps it out . .

    I loved the walking dead. I did not see the final scene in the last episode coming. Way to shoot a viewer through the heart



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