(TW?) How to write a realistic drowning scene


Anybody have any experience with writing a drowning scene/personal experiences they’re willing to share? I’m writing a drowning scene for my first chapter and don’t know where to start


Read Patrick Ness’s More Than This. The first chapter anyway, it’s exactly what you’re looking for.


Yes, when I was five, I almost drowned and I still remember how it felt.

It was extremely scary. I fell in and just kind of sunk, but I kept coming back up from kicking my feet erratically. But it seemed like none of that worked because I kept sinking under. Each time I came back up, I could see, but it was like that wasn’t enough to help me get out. You can feel the water repeatedly filling in your mouth and going down your throat.

Of course, that’s what made it hard to breathe, that and the fact that I was panicking. Each time my head went under, water went up my nose and it burned. There was just a lot of burning. Honestly, I think my heart had stopped too because while I was trying to get out, it felt like everything was frozen at the same time. The scariest part is not knowing if you’re going to make it out. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get out.

I hope this helped!


Paddling a small boat though the Grand Canyon (really big water) I was facing the low sun and couldn’t see. Hit a giant hole (a zone of supercritical turbulence below a boulder or ledge). There’s so much air mixed in the water that you lose your buoyancy and sink fast and deep. My boat got sucked out from under me and I fell into a wall of water that spun me around. So the first flash was confusion: couldn’t tell up or down.

The pressure drop sucked air out of my mouth and nose, which scared me, and my eardrums hurt. I kept my eyes open, but around it was chaos: wild surges and crosscurrents and zillions of bubbles. Then I sensed some denser, darker water: the edge of the hole. But I got drawn back in and maytagged again.

Strangely enough, I managed to hang onto my paddle. When I circulated to the edge of the hole again, I twisted my body and stuck the paddle into the dark water and did a zig-zagging thing. I could feel it catching the downstream current and pulling me out of the hole.

Then I bounced off a boulder that knocked most of the air out of me, sparking the thought that I might die. Best way to describe it is to say I helicoptered to the surface with that paddle, sort of like doing pull-ups. Good to see the sun and air.

I took my first breath just before the crest of a standing wave and swallowed more water. Then I remembered to breathe in the trough, and managed a couple good lungfuls. My mates were waiting at the tail of the rapid and rescued me. They also caught my boat, which popped up way in the air out of the hole.

After twenty minutes coughing and re-rigging my sodden gear (while being teased), I climbed on and paddled another hour to camp.


Let me first say this, I am hydrophobic and the soul reason to learn swimming was to get over my fear of water. I was learning how to swim 4-5 years back. I was almost done and was taking a lap in the pool. Suddenly a person jumped and the splashed water got in my mouth. I was in the 6 feet zone and I am just 5 feet tall. I panicked and stopped (stupid move). I didnt even paddled, I wasnt able to come on the surface. It was 15-20 seconds of hell. Luckily my friend noticed, i wasnt behind and helped out. It was near drowning but I still get scared when I remember that.


Wow, that’s pretty good. I kind of feel like it lacks a little bit of emotion though. Like it’s pretty graphic, but what’s he or she feeling at that moment?


Agree! It’s terrible and scary.


But I learned nevertheless and i am proud of myself. Lol


That’s good! Never let fear stand in the way!


For me it was like this:

I’m struggling to breathe

although I’m out of the pool.

The scent of chlorine stains the insides of my nose.

My stomach is stuffed with water.

My lungs feel heavy like they’re dropping lower

and lower. Why can’t I breathe?

A terrible pain stings my stomach,

and I sit on a bench in the changing room,

holding my head in my hands.

It feels so heavy and my thoughts seem so slow.

Kids run around in their swim trunks,

boys laughing and shouting.

My brother has already changed and is waiting on me,

his big eyes poking holes through me.

We’re not laughing, we’re not playing.

I hear the showers running,

and a swimming instructor blows their whistle beyond the door.

I want to move, I got to move- my mom’s waiting.

But my body is so…


I’m breathing, but the oxygen can’t penetrate

the barrier created by my lungs. Black spots swarm my vision,

my brother’s face is blurry. I’m scared I’m dying.

I hear the water sloshing around inside me.

My breaths are quicker and my heart beat pounding.

My mom burst into the changeroom. She’s worried about me, says,

“You’ve been here too long,” there’s a pause then, “hold your head up.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Seconds pass by, maybe minutes. “It’s heavy.”

She holds my head up.

My eyes dart left and right, unfocused.

She realizes right then that something wrong,

and calls the ambulance.

“It’s… fine,” I say. “I’ll… be… alright.”

Why’s my brain so slow?

Why can’t I stand?

It’s easy, just got to push myself off,

anyone can do it.

But my body is lead.

I don’t move, I don’t say anything more.

The paramedics arrive, stretcher in tow;

they load me onto it, lock the straps into plave

and wheel me into the back of the ambulance.

My face burns bright red-

as embarrassing as it was, I let them help me, and then

I see the shock on the faces of my friends

who happen to walk by.

The medics close the door.

My mom waits by my side as they hook me up to the oxygen tank.

I breathe in the cool, fresh air.


Years ago there was this thing called Experience Project where people shared all sorts of experiences, but I think that forum died.
Anyway, there were a lot of people describing their experience of almost drowning - some rather harmless others till they lost consciousness under water.
Experiences differ a lot and depend a lot on the exact situation (and probably on the person).

You can quickly end up underwater unable to swim or to free yourself from something holding you down or you can be in the middle of a lake and tire out. It makes a difference for how you experience the situation. You can feel your lungs fill with water or you hold your breath and feel your vision blur from the corners and darken. You can be in a state of utter panic or be bewildered by how factual and unemotional the realization that you may be dead in a moment is.

I might have been close to drowning once, although I’m sure other people have more spectacular experiences to tell and it is unlikely that mine is similar to what you’re going for in your book, because mine was due to utter stupidity.

I was in my teens back then and swimming around in the sea with diving googles but no flippers. I saw a beautiful shell. It was deeper down than I had ever dived before but I was tempted to try and get it.
After taking three deep breaths I dived down. I did two pressure equalizations and as I got deeper down I felt the buoyancy intensify. When I needed to do a third pressure equalization the buoyancy was too strong for me and it pushed me up. As I didn’t wear any flippers I needed my arms to dive but I need them for the pressure equalization as well.
I had to return to the surface without the shell. I tried another time with the same result and got frustrated with the fact that I had found the limit of how deep I could go.
The third pressure equalization was the reason why I couldn’t dive deep enough. It cost too much time and I got pushed up while doing it. Consequently I decided to dive down without any pressure equalizations. It wasn’t that deep right? No danger for my eardrums, right?

I took three deep breaths and dived down. As I went deeper I could feel the pressure on my ears intensify. There was a stinging sensation, but it wasn’t too terrible. It’d hurt more before my eardrums would burst, wouldn’t it? I also felt pressure on my eyes, but it was a dull sensation. It didn’t hurt.
I was two thirds down when my lungs started to burn, but now that I didn’t bother dealing with the pressure I was strong enough to go deeper. I tried as hard as I could because the faster I was the faster I could get away from the burning in my lungs and the piercing pain in my ears.
By the time I reached the ground the burning had intensified and I needed to clench my jaws to force myself not to open my mouth and let water in. I grabbed the shell as quick as I could and pushed off from the ground with my feet.
The buoyancy carried my up fast and I could see the glistering light on the sea surface up above - a long way above. The feeling in my ears got better but the need for air became urgent. My lungs started convulsing and I had to press one hand onto my mouth to force the used up air to stay inside. I needed to keep the air because, if I let it out and replaced it with water, buoyancy wouldn’t carry me up as fast. The only thought that came to my mind was ‘Oh, shit, maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all’, but there were no feelings, even the burning in my lungs, as urgent as it was, felt much too neutral to be described as pain.
My vision began to blur and darken at the corners. There was still the glistering light up above but it grew smaller as my range of vision shrunk.
I reached the surface and sucked in air immediately. A wave washed over me and I swallowed water. Coughing I came back up and took several more deep breaths before I started swimming to shore. I was dizzy for a bit but my vision had returned to normal. My eyes still felt slightly weird.
Yes, I still had that damn shell. In fact I had gripped it hard enough, it had grazed the palm of my hand. The realization that what I had done had been extremely stupid was oddly trivial. It didn’t feel too scary.
At home when I looked into the mirror I got a slight fright though. More than half of what should have been white in my eyes was blood red. The pressure had caused blood vessels to rupture (It didn’t impair my vision and healed without any problems).


As a lifeguard, I can give a different point of view of drowning. It can start with a cramp, a pain that makes it hard to move, getting tired, or something else happened–like someone knocking into you or pushing you into the pool. It can have two stages, first struggling to move forward (and they can call out for help here), then sinking underwater, but the first stage is sometimes skipped. Body movements include panicked thrashing and the like, while the person is usually scared, panicking, and cannot see very well. A lifeguard will rescue an actice victim one of two ways: from the front with putting a rescue tube under their armpits and pushing them to safety, or from the back by putting their arms under the victims armpits and pulling them back onto the rescue tube. Regular people trying to save them is usually them grabbing their arms to pull them to safety or trying to hold them up, which then the victim will usually grab onto them.

I have drowned before, at least, someone drowned me. I like to swim along the bottom of the deep end and only come up to the surface when I reached the steep slope going up to the shallow end. I was coming up when someone came on my shoulders, tightly gripping me and holding me down. The water was too deep for me to stand up for air. I tried throwing them off, all while making my way towards shallow water. I panicked a little, mostly got mad at the lifeguards. Eventually, I was kn shallow enough water that k could throw them off. I swam on my back even shallower in until it was only up to my chest, a very safe distance.


Um…they tried to kill you? What the heck.


It was a 6yo sibling of my friend. She was probably playing, but idk because I was so mad at her I didnt speak to her for like a week. She’s clingy though


It’s not fiction. It happened to me.

I’ve been in quite a few risky situations and I’ve noticed that I don’t feel much 'til afterwards. My brain is so busy dealing with survival that there’s no time to feel much of anything.

Another thing is that time seems to slow down, like a slo-mo scene in a film.


Oop, I’m so sorry. I did not mean to disrespect your experience with nearly drowning. For some reason, I thought you were the original poster who was giving a snippet of their writing. So sorry.


No worries! Guess I’m not the emotional type.