Knock a friend out to keep them from doing something stupid and dangerous, like knocking a friend out?
I will say again, in fiction the knock out is mostly just a cheap problem solver that often has no consequences. One of the things you need to start embracing is that violence is not only a limited method of problem solving but it is also about hurting people. It doesn’t respect intent, only results.
You’re always at risk causing death or permanent damage. No matter what it is you’re doing with violence or how safe you try to make it, the danger is always there. It is real, it is present. No matter how skilled you are, there is a great deal about what may or may not happen that is outside of your control.
A person who cracks their friend over the head with a mallet or a glass bottle on the way out the door to do something really stupid is one who is on some level willing to risk them never waking up again.
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. But the chance? The possibility they won’t is always there. This is also true in situations where they try to drug them. This is why truly peaceful solutions which put no one at risk do not involve violence at all.
It is also incredibly difficult to put someone under in a high stress environment, even when you know what you’re doing. The question is not: do you want to kill them? It’s: are you willing to risk it?
They call it a dirt nap for a reason.
Oftentimes in fiction the “cool” response like knocking out a friend doesn’t match or merit the severity of the situation. Especially since it’s used as a means to sap out the sense of danger.
Lastly though, honestly?
You take your drama and you bitch slap it into next week. It’s even worse when it’s treated like an actual solution. Unless the stupid thing is time sensitive, you’re not stopping anything. You’re delaying it. In the end, the only one who can choose to stop themselves is the friend.
You have this scene in your story, two friends. One character decides to attack the other in order to stop them, they manage to knock them out and it works like it does in the movies where they’re out for hours instead of a few seconds. Then what? Is that the end? It’s that easy? Instead of popping the balloon, it sort of lets out a flatulent wheeze and flops over.
It’s a painful inverse of another common scene, which is one person tries to talk the other down and think they’ve succeeded. They relax. Then when they turn their back, the other person cracks them across the back of the head with a beer bottle and walks out the door.
One of these is escalating, the other is ending. In one, the character doing the stupid thing shows how committed they are to the cause of stupid thing. It can be either an anti-hero or villain moment depending on who the audience is asked to sympathize with and what the “stupid thing” is. Either way, it’s the character showing that they’re willing to hurt anyone, possibly kill anyone, even people they care about to see it achieved. It builds worry over what will happen next and what just happened to the character they care about.
You’ve already sapped whatever drama you had by wanting a “safe” knock out solution. The character drama in this scenario doesn’t come from the action itself but the decisions, the drama comes from being willing to risk harming another person, possibly permanently, in order to stop them from doing the “bad thing”. The drama isn’t in the knock out and neither is the solution, it’s in the character deciding that the risks inherent in violence are acceptable given the circumstances. It’s even more poignant between two characters who care about each other, possibly deeply. One character deciding that whatever the other character is going to do and the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to stop them is worth possibly destroying them over or, at the very least, their friendship.
That’s the drama in the scene, that’s the gray area, and that’s where all the moral questions are.
What is about to happen that is worth the risk of killing or destroying someone you care about? What happened to make you even think about going there?
You don’t get to take violence back. Once you go there, that’s it. The other options are closed off. You embrace the fallout and all the consequences which come with it. You can only hope the other person is willing to forgive you, if you even want forgiveness at all.
Either way, in the end, violence is just a stop gap. It’s not an actual solution.
This is where the arguments about violence being a solution actually come from. Where the arguments for genocide and life sentences in prison are born from. Unless we kill them all, it will never end. If we let them back out of the cage and onto the street then they’ll just go back to their old ways. Where the central moral theme between the Punisher and Daredevil in Daredevil’s Season Two has it’s heart. Do you believe in the inherent goodness of people and try to rehabilitate the monsters? Or do you just murder everyone in the name of keeping innocents safe? And, honestly, is that really a solution? How many people do you have to kill until there are no more people?
Violence is not a permanent solution. It is a stop gap. It is a deterrent.
It solves nothing.
Unless the people involved change their minds about their own course of action, the danger will repeat itself. Over and over and over again, ad naseum on both a personal and global scale.
Commit to your course of action as a writer and be honest, but don’t look for a trick-ety trick solution that let’s you get what you want while bypassing reality or the legal, physical, moral, and emotional consequences which make the setup interesting to begin with.
You can embrace the fantasy and kill the drama or honestly look at what you’re trying to do in your narrative instead of going for the cheap way out, especially since similar sequences amount to very little for the narrative unless you work at making them interesting.
There are a few things you can do:
1) Talk to them.
It starts here because if the stupid/dangerous thing isn’t time sensitive then nothing will convince them to go right back to it after they regain consciousness or the minute you turn your back. Physical domination itself is a temporary solution, it solves nothing in the long run. The same danger will still be present, it’s just been delayed or they simply won’t mention it to you the next time.
The only way to get them to actually give up is to convince them to and that requires words, not fists. Make your choice between the stop gap of a few seconds of unconsciousness versus the actual end of the issue.
2) Physically restrain them with your body.
Sometimes, in order to get someone to listen, you need to corral them. Engaging in a physical confrontation that ultimately ends with you trying to physically stop them from leaving is valid. It’s also less dangerous and, ironically, less likely to result in permanent injury.
This is basic grappling, grabbing hold of the other person and not letting go. Pinning them to a wall, the ground, whatever. It can go wrong, but it’s one person trying to physically keep the other person from leaving. This can be anywhere between standing between them and the door, getting back in the way, trapping them in another room until the opportune moment has passed, or even grabbing hold or physically engaging.
You can actually get some really great drama off two friends beating each other up to the point where they exhaust themselves and actually have to discuss their issues. It works.
3) Be a friend to the friend
Get friend the help they need. Don’t resort to giving friend brain damage.
Brain damage bad. Friending good.
Real Life Notice:
If you have a friend who is going to endanger themselves or others in a serious way, please, please, please reach out to those with more training and ability than yourself to handle the situation. Whether that is the police or counseling services, please help them get the help they need and protect others without endangering yourself or at the risk of worsening the situation.
How much you involve yourself will always be a judgement call that you have to make on the spot and I do respect that, but it’s important to do what is best for them and yourself and to stay safe.