All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Gunshot Wounds

When it comes to gunshot wounds, are there any places that are “less lethal” than others to be hit or is it all fair game for ending up fatal? Like, would a shot to the shoulder be less serious than a shot to the knee or something like that?

I know what you’re fishing for here, but no. There is no, “less than lethal” way to put a bullet in someone. There are more dangerous places to get hit, but there’s no way to safely shoot someone.

There are less than lethal munitions, such as beanbag rounds and riot slugs, but these are still dangerous.

Shooting someone in the limbs tends to permanently mangle that limb. So, while getting shot in the hand is less immediately dangerous than a round center mass, it will destroy that hand, without surgical reconstruction. Same goes for that knee example; you can kneecap someone, but they’re never walking again. That’s, “see, my character isn’t a bad person, they’re just a sadist,” territory.

Gunshots can kill. The bullet will rip apart tissue in ways your body can’t really handle, and, without medical attention, you will bleed to death. Getting shot in the hand or foot can still kill you, it’s just easier to cram a rag in the wound to staunch the bleeding.

There are places that are more lethal. Center mass, so your torso, primarily your heart and lungs. Take a bullet there, and you’ll quickly die. It is, technically survivable, but you need immediate medical aid. Shot in the head and you’re dead (most of the time.) (Technically, head shots are only fatal about 98% of the time, so there’s a chance. I’ve called this, “surprisingly survivable,” before, and it is.)

Of course, when bullets travel together, the results on a person are far worse. The real metric here is how much blood you lose. Lose to much and you die. So, if one hole gets you bleeding, several will speed up the process. Multiple gunshot wounds are no joke. Even with paramedics on the scene, you might not make it.

Also, because, again this about blood loss, nicking or severing an artery is very bad news. That’s your limbs. Take a hit in the shoulder and you could be fine, or it could nick the axillary artery, and you’re dead in minutes.

Guns aren’t safe. There’s no safe way to shoot someone. Bury a slug in the meat, and people can survive. There’s no one shot and down, outside of maybe a headshot, but there’s no such thing as shooting to wound. You shoot someone, you’re taking a real risk that they’ll never get back up.

Now, I alluded to this with the comment about head shots, but humans are remarkably resilient. Stuff that should kill us, sometimes doesn’t. So, while there’s no safe way to shoot someone, it’s entirely possible someone might manage to cling to life after taking five or six shots in the chest. Or they could bleed to death from a shot to the wrist.

It’s not possible to predict where a bullet will end up, at least not in real-time. Bullets can ricochet off bone and bounce in unexpected directions, or shatter spraying shrapnel around inside the victim. This stuff gets messy fast.

Best circumstance is the bullet goes in, and comes out “clean.” It doesn’t hit bone, doesn’t destroy anything vital. A wound like that is very manageable. Not, “good,” it can still kill you, but you have the most margin for error. Everything else goes down hill from there.


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Q&A: Masks

I’m really sorry if you’ve answered a similar already and I’m just dumb but what do you think about a warrior who fights with a mask? I assume that even if the eye holes are big enough theres still a bit of an impediment but? Or the kind of mask that sits under the eyes and hides the lower half of the face? I really need my nano character to wear a mask for… reasons but she is a warrior first (assassin) so I want to make sure that it’s right

Masks are a thing. The only major issue is making sure the mask doesn’t obstruct their peripheral vision. Covering one’s face in combat isn’t that strange.

Even in the modern day, it’s entirely reasonable for combatants to wear bandannas or balaclavas when fighting in cold or dry environments. Or, when protecting their identity is a factor. So, in that sense, we come back to your original point.

Can someone wear a mask to protect their face in combat? Yep. No question, no ambiguity, this is an option. Particularly half masks. There’s normally no danger of these obstructing your vision, though, depending on the setting, separate eye protection may be advisable. Also, this won’t do nearly as much to conceal your identity, as the upper half of your face remains visible.

There’s also ballistic masks. These are armored face masks, though they are rarely strong enough to stop a bullet, however they can protect against flying shrapnel. Specifically, these are usually designed to avoid limiting the viewer’s vision as much as possible, and some are designed to fit onto a conventional combat helmet, with ballistic goggles to allow greater visibility.

One final possibility are face masks, like Corvo’s from Dishonored, which are specifically there to augment the wearer’s options in combat. This is more of a specialty case, but if your character’s wearing a mask designed to give them greater vision, or alternate vision modes, that might be a viable option within the rules of your setting.

The major consideration for an assassin is, if the mask can be easily hidden, of if it’s something that is socially acceptable. Otherwise they need to maintain complete invisibility, which is an unreasonable goal. An assassin needs to be able to blend in with their environment. So, let’s dig up an old joke:

You know ninja gear? That full body black suit, and full face covering? You know what that is?

It’s stagehand garb.

So, real ninjas would dress up as day laborers, servants, farmers, and other common professions. People who would not draw attention to themselves. No mask, no superhero costumes. Just, people that should be wandering around, wherever they were. They may be the courier, they may be a member of the cleaning staff. You wouldn’t know you were looking at a ninja until the last possible moment. Which is the point.

It’s far easier to pretend to be someone mundane and slip pass security, than to claim to be a super-secret assassin, bouncing in the shadows like a methed up squirrel. Best of all, when someone drops dead, security is looking for people who don’t belong. They’re not looking for the delivery guy.

So, why dress up a stagehand? Because, in Japanese plays that included ninjas assassinating characters, it became a kind of joke. The audience was conditioned to ignore the stagehands moving around the actors, they’re not part of the play, they’re the mechanics to make it happen. In that sense, it’s exactly what the ninjas would normally do, pretend to be someone that would be ignored until the last possible moment. Taken out of context, or dropped into a film, the ninja outfit is a joke. It’s a stagehand, someplace they shouldn’t be, but you’ll ignore them because they’re a ninja.

It’s also probably worth remembering that a warrior and an assassin are entirely different professions. Assassins aren’t combatants in the conventional sense. Their skillset is probably more focused on infiltration and quiet kills, rather than full on combat. It’s a minor point, that I’m not too worried about hammering on. It’s also possible you’ve got a character who does do both, maybe they served as mercenary before moving on to killing people. But, remember, these are different jobs. If your character is both, you may want to spend some time exploring that.


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Q&A: Blanks

How harmless or lethal are blanks? Would they still hurt you if you were to fire them from a close enough range at someone?

It depends on the ranges, but blanks can kill.

So, when we’re talking about injuries and deaths from firearms, the focus is, somewhat obviously, on the bullet. That’s reasonable, the bullet is the most dangerous part of the equation, but it’s not the only danger.

Gunpowder doesn’t, technically, explode, it simply burns very energetically. This means there’s a lot of hot gasses, and burning particulate matter ejected from the barrel. Anything that doesn’t make it out of the barrel (called fouling) needs to be cleaned periodically.

This is an important, and often overlooked detail, conventional firearms are dirty and messy weapons. Modern powders burn cleaner than black powder, but this is still nasty, corrosive, stuff. This is why cleaning your gun is important, and why guns became significantly more mechanically complex after the invention of cordite. As well as after each new iteration of propellants.

Gunpowder at the point of ignition burns somewhere north of three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. (Above 1800C.) Now, it doesn’t stay at those temperatures for long, but it does release rapidly expanding, extremely hot gasses. Those can result in severe burns, at extremely close ranges (read: several inches.) Pressing a gun, loaded with blanks against someone and firing it will result in some pretty horrific wounds. This is because the expanding gasses will be forced into the victim, resulting in a star pattern tear in the victim’s skin, significant internal disruption, and burns.

Second, the bullet is not the only projectile a gun will eject. Wadding will also be sent down range. In the case of shotguns, wadding is critical for getting the shot moving. However, in the case of blanks, the wadding is vital for keeping the blank from simply dumping it’s load out the front of the cartridge. This isn’t usually much of a consideration because it’s fairly light weight, and doesn’t tend to go very far before physics catches up with it, but if you’re struck by it when the gun is an inch or two away from your body, it’s still moving quite rapidly, and while the mass is quite low, it will still have some significant force behind it.

All of this is short range, gunshot burns usually end around 3 feet from the gun, though stray particles of burning powder can travel father. So, generally, blanks are, “safe” if you’re more than a few feet from the target. However, for something like a mock execution (where someone puts the gun to the back of another’s head), they can kill.

Unfortunately, there have been more than a few on stage deaths that were the result of actors fooling around with blanks. One example is Jon-Erik Hexum, who started playing Russian roulette with a blank cartridge on the set of Cover Up. The blank blew a hole in his skull, and the resulting bone chip was forced through his brain, killing him.

There are other tools to simulate a gunshot at close ranges, but it’s not as simple as loading blanks into a functional firearm.

Also worth noting that blanks can propel debris in the barrel with as much force as a normal gunshot. The common example are some nail guns, which use blank cartridges to propel the nail into wood.

The more tragic example is the death of Brandon Lee. While shooting The Crow, Michael Massee’s character used a .44 magnum revolver (a S&W Model 629.) The gun had been loaded with blanks. For the scene where his character murders Brandon Lee’s. The problem was in the prop.

The 629 had previously been used in a series of close ups. The production had created dummy rounds, but dismantling live .44 cartridges, and removing the powder, then reassembling the bullets. This left the primers intact. Something that is not an issue with commercially produced dummy rounds, that exist specifically for situations like this.

After shooting the close ups, the prop master dry fired the revolver before removing the handmade dummy shells, and never examined them to determine their condition. There’s so many things wrong with this, but I’ll condense to the important detail, the primer for the round in the chamber migrated the bullet into the barrel where it came to rest. After that, without ever inspecting the barrel, or really examining the weapon, the prop master loaded it with blanks.

When Michael Massee was supposed to fire a blank at Brandon Lee, the bullet in the barrel was ejected, killing him.

Blanks still simulate a gunshot. It’s, “safe,” if you’re careful. But, get close enough, and these can do some singularly horrific things.

If the point of the question was, “can people screw around with them and live?” Yeah, or they can die. There’s a range of possible outcomes, few of them pleasant.

If the point of the question was, “is there any truth to that, the actor gets killed by a blank?” Yeah, that does happen. With just enough frequency to be depressing. Brandon Lee’s death was tragic, but the number of moving parts that created that tragedy was unusual. There are plenty of actors, like Hexum, who have killed themselves or others by mishandling props because, “it’s just a blank.”


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Q&A: Bullet Drop

Where do snipers tend to aim when they are going for a kill? Are they more inclined to aim for the head or do they take the easier shot and try for the heart?

Usually, above the target, and ahead of them if they’re moving.

We’ve talked about bullet drop before, but the basic concept is that the bullet is a physical object, and affected by gravity. The scope will be zeroed to a specific distance. For example, it might be zeroed for 50m, 200m, whatever. If you’re aiming at ranges closer than that, the scope will be slightly too low, if it’s beyond that range, the scope will be calibrated too high. In either case, a sniper can adjust, and this is the entire purpose of the striations in a rifle scope. These will represent the drop over a fixed distance. Combine that with a rangefinder (if the range is not known), and an experienced sniper will, likely, be aiming over their target’s head at long ranges.

How much the bullet will drop depends on the cartridge and rifle being used. This is part of why snipers are very possessive of their rifles.

This creates a situation where, at long ranges, even if you know the exact range, it is safer to go for a body shot if the option is there.

The second part of where they aim is “leading” the target. Again, a bullet is a physical object, and while it’s moving very fast, it’s still going to take time to travel to the target. If the target is moving the sniper needs to account for that and aim where the target’s path will intersect with the bullet, rather than aiming for where the target is currently.

Additionally, wind and other factors can affect the bullet’s flight path, particularly at longer ranges, meaning that the sniper needs to account for those as well.

So, where do they aim? Not at the target. They’re aiming somewhere in the general vicinity of the target, based on the physics involved.

As for where they want the bullet to connect? Headshots are flashy, but center of mass shots are far more reliable. At that point, it’s a personal choice by the shooter, which they’re going for.


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Q&A: Fantastic Rules

Any advice for fantasy/scfi? Sometimes I feel like because it’s fantasy it gives me less reason to worry about reality because technology and powers can easily “explain” why it’s able to work. For example the Jedi from starwars are able to jump and spin around easily and have swords that can cut through almost anything. Is there any way I can make it more believable yet still keep it in fantasy?


Let’s break this apart a little bit. Fantasy is a massive meta-genre that can encompass so much, to the point where it’s almost not useful as a descriptor.

Basically, if you’re making your own setting, unless you’re looking at hard science fiction, you’re probably dipping your toes into fantasy.

Fantasy is, you created your own world. It could be, “like,” the real one, but it’s not supposed to be. Or, it’s like the real one, but has elements that don’t exist.

You brought up Star Wars, and most sci-fi wanders around a line. Science Fiction, originally, was supposed to be a projection of future technologies, and the implications (usually political and social) for those technologies. When it becomes more about the world, and less about how it got there, it transitions to “science fantasy.”

Star Wars is a space opera. It’s fantasy. By design, there’s no line to draw from the real world to get there. Star Trek is more contentious on this front. There are elements that are science fiction, and there are elements that are fantasy, and it wanders between them depending on the writers.

This, also, doesn’t mean you’re precluded from having meaningful discussions in Sci-Fantasy. Farscape is an excellent example of a series that was chewing through a lot of commentary with, fantasy elements. (It’s a Portal Fantasy in space, when you break it down.)

The problem you’re running into with Star Wars is you’re not seeing the limits. The Jedi powers are limited. They have a fixed set of force abilities to pull from, and an individual can only access some of those. Not everyone can use force lightning, or sprint around at insane speeds. On top of that, not every writer involved seems to understand the list, so it gradually expands, and we get power creep.

The Jedi Knights of A New Hope were space Samurai. Well trained, with an unusual philosophical position, and the ability to mess with people, but the their powers were downright subdued. Compare that to now, where you have Jedi (and Sith) using their force powers to drag capital ships out of orbit, using their lightsabers as ranged weapons, and bouncing around like methed up hamsters.

This didn’t happen overnight. The basic telekinetic abilities kept expanding as the series went on, and writers and stunt choreographers came up with more creative uses for them. The psychic abilities got stronger, to the point where a Jedi can now influence the outcome of entire battles. And their ability to parry blaster shots has evolved to the point where conventional weapons aren’t a legitimate threat to them.

At this point, it’s expanded beyond the point where an average viewer can discern the rules at a glance, and that’s the real problem here. How do you balance a story against a character who can basically make the rules up as they go? You can’t.

Don’t let it get there.

Fantasy just means you started writing your own rules. Good fantasy creates the rules, and follows them. “You can this far, and no farther.” Sometimes the rules aren’t entirely obvious up front. That’s fine. There’s a lot of stuff in the world that isn’t immediately apparent. The rules your characters understand can be wrong. It’s just something you need to be careful of.

It doesn’t really matter, much, if your fantasy setting is some fictional historical era, modern day, or the distant future, having consistent rules for your fantasy is critical. The less consistent you are, the more you’ll damage the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It sounds like you’ve gotten to the point where your baseline has been pretty abused.

In fairness to you, Star Wars starts with some pretty extreme rules, and then dials up from there.

If you’re wanting to write a setting, write that setting. Making it believable falls onto your ability to make the people and places feel, “real.”

The places are simple, at least in concept. Work out the stories that created them, how they came to be what they are. You never have to fully tell those stories, and arguably shouldn’t, as that kind of an infodump can kill momentum and potentially overwhelm the reader. Feel free to ration out the details that are useful, though. It’s not important that you detail six centuries of technological advancements in one go, but if there’s an important figure that affects the story or helps to explain the figure, maybe mention that they existed and explain what they did.

Working the people out isn’t much more complicated, but it’s often more time consuming, because you have more to deal with. Work out their stories, where they came from, where they’re going, what they want, how they view their world. This is stuff that’s pretty easy to do, but you’ll only bite yourself if you forget and skip this. Again, you don’t need to dump most of this on the reader. You don’t need to detail every job a character held, or what their favorite childhood food was, until it informs their behavior in some way.

Tech and or magic can be a little more complicated. This requires you have concrete ideas about the kind of vehicles, weapons, and other equipment your characters encounter. This is less about having concrete explanations for how this stuff works, but about saying, “yeah, this is the kind of gear these people have, and this is what it can do.” This is also where, with fantasy, you can get into some bonkers anachronisms. In your case, I’d recommend against lightsabers.

Magic isn’t that different from technology in this sense. It’s about knowing the kinds of things they can do, and how they do that (in a technical sense, not necessarily a metaphysical one.)

Magic and unrestricted technology run real risks of getting out of hand and becoming cheap, “I win,” buttons. That’s something you want to avoid. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to prevent this. You simply have to resist the impulse to put this stuff in without carefully setting it up.

Something that can help, or may help, is looking at exactly where you find fault with other media. You don’t need to show it, in fact, you really don’t want it getting out there ever, but it might help you find the exact points where something like Star Wars loses you. Once you have that list, start looking for patterns. Things that reliably knock you out of a piece. If you’ve got outliers, think about those specific examples in context with the film or book, and see if you can figure out what didn’t work that time, as opposed to in other pieces, where you didn’t have an issue.

To be fair, sometimes a given piece of media will fail so spectacularly for you that there’s no return. With that in mind, you might want to look at exactly what caused it. Though, they can be instructive for what you don’t want to do.

It is entirely possible to create a fantasy setting with consistent rules, and that’s all realism is, in the end. A setting is realistic if it behaves in accordance with its own established rules. Set those rules, and enforce them, and you should be fine.


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Q&A: Parrying Gunshots

I’ve seen this a few times but how possible is it really to deflect a bullet with a bladed weapon?


Nope. Or, at least, not intentionally.

There’s two problems: Physiology and Physics.

First, your reflexes aren’t that good. I don’t mean, you personally, I mean it’s well beyond human reflexes. Depending on the bullet, it’s likely traveling faster than the speed of sound, meaning, your brain isn’t wired up to see the bullet itself, to say nothing of intentionally parrying it.

Even if you could, you’d need to accelerate your blade to superhuman speeds to get it into position. Even if you could, you can’t see where the bullet will be.

So, without superpowers, no, not at all.

Incidentally, this is also why you can’t dodge bullets. You also can’t dodge sniper fire because the bullet will get there before the gunshot, if you were wondering. Same problem applies if you wanted to parry a marksman’s bullet.

This is where physics screws you. Strictly speaking, a bullet could deflect off a blade, or other metal surface. This does happen. So far as it goes, bullets will sometimes deflect off of bone or shatter on impact. So, that’s another possible outcome, turning the bullet into a shower of shrapnel still pointed in the general vicinity of everywhere the, “lucky” blade wielder was standing.

The other possibility is that the blade itself fails, turning into shrapnel that sprays your blade wielder. Now, figuring out exactly what would happen depends on a lot of factors, including the exact positioning of the blade, it’s condition, design, also of course the bullet and it’s trajectory. So, I can’t just say, “it’d explode into a shower of shattered metal functioning as an impromptu bomb in their face.” Then again, a bullet isn’t likely to hit their blade in the first place.

Finally, even if this does go to plan, the bullet will still deliver a lot of force to the blade, ruining it. There may be some weird edge case with a super-alloy weapon, and of course, characters with superpowers start to break all kinds of rules, but realistically, that blade is going to suffer some damage in the process.

So, no, you can’t parry a gunshot, but you might be able to accidentally deflect the bullet. Which could be far worse depending on how that plays out.


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Q&A: Evidence Limitations

So, I’m not asking about fighting itself, but how about the disturbances left behind after a fight and what you can learn about the fight and the fighters based on that?

It depends. Anything from who they are to absolutely nothing.

Evidence collection comes in two pieces. Examining the site, and reconstructing what happened based on the information obtained when investigating.

So, when you say disturbances, that doesn’t really narrow down. Damage to the environment can be instructive to what happened, but it’s not 100%.

For example: finding a bullet hole will tell you several things. First, that used a gun, which isn’t necessarily as obvious as you’d think, and the path the bullet took. It can determine where the shooter was probably standing, or their height (if the range is known). Further this will tell you the caliber (roughly at first glance, and precisely once the slug has been retrieved.) Stippling (tiny burns caused by flaming powder) can help determine the rough range up to a couple meters. The presence or absence of a casing, combined with the caliber can tell you if it was a semi-auto or a revolver. The casing itself may have prints, and will have mechanical wear points, which can sometimes be used identify the make and or model the of the gun, even before the slug can be matched to a specific barrel. Where you find those casings can give more insight to where the shooter was standing when they fired, cross-reference that with the bullet’s trajectory and you can make an informed guess at the shooter’s height.

The problem is, it’s difficult to speak in generalities. Everything you do to your environment leaves evidence of your presence behind. Pay enough attention, and you might notice some details as you go. A lot of this is too generic to be useful when it comes time to figure out who you are after the fact. This is where the cheese comes in, with things like exotic brands of cigarettes, torn clothing, and other traces that are singular to a small subset of people or an individual. That said, things to break in fights, clothes do rip, so it is entirely plausible that something will get dropped in the fight, waiting for someone to find it later.

When it comes to a fight, a lot of the information that can be gleaned is going to be pretty generic. It’s not possible to know, reliably, if a garbage can was damaged during a scuffle, or if it happened last year, when someone took out their frustrations on it. In some places it’s going to be difficult to know if anything happened because, at some point, something did, and it may not be related to your investigation.

Coming to an apartment you know, that’s usually kept meticulously, and finding the place has been tossed is going to tell you something happened. It won’t tell you what. But, if you poke around, you might find some hints. At that point, the nature of the damage becomes critical. Someone searching for a hidden trinket will be tearing the place apart in different ways from someone that got thrown into the coffee table or bounced off a wall. Also, bloodstains are pretty good indication that something went wrong. Blood trails mean you can kinda guess where someone went, though this will fail when they enter high traffic areas.

The site is critical for your investigator. Interior locations that see little traffic, like private residences, are best, because the evidence will remain undisturbed until investigators get there. (Though, if your character isn’t a member of the police, they’ll be left scraping at the leftovers.) Exterior locations can quickly turn into a nightmare, especially when you factor in weather. Heavy rain or snowfall can quickly conceal or destroy evidence. Even just high winds can be a problem. Also, animals, and other humans could easily disturb the site unintentionally.

Now, one of the richest possible sources of evidence is a dead body. If someone didn’t walk away from that fight, you’ll have far more information about what happened. Blood trails can lead you to this. A corpse can tell you everything from how long ago they died to what weapons were used on them, if any. It won’t tell you things like fighting styles, but if they were bitten, it’ll give you a pretty solid way to identify your killer. The severity, or absence, of defensive wounds will give the investigators a pretty good idea how much of a fight the victim put up before they died. Back to the gun example earlier, entry and exit wounds can be very informative. They will tell you the trajectory that the bullet was fired at. In some cases this can even tell you what the victim’s position was when they were hit.

Some quick corpse trivia: Bruises take several minutes to form (which you may have noticed if you’ve ever been bounced around.) They’re actually subdermal hemorrhages; so you’re bleeding, but the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) wasn’t ruptured, so you’re bleeding under your skin. If you suffer an injury that would lead to bruising, but are killed within a couple minutes, your heart won’t be pushing blood (obviously), and no bruise will form. In some cases, this will give you insight for how long the fight lasted.

When the body dies, blood tends to pool at the lower extremes: die on your back, it’ll pool along your back, your buttocks, and the back of your legs, and arms. Die in a sitting position, it will pool in your lower legs. Thing is, this can inform you if a body was moved after death, particularly if it was allowed to sit around for a couple hours, or if transport took any considerable amount of time, because the blood will be pooled in some strange places.

Like I said, a dead body is a jackpot, if you’re trying to figure out what happened, because they’re a pile of incredibly detailed evidence.

Individual evidence is rarely definitive. They become pieces of a puzzle that you use to reconstruct the events as best you can. Some evidence is only useful in hindsight, or downright deceptive if you don’t know the context. Put enough of this together, and your character might be able to figure out where the fight started, where it went, and maybe even have a pretty good gauge on who was coming out on top. It might also give some rough indication of how many were there. Not an exact number, but an estimate that ranges from “a couple” up to, “lots.”

It’s possible one of your characters might know the context. If they’re familiar with one of the combatant’s methods, they might see things that point back to someone they know. At it’s cheapest, this might point them towards the character, though it may simply suggest what group they should start focusing on. It might also point towards other, unsolved, crimes, which in turn might be cross-referenced to get a more complete picture of the killer’s methodology.


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Q&A: Myths and Stories

Would readers be put off if a cast of characters was depicted differently in a standalone novel than in most stories involving them? The novel is a Portal-Fantasy where a different world’s gods are exiled to Earth as mortals. Stories in their homeworld are from the mortals’ POV’s, who the cast treat as inferior beings. The novel, however, is from the POV of a human who never felt a power imbalance. Would readers be upset by learning that the victorious, “happy” ending wasn’t so great after all?

There’s, at least, three different ways to read this, so I’m going to just pull out some of the possibilities.

As a nitpick, portal fantasy is, usually, where the characters come from the “real world” and intrude into a fantastic world. The classic example is C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which also gives the sub-genre it’s other name, “wardrobe fantasy,” because the portal is, literally in the titular wardrobe. Though, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are other, very notable, examples. This doesn’t mean you can’t turn the concept inside out, it’s just a, slightly, unusual way to describe it. Also, I realize I’m listing relatively modern literary examples, but the idea of traveling to another mystical world is certainly nothing new, and pops up in classic myth going back thousands of years, which is where we get into a possible read of this question. Also, like I said, I’m being a bit picky here, because there is a sub-genre of Portal Fantasy where characters do intrude into the “real world” from their fantasy realm, it’s just less common.

Are these gods supposed to be based on actual myths?

If that’s the answer then, no, people won’t really care. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a story where Jörmungandr and Fenrir masquerade as private investigators in 1940s LA, investigating the murder of their client, leading to the discovery of an apocalyptic cult. You could do that. There’s also no reason you’d need to consider yourself completely handcuffed to those myths. You have some flexibility.

At this point, you need to ask yourself a question, “what am I getting from this?”

Myths can be very attractive as a baseline. They’re buried in symbolism and meaning. They can become a tool to wink at your audience. They can become a method to mislead your audience without ever lying to them. Clearly, Fenrir’s going to have issues with Tyr; clearly Jörmungandr is going to turn out to be orchestrating the cult, to the point that you can step back and say, “no, I never said that, you filled in the blanks yourself.”

However, if you just wanted the names, there’s no reason to burden your story with those preconceptions. When you’re taking on a myth, and adding to your story, you’re bringing a lot of context into your work, that didn’t exist before. So, if you’re trying to bring an existing mythology to your work, I would strongly recommend you read up on it first.

I mean, if you’re writing fantasy, I’d recommend you’re at least conversant in a few of the classic pantheons. There’s a lot of goofy drama and weirdness mixed in there, and it can’t hurt to know a bit more about the stories people used to tell.

If this is fanfiction or tie in work, even if it is hijacking a notable pantheon in the process, you need to do your research. This situation’s non-negotiable, and your potential audience can seriously rebel if you’re misrepresenting characters they’re familiar with. This doesn’t mean you can’t be subversive, or change them into something they’re not, but you need to build off the character that exists. Changing that foundation is a recipe for your readers to accuse you of poor quality (assuming you can’t drag them along, before they realize what you’ve done.)

This requires that you evaluate all behavior of the character in canon work. You need to examine their dialog carefully. Then, you need to have a read on them that allows you to re-contextualize their motivations. This needs to seem more natural than the official reasoning.

The high watermark here, for this kind of fanfiction, is to actually replace who the character is in the original work, within the head canon of your readers, without them realizing what you’ve done.

If you are doing official tie-in work, you’re probably not going to have the option of doing something like this unless you’re specifically tasked to, but that’s the nature the job.

The final option is you made all of this from whole-cloth. Your, “gods,” are just people, not mythical figures, not someone else’s character. At that point, you can (kinda) do whatever you want. On one hand, this can be very freeing, you can make your entire cosmology, and create the wacky adventures of deities doesn’t quite match their actual experiences.

There’s nothing wrong with having multiple perspectives on a character. There’s the person your character is, the person that people see them as, and the god that they write elaborate stories about.

You’ve got a couple options here to consider:

It’s possible that the myths are exactly that; completely unrelated to reality, someone came along and used their likeness to craft increasingly preposterous legends.

It’s possible that the myths are distorted retellings of events; the motivations change, sometimes the people change, maybe a close friend, (who never existed) gets dropped in to heighten the drama, maybe a tragic ending is twisted into karmic retribution. Sometimes people who were there get dropped off the page because they just weren’t interesting enough to the person who remembered, and sometimes, just sometimes, the person retelling the story a century later screwed up, and mixed up some details, or a scribe created a new individual because they misspelled someone’s name. A later scholar might come along and conflate two mortal enemies with one another, because their names were similar. Mistakes happen.

The important thing is to be consistent with your setting’s rules. This doesn’t mean you need to be explicit about what is, or isn’t true. But, if you’ve got characters who were there hearing fantastical stories, then they might have something to say about the inaccuracies, even if they keep that to themselves or each other. After all, “who the fuck is Lancelot anyway?”

There’s nothing wrong with people having a sanitized, “happy ending,” to their story. It’s a little odd in the context of mythology. Most mythologies have some idea how everything will eventually spiral apart. So, happy endings are somewhat uncommon, or at least bittersweet. Sometimes the myths simply bring the audience, “up to date,” and don’t bother moving forward, in which case they don’t really, “end,” the way conventional storytelling presents it. Like I said, it’s entirely possible there’s a relatively upbeat story that actually spiraled into a mess.

The one thing you do need to consider when writing your own setting’s myths from scratch is that it informs the culture that tells those stories. Myths tell you the virtues a society values; what they look for in a hero. It tells you the sins they consider severe. They tell you where that society believes the came from, where they see themselves in the world, how they view the people they share it with, and who they think they should be. Creating the myths is double sided, because you need to create the concept of the culture telling them, and then shape their stories around that.

There’s certainly room for gods who don’t reflect the, “modern,” incarnation of the society they produced at all. Where their myths have been distorted over the centuries because the religious and political influences in their adjacent world have reconstructed and distorted the myths and tenets to fit structures that are more beneficial to maintaining their authority. Just a thought.


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Q&A: Dual Pistols

Hello, I don’t know if you’ve ever answered this question before but what is your opinion on dual wielding hand guns? Do you think its practical and if someone was to do it, what would be the best technique?


We have, it’s not.

The general problem with dual wielding firearms is that you’re trading accuracy and control for an extra weapon. This is not an efficient tradeoff. You don’t even get a higher, sustained, rate of fire, because reloading will be more cumbersome. Unless you’ve got matched weapons, you’ll be running dry at different times, meaning you’ll either only have use of one some of the time, or you’ll have to stop and reload erratically. It’s technically possible to stagger your rate of fire so both would run dry together, but if we’re talking about a firefight, the odds of being able to add this to the list of things you want to manage is pretty slim.

You can’t aim both, so you’re either alternating between them, which doesn’t really help, or spraying and praying. That doesn’t work out well for handguns where the overall capacity is pretty low to begin with.

In modern day, you’re better off carrying a backup, using one, and then switching over when you run out of ammo. And, yes, carrying multiple handguns is absolutely a thing. If one suffers a mechanical failure, or, again, you run out of ammo for it, you still have a functional weapon to use. Pulling your backup and trying to use both at the same time is not a good idea.

Historically, this made a little more sense. When looking at 19th century revolvers, or single shot muzzle loaders, the idea of dual wielding had more appeal. For one thing, they weren’t especially accurate to begin with, and you were effectively doubling your firepower. Technically, this was more of a variant of the backup routine above. Because you’d use one, and then switch to the other. In the case of flint and matchlocks, it wasn’t unheard of for someone to go into combat with more than two, so that they could get off multiple shots at the beginning of combat. Muzzle loaders were not accurate to begin with, so no worries about stabilizing them.

Generally speaking, dual wielding firearms gets used because it looks cool, not because it’s a good idea. It’s really not. In that sense, the best technique is to put second gun away until you need it.


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Q&A: Stage Fighting

Hi! I’ve seen you analyze movie characters’ fighting styles on this blog before, can you do a post like this on Eliot Spencer from the show Leverage?

Not really, because there’s not much to say. Christian Kane used a fairly normal mix of stage fighting techniques when he was playing Eliot. This isn’t a real style. There’s no combat application. To someone with hand to hand training, it’s just kind of “there.”

Having said that, stage fighting is a real thing, though the “fighting,” part is a bit of a misnomer. These are choreographed techniques designed to allow actors to present the illusion of combat with minimal risk.

Stage fighting isn’t foolproof, and a number of techniques require both participants to work together to avoid injury. Which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s effective, it’s not.

Also, this fool someone who knows what they’re looking at. Even when Leverage’s stunt choreographer is tightening stuff up to make it look cleaner, it’s immediately recognizable. Again, the idea is for something that looks like a martial art, but isn’t actually one. It needs to look like your actors are attacking one another, when they’re not.

The big tell for stage fighting is also what makes it fairly useless in combat. It’s easy to follow. Stage fighting looks good, it has clear movements, especially in the outline. This does two things, it lets the audience know what’s going on, and it lets the actors know what’s happening. As we’ve said, for actual combat, this is a huge liability. You do not want your opponent to know what you’re doing. Stage fighting does that.

There is some potential application for stage fighting in a con job. If two of the con artists are working together, this can convince a mark that the sympathetic con is in real jeopardy. This works on some marks, with a story about how the con artist is being harassed and attacked, and they just need some money to get a loan shark’s heavies off of them. (I can’t remember Leverage ever using this specific approach.) There’s similar tradecraft applications, to convince someone that an individual is under threat. That said, this entire approach requires witnesses who don’t know what to look for, so it’s already very situational, and lends itself more to con jobs than to espionage.

Worth knowing, this isn’t cinematic trickery, it’s slight of hand, and works in person. I suspect, because it originated on stage, rather than on film. Also, part of the reason it tends towards large movements, because the audience in the mid rows needs to be able to follow the action. It falls apart if the audience is combat literate, but a minority of the general population, and most martial artists are willing to wave it off, because actual hand-to-hand is dangerous.

The result is a bit like firing blanks. It’ll look and sound good if you don’t know what to expect, but if you know what should happen, you know something’s off. It’s not as dangerous, but it’s not completely safe.

Eliot mostly exists to provide some spectacle to a series that could otherwise devolve into a lot of head and shoulders talking shots. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. For most con artists and thieves, combat is a failure state, so it’s something they need to work to avoid at all costs, but here’s a character that specifically exists to operate in that state. It defuses some of the tension.


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