Category Archives: Followups

Q&A: Indirect Consequences

Hi I’ve been reading your posts on Feel Good Violence and it’s very interesting. I’m writing a story which largely centers around a Sinister Dystopian Government Agency ™ that is pretty… liberal in its use of violence, and I’m worried about FGV when there is little to no personal consequence for their actions. The narrator (part of the agency) does experience emotional/physical effects (and the “necessity” of the violence is discussed at length), but is that enough to keep it out of FGV?

Let me reiterate something, I know I’ve said before, but, the entire feel good violence critique is based on violence that exists as a power fantasy. A lack of (plausible) consequences is a common symptom, not the cause.

Those consequences don’t need to be direct. It’s not necessarily a simple cause and effect relationship. It’s also important to understand, these consequences aren’t necessarily a punishment. A character engaging in violence that then affects other characters in your story is still a legitimate consequence.

For example: if you’re telling the story of someone who, in a moment of macho bravado beats someone into a coma, and then goes on with their life, that could be FGV. However, if you’re also focusing on the family and friends of the person who’s been brutalized, the entire narrative takes on a different, far less celebratory, tone, even without applying those consequences to the character who created this situation.

Violence is not a precision tool, it spills over onto others, and affects far more than just one character. If someone bombs a bar your characters hung out at, that’s gone, it affects them. If someone is killed, it affects the people in their life. That’s a coworker, friend, or loved one, that no longer exists in their life, and that absence is something that has consequences for them. Even if the killer walks away and disappears without anything befalling them. Not everything needs to be Crime and Punishment; you don’t need to torture your characters for what they’ve done, you do need to address it, however.

This is, actually, at the core of the bully vigilante scenario we’ve mentioned several times: A bully acts against a third party, the “hero” intercedes on the victim’s behalf. The problem is, there are consequences, but they wouldn’t have fallen on the character who interceded, it would be back on the original victim.

Okay, let’s step back and apply this to your setting: You have a dystopia that engages in state sponsored violence, that’s not feel good violence. If your setting was presented as a utopia, and your state sponsored violence was somehow limited to, “only the people who deserved it,” that would be FGV on an institutional scale.

To be clear, this can, and does, happen in Science Fiction. Someone’s writing a story about their utopia, and hands the police (or military) unlimited authority to chase after whomever they want. It also exists at the core of any special cadre that operates above the law in an otherwise idealized utopia. Unless that is handled very carefully, there’s a real danger of the violence being presented as a good thing, and the resulting effects are simply washed away.

There’s a lot of room to experiment with an otherwise utopian setting, where these kinds of organizations thrive, subverting the ideals they claim to protect. It would be significantly more challenging, but if you want to wrestle with that, there are certainly things to be said.

Strictly within the context of what you’ve said, there’s a lot of room for a discussion on ethics and the state’s monopoly on violence, mixed in. At that point, a general lack of punishment for your character’s actions is a very legitimate talking point. This is particularly relevant because it can easily create personal dilemmas for your character, centered on the difference between the their ideals, their ethics, and the world they live in. Especially when they’re working for an organization that uses the threat of violence as a coercive force.

It’s also possible you may have characters who enjoy violence. In those cases, they “feel good” about what they’re doing, regardless of the consequences to others. This would probably be part of a larger critique. This is something you can see from real world law enforcement and military. The consequences become something that other people have to deal with. So long as you’re remembering and addressing that, it’s not Feel Good Violence.

The issue with feel good violence has, and remains, the idea that you can use violence as a solution to any problem. The joke, “if force doesn’t solve your problems, you’re not using enough,” played straight in prose. If anything, your setting may have the framework for an argument about why these approaches don’t work.

-Starke

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Q&A: Feel Good Violence is Universal

So I’ve seen a lot of your posts on violence but how does that stuff pertain to a fantasy novel where fighting is a character’s way of life? Like his job is to fight off monsters and stuff so does fight scenes still fall under feel good violence or any other pitfalls you’ve discussed?

Feel Good Violence is the trope which makes a lot of our readers go, “I came out to have a good time and I’m feeling so attacked right now.” Mostly because they’re misunderstanding what it means, and assume that this relates to over the top violence, or exciting superhero movie fight scenes, or scenes that are written purely to be exciting and fun. That’s not what Feel Good Violence refers to.

Feel Good Violence is about violence written without consequences and scenes that have no narrative impact, which ultimately serve no purpose in the story except to show us how awesome the hero is, by itself, alone, and are scenes ultimately not worth anyone’s time. Feel Good Violence is your hero initiating a beat down on some poor schmuck in a bar at a level they certainly didn’t deserve, where they destroy the bar in the process, and everyone cheers. If you ignore the pitfalls of Feel Good Violence, you will cast your hero as a bully and most of your readership may not notice because violence as wish fulfillment translates directly into bullying and bullying really does feel good.

Feel Good Violence is your character contextually behaving the same way as a nasty anon sending nasty messages into someone random person’s inbox in the name of their fave and then being celebrated for it. Without context, without perspective, this is violence designed to feel good and violence where the action leads the narrative nowhere.

Violence has a high price tag, whether that price is paid physically through exhaustion or injury, socially through its impact on those individuals around you and the way they treat you, and culturally through the rules and laws put down by whatever governing body rules your setting. Fight scenes are great for your fiction because that high price tag (which will impact every aspect of their life) is an easy road to high key drama with high stakes.

Feel Good Violence ignores the stakes, negates tension, and destroys drama, these scenes exist purely as an abstract and float outside the narrative’s actual plot. They do nothing, they influence nothing, they incite nothing, and ultimately mean nothing. They are the character acting without fear of consequences in a narrative sanctioned environment where those consequences can never occur because the author won’t let them threaten the protagonist. Consequences to their behavior simply don’t apply, no concept of long term pay off exists, justification is broken down on the lines of “good” and “bad”. The police officer will threaten the snitch who provides them with information, beat them up, throw them into walls, in order to remind the audience that the officer is tough. Forgetting that the snitch provides the police officer with important information, information where in the same situation and in a better narrative would no longer be available down the line when the police officer needs it.

The problem with Feel Good Violence is that consequences and fallout from your character’s actions are what create tension. In fact, most characters that general audience adore adore them in part because they’re walking drama bombs. Like the bad boy loner with a temper who punches out the school bully and lands both himself and the protagonist in detention.

Inciting Incident > Negative Action > Consequences

Feel Good Violence would just have the bad boy punch the school bully, and wander away while the bully lies on the floor crying while the in-scene audience cheers.

Inciting Incident > Negative Action > Poot

In characters that are supposed to be combat professionals, the mentality this trope creates will lead to abdication of responsibility and them behaving in ways that are unprofessional in the extreme. You won’t have any respect for the damage the character is capable of doing because you discarded the price tag. A real professional, or even just a recreational martial artist, knows they must moderate their behavior to react in ways which are situationally appropriate. They carefully weight their response because just hauling off on some stupid motherfucker can have some terrible consequences.

Now, while those consequences can be bad for the character in-setting they could be great for the narrative and the plot as a whole; but only if you let the consequences of those choices play out.

A cop beating up a snitch and then the snitch turning on them down the line is great drama. The monster hunter who accidentally destroys a town, whose actions have unintended consequences, or pulling a Geralt and hacking off some idiot’s hand in order to get hired for a job is great drama.

So, yes, this one applies to everything you write regardless of genre because it directly relates to the consequences revolving around your characters actions. Violence is very expensive, regardless of how fantastical the setting is. Feel Good Violence is consequence free, these scenes exists purely to make you feel good without having to worry about anyone’s feelings or anyone (you care about) getting hurt. You see the best examples of this trope in wish-fulfillment characters where the end result of the mentality is a main character becoming a psychopathic bully. At least, they will when you look at the external context of the actions they’re taking. However, if you choose to never critically think as a reader, you’ll simply absorb these scenes and cheer.

You avoid feel good violence by bringing consequences home into your fiction, and having the character’s behavior impact their daily life and how others see them. For example, if your character is a monster hunter and the monster he’s hunting gets into the town that hired him and destroys it, they’re not going to be very happy with him. They will continue to not be happy with him even if he does kill it and ultimately saves their lives. There are other consequences to be had like their homes, equipment, and livelihoods have all been destroyed.  It’s like Spider-Man destroying your car by throwing it at Rhino to stop him.

Thanks for saving my life, buddy, but I still need to get to work tomorrow.

A good way to double check yourself on Feel Good Violence is to stop and think about what’s happening context wise in your story. Most of the issues with Feel Good Violence stem from being too connected to your protagonists and trying to smooth the way for them, or engineering events to try to control how others will react. Those reactions and consequences are part of what create realism and tension within your fiction. Step outside your protagonist and start thinking from the perspective of other characters in your story, about how you’d react if these events happened to you. If you saw X occurring, how would you react? What reaction would help the story to progress?

Essentially, treat violence and your fight scenes like events actually occurring in the setting with real effects on the narrative and you’ll avoid Feel Good Violence.

-Michi

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Followup: The Mafia

Thank you for the Mafia information. You mentioned the American/East Coast Mafia is defunct. Does that mean it would be inaccurate to write about them being active in present day? Because my research still brings up racketeering and drug/human trafficking cases.

It mostly depends on where you’re setting your story. So, there is a mea culpa here; I described as defunct, based on my experiences, and some quick, cursory research focused primarily on verifying names and dates.

In the late 90s, I lived in a city that had been mobbed up, and was still working out Mob influence. In retrospect, I kind of suspect that a few of the restaurants I frequented while there may have been mobbed up.

By 2000, most mafia holdings in the United States were gone. If you lived in one of the cities where they completely folded up shop, you could be forgiven for thinking they were entirely destroyed. This would be a mistake. The very one I made when I wrote the original post. So, for that, I am sorry.

Today, America’s Italian Mafia is a shadow of its former self. They started as East Coast immigrant street gangs in the late 19th century, transitioning into a fairly developed network of criminal syndicates by WWII. The post-war era allowed for explosive growth. American organized crime, effectively founded the modern incarnation of Las Vegas, and even had extensive holdings in Cuba (before the Castro came to power.)

There are a lot of factors which lead to their downfall. These ranged from backlash growing political aspirations, to the war on drugs, the RICO Act was a body blow for the Mafia, as it directly attacked many of their methods of operation. (Specifically, it allowed prosecutors to charge the heads of families for crimes they ordered, but did not directly participate in, closing one of the Mafia’s favorite methods for shielding their upper echelons.)

Today, the Mafia does still exist in a few places. The days when they had families running cities across the nation are gone. If you live somewhere like Texas or California, the idea of Mafia operating in your city is more of a novelty.

With that in mind, the Mafia still has holdings in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago. The places where they were most strongly embedded, and where they’ve managed to somewhat survive.

The other major difference from the Mafia of today, and the one from 30 years ago, is a transition towards contracting labor, rather than using their own people at street level.

So, with all of that in mind, asking if it’s accurate is a bit of a loaded question, and it’s probably worth evaluating what you’re looking at with the Mafia. I’m going to pull two specific films, because they do an excellent job of establishing the dichotomy of who the Mafia wanted to be, vs who they actually were.

There’s The Godfather, and there’s Goodfellas.

The Godfather is an opera. It’s a massive story about honor, duty, sacrifice, and all of these other virtues, layered over the Mafia of the 50s-70s. It’s also, entirely, a fantasy. I don’t just mean the events, I’m talking about the organization it presents. The Corleone Family is what mobsters idealized themselves as. This sort of shadow nobility, benevolent, and honorable (to a certain degree), never existed in the real world.

If you’re looking at The Godfather and saying that’s what you want, it’s a fantasy. It’s accurate insofar as it presents an idealized self-image of who the Mafia believed themselves to be, but it doesn’t square with the reality of who mobsters actually were.

Goodfellas is not an opera; it’s not even, strictly, fictional. The film follows the life of Henry Hill (who died in 2012), from his introduction to the Mafia as a child, up through his eventual role as a witness against the mob. It’s not completely accurate, because it does abridge a few details. Some characters have their names changed, or are composites of multiple individuals. In one case, the motive behind a crime wasn’t exactly what the film presented, though the inciting incident is accurate.

The vast majority of the film is accurate to the actual behavior and identity of the Mafia. This isn’t the noble image of shadowy benefactors guarding and shepherding their community. It’s a bunch of psychopaths, kept barely in line by the threat of further violence, who have no qualms about turning on one another to save their own skins, or over imagined slights.

In some ways, the Mafia you see in Goodfellas no longer exists. RICO prosecutions, have shrunk their influence substantially.

That said, Organized crime still exists. The players are new, and in many cases it’s transitioned to new techniques, but where there’s opportunity, criminals will find a way. Skimmers, credit card fraud, ransomware, and other cybercrimes are all far more profitable, and less risky, than pounding pavement, and threatening to rough up store owners for the contents of their till in an era when anyone can have a security camera feeding images to off site data storage.

Organized crime has embraced globalization. In some respects, this is nothing new. The cartels were moving product around in large volumes forty years ago, but, things like smuggling and trafficking are far more appealing options for the modern criminal enterprise.

The very short version of modern organized crime is, if you want to do something, you no longer need to be there in person, unless you’re moving product (this includes people) in or out. If all you want is money, you can hide halfway round the world, and let your fingers do the walking.

So, here’s a fun and scary thought: If you live in the US, you’ve got a better than average chance of having been solicited by an organized criminal enterprise in the last decade. I don’t mean a few guys showed up at your front door, I’m talking about emails. In particular, where someone would contact you asking you to accept a wire transfer, and then relay it to them. This was actually about money laundering. You receive the funds from a fraudulent credit card transaction, then move it through your account. When the charges get reversed, your transfer out is fine, but the money coming in doesn’t really exist. Another popular one, from a similar time frame, was to take delivery of items for someone (usually “away on business,”) then repackage the stuff for shipping. Again, you would be used as a cutout, when the fraud was detected. So far as it goes, some of those, “secret shopper,” programs were also not on the level, and you would have been furnished with a cloned card, and sent off to turn that into actual cash.

The trick is to get the money across national boundaries and into a safe jurisdiction that won’t assist in a foreign investigation as fast as possible.

Beyond that, most of the organized crime groups that get brought up do still exist.

The Chinese Triads are real. They’re still around. There’s roughly a dozen major Triads. For reference, the largest (if I remember correctly) is the Sun Yee On, which has somewhere around 55k – 60k members worldwide. They’re active in Asia, North America, and Europe. The Triads derive income from drug smuggling, trafficking, and counterfeiting. (Not just counterfeit currency, but also media, like books, DVDs, ect.)

The Japanese Yakuza is real, and weird. Weird, because it pops up in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find organized criminal activity. For example, it’s not uncommon for Yakuza members to own hospitals, or other businesses that usually don’t attract the attention of organized crime. The explanation for this goes back to the 80s. At the time, Japan’s economy was exploding, they were seeing unprecedented economic growth, and had more money than they knew what to do with. Japanese banks were incredibly liberal with loans, because the money was pouring in (from their perspective). This lead to a lot of Japanese businesses purchasing foreign assets, and a general anxiety that they would financially rule the world in the coming century, which you’ll find in media from the late 80s and early 90s.

Around 1991 or ’92, the bubble popped. Before that happened, Japanese banks were happy to pass loans to pretty much anyone, on the idea that it would lead to further profits. This included many members of the Yakuza. (As I recall, there’s a bit of a question whether loan officers knew they were dealing with Yakuza, or if their due diligence was just that lax.) While they did buy into more conventional organized crime fronts, like shipping or construction, they were still left with more money than they knew what to do with, and proceeded to buy their way into other industries as well. Today, Japan is still struggling to clean the Yakuza out of their corporate culture.

When the bubble burst, many Japanese investors were suddenly on the hook for massive debt they’d incurred during the previous seven years. This included Yakuza members. In the face of this some committed suicide, however, many more retaliated, killing bank loan officers and threatening bank officials. This has resulted in a bizarre situation where the Yakuza (and uncollectible loans issued to their members during the bubble) is still a major factor in their current financial climate.

So, like I said, the Yakuza is real, and weird. If you’re wondering what I meant by “economic” research on them, in the earlier post, now you know.

My reading on the Cartels is spotty. As criminal enterprise goes, they are fascinating, because there’s an entire distinct sub-culture that’s built up over the years, including a distinct musical genre called Narcocorrido (culturally this is somewhat analogous to gangster rap, though it’s stylistically related to Northern Mexican folk music.) Beyond the obvious drug trafficking, kidnapping has also been a major money maker in the region. I don’t know how tightly the Cartels are involved in that industry, but it is worth mentioning.

Major street gangs are another factor. Again, these guys are active, and real. They’re a bit too diverse to quickly categorize, ranging from small, local, criminal groups, up to transnational organizations with worldwide members in the tens of thousands. Depending on circumstances, they may be working for, or with, other organizations, or they could be operating in house.

As I said earlier, the Russian Mob is more of a catch all term for a diverse group of criminals who share a common language, rather than a true organization. That said, there are criminal organizations that come from former Soviet states, but it’s not a single monolithic entity. A lot of the cyber crimes I mentioned above, are popular money makers, particularly for organizations that never left home, and now have access to the world via the internet.

So, no, it’s not inherently inaccurate. At that point any question about accuracy comes down to how you present the thing, not if it exists, or existed.

 

-Starke

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Q&A: Trope Patrol

So, would you say that humans, who have used intelligence and ranged attacks to become the dominant species on this planet, are instead the Squishy Wizard trope?

At the risk of sounding contradictory, no. If you wanted to delve into TV Tropes, and come back with humans expressed as a single example, my first thought is actually Proud Warrior Race Guys. And, before you ask, no, this isn’t because I’m constantly writing about violence.

Basically, there’s two major pieces to this:

Compared to the other animal life on this planet, we’re ridiculously resilient. Humans can survive punishment that would flat out kill anything else. It doesn’t mean that we’re invincible, somewhat obviously. What we are is durable, resistant to poisons, (though, again, not immune, obviously).

Remember, we consider consuming toxins which will kill pretty much everything a form of recreation. And, if you accidentally cut yourself, you can use hard liquor as an antiseptic.

In particular, human endurance is one of our major evolutionary advantages, up there with our intelligence, and tool use. If you’ve never heard the term persistence predation, it’s a hell of a concept. Without advanced tools, humans can hunt their prey by simply being better at conserving energy, and literally wearing their quarry down until they’re no longer able to flee. Even in modern hunter-gatherer societies, humans can simply jog an animal to death, by preventing it from having the opportunity to rest. This has even been documented as a tactic against other predators. You don’t have to be faster, you just need to be fast enough to keep them from catching their breath, and sharp enough to find where they’ve gone. Then repeat until they’re completely exhausted and defenseless. Kill, cook, eat.

If you’ve ever wondered why humans are, mostly, hairless (in comparison to most mammals), this is probably a major factor. In extremely hot climates, sweating to regulate body temperature works far more efficiently than having to slow down and hyperventilate. Also, part of why humans can operate in climates that are too hot for our animals.

The second part is, none of that matters when you’re dealing with another human. While we are hard to kill, we’re far better at killing each other. We’ve had the entirety of our history to practice.

That is what combat technology (including unarmed martial arts) has developed to achieve. Even then, most untrained fighters can’t really do much to each other, outside of accidentally getting lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view). The real danger is facing someone who knows what they’re doing.

Take two humans who know what they’re doing, and, yeah, we are pretty squishy against one another. As I said, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out exactly what it takes to make other members of our species stop flailing and screaming. For someone or something without that background, it gets pretty tricky.

There are a lot more parts to both of these thought processes, and it is important to remember that the real catalyst for a lot of this is human intelligence. So, in that sense, you’re not completely wrong. It’s just important to remember that, when it comes to humans, we’re not really that squishy; we’re just very adapted to killing one another, which is where the, “glass cannon,” comment came from.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sword Cane Followup

kuraitenshi2012:

A way to compensate for a smaller blade is having it made with “rare metal” or with “magic” whichever may fit your story better.

I own my own cane sword as well, the blade itself was dull from before I bought it, but it’s more like a dagger.

As far as cane design, if you taper it down to a strong point it’ll be less suspicious. If you have the handle lock a pressure turn you can make it look more like a 2×4 that’s been quickly sanded and turned into a cane, it won’t be too suspicious but not completely hidden.

If we’re stepping outside the range of what’s possible, and into straight up fantasy weapons, I still adore Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane. It’s not technically a sword, since it goes from being a cane to a serrated whip, but still.

-Starke

Q&A Followup: Roundhouse Kicks

skypig357:

Are you differentiating between a Thai style cut kick and a TKD style? Are you lumping both under roundhouse?

And obviously target selection is huge. Common peroneal thigh vs side of waist, for instance. Or brachial plexus.

Low TKD roundhouse kicks below the belt are usually feints with a switchover to strike high in the same action, they combine into a double kick.

I tend to put the Thai kicks in their own separate category from the general roundhouse because the hip movement (specifically turning over to go downwards instead of lateral, which makes sense given the stabilizing foot stays mostly pointed forward), rotation, foot placement, and points of contact are all different. The Thai cut kick has its own name, it’s separate from the roundhouse though they’re visually similar… I guess? The traditional roundhouse will have difficulty targeting the legs due it’s chamber, which is the Thai kicks’ specialty. I understand the confusion, the snap kick version of the TKD roundhouse that is mostly seen in sparring doesn’t move the front leg much but it also lacks turnover. You lift the knee in a front kick chamber and strike on an upward diagonal rather than horizontal. It’s a point sparring kick rather than a combat kick. Thai kicks can be used at much closer ranges with hip turnover, which you know.

Still, we’re getting into the variant ranges of kicks that are visually similar (I guess?) but very different in execution. There’s more than three different versions of the TKD roundhouse. The one I’m talking about is the roundhouse you see on television, the general roundhouse. This is the basic martial arts roundhouse with slight, minor variations between styles from TKD to Shotokan. It’s going to be the most recognizable to the widest audience.

The Thai kicks are unique, even in comparison to modern kickboxing with the way they move. The major difference between Muay Thai kicks and kicks from other martial styles is the range at which they function, which you know. Thai kicks work in the hand range versus the traditional kick range. Plus, the option to strike with the shin.

Krav Maga is the same way, it’s a different kick.

Muay Thai is a creature all it’s own, and deservedly so. In twenty years (or less) do its proliferation in the West and adoption in MMA/Hollywood, it’s going to have it’s own recognizable and famous version. That’s probably going to be one of the versions of the low kick that utilizes the shin.

Roundhouse tends be used as a catchall for lots of martial arts kicks, including kicks that have nothing to do with each other. I went with the generic. If I was doing the straight TKD kick, I’d mention the variety of different chambers for it depending on stance. I’m going with the one most people outside the martial arts community will be familiar with.

Call it the Chuck Norris roundhouse if it makes you feel better.

-Michi

Q&A: Followup: Followup: What am I Doing Here Again?

I think you answered the wrong ask with the long rule of cool answer? The question was if flaming arrow or fire weapon were ever actually used?

That question was a followup to another question answered about a day earlier, which was a followup to yet another question about flaming weapons. It was essentially asking why flaming weapons get used in Hollywood so much if the ones shown aren’t historically accurate.

We get a lot of questions about setting weapons on fire, and my point was that the movies and media you consume aren’t about accuracy. You shouldn’t look to them for truth, not even most of the “historical” ones because their needs are different. Rather they’re a place to start your search into history, which is vast. Fire and explosions have both been part of historical military campaigns but not in the way Hollywood will show you. Not the way that gets propagated throughout various fandoms, and not the way we see it represented on screen.

When you’re imagining fire arrows, you’re not thinking of early grenade like explosives in fields mined with gunpowder or Genghis Khan demanding all the dog and birds from a city he intended to conquer and then setting them on fire before releasing them. They’re not imagining flaming oil poured down from the battlements or catapults lobbing whatever it was they set on fire into a town. When they’re asking about fire arrows, they’re asking about the fire arrows seen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (as Robin Hood: Men in Tights succinctly put it, “every time they do one these movies, they burn down the village!”) Or the flaming sword from The Scorpion King.

Fire has its place in mass battles and riots when it comes to burning shit down.

A quick internet search will find you all kinds of traditional uses for fire as a military weapon, the problem is that they’re not the ones most of those who come into our askbox are looking for. They’re not looking for artillery, they’re looking for a way to make what they saw in a movie realistic because they’ve been told realism is paramount to writing good fiction.

When you’re looking at whatever media you’re consuming, you should pretty much always assume Rule of Cool unless otherwise stated.

I wrote the post because that is what needs to be said. As a writer, it is important to be honest with yourself when you sit down to write whatever you intend to write. If Rule of Cool is what you’re looking for (which is what the vast majority of people who write fight scenes want) then just take a breath and accept it. You’ll be happier, you’ll understand your needs better and know what to focus on. There’s been an obsession lately about “realism” in battle sequences that aren’t particularly realistic but somehow makes them more legitimate than ones that aren’t.

Q&A: Followup: Amnesia

beezelbubbles:

Wait… Can we get some love for Long Kiss Goodnight for amnesia spy who doesn’t know they’re a spy? A lady spy at that?

Yes. Yes, you can. I’ll admit, I don’t think of it often, but The Long Kiss Goodnight is a good action film. If you’re wanting something in the genre with a female lead, yeah, watch it. This film deserves a lot more attention than it got.

Also, True Lies comes to mind, in a similar vein. Though there’s no amnesia plot in that. In theory it’s a Schwarzenegger film, but Jamie Lee Curtis does a pretty good job of owning it whenever she’s on screen.

-Starke

Hi, Aunty Scripty! Thanks for running this blog! It’s such an amazing resource, and I appreciate all the hard work you put into it! On to my question, my character is in a bad situation, and as a last resort, because his hands are bound behind his back, bites his attacker’s throat. Would it be possible for him to actually tear out his attacker’s throat with his teeth? Sorry that it’s such a gruesome ask! Thanks again!

scriptmedic:

Probably not, but it’s certainly worth trying.

The throat is pretty well protected. The skin is thick and tough, the trachea itself is made of hard cartilage rings, and it’s actually surprisingly difficult  for a human to get a good mouth-hold on another human’s neck. (If you have a significant other who is okay with this, give it a try; don’t actually bite down though).

Hunters who do the throat-ripping thing usually have longer mouths than we do, which helps them get a grip on their prey. Humans have fairly short mouths by comparison, and really aren’t evolutionarily adapted for this task.

Now, that is not to say that having a human try to rip out your throat is not an absolutely fucking terrifying thing, because it is, and flesh missing from the neck can be psychologically devastating even if it’s not actually physically lethal. Your character could probably significantly damage the musculature and the skin, and possibly cause a severe venous bleed from the external or internal jugular.

If your character is going to get any better of a bite than that they’ll need their hands to hold the neck in place while they bite.

(Also, bites in fights is proooobably more @howtofightwrite‘s territory much more than it is mine 😉 ).

Best of luck!

xoxo, Aunt Scripty

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We’ve answered this kind of question before on several occasions, they’re in the biting and the only unfair fight tags. For a better exploration of this topic, read this ask answered by Starke about biting off fingers.

The short answer is that physically you certainly could take a good sized chunk out of their neck with your teeth (terrifying enough in and of itself), the problem is the psychology necessary to follow through with it. Biting is straight up nasty and, when it comes to other humans, runs up hard against a whole bunch of self-preservation instincts that any protagonist would need to fight past in order to pull it off.

More than that, with his hands bound he’d have no way to hold onto his opponent thus not enough time to get a good bite off. He’s got to get to them, lunge in fast enough to get his teeth around their throat or (possibly) lure them close enough to get the bite off, and hope they don’t stop his head with their hands (or head) before he gets there. Attacking the throat, even with the element of surprise, is a great way to get someone to guard it.

The truth is in the heat of battle you’re more likely to come up with
ramming your head into your attackers throat (more effective) to a
temporary stun, then follow up with a headbutt to their face or move on
to using your shoulders and legs before thinking of your teeth. (It’s
difficult, but you can kick with your hands tied behind your back.)
Strikes to the throat can crush or halt your ability to breathe entirely
with enough force, but are more often used as stunners, to distract via
fear (brain freak out, vital place has been attacked, internal screaming) and temporary loss of breath. These create what we call “openings” as in openings in defense.

As @scriptmedic says, the throat is
fairly well defended by your physiology.  This is going to be true of
the most obviously vital places.

You get far more mileage out of convincing someone they’re being attacked there in order to strike elsewhere because your instincts will move to defend those places at all cost. Like your hands automatically rising to your throat if it feels like someone is going to hit it. (This doesn’t make you good at blocking, it’s just instinctual order of operation. Sacrifice the less necessary body part for the essential one. This is why we never fight on instinct.)

And frankly, depending on his position, a fake out headbutt to the
throat while actually hitting the stomach (rising on that upward
diagonal into the diaphragm) will probably be more effective. Then, if
they’re still standing, headbutt to the face.

The first question is: can he bite?

No, really think about it. He cannot hesitate, not at all. A split second hesitation and he’s done for, he must complete the act in one simultaneous move. He can’t drop the moment he tastes the dirt and sweat coming with their flesh, then the blood running over his tongue, and get enough for a lethal rip away while his opponent is trying to get away. (And the attacker is, he started backing up the second the protagonist came at him, and the protagonist has no way to make him stand still.)
Remember, we humans don’t have the sharp teeth of a carnivore to sink in and keep our prey from running.

I mean it, spend some time thinking about what it’d feel like, taste like, and smell like. Then think about it from his perspective, it’s a dramatic idea but can he follow through?

The second question is: can he move in and bite in .5 seconds?

This is the sort of attack where he doesn’t get a second shot, and the kind where threat level is upgraded into automatic kill territory. Biting is socially unacceptable, dishonorable, and offensive.

The four scenarios for the victim are terrified enough to be paralyzed into inaction, terrified into action, so terrified they run, and righteously pissed. The protagonist has got to kill before fight, flight, or freeze takes effect. (And they can’t, really, unless they somehow manage to take out the carotid.)

The third question is: will the attacker be shocked enough by this bite to not retaliate while it’s happening?

The problem with the mechanics of a bite is you’ve got to get your teeth on the other guy’s throat for a solid rip away (and not miss because they moved their head or the teeth slip off), this takes time. The worst thing if he gets seized by the hair, punched in the face, stabbed by a knife, or gut checked by a sword pommel in the middle of (or slightly before) this bite going down. The protagonist needs to be mostly through the process of tearing by the time this antagonist realizes what’s happening. Even then, he’s in just the right range for some vicious retaliation. Even if he gets enough of a bite to kill, the other guy isn’t going to die right away. That could easily lead to an “I’m Taking You With Me” scenario.

The good news is that if he does manage a bite, he doesn’t need to take their windpipe. The human mouth is a vile, dirty, disgusting place and his victim will most likely die from either blood loss (depending on where he bites) or an infection.

The downside is his mouth will be full of their blood, and he’ll probably get sick too. If he doesn’t manage to escape, whoever else is working with his attacker will probably kill him because biting another human is as feral as it gets and automatically shifts whoever does it from “human being” into “animal”. While dehumanizing yourself to terrify your victims is a great strategy for psychological warfare, it doesn’t work so well when the shoe is on the other foot. In writing, you also run the risk of dehumanizing the character for the audience too. If it fails or the other guy lives, then he’s still the crazy idiot who tried to grab a guy’s throat with his teeth.

The trick to writing good fight scenes is being able to see and plan from the perspective of both parties in a fight. When trying to figure out whether something is possible never assume the guy they’re doing this action to is just going to stand there and take it. Everyone wants to live.

When talking about fighting, you’ve got to go through two steps. The first is the purely theoretical of “would it work?”, if the answer is maybe then ask “what would the other guy do in response?”

Most of the stupidest fighting ideas in real life die in this second stage (sometimes on the battlefield itself) because a live actor is much more difficult to deal with than lifeless dummy or someone whose given you permission to put your teeth around their throat. If the idea doesn’t float or sound good when pit against resistance then it’s usually no good, even if you’re crazy enough or desperate enough to try.

If rapid escalation into sudden, terrifying brutality isn’t in this character’s skill set (eye crushing, biting, and others) then this approach probably won’t work out for him. Does he think about ripping people’s throats with his teeth on a general basis? Has he ripped throats out before? Does he find the idea repulsive? If there’s a no to any of these questions or a yes to the last one then this approach may not be right for him.

Alternate approaches:

1) With only his head, shoulders, and feet, your protagonist could put his attacker on the ground and then crush his throat with their foot. It would take slightly longer, be less shocking, and require a finer grasp of tactics, but that’s possible.

This has the potential to be exciting. I understand, however, that it is very difficult for someone without a martial arts background to think with their feet or plan a fight scene around kicks or anything other than fists.

2) Ram their attacker and drive them both to the ground, and give their head a few solid hits with their forehead if they manage to land on top. Then run for it.

This one would be much easier to go with, though their chances of killing via this method are slim unless they manage to land a concussion or damage the brain some other way. However, it could provide them with a chance to make an exit if they can do enough damage so their attacker doesn’t try to stop them from escaping.

There’s also the risk of what the other guy does with his hands. However, the one who lands on top is usually in the best position.

3) The environment surrounding your character and where they are fighting can become a weapon they utilize in their escape.

This is often overlooked in fight scenes, but utilizing the environment and terrain is a huge factor in combat. There may be a way for your protagonist to kill their attacker sitting right next to them, or they can take advantage of.

Throwing your body weight around is something anyone can do because your utilizing your core and momentum to destabilize the enemy’s balance. This can be done with just your shoulder and feet planted in the right place. Knock ‘em into walls. Use this force to create new, creative means of attack and opportunities in the environment.

4) Stun this guy, duck past, and run for a crowded area to make his escape.

This is what it says on the tin.

5) Or wait and plan an escape later when he’s in a better position.

This may not work depending on what’s about to happen to him in prison. The best time for a prison break is not from the prison itself but while the prisoner is in transit. Try to remember, depending on the situation, your character needs to escape in a way that keeps his pursuers from following him. This doesn’t necessarily they have to die. (At least, in this exact moment.)

6) He tries it and fails.

He tries it, he fails, or might be mildly successful but not successful enough, gets caught and the situation plays out another way.
Sometimes, scenes don’t go the way we want but that doesn’t mean the
story ends. Another interesting path is waiting right around the corner.

7) You ignore all advice and just do it. YOLO.

Try it and see what happens.

-Michi