Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: One-eyed MMA

How would having one eye affect a trained combatant in what amounts to an MMA match?

ohgodhesloose

It’ll kneecap their depth perception, limit their peripheral vision on that side, and if any harm comes to their remaining eye they’ll be blinded. The loss of peripheral vision is less important in MMA, though not entirely irrelevant. Getting accidentally poked in the good eye could take them out of a fight, but that’d be true if they still had both eyes. Remember, unlike live combat, getting injured in a sports bout means the fight is (probably) over.

The loss of depth perception is brutal. Combat relies on being able to connect with your foe. Being able to connect requires you to know exactly how far away they are. In situations where you’re already in direct contact with your opponent (ex: grappling and wrestling), the loss of an eye is a pretty minor consideration. In most situations, such as boxing, kicks, and other directed strikes, you need your eyes.

We’ve got an example here. UFC fighter, Michael Bisping took a blow to the head during a bout with Vitor Belfort in January 2013. The blow caused a corneal detachment in his right eye, ultimately leaving him blind in that eye.

Without shelling out to review Bisping’s fights, the overall pattern was an increase in defeats after the injury. His win rate was around 85% going into the match with Belfort, and by the time he retired in 2017, it had dropped to around 75%.

Can we attribute this to the eye injury? Well, no. At least, not confidently. Bisping was 34 when he fought Belfort, and was 38 when he retired. His last fight was with someone who was over 10 years his junior, and decided by a KO, 2m30s into the first round. I’m not going to blame him for walking away at that point.

I know we’ve said this before, but fighting takes a serious toll on the body, and Bisping’s record from 2013 to 2017 can easily be attributed to the fact that he was in his late 30s, and his body is wearing down.

I have a lot of respect for anyone who’s willing to keep fighting after suffering an injury like that. And he did keep going in the ring over the next four years.

(I have a lot less respect for the part where he didn’t see a doctor about the injury until after another fight three months later. I understand why he didn’t want to; he was afraid he’d never be allowed to fight again. But, it was a poor decision.)

He is also instructive as an example. Like I said, losing depth perception is a brutal disadvantage. Not an insurmountable one. You’ll have to work much harder to compete, but it is possible.

(Assuming you have two functioning eyes) Michi’s advice on writing one-eyed characters stands: Get an eyepatch. Live with it for a bit. No cheating. Go around with it. If anyone questions your choice in writing accessories, just be weirder than they can handle, and go on with your day. Get a feel for what it’s like to be missing an eye. Get an understanding of how this really limits you. Though, do remember to be careful.

-Starke

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Q&A: Catharsis and Agression

What do you think of putting aggressive kids in dojos to ‘let off steam’? Does this happen? Does it help kids be more aggressive or less, or does it depend on age? I read that the Catharsis thing is actually a myth but do you have any thoughts about it? Does it not actually involve catharsis at all?

That doesn’t happen. At least, not exactly. So two things:

First: Can you stick an aggressive kid in martial arts and see an improvement in their behavior? Yes, that works. It’s not “blowing off steam,” though.

Second: Can you find catharsis in violence? No. “Blowing off steam,” through actual violence isn’t cathartic. It’s not even going to really work out the aggression.

Martial arts training can provide structure to a kid. Again, that’s not something I personally experienced, but I was already in Scouts when I first encountered martial arts. So, discipline and structure were not new concepts to me.

Martial arts training can significantly boost your self-confidence. This I can testify to. If a kid is being aggressive because they feel threatened, and are trying to use violence to create a safe space around themselves, martial arts training can do wonders for tempering those impulses. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re acting out because you’re afraid someone will hurt you, having the ability to actually defend yourself from unwanted aggression is a panacea.

Catharsis is real, at least in some contexts. If you’ve been (figuratively) pounding you head against an obstacle for an extended period, and you finally overcome it, the feeling is amazing. That’s catharsis.

Can you experience catharsis in the dojo? Yeah. I haven’t, but it’s certainly possible. Nail that kata you’ve been working on, finally pull of something particularly difficult that you’ve struggled with, and you could definitely experience some catharsis from that.

Does catharsis purge all your ills? No. It’s the experience of overcoming a challenge. It’s the release of that tension. It can help your overall mental state. It won’t magically dispell psychological issues, but it might help you deal with them.

Where the myth comes in is the belief that you can achieve catharsis through violence. “Blowing off steam.” That doesn’t work. At least not with real violence. You might experience some catharsis from a video game, but that is a game. The challenges are delineated in a concrete way, which doesn’t reflect real violence.

Real violence is numbing. It doesn’t feel good. There’s no cathartic release from it. Indulging in aggressive impulses won’t really sate anything. You’ll get the adrenaline rush in the moment, but that’s not catharsis. That said, violence is addictive. (Or, at least, adrenaline rushes can be.) If you’re trying to work out your issues through aggression, it will create a pattern of escalation. That kind of behavior will not fly in any competently run dojo.

It’s really important to understand, the dojo is not Fight Club. You do not throw kids at one another and let them beat each other senseless. If you’ve got a kid in a dojo with aggression issues who cannot reign it in, they’re not going to be put in situations where they can express that aggression against anyone else. You do not simply let kids “work it out” through violence. It’s a terrible lesson, a liability issue, and simply doesn’t work.

Take this into a larger context, you don’t want kids fighting one another. I don’t care if you’re in the perspective of, “boys will be boys,” encouraging violence as a problem solving tool will teach them that violence can solve problems. It can’t. It can only lead to further escalation.

So, yes, if you have a kid with aggression issues, martial arts classes are a good option for dealing with that, but it’s not about “working out their aggression.” You’re giving them self-confidence so that they do not feel the need to resort to violence to “solve” with their problems.

-Starke

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Q&A: Forward Versus Reverse? Both Are Good

transquad said to howtofightwrite: what’s your verdict on forward vs. reverse grips, for combat use? which styles of knife go better with which grip? would it make a difference if you’re fighting something significantly smaller or larger than a human?

Yes.

The grips aren’t stylistic, they’re utilitarian, and all styles of knife fighting utilize both. Often, they’re interchangeable depending on position and situation. Keep in mind this post will be discussing uses with a traditional combat knife and not something highly specialized like the kerambit.

Some rules about grips:

  • Knife fighting is not really a style of its own, but supplemental to hand to hand. (The knife takes the place of the attacking hand.)
  • Grips and blade position are about application of pressure: i.e. how do you want to slash, cut, hack, or stab.
  • Your type of grip limits your range of motion.
  • Range rules.
  • Knife fighting in the real world is about stabbing your opponent as much as possible so they bleed out. This is the mugger who bull rushes and stabs you between ten to twenty times in the gut.

Forward: For most of what you want to do, forward will be your number one. The forward grip is the most common, the one you’re mostly likely to encounter, and has the widest range of striking options. It also synergizes better with most standard hand to hand techniques, taking the place of the fist or striking hand. It also has greater reach with the straight blade.

However, this is for quick and fast strikes in the hand to hand range. If you just want stick the blade in and drag? Reverse is better. If you’re in standing grappling range, don’t want to simply just stab, stab, stab the gut, and need to economize your blade size for striking room? Reverse is better.

Usually, you’re looking at the standard straight blade for the forward grip.

Reverse: Reverse is about economizing space and power. This grip is about opening up options for ambush striking but also when you’re in very close quarters and don’t have much room. You’re limited to a lot of very tight strikes and cuts. However, this grip allows you to strike with just the elbow rotation rather than needing the shoulder.

The grip halves your arm’s ability to move (because, again, the entire major rotation happens in the elbow and limits extension), thus halving your power generation. Power isn’t as necessary with knives because the blade is doing the work for you, and every cut is a victory. The reverse grip shines when you’re pushed into an extremely close quarters situations, which is the standing grappling range.

The reverse grip is benefited by a curved blade, but you can do both. Curved blades generally specialize more for hooks and control, so it’s a different kind of cutting with a different approach.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with martial arts, the concept of range and the various ranges can be something of a mystery. You always want to remember that the body’s mechanics and motion are the means of generating power, rather than being an outside aggregate based on height and weight. Weapon’s work benefits from set ranges. Both fighters will struggle to maintain their weapon’s effectiveness. In hand to hand, you’re always moving inward. Techniques rise and fall in usefulness based on how close you are to your opponent. The knife, as a supplemental weapon, follows hand to hand rules.

Consider you’re in a position where you’re so pressed up against you’re opponent, your forearm is literally braced against their chest. In this position, you’re knife in the forward grip is either neutralized or more a threat to you. Now, rotate the image into reverse grip. The knife is in their chest or the tip is pressing on it. From here, you have options.

However, if you’re starting the fight from further away and you need to move in to strike, the forward grip will benefit you because you have full extension of the arm for striking. If you’re starting from a reverse grip, you need to close that distance as quickly as possible.

The difference between the two is based on the types of techniques being used and the ranges involved. The irony is while there’s a tendency to debate which is better, the goal of having a variety of techniques is about giving yourself multiple options for different scenarios. There’s no specific martial art or technique which is the best all the time in every situation.

Keep in mind, the knife is a deadly weapon that doesn’t require much skill to use effectively. We can go back and forth in debates, but, as many self-defense experts will point out, one of the most effective knife attacks used in the real world is the bull rush with multiple stabs to the gut, or cutting someone up as much as you can as quickly as you can in a blitz ambush.

Non-Humans: Modern combat with the knife is designed for fighting humans. In hunting, the knife doesn’t see much use except for utility. Martial combat is designed around the idea that you’re going to be fighting a human, and, for the most part, one of similarly comparative size. So, it doesn’t translate well for fighting against an opponent that is significantly larger or smaller than yourself (outside the human range) because an entirely different set of considerations will apply.

When selecting weapons for your characters to use, you should always be asking: how will this benefit me?

This thought takes you beyond the stylistic, beyond the favorite weapon, and dumps you into actually considering what you’d take into battle against an enemy between nine and ten feet tall.

Would you want to go after a pixie with a knife? Probably not.

Would you want to go after a werewolf with a knife? Again, probably not.

You want an advantage. You don’t want to die. You want to give yourself the best shot at winning.

You want to train your mind to be looking for advantages, searching for whatever will give your characters an edge, because fiction is ultimately fake. The onus is on you to provide an internal reasoning beyond, “I, the author, wanted it that way.”

The knife’s role in martial combat is as a supplemental weapon in hand to hand, rather than a weapon like the staff or the sword which requires a significant adjustment to use. The knife is a tertiary weapon utilized in the hand to hand range to give you a significant advantage over an unarmed opponent.

-Michi

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Q&A: For Fiction, There’s No Superior Fighting Style

slutside-out said to howtofightwrite: Are there any fighting styles that are vastly superior to others? In other words where one person’s very skilled in one form of fighting but would just be completely outclassed by someone who’s skilled in another form. I’m writing a story and there’s a scene where one of the best hand to hand fighters in the group is just completely ruined by an assassin sent after him.

“Superior Fighting Style” questions are one of those which can easily devolve into fanwank. (See: katana fans.) Basically, contextualize this question as any of the loaded questions you would avoid asking about like “who is the show’s best character?” or saying “this couple is perfect and all other pairings are trash” when discussing your favorite television show. Expect heated debate with some (or no) validity, littered with good points and many inaccuracies, that eventually devolve into ALL CAPS yelling on some distant forum board.

There is no vastly superior martial art. The military martial combat forms are kept on the cutting edge for warfare in the modern world. They could (depending on definition) be considered “the best”. (Even so, you’ll still be getting into arguments about various Armed Services divisions about who is the most effective, like SEALS versus Army Rangers versus Force Recon versus Delta versus the Green Berets, etc. That’s before we start comparing different countries.) However, these martial arts are superior because they have been adapted to serve in the current environment and not because they are all the best all the time. There are plenty of other martial arts which will work better as a reference point for the character and their outlook. There are a lot of martial arts and martial combat forms with stellar reputations. There’s no unified consensus.

The superiority answer will change depending on who you talk to, and usually they’re overlooking some crucial detail the other martial art they’re degrading offers. You’ll get a flavor of the month answer like Krav Maga, Silat, Ninjutsu, Muay Thai, which is a disservice to the others like Hapkido, JiuJutsu, Judo, Taekwondo, Sambo, Northern Shaolin, Eskrima, Capoeira, and thousands of others. Taekwondo gets derided a lot by Mixed Martial Arts fans for its popularity, but the truth is that when it works, it really works.

Ultimately, mindset makes the warrior. The answer is never in the secret techniques but in the skill of the individual who wields them and their ability to face the unknown.

I’m pointing this out because I’ve seen a lot of writers fall into the secret or superior martial arts trap. There’s an initial urge to ask for the best fighting style for a specific body type or the best weapon for a character to use that’ll give them some sort of statistical advantage. The practical answer of whatever works best for you is a freeing one, but not usually helpful when you’re in a state of not knowing where to turn. You have to start somewhere.

So, where do you begin?

Start with this: your audience will judge your character based on their ability to act in keeping with their profession.

“There’s no different angle, no clever solution, no trickety-trick that’s going to move that rock. You’ve got to face it head on.” – Avatar: The Last Airbender

The application in the above quote is that only you as the author can prove your character’s bona fides and establish them by their actions. The martial art they’re using doesn’t matter. The martial art and knowledge of it is a reference point for you while you construct your fight sequence. As a writer, you don’t have to worry about visual accuracy. You need to provide enough direction for your audience to imagine the scenario. Understanding practical application and theory will take you far, even if you don’t have the option to take up a martial art yourself.

So, pick what you like. Go on YouTube and follow different martial arts professionals who discuss practical application, there’s a lot of good short videos from professionals in the self-defense field. Lots of martial arts specialists in various fields post videos both of techniques and discussing them in comparison to what’s shown in movies and television. The Black Belt Magazine’s YouTube Channel will introduce you to a lot of professionals in various fields from self-defense experts to martial arts masters.

What you’re doing here is performing a classic narrative beat where you establish the danger presented by a new antagonist through their sound beating of the team’s strongest member.

Here’s a quick list of things to keep in mind:

1) Strategy and Tactics: Plain Clothes Ambush

While the Assassin Archetype fits a wide array of combat backgrounds and ideologies, they are usually portrayed as being underhanded and ruthlessly efficient. The group coordinating and working together is the Assassin’s biggest threat, not the technical skills of a single group member. The best way to impact squad morale is to first remove the one who is perceived as the toughest. The strategy is sound, you take down your biggest single combat threat (especially when supported by the others) and freak the squad out. The best hand to hand fighter might be viewed as their linchpin. Group cohesion fractures, they stop working together, they start panicking, and they scatter. It’s much easier to target or fight individuals one on one, if it becomes necessary.

Remember, assassins aren’t warriors. They don’t prefer fisticuffs. They like weapons. They strive for single strikes in planned ambushes from a previously scouted area where they know their target will be.

For maximum effect, this assassin starts with a walk-up ambush and doesn’t give the “best fighter” the opportunity to even fight back.

2) The Skill Factor: A Killer’s Instinct

For the sake of narrative, you want to establish that his assassin beats the group’s best fighter because they’re better. The assassin beats the group’s best fighter because they’re more experienced, they’ve seen a wider range of fighting styles and can derive better counters as a result.

I’m not going to ask why this Assassin is fighting with fisticuffs or going in hand to hand as opposed to carrying a concealable weapon like a knife or if this best hand to hand fighter survives.

It can be a huge blow to the Assassin’s credibility in their introduction (especially a violent one) if you don’t let them kill. Killing their assigned target is their job, sure, but a dead witness is better than a live one and can muddy the waters of an investigation. Assassins are professional killers and, unlike other combat professionals, their credibility is defined by the bodies.

Film usually introduces an assassin finishing a prior job (effectively killing someone the audience doesn’t care about) to establish their skill and credibility. In your novel, you can’t rely on hearsay.

You might want to consider driving the point home by feeding one of your characters to them. (This “best fighter” character, for example.)

3) Cost & Benefit Analysis: Death is Better

In every engagement, your combat oriented characters will be running a cost versus benefit analysis both before they go in and also during the battle itself. This asks if the risk of engagement is cost-effective for their goals, and if they do engage what they need to do in order to both win and undercut any potential fallout.

Cost = the energy and resources expended to achieve victory.

Benefit = what they get from fighting with or removing this individual.

Risk = the risk of injury, and other immediate dangers the engagement presents.

Fallout = this is the negative results. Alerting law enforcement to their presence, making the achievement of their overall goal more difficult. Fallout can come from the noise of the fight, the number of witnesses, accessible cameras, having nowhere to dump the body, etc.

Death removes the possibility of witnesses, making it more difficult to identify them. Death means they won’t have to deal with the same skilled combatant again, which benefits them. If the skilled combatant is dead, they can’t provide insights into the assassin’s methodology, fighting style, or strategies; keeping any others trying to protect their target in the dark. An assassin doesn’t want their target afraid, they want them complacent. If their target is aware of a threat, they don’t want them to know they are the threat. You can’t build an effective strategy for countering the unknown.

For an assassin, if they are forced into situation where they have to fight at all, killing their opponent is the best outcome. Assassins generally view bystanders as ambulatory obstacles in the way of their target instead of as people, making it easier to kill them.

However, assassins prefer not to kill anyone but their target. That is the path of least resistance and the one which is most beneficial to their future. Their goal is to complete their mission, escape undetected, and leave no evidence that they were the ones who killed the target. They want to retain their anonymity because anonymity is necessary to do their job. Their target is their goal, any cost/benefit analysis be calculated around the death of their target, and adjust based on how their actions impact those chances.

4) The Number of Moves: 1 to 3

In the world of film fight scene choreography (and real life), you signal one fighter is better than the other through the length of the fight. For maximum impact in a complete shut out, the fight part of the scene will last about a few sentences. “Getting wrecked” translates into your group’s best fighter being taken down in one to three moves. The three is part of the opening combination, rather than retaliatory. 1) Destabilizing strike, 2) Follow-up hits somewhere more devastating/sensitive, 3) Last hit (usually with the opening strike’s hand) is the due final diligence to make sure they don’t come back/puts them out of the fight.

For killing blows, this is 1) destabilize on the exterior/hit somewhere vital, 2) finishing kill/an even more vital place, 3) making sure they’re dead/another vital place.

You can do this with a knife in simple combination:

  1. Make a forward approach with the knife hidden by the body’s profile or the arm.
  2. When in range, slash on an upward diagonal across the throat.
  3. Rotate the knife (if the knife is in a forward position, not necessary if the knife is already in an icepick grip), and come back in to puncture the carotid with blade tip.
  4. Knife through the back of the neck as you move past, severing the spinal column.
  5. They collapse, dying. On to the next.

This is a simple combination which makes use of the blade’s position in the hand (the ice pick grip). You distract them with the first injury (slash) which likely landed painful but superficial injuries, to strike the vital point (the artery) ensuring a fast bleed out, and the final blade strike through the spine paralyzes their entire body. Paralyzing them ensures they cannot staunch the blood flow to buy themselves time. They have no choice but to lie there and bleed out. This strategy also benefits the attacker because the more emotional and less experienced members of the group might break to protect their friend.

This is also just one potential option, there’s a wide array of possibilities when ambushing or striking with a variety of hand to hand techniques/weapons.

The only problem with this scenario and approach is that if the assassin’s target isn’t the squad itself but a single member or someone they’re protecting then attacking head on doesn’t really benefit them. A competent group will sacrifice one or two soldiers upfront to stop the assassin, while they hustle the target to safety. Bodyguards always prioritize their protectees over stopping the assassin. Attacking this way, in clear view, the assassin reduces their chances of completing the job.

When setting up this scene, keep the assassin’s goals in mind. It can be easy to try and structure a fight scene around what you want to happen, but always make sure the character motivations are backing that up. If you’re imagining a Byung Hun Lee type assassin from R.E.D. 2. (By the by, that’s Taekwondo.) Or John Wick, both are the typical Hollywood badass assassins. (The first John Wick film is notable for its use of modern shooting techniques like CAR. (Center Axis Relock), it’s worth looking at if you want to write gunfights.) Or like Lucy Lawless in the Burn Notice episode False Flag, you want to watch the full 16 minute clip or the full episode for even more good tradecraft to build off of. This episode centers around what you can expect when dealing with an assassin in the real world, the tactics and techniques they use, along with how to counter them. Another really good example of an assassin hewing closer to what you’d find in the real word is Vincent from Collateral. (Michael Mann’s films are also really good examples of professional shooting.)

I really recommend watching the False Flag episode and Collateral even if you’re planning to go with a Hollywood badass assassin.

Be honest with yourself about the type of narrative you want to write and the violence you’re looking at implementing in your novel. Honesty goes a long way toward narrowing your search. There are a lot of different approaches which are valid, what’s most important is finding the kind which interests you and then learning the applicable practical theories.

Last Note: If you’re interested in learning more about US Armed Services training, all their manuals (including special forces) are available online for free. It may take a few internet searches, but you’ll find the right PDFs.

-Michi

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Q&A: Amnesia

re: concussion types: you mentioned global amnesia being incredibly rare as a side effect of head trauma, so i was wondering, how bad would the trauma have to be to induce “i can’t remember anything” amnesia? most info i found relates to memory loss around the time of the trauma, not on total memory loss which really speaks to uncommon it is, but if you have any insight i would love to know! (also from what i gather, you’d lose not only memories but physical skills as well, reading, walking etc)

So, the correct term for what we’re talking about is Retrograde Amnesia. This is the loss of previously created memories. There’s a lot of potential causes, but as with concussions, it’s not about how hard you’re hit, it’s what your brain is doing.

In a lot of cases, it’s not even about an injury; simply, something in your brain doesn’t work right. Your brain stores and recovers a lot of information on a regular bases, and whenever something goes wrong, whether that’s due injury, illness, chemicals, electroshock “therapy,” or psychological factors, it’s amnesia.

The term itself, is a bit misleading, because it’s describing a wide range of similar symptoms under a single header. The term itself is basically just, “can’t remember.” So, technically, if you forgot where you left your keys, and wanted to be overly dramatic, you could call that amnesia. No one else would be likely to agree, but you wouldn’t be completely wrong.

Complete Retrograde Amnesia is incredibly rare. I don’t have a number for this, the rate of incidence is that low. It’s a bit confused, because things like dementia are forms of retrograde amnesia. So, this can become a question of severity.

The one I do have numbers for is Transient Global Amnesia. I’ve actually had the privilege of watching an entire TGA event from start to finish. The rate of incidence there is about 5:100,000, and events usually last for less than a day.

TGA is complete anterograde amnesia, with mild retrograde amnesia. In this case, the patient was unable to form new long term memories for about six to eight hours, and while the event persisted they were unable to recall events in the previous nine months to a year. This lead to some remarkably repetitive conversations. After the event completed they were unable to recall events from roughly six hours before the event started until after it’s conclusion, and my understanding is they never recovered those memories.

During initial onset, the immediate fear was that the patient was experiencing a stroke. Given the symptoms, that was a reasonable concern.

Lit says that the patient should be able to remember, roughly, the last five minutes during the event. That sounds consistent with what I saw, but I didn’t time it.

So, there’s a term up there, “anterograde.” Let’s describe these. Retrograde simply means, “moving backwards.” Outside of amnesia, you’ll most often encounter this regarding the movement of celestial bodies. Under the geocentric model of the solar system, planets which appeared to reverse course were a serious puzzle, and the phenomena was described as, “retrograde motion.” When you add the fact that planets orbit around the sun, and not the earth, it makes perfect sense. They’re not reversing course, it’s simply a function of the planets’ orbits creating the illusion of reverse motion. Planets are still described as being “in retrograde,” to indicate that their apparent motion has reversed from the perspective of earth, even though we now understand why this happens.

Similarly, anterograde simply means “moving forward.” (Worth knowing that, while retrograde derives from Latin, and has been around since, at least, Middle English, anterograde is a modern word.) When dealing with amnesia, anterograde is the inability to form new memories. IE: “Without memories moving forward.”

As with any other form, anterograde amnesia can be there result of a number of different causes, including some illnesses, chemical reactions, brain tumors, injuries, and stroke.

Anterograde amnesia can also be experienced as a result of being put under general anesthesia. This means, I’ve probably experienced this first hand, but have no recollection of it.

A concussion can result in either anterograde, retrograde, or a combination of both forms of amnesia. Usually associated with damage to the medial temporal lobe. Note: this part of your brain does a bit more than just store memories. It’s also responsible for spacial cognition. If I remember correctly, but I can’d find reference to verify right now, damage to the medial temporal lobe also result in epileptic seizures, and loss (or at least impairment) of emotional control.

Since we’re talking about neural structure, and way out of my depth already, let’s talk a little more about memory. You have at least two distinct types of memories. Episodic memories are things you experience. If you stop and think back to something that happened, that’s an Episodic memory. Semantic memories are skills, and abstract knowledge. While knowledge derives from episodic experiences, you actually store this stuff differently. (I’m not clear on the exact, chemical or biological distinction here.) This is important to understand when talking about amnesia, because what you have seen and what you know are different kinds of memories. So, the idea that someone can’t remember who they are, but still has all their knowledge and skills, isn’t that far fetched. Except for the part where they can’t remember anything about who they are.

I’m going to stick a note in here: You asked about walking, that’s not a memory. Your brain is pretty well hardwired to do that. There’s actually a number of basic actions and functions of fine motor control, that have nothing to do with memory. Some of this stuff will atrophy if you don’t use it, but you’re not going to forget it. One of the more interesting ones is swimming, as infants are born with a reflexive ability to (attempt to) swim. This atrophies pretty quickly, but, it’s interesting.

One form of amnesia we’ve all experienced is infantile amnesia. This just discusses the phenomena where people do not (generally) remember the first three to five years of their lives. (There are exceptions, but those are rare.) This is simply a function of neural development, and may be tied to development of language skills.

There is one last variety you should familiarize yourself with: Dissociative amnesia. This a psychologically derived. It includes things like repressed memories and fugue states. The patient decides (at a sub-conscious level) not to remember something. This can be because the event is so traumatic they refuse to acknowledged it, or any number of other factors. In some extreme cases, the patient rejects themselves. They forget everything. Technically the memories are still intact, it’s not they put their brain on a bulk eraser and nuked it. They simply will not interface with those memories. In some ways can be pretty, “laser guided,” because the patient is trying to protect themselves, and are the best suited to know if something’s going to cause problems.

As a therapist, there a fairly decent argument not to probe someone with dissociative amnesia too deeply, unless they really are asking you to. We don’t talk about this much, but when it comes to psychology and the Hippocratic oath, if the patient is not being harmed by their issues, or harming others, you don’t mess with them. A patient with a dissociative amnesia who is happy with who they are, is not someone who “needs to be dragged back to face themselves.” Chances are, there were really good reasons their mind went, “nope,” duct taped the whole thing in a box, and chucked in the back of a closet. If the patient comes to you distressed because they can’t remember who they were, that’s different. If the patient simply can’t remember who they were, but is fine who they are, do no harm.

Okay, that’s amnesia, let’s talk about why you should never use this stuff in your writing.

The amnesiac point of view character is a very, very, useful trope. It’s too useful. This is why it has become cliche.

When you create a new world, you as the writer, know the rules, you know players, you know all the moving pieces. Your audience knows nothing. At this point, you have to decide how to introduce your audience to your world. What better way than picking a PoV character who remembers nothing and needs to be spoon fed the backstory as they go along? The audience, and the character, will acquire information at the same rate as they progress through the story.

Amnesiac characters can also justify a lot of exposition. If they know nothing, then they’ll have to have all of this explained to them. But, you might have just noticed a problem, that’s not how amnesia works (in most cases.)

Someone might not remember that the person they’re talking to killed their sister, but they are going to remember the factions and other political considerations that govern the other character’s motivations. Some details will be missing, but the abstract knowledge should be intact.

Many amnesiac PoV characters aren’t really amnesiac, they’re simply audience proxies who are unfamiliar with the backstory, blundering around, as the world is gradually filled in.

Now, having just picked at this a bit, it works very well. Especially if you, (as the writer) are not yet comfortable with the setting. The problem, and the reason I said, “don’t use this,” is because it has become cliche, due to overuse. You can’t pick a fantasy novel off the shelf without accidentally knocking over eighteen more about edgy amnesiac heroes wandering around someone’s home brew D&D campaign. It gets worse when you get into other media.

There are some other good uses. One is an amnesiac character investigating themselves. There’s a lot of this in the thriller genre. Much like the case above, this is a bit cliche, but is also a situation with some unique options. Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity comes to mind as an interesting variant of this. Though the amnesiac spy has been done to death since.

Amnesia is a very useful, very potent, tool for a writer. It’s one you do not want to abuse, because, when misused, it will deprive your story of its uniqueness. If you have to chose between an amnesiac PoV, or committing to a PoV character that’s up to speed, pick the latter. It may not seem as easy, but it gives you more control than your realize.

-Starke

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Q&A: Cleaning up the Cleaner

Hi! I really enjoy your blog and it’s always useful for my WIPs! I stumbled upon your assassins posts recently and I’m wondering, what is the way to kill an assassin, realistically? Maybe intentionally, or by accident? Thank you so much for all your helpful posts!

The good news is, your assassin is basically just another person. When it comes to accidental deaths, they’re as vulnerable as anyone else. A previously unknown food allergy, an auto accident, or any number of other things that could kill a random person will also end them.

If you’re talking about engineering an “accident,” then, the same rules apply, but this stuff is a lot harder to pull off in the real world, so it’s less of a consideration. Though, your characters who were hired to kill the assassin could start by engineering a car crash, to soften them up. Then, when they’re recovering from their airbag going off, execute them and leave.

As for the best way to kill an assassin? A rifle at long range. Preferably on a semi-auto with the ability for quick follow up shots, and a shooter who knows how to use it. That’s a lot of options.

Note, I didn’t say “suppressed,” up there. Even a block away, firing from a window, the sniper’s going to have time to vacate before anyone comes looking. So, the suppressor just buys time they don’t need, and messes with the ballistics. A couple clean shots and they’re done. Maybe have a support team on the ground closer to the target to finish them off if the sniper doesn’t get the job done.

I mean, ultimately, assassins aren’t superhuman. Even when we’re talking about the mythical master assassins that may not even exists, they survive because no one knows who they are. If you strip that anonymity, they’re as vulnerable anyone else to being killed.

So, let’s step back from tactics, you need an assassin dead. You have options. First, you need to know who’s hunting your assassin, this sets the ground rules that will determine how effective your assassin’s tradecraft will be. Second, your hunters need to ID your assassin. Finally, once you have those two pieces of information, your hunters need a plan.

There’s a lot of people who could want an assassin dead. Who they are will determine what they can bring to the table.

Private citizens are, probably, the least dangerous over all. If your assassin is no longer in the same zip code, their options are going to be limited.

A cop (corrupt or not) is a little more dangerous. If your assassin is operating in their jurisdiction, they can probably call in a SWAT team, or something similar. They’re also dangerous because they’re specifically trained to investigate crimes. They have the best training and skills to track down your assassin after the kill. They may also have the training to kill your assassin, but if they don’t they can make a phone call and get people who do, and they will. Police don’t operate alone. A stray detective figures out who your assassin is, and next thing you know, every cop in the city will be aware of this, and keeping an eye out.

Finally, while a cop can’t hunt your assassin around the globe, they can share their information with other police agencies. In some cases, they may even be able to travel and explain the situation to others in person. They won’t have enforcement authority, but when it comes to investigating your assassin, they don’t really need that if they can cultivate a good working relationship with the locals.

Also, since we’re talking about globe hopping, it’s worth remembering, INTERPOL agents are not an international version of the FBI, they’re liaisons between national police agencies. They have no arrest or enforcement authority. Their job is simply to alert and inform police about criminal actives that have jumped borders. They’re a recognized organ of the UN, but they are administrative, not enforcement.

Ironically, organized crime figures have similar limitations to the police. If the assassin stays out of areas they have influence over, they’re (basically) out of reach. They’re not as well trained to investigate an assassin, and they don’t have the same resources. The difference is, that organized crime figures may have access to corrupt cops. How much control may vary, but it’s possible they could point the police at your assassin, just to make things messier. They’d benefit from some of that investigation, and might be able to turn that into useful information.

A spy with access to their agency’s intelligence resources is probably one of the most dangerous foes to have hunting your assassin. They will have access to highly trained specialists, their investigative skills are probably on par with the local police. In some cases they may even be able to direct local law enforcement or military responses. Worse, these guys can go (pretty much) wherever they want to pursue your assassin. Your assassin hops a flight out of the country, and for most cops, that’s the end. An intelligence officer has people on the ground there already.

An intelligence agency also has the resources to start putting together the entire picture. If your assassin’s been flying under a dozen assumed identities, given time, and resources, an analysis team can blow your assassin’s covers, and find out where they’re going before they get there.

For an agency to get involved, two things need to happen. The assassin needs to target someone that warrants the agency to look into the killing. (Or attempted killing.) We’re probably outside of the range of simple political hits, or witness cleanup here. The assassin was paid to kill someone who was important, whether they succeeded or not. Also, the assassin needs to be exposed as an assassin. This might sound obvious, but when we’re talking about “master-class assassins” in the real world, there’s significant debate whether they’re even real. So, to get an intelligence agency hunting them, their existence needs to become credible, at least to the spy and the people they report to. (This second part isn’t a particularly high bar to hit, but it’s worth remembering this stuff, “doesn’t happen,” in the real world.)

Once you know who’s hunting them, you can start evaluating how hard it will be to ID them. The reason is because people hunting your assassin will have radically different resources and skill sets at their disposal. Much like the above groups, the kind of assassin we’re dealing with will determine how well protected they are.

I’m using the classifications from that UK article in 2014, (which was paywalled sometime in the last five years.) You can find an article we wrote on the subject here.

A lot of amateurs (both Novice and Dilettantes if you’ve read the link), don’t really hide their identity. You want them dead, you can just find and kill them. This includes most hitters working for organized crime. They’re only interested in hiding from the police, not from their own community. So, if you’ve got someone who was hired to kill a mobster without family approval, finding them is going to be relatively easy if you have mob connections. Ironically, in a case like that, the hard part would be getting to them before the cops.

Because they don’t travel, Journeymen are also pretty easy to track down and eliminate. If someone has a reputation as an assassin, you’re in the know, and recognize their work, you know where to find them and who to kill. These guys are legitimately dangerous, as they likely have a military background, but there’s not much one person can do against an organized squad with similar training, sent to kill them.

And before someone asks, yes, I’m entirely familiar with the cliche where one person picks off an entire squad of assailants. That’s mostly fantasy. A squad that actually behaves and moves like a squad, will be able to outmaneuver and eliminate any a single foe who lacks superpowers.

I’m guessing we’re talking about someone more insulated. If your assassin is one of these master-class types, who’s working through cutout connections, they may be pretty well protected. Your people never meet the assassin, they meet a representative somewhere. That representative passes the contract to the assassin, and there’s never any direct connections between them. IDing them later could be tricky. You can’t take a city like New York or London and scrutinize everyone that came and went on a given day.

You need a plan to find out who this is. There are options here. Luring the assassin into a situation where you might be able to collect evidence on them, leading to their identity. Trying to use them multiple times, in different places, while trying to collect evidence on people who were in all of those places. (Problem here is, like I mentioned, it’s hard to filter individuals out the mass of people moving around the globe at any given moment.

I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be, though. If you’re wanting to burn an assassin, all you need to do is make sure your people are there, and can respond, to take out them out when they strike. Put a hit on your friend, warn their security detail, beef it up, give them the time frame. Assassinating someone who’s well protected is dangerous work to begin with. A trapped contract is an entirely legitimate danger, and one that will be hard to account for before hand. Bonus points if you’re supplying the means to get through the security cordon, because at that point you can rig “silent alarms” to their access, letting security know that the assassin is on the premises, and it’s time to start clearing the place.

Another solution is to pull them out of their comfort zone, sabotage their exit strategy, and hunt them down. With enough corruption or the right incentives, this may be possible in some metro areas around the world. Though, the “standard” answer would be someplace isolated, in the wilderness. Send them out there to kill someone, then hunt them down using advanced technology.

Of course, you could just hire someone that knows them. Though, that could get tricky when you’re evaluating their loyalties. Will they kill for you, or will they just warn their buddy?

So, when I listed intelligence agencies earlier, this is the only kind of assassin they’re likely to be facing. Even journeymen can be dealt with by local law enforcement, someone operating at this level may warrant that kind of attention. This kind of a threat can bypass a lot of basic tradecraft that an assassin may employ. That whole cutout thing might not work if the people hunting them can set up a Stingray without oversight or pull their all of the cutout’s satphone data via a National Security Letter. The kind of security necessary to prepare for this kind of scrutiny would directly interfere with your assassin being able to do their job.

As for a plan to kill the assassin once you know who they are and where they live, that’s the easy part. They’re just human. Find them, put a bullet in them. Maybe put a few more in just “to make sure.” I mean, you can get more creative, but the efficient methods will, usually, be more reliable.

So, goals are to look for places where the assassin will be unprotected (basically outside of their home, and familiar haunts.) Hitting them on the road is a good way to achieve that, as everyone has to go somewhere sometime. You can also exploit this, if you have enforcement authority over a zone that normally prohibits weapons. For example: An airport; you can lock the place down, and hunt them in an environment where they’re not normally able to arm themselves, and they cannot flee.

Like I said, they’re not superheroes, you can gun them down like anyone else. The only hard part is finding the assassin, not the actual killing.

-Starke

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Q&A: Concussion Types

in my story, for plot reasons, my character is in recovery for three weeks from a concussion. there’s no memory loss, but she passes out for 10 seconds and when she wakes up she’s nauseous and has slurred speech + ringing ears. how hard would she have to get hit in the head to have a concussion that is that severe?

This is going to be a bit nitpicky, and it’s not going to give you the answer you’re looking for, so, before we start, sorry about that.

Being knocked unconscious is a Type 3 Concussion (minimum). Nausea, slurred speech, and ringing in the ears are consistent with a concussion. For a Type 3, a recovery time between a week and a month is reasonable.

The rating for types work as follows:

Type 1 Concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness, and symptoms (or, at least, most symptoms) subside within ~15 minutes of the injury.

Type 2 Concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness, and symptoms persist beyond 15 minutes. Recovery usually occurs within 10 days of the injury.

Before we keep going, the symptom list is a bit longer than what you listed above. It can include: Confusion, impaired fine motor control, headache, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, sensitivity to light and/or sound (I think the other senses too, but I’m not 100% certain), difficulty with concentration and thinking, irritability, amnesia. (Also missing a few. This is brain damage we’re talking about, and it can scramble a lot.) (Also note, Type 1 Concussions usually only have mild symptoms, such as headaches and mild nausea. The more severe symptoms will, usually, push it into a Type 2 because they don’t go away.)

Also, before we keep going, worth singling out amnesia for a second. This one gets seriously misrepresented in pop culture. Realistically we’re talking about someone losing some time around the concussion. They may not remember what lead up to the injury, or missing a couple hours after it, and never will. Global, “I can’t remember anything,” amnesia is incredibly rare.

Type 3 Concussions get to pick off the full symptom list above (it won’t have everything, but it’s not limited the way a Type 1 is.) It also comes with less than 60 seconds of unconsciousness. Full recovery usually takes between 10 and 30 days. This is what you’re describing.

Type 4 Concussions involve being unconscious for more than 60 seconds, and recovery time can range from a couple weeks to more than a month.

With all of that said, what you’re asking is, “how hard does she have to be hit in the head?” The answer is, “hard enough.”

Concussions, and most brain injuries, aren’t about how hard you’re hit, it’s about what happens to your brain after you’re struck. A concussion is a bruise on the brain itself. Usually, the head is jostled, and the brain bounces off the interior of the skull, causing injury. This is just like any other bruise except the tissue being damaged is responsible for regulating the rest of your body. A relatively light hit to the head can cause a Type 4 Concussion and kill you. Conversely, you can take some horrific abuse to the head, and not suffer a concussion at all.

If you’ve been digging through medical write ups on websites and trying to figure out how hard someone needs to be hit, the answer is there’s no concrete rule. From a medical standpoint, concussions are about where you ended up, not how you got there.

Finally, recovery times are directly related to how well someone follows medical advice on recovering. There’s a lot of things that are personal to the individual and their concussion. Ex: you may not have trouble watching TV, but others will, and with a future concussion, you might.

Also, further muddying things, multiple concussions are cumulative, even over a long period of time. So, if you’ve suffered a concussion, you’re at greater risk of suffering future concussions from head trauma. Something to keep in mind if your character’s recovering from one.

Concussions are very serious injuries. If you suffer one, even a Type 1, you really should see a doctor, and follow their advice while your brain heals.

-Starke

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Q&A: Ship to Ship Combat

Hi, I don’t know if you answered this ask already, but how would you write a ship fight? Like a navy and pirate ship are fighting and people are also fighting on the decks? Thank you!

I’d take some time to brush up on the appropriate terminology, and the contemporary strategies. With ship combat, I’d also take some time to familiarize myself with the kinds of damage combat inflicted on ships of that era. I’m guessing you mean golden age of piracy, which runs from 1650 to 1730 (roughly), but pirates have been a factor in sea trade for as long as humans have been transporting goods by sea.

One bit of trivia that’s probably knowing is the difference between a pirate and a privateer.

Pirates are the bandits of the seas. They harass shipping lanes, stealing whatever cargo they can obtain, and commandeering ships. They may kill the crews, or bring them into their service. Worth knowing that during the golden age of piracy, pirate ships were mini-democracies, their captains were voted in, and could be replaced by vote. Additionally, the ship’s quartermaster had the authority to countermand the captain’s orders.

Privateers harassed shipping lanes, stealing cargo and capturing ships. However, they acted as proxies for a government. A privateer would carry a letter of marque from one of the European powers. These letters of marque protected the crew from prosecution (read: execution) by that power, so long as they were not acting against them.

Also worth remembering that, while the majority of pirates were men, many women became pirates, and even rose to command their own ships or fleets. Some disguised their gender, while others did not. There’s nothing anachronistic about a woman commanding a pirate ship. Notably, this includes Cheng I Sao, who, at her height, commanded somewhere around 70k pirates, across 1200 ships.

That should cue you into a major consideration. Is this a pair of lone ships dueling on the seas, or is it a full fleet action?

If it’s a duel, you’re looking at, roughly, Three phases. Encounter, Open Combat and Boarding.

The Encounter phase can shift dramatically depending on circumstances, and what the commanders choose to do. The pirate’s goal is, probably, to close into range without coming under fire. They may use landmasses or other natural phenomena to mask their presence, or they may fly a false flag in order to trick the other ship into believing they’re friendly.

Open combat is going to depend heavily on the classes of the ships. This is something you’re going to familiarize yourself with when you’re writing about naval engagements. There’s a world of difference between a sloop, and a frigate. This can also result in design limitations. For example, some first rate ships could not fire on small ships at point blank range because their cannons were too far above the water line. The trade off was, they could deliver that firepower at superior ranges. Suddenly the reason a pirate might want to get in close, should become apparent.

In the simplest sense, the open combat phase only applies when dealing with armed opponents, and prioritizes firing arcs, and broadside fire. If you’re in line with your foe’s guns, you’re in for a bad time unless your hull can take the hit.

Given the pirate’s goal is to take the ship’s cargo, they’re not going to want to stay in open combat any longer than necessary. They’ll want to close to board. At this point, the pirates will move to engage the hostile ship’s crew. How they get over may vary. Also worth remembering that most sailors in the Golden Age did not know how to swim. It simply wasn’t a skill they learned. So, they’d be going directly from their ship to the enemy. In the case of larger capital ships, they may be doing via smaller launches, or they may be grappling onto the ship and pulling along side it and boarding directly.

Let’s talk about crew for a second. If you’re worried about being boarded, and you have the option, you’ll include a contingent of marines on your ship. In the naval sense, any infantry fighter attached to a ship’s crew is a marine. It doesn’t matter if they’re fighting to defend the ship, fighting to board an enemy vessel, or if they’re being sent from the ship, on a combat mission elsewhere. If they’re part of the crew, they’re a marine. (I don’t usually think of applying this term to pirates, because of how their crews were structured.)

Once you’re talking about pirates getting on deck, it’s going to be a messy close quarters melee.

If you’re talking about a larger fleet action, during the Golden Age of Piracy, the dominant combat doctrine was to line up Ship of the Line class vessels in two columns, and unload on each others broadsides. You wouldn’t usually see Ships of the Line operating independently, because they were too valuable. Though, pirates might deliberately try to subvert that doctrine, or are more likely to avoid these kinds of engagements to being with.

The introduction of powered drive and ironside frigates would completely alter large fleet engagements, and the kinds of ships that nations favored for fleet operations.

Obviously, if you’re deviating off the real world with fantasy elements, some of this stuff might change dramatically. A lot of this might translate to science fiction settings, with adjustments.

Also, worth remembering, piracy is still a thing. Granted, now it’s more about small motorboats and small arms boarding super-freighters with small arms and RPGs. There’s no real ship to ship combat, just straight to the boarding actions.

So, like I said, some more research is probably warranted. This is a fun topic, and there is a lot of literature on the Golden Age of Piracy. It’s an interesting time, with a lot of weird quirks you probably will benefit from investigating.

-Starke

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Q&A: Raising a Militia

What do you think of the plot that goes the bad guys announce they’ll come back to fight soon but the majority of the good guys have no clue how to fight and it’s up to a couple of people to train everyone asap?

I’m not wild about villains who announce their presence, and then wander off and give people time to get ready. I’m fully aware there are legitimate, character, and story reasons a villain might do this, it’s just something I just have a hard time buying that structure. The reasoning being, if your villain announces their intentions, someone will try to stop them. So, either they should keep their mouth shut until their ready to act, or they should act to suppress any resistance before they can finally enact their grand plan.

Should this matter to you? Probably not. This is just my personal taste. There’s certainly room for Saturday Morning Cartoon villainy that requires someone to announce their intentions. There’s even real world examples of this. Monty Python taught us that, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” However, as it turns out, that was a lie, the Spanish Inquisition would file notice a month in advance, to give the accused the opportunity to secure testimony and other exculpatory evidence, (or put their affairs in order.)

So, it’s fine, just not to my taste. That doesn’t reflect on you, and shouldn’t impact your decision to write it.

The good news is, if you have a few characters with similar training backgrounds and a willingness to work together, you have everything you need to set up a combat training class. What, exactly, this will look like depends on the technology involved, and the combat doctrine the characters are following. They’ll need improvised training weapons, and (somewhat obviously) live weapons. (From a logistical standpoint, if your characters are using firearms, they’ll need at least roughly one thousand rounds per weapon to train the recruits, and then equip them. This is a factor that a lot of people overlook when trying to equip untrained militias.)

For melee weapons, you can begin walking the recruits through basic techniques, then moving to group drills. For some techniques, you’ll need to pair trainees against one another. In these cases having assistants who’ve already undergone training can work wonders for making sure that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to. For melee combat, the purpose is to drill the movements until they become rote. This means if someone is training incorrectly, they’ll be committing those errors to muscle memory. Assistants can be invaluable for finding and assisting recruits before these mistakes become ingrained. At this stage, the use of training weapons is preferable.

If you’re dealing with ranged weapons, then you’re going to need to commit time to training them on those weapons, in order to be able to operate them under the stress of combat. To a certain degree, some of this is the same. You’re getting them to commit acts like aiming, firing, and reloading to muscle memory. That said, they also need to learn how to fire accurately.

Beyond basic combat training, you’ll need to instruct them in basic battlefield tactics. This includes things like how to move through an area safely without exposing themselves to enemy attack. This will look radically different depending on the technology in use.

Your militia will need a coherent chain of command. This is really important when things start going sideways. The priority will probably be a simple structure where the most experienced combatants are spread out and can direct the recruits.

Parallel to this, the experienced combatants need to identify useful skills in the local population. This includes things like medical training, hunters, engineers, and someone can manufacture weapons and armor. Skills that can be useful. If a specific role isn’t available, the next best thing may have to suffice. For example, if you don’t have access to a doctor or nurse, a veterinarian can do the job in an emergency.

Specialists are useful for a number of specific functions. Some are self-explanatory (you’ll need medics to help treat the wounded), you’ll need builders to help fortify their location (aided by whatever materials are nearby, which may also involve miners or lumberjacks), you’ll need hunters as skirmishers, for reconnaissance, and possibly as trappers. Just because the villain said they’d come back doesn’t mean you should hold them to their word, stay vigilant and prepare. A smith can be useful for aiding in the fortifications, or assisting in arming the militia.

While having a well trained force is important for winning a battle, taking control of the battlefield, restricting how, and where, your opponent can attack, and using every resource at your disposal to undermine them is vital to victory. How your characters do that will depend on their ability to tilt the odds in their favor.

Your villain said he’d come back. That doesn’t mean your characters should just sit around waiting for the inevitable. They have time to prepare, dig in, and make sure that by the time the villain arrives he never had a chance.

-Starke

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Q&A: Bailing OUt

I’m not really sure if this is your specialty or not, but I was wondering about the plausibility of jumping from a moving train (think an older steam engine, not the almost too fast modern Asian trains). I think if it’s rounding a bend, it’ll have to slow down and make the jump easier, no?

There’s a number of factors here, but this should be survivable under, at least some, circumstances. Some of this stuff also applies for bailing out of a modern car, or any other vehicle really.

From what I know, the maximum survivable speed you can bail out at is around 25-35mph. More than that, and you’re going to be suffering some pretty serious injuries on impact, even if you do this perfectly, simply because of the relative speeds. 35mph is also the lower end of the cruising speed of a 19th century steam locomotive. So, these do barely intersect.

Leaping from a vehicle safely depends on a couple additional factors. A soft landing point is ideal, and really anything that can blunt the initial impact is important. (Padded clothing is a huge boon here.) Leaping away from the vehicle so that you’re not clipped (or crushed) is vital. Keeping your limbs close to your body, so that you don’t break them on impact is also important. This means resisting the instinct to use your arms to break your fall. Obviously if the vehicle is above 30mph, trying to find a way to slow it is also on the list.

Depending on the train and tracks, sharper bends will force a train to slow down, so, that part does work in your favor. Note that phrase: “Depending on the train and tracks.” It’s entirely possible to have a bend in the rails designed to be taken at cruising speed. The relevant factor is how much the train has to turn. The maximum speed for a given bend is dependent on a lot of factors including: The weight and length of the cars, and the train as a whole, the coupling used, the width of the track, the track’s grade, and adverse weather conditions. For example, heavy cargo cars cannot take bends as easily as lighter passenger cars. Even then, on a sharp curve, the train will have to slow down. Depending on the rails and the cars, it’s possible it could slow down to as low as 5 to 10mph. Jumping off at those speeds would be completely survivable, assuming nothing horrific happened.

You’re also correct, you can’t jump from a bullet train and live. These are, specifically, designed to keep their speed up, even while turning. Technically, they will bleed speed to turn, but it’s still several times above survivable thresholds.

In the US and Candada, diesel passenger trains run around 80-90mph outside of urban areas. (Amusingly, the Canadian train system never converted to metric, so miles is correct.) I know there’s reduced speed limits in urban areas, but don’t know what that is exactly. Additionally, different tracks may have their own posted speed limits, and those limits can be affected by severe weather, or other temporary factors. This puts the train’s velocity well above survivable bail out speeds, even on most curves.

One problem that does come to mind is the idea of bailing from a runaway train. That’s not going to be survivable in most circumstances. A character who’s being held captive on a train with an engineer who’s being mostly responsible has options, however a train careening out control will, almost certainly, be going too fast to safely bail out of.

Incidentally, trains in the New York City subway system move at an average of around 17mph. While jumping out of one is still an incredibly bad idea, because of all the risks associated with being around a moving train, that is a survivable speed. NYC’s transit system is infamous for how slow it is, however. Some other metros will be slow enough to allow someone to bail, but you’d need to look up the city in question if you’re wanting a specific answer.

So, yes, you can jump from a moving train and live, if you know what you’re doing, and it’s not going too fast.

-Starke

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