Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Fight Scene Sentences

Based on my reading, fight scenes tend to be best written with shorter sentences and use sluglines to help avoid it from becoming a wall of text. The writer should add details of what happens, but focus more on giving the desired feel of the scene than an list of every strike.

Sure, that’s one way to go about it but I’d hazard though that it is possible to have a fascinating fight sequence which is a wall of text. (And, actually, I’m sure there are in The Lord of the Rings and probably War and Peace or the more downright confusing translations of Father’s and Son’s, I’m just too lazy to go digging.) A scene is defined by how successfully it manages to keep the reader’s attention so they remain invested in the action occurring on the page.

The issue with writing advice of any kind is that any ground rules laid down will be broken in fairly short order by a hundred other books. The other problem is that the vast of advice majority depends on the styles of the times rather than the writing itself. A fight scene can be anywhere from a single sentence to five or even ten pages long, or longer. There’s no clear metrics for creativity.

The only rule is there aren’t any rules. Not even when it comes to grammar. The only metric for success is based on what you can get away with, and how well you hold the attention of your audience. Many of the best writers we remember were people with enough confidence to look at the rulebook and throw it out the window. Writing is mostly trial and error, and figuring out what works best for us as individual creatives. The best thing to do is throw out the shoulds and learn to trust yourself. Take the Barbossa line from Pirates of the Caribbean to heart, “the Code is more what you call guidelines than actual rules.”

The great secret of every creative you admire is that we’re all mostly making it up as we go along. The only quality you truly need is the willingness and courage to leap off the platform without looking back, and see if maybe you’ll fly. 99% of writing is learning how to nor give a crap about what other people think. Or, what we think other people think. The voices that whisper we’ll never do it right and that we’re not good enough.

Don’t listen to the voices.
Go with your gut.

 

Besides, talking sentence is almost pointless because everyone’s writing style is different and their narrative structure is also different. The best fight scenes are like dessert or a topping, they serve as a means to enhance your narrative and build it up rather act as a full course meal. Each scene and sequence are a dish to go with that meal or just an ingredient. Sometimes, they might be able to function as meals unto themselves but are excellent when consumed together.

The best fight sequences are the ones which maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. They can go about doing that in a number of ways, from utilizing the five senses to the author making excellent use of their set pieces, but usually come together when the author has a solid grasp of what they want from the scene and understand how to go about getting it.

The how is usually what trips people up, how to translate what we’ve envisioned in our minds to the page. The more you understand about a subject, any subject then the better you’ll be at figuring out how to get what you want. This may involve some reevaluation of what, specifically, you wanted to begin with in order to start asking the right questions.

The more you understand about warfare, and how warfare has grown, changed, and transitioned throughout history then the better you’ll be at writing magical, fantasy battles.

If you want to write Rurouni Kenshin anime fight scenes, starting with research into Kendo, Iaido, Budo, and that specific historical period in Japanese history will ultimately help you parse through where inspiration was drawn.

Sometimes, we need to ask the wrong questions before getting to the right answers. You want to write in a similar vein to what you’ve drawn inspiration from then start with understanding how it works.

It may suck when looking for a quick and easy answer, but the truth is that good work isn’t easy. It’s difficult. It takes a lot of investment, both mental and emotional. And there will never be anyone who can get to the bottom of what you want better than you can, because you know what you’re looking for. You just need to figure out how to get there. Investigation, essentially, is key to writing good fight scenes.

When you understand basic concepts like distance and the order of operation in a fight, moving between different zones until we end up on the ground, then the fight sequences won’t feel like just a static listing of techniques. Instead, they become interesting due to the fight actually moving. (The issue with many fight scenes is lack of progression.)

The second issue is choreography. When writing fight scenes, the writer’s closest relation is a film’s stunt choreographer. That’s a different set of priorities beyond just “realistic or no?” because a novel, like a movie has its own setting rules that it abides by outside the realm of the real world. The key issue for many writers is they either don’t know enough about martial arts or have a ready grasp of various techniques to choreograph a fight. Then get down on themselves, forgetting that fight choreography is a craft in and of itself. The best scenes we see in movies are often choreographed by seasoned, if not master, martial artists. 9/10 when you’ve got someone asking for a fight scene, they’re asking for choreography. They want to know how to structure a fight so it’s interesting to read/watch.

A fight scene that utilizes it’s environment, laying down the groundwork and foreshadowing objects like staircases as the fight progresses will create a sense of catharsis for the audience when a character finally throws another down those stairs. Or grabs a frying pan off the counter. Or starts throwing plates. Or is out numbered against a group of bullies, and maneuvers their way around the hallway to pull the fire alarm. (They see the fire alarm before they get jumped, or when they’re trying to figure out what to do, then try to get to it.)

Fight scenes work when we understand a character’s needs, desires, and wants rather than focusing on a need to “show, don’t tell” their fighting ability by making them fight.

Poor fight scenes aren’t just badly written, they serve no purpose other than “proving a character’s fighting ability to the audience” and often feel out of place in the narrative. They are a violation of the character’s stated goals and needs, and often work under a different setting rule set which has no interaction with the main story itself. Poor fight scenes are boring, the illusion breaks and the characters are just paper dolls being mashed together.

After that, the sentence structure is just structure.

In fiction writing, we use sentence structure, grammar, word choice, and even white space on the page as a means of crafting tension and tempo. Tempo in fiction is manipulating the speed at which someone reads. An easy solution is to use progressively shorter sentences to build a sense of tension and imitate the feel that events are actually moving faster. Long sentences feel slower because they take longer to read. That’s the basics, anyway, it becomes a great deal more complicated than that once we get into the inner workings of a single sentence. There’s also beat, rhythm, and rhyme schemes.

If you want to learn how to manipulate emotional experiences in very few words then poetry is what you should be reading.

Basically, all these require various skills. There’s no easy way to develop these skills beyond hard work, practice, and trial and error.

The first step is: get over the fear of failing.

You’ll try, you may fail, it may not work the way you want on the first go. You’ll probably have to go back to the drawing board multiple times, and that’s okay. You’re not alone if you sit at your computer watching a single fight sequence you love on repeat a few hundred times trying to figure out how it works. That’s normal.

It takes work to gain knowledge and then figure out how to apply it contextually. You’ve got to learn about the subject then learn how to make that knowledge work for you. The process is often embarrassing, sometimes clumsy, and we may feel like we suck because we’re unfairly comparing ourselves to experts in the field. A writer is a perpetual student seeking out new knowledge and new information. Whatever we’re digging into will always be more complicated than we initially thought.

TLDR: It’s difficult to write fight scene involving guns if you don’t know how guns or bullets work. That follows for everything else.

-Michi

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Q&A: Scriptwriting

Im having a huge problem that you might be able to help with, I’m writing a fantasy film script for my university coursework, but they’ve never taught us to write fight scenes in any context and I’m totally lost. Have you got any advice or tips for fight scenes in scripts?

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about writing film scripts but, as an English Major, I’ll give you the advice that has always helped tremendously in the past when I didn’t know where to look especially when it came to specialized structure. Start with the source material.

The best place to learn about the proper structure for describing a fight scene in a film script is from other film scripts. Look at film scripts and you’ll figure out what the format is whether it’s for a fight scene or just regular direction. Usually, if I remember right, it’s similar to stage direction. So, if you can’t find scripts or get stuck waiting for one your professor or the university’s librarian could procure for you, you can find dozens of plays available at the university’s library. Shakespeare is generally helpful, especially the dueling scenes.

The second thing to do is ask your professor to see if they have any ideas, or go down to the drama department. Someone there will have experience with stage fighting and may be able to show you a mock up on what stage directions for the fight scenes look like. The theatre people are going to be the ones with the most experience for putting fight sequences on stage.

What you want is to find reference material, as much as you can get your hands on. Once you know what the structure and format are, then it’s going to work much the same as every other type of written fight scene. Keep in mind the film time is equivalent with length, and go from there.

You can write the sequences you have in mind first and restructure them later, full in the knowledge that whatever you put down would eventually be torn apart by the director and fight scene/stunt choreographer as they built on the idea or substituted their own.

Don’t freak out. Write it. Think about the imaginary actors who’d have to perform it, and work from there. A lot of figuring out fight scenes is going to be self-taught, that’s just the nature of the business. The worst thing for a writer is to be stuck second guessing themselves, and writing fight scenes is just like writing anything else.

Personally, the best films to watch for figuring out how to write, structure, choreograph, and film fight scenes are Jackie Chan’s. He’s the best. For large scale battles, I’d start with Lord of the Rings and then expand into historical films known for their accuracy or film scripts known for their fight scenes.

If any other screenwriters want to take a crack at this, be my guest.

-Michi

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Iron Sights Sniper

Is it conceivably possible for a character with enhanced eyesight to shoot a rifle with iron sights as accurately as with a scope? Or are there inherent limitations getting in the way?

Not, “inherent limitations,” but you would be giving up some functionality that isn’t common on modern iron sights.

Long range marksmanship isn’t about putting the cross hairs over someone’s head and pulling the trigger. There are a lot of factors which can affect the trajectory of a bullet.

Bullet drop is the simplest example of this. As a bullet travels through the air, it is also affected by gravity, and falls towards the earth. The further you fire, the father the bullet will fall until it connects with something. Some iron sights include rangefinders, which will elevate the rear sights to account for drop.

Because the bullet is a lightweight, physical object, it is still affected by things like wind. Again, this isn’t much of an issue at short range, but at longer ranges, wind can play a significant role in where the bullet finally comes to rest. When calculating wind in long range shooting, it’s not enough to know what direction the wind is traveling where you’re positioned, but also what the wind is like at the target. In situations like this a scope can be helpful for determining what the wind is doing over there. As with drop, some iron sights are designed to be adjusted for windage. It’s not incredibly common, but these do exist.

We’ve talked, before, about how most rifle rounds are hypersonic, and that the signature crack of a rifle is, actually, a small sonic shockwave caused by the bullet breaking the sound barrier. At extreme ranges, over 2,500 yards (if I remember correctly, this value is affected by atmospheric density, which is calculated based on altitude and humidity), friction will bring the round back down through transonic speeds (around 600-700mph), at this point the shockwave will usually overtake the bullet destabilizing it and severely affecting accuracy.

When you’re talking about a sniper, the least important part of their equipment is, ironically, their rifle and scope. Those are both useful, and high quality equipment will offer the best results, but the difficult part of their job are things that have nothing to do with the hardware itself.

Beyond that, the scopes are just optics, they help a marksman hit their target, but they’re not necessary. However, the benefits they offer do go beyond simply providing a firing point.

So, the short answer is, no, your character wouldn’t need a scope, but they would still be better off with one than without. The one exception I could think of is if the have some cybernetic augmentation which provides firing solution data to the user, which is more accurate than simple optics.

-Starke

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Q&A: Fire Weapons Followup

so i saw your post about fire weapons and you said flaming arrows don’t work bc of totally logical reasons. i was wondering why they’re so common in tv shows and movies if they don’t actually work? historically, were they ever actually a thing people used?

It’s called Rule of Cool. They look good, they look neat, they look dangerous, and they make the audience go “oooh”. Hollywood is a terrible place to look if you want reality, Rule of Cool is the decision making process behind 90% of all combat in all movies ever made.

The most important thing you can ever learn when looking at and consuming any entertainment media (or any media, really) is that unless specifically stated it’s relationship to reality is tangential at best. Real violence, for example, is fast, brutal, confusing, often boring to watch, and provides little in the way of entertainment value. They just aren’t fun to watch. You know what is fun to watch on screen though? The crazy ass Flynning duels from the Errol Flynn movies. Those big, huge, wide sword movements which make zero sense from any rational combat perspective but are easy for the viewer’s eye to follow.

Television, movies, and even books are about creating an entertaining experience, that is their primary goal. Any relationship to reality they have is at the direction of whoever is in charge of production and dependent on how much they cared about being faithful to what they’ve drawn inspiration from. This isn’t just combat either, the vast majority of ships seen in science fiction would be unable to function in space because they’re relying on rules that require either liquid or an atmosphere.

Movies want to convince you that what you’re watching is real, so you embrace the setting. They want cool fights, not real ones. That’s their stated goal: entertainment. Never trust entertainment to show you reality.

However, that doesn’t mean these movies and television shows and novels are lacking in value. They have entertainment value.

There are entire subsets of weapon categories fabricated wholesale by Hollywood purely because they look good on screen. See the swords wielded during the Golden Era of Hollywood for reference. They aren’t “real” weapons, they’re fabricated. This doesn’t change the fact they are perfectly suited to their purpose which is to look good on screen.

Audiences have become obsessed with “realism” and “realistic” more as a means of pointing out why one piece of media is superior to another when in reality neither of them are connected to a world that actually exists. In fannish conversations, “realism” has about as much weight as “chemistry”, it’s a vague definition used to discourage conversation or alternate approaches that violate a specific worldview.

Unless the creator has specifically stated an intent toward historical accuracy (and is backed up by historians), you can assume nothing you see on screen is “real” or has a basis in reality. Outside, you know, the stunt team and the specialists they hired to put on the performance.

Entertainment is built on being enjoyable and fun with just enough basis in reality to convince you to buy in and suspend your disbelief. I just happen to like knowledge because the more I know, the better I am at creating and choreographing convincing falsehoods.

Writers are liars. Our primary purpose when telling stories is to entertain, and a flaming arrow to the neophyte’s eye seems a lot more deadly than a regular arrow. Also, flaming arrows mean the prop team gets to figure out how to “safely” set thatch roofs on fire.

The director gets an epic fire filled scene of rampant destruction to sell to the audience and the prop team gets to have lots of fun.

Win, win.

-Michi

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Q&A: Flaming Weapons

How viable are non-magical flaming weapons? Like, coating the sword with a flammable substance and then setting it on fire. Would the trouble be worth it for the increased damage? Would they be more dangerous for the yielder? Would the fire negatively affect the blade?

No. At least not, that example. Also flaming arrows are out. The physics involved mean they either self-extinguish on launch, or they’ll ignite the user (I don’t remember which, and I kinda think it’s the former.)

That said, there are a lot of historical and modern military applications for flame.

The modern examples that come immediately to mind are napalm, dragon’s breath shells, and Molotov cocktails.

Napalm is, basically, jellied gasoline. It will burn, it will stick when it lands, and it will keep burning. Set something on fire and watch it melt. Napalm is, quite frankly, pretty terrifying stuff, and while the exact chemical formula is recent, the concept of launching burning liquids at people is not, going all the way back to Greek Fire. No one is exactly sure what Greek Fire was, but it would burn, could be lobbed onto ships or people you didn’t like, while burning, and would not stop burning once it arrived.

Molotov Cocktails are a medium ground here. You load a bottle up with alcohol, use an alcohol soaked rag as a fuse, light, and throw. There’s a little bit more going on here though. Alcohol solutions are only directly flammable if they’re more than 50% alcohol by volume. Most hard liquor is around 80 proof (40%), but, the vapors put off by the solution are still flammable (down to around 20%, if I remember correctly). So you can use a bottle of vodka as an improvised incendiary device. (Fair warning, it’s been a long time since I took a chemistry class, so those exact percentages may be a bit off.)

In spite of being named after a Russian Revolutionary, the idea of setting something on fire and chucking it someplace is not a new concept.

I know you can launch flaming payloads with a trebuchet, put them roughly where you want them, and set the area on fire. I’m not 100% sure of the military history, but it was used for centuries. Anything that will break apart on impact will spread the flame over a decent area and get a good blaze going.

Hot shots originally referred to cannonballs that were preheated before firing, with the intention of it igniting enemy structures or ships. This isn’t something we still think about (outside of the term “hotshot” seeping into idiomatic usage), but it did work, apparently.

The modern equivalent would be incendiary ammunition. There’s a lot of variety here, and they range from phosphorous rounds, which will ignite on contact with moisture, including the moisture in the air, to dragon’s breath shells which eject a mixture of highly flammable metals, such as magnesium, or potassium, which will ignite on contact with moisture.

Phosphorous was also a popular component for incendiary grenades, mortars, and other explosives. For example, one of the US military’s versions of a Molotov in WWII was produced by dissolving phosphorous and rubber (as a thickener) in gasoline). This mixture would self ignite on contact with the atmosphere (when the glass broke).

One variant of modern incendiary grenades use a Thermite variant
(called thermate)

to eject molten iron on detonation.

So far as it goes, most flare guns fire a 12 gauge shotgun shell. While the plastic ones won’t survive trying to put a conventional shell down range, the flare shell itself can result in horrific, and fatal, burns.

If you want a melee weapon to set someone on fire, you might be able to achieve that safely by heating the blade or using something like a thermal lance. The problem with simply coating a sword with oil and lighting it up is, they tend to drip. And, when you’re swinging the sword around, you’ll end up with burning oil getting splashed everywhere, including on the user. This is, “a very bad thing.”

Of course, shoving a torch in someone’s face is also a very bad thing, for them, and fits the definition provided.

So, the short answer is, yes there are a lot of real applications for setting someone on fire, especially when they’re all the way over there and walking is too much effort. Setting your own sword on fire is not a great idea, however.

-Starke

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Q&A: Self-Defense Staves

Is it possible to get into how would someone train if they were to choose a staff as a weapon? In my story, I have a young girl that wants to learn basic self defense and staff training sounds plausible enough, I don’t want her to be an absolute badass and she’s just learning in case of an emergency. I hope this makes sense ):

You can gain sufficient skill with the staff to use it as a self-defense weapon within a few weeks. You won’t master it in a month, but it’s conceivable to fight with it. It is one of the fastest, simplest, and easiest weapons to learn. The most important thing she’ll need to remember to do is maintain her body’s conditioning (exercise) and keep her basic skills sharp (practice). Self-defense doesn’t work as a one off training and forget, it’s a situation where you either use it or lose it.

The holistic martial arts discipline where you progress through hand to hand to weapons combat is a mostly Eastern tradition in martial arts, this includes India. European tradition isn’t anywhere near as structured, you can start with the staff. Unlike other weapon types, staff training often begins with a real wooden staff, and if we’re going with European tradition then the weapon will most likely be made out of oak. Oak is heavy, heavy staves hurt when they hit you… a lot. You will get hit in training… a lot. In weapon’s training with a partner, we pay for our mistakes with bruises. Getting past the fear of being hit is one of the major components of this training type. Your partner’s weapon can easily slip, slide down the shaft, and hit your unprotected fingers. Learning how to stop that from happening is part of the training.

This is the truth of every weapon type in training: the weapon will punish you when you make mistakes with it. The more dangerous the weapon, the more detrimental the initial injuries.

The staff starts with deep bruises and, if you’re truly unlucky, broken bones (especially broken fingers). Broken collarbones are not outside the range of unusual. This is nothing compared to a weapon like the three sectioned staff where even beginner’s training can net you a concussion.

Unironically, the post I made recently about Nine Steps for Training Techniques applies to how we go about training on weapons. The staff has a straightforward basic move set, the strikes form a cross-shaped pattern across the body high (head) low (thigh) to low (thigh) high (head), then thrust to stomach, bring down on top of head or low the other way into the groin. When partnered with another human being, you practice these strikes together with one person performing the strikes and the other the blocks. The blocks for the staff are matching to the cross-shaped pattern, high low to low high, then bring the staff up horizontal to catch the strike to the top of the head, and a half step back from the thrust to knock it away with the tip of the staff. You can also bring the staff across the body to strike either side of the rib cage. A practiced staff user can shift between all these strikes without the pattern.

The staff is sized to the wielder, usually coming up to around their forehead rather than the top of the head. Your hands on the staff act like a fulcrum, redirecting as you go. You want your hands set wide enough to keep a solid, balanced, and controlled grip on the weapon while also providing you with the freedom to go at speed. This is difficult because your hands are going to want to naturally come together as you practice

The most important thing to remember about the staff is that both ends are weapons. Unless you’re gripping it by it’s bottom, one end is always going to be moving behind you. Most common staff injury when training is bruised knuckles. You can also break your fingers. When sparring with a heavy staff, you will be wearing pads and you will still get bruises. Those bruises may be deep, and sometimes go all the way down to the bone.

Never forget, your weapon senses your weakness. Soft defense leads to debilitating injury, even just in practice. You must be firm, fierce, focused, and unafraid of the pain you will inevitably receive. Learn to be stalwart. (Yes, this is a learned attitude and not one we start with.)

A weapon is never safe.

After practice, your arms will be tired due not just to moving but being on the receiving end of impact when the staves clash. There is no way to avoid this, you simply build resistance via experience. Learning how to keep hold of your staff in the middle of conflict that is trying to knock the weapon from them with each hit made by you or your enemy is necessary. Vibration will travel down the length of the staff to your hands, and that’s what you need to worry about wearing your arms out rather than weight.

Staves can and do break or fracture bones on impact when moving at speed, arms, legs, ribs, heads, feet, etc. They are bludgeoning weapons. When moving at speed in a practice bout, this can happen to you especially if you’re not wearing protection. (Wear protection.) This is not a gentle weapon or a soft one. It is useful too because of its range advantage over shorter weapons, but keep in mind that range means range. The closer the enemy comes, the less useful the staff gets. Your character is responsible for maintaining the fight range at which her weapon is useful. She’s going to need to get creative if the fight starts right next to her.

She’s gonna get her staff knocked out of her hands by whoever is instructing her the first few times because holding onto it does hurt a lot more than we anticipate when we start practicing defense. They’re going to teach her how to defend first though. You learn techniques then ratchet up at a steady pace to ferret out holes in defense.

It is natural for her to be nervous or even afraid of the weapon in the beginning, though she’ll overcome that. No one likes pain, and pain is an unavoidable side effect of weapon’s training. Hand to hand works it’s way up to basic injuries, but weapon’s will nail you coming and going. We’ll hit ourselves, our partner will hit us, we’ll make mistakes, and we pay for them. Usually, it’s just bruises.

There are, of course, stances and footwork associated with staff training but that’s ironically more complex than it needs to get right now.

For endurance training with the staff, outdoors on a variety of terrain is helpful. This includes beaches, on uneven terrain, in forests, in fields, in rivers, etc. All these will help the student learn to navigate different terrain and learn the detriments of fighting in various environments. They also build strength. Sand and water will both sap away strength due to the focus required to maintain balance on soft surfaces and water’s resistance/drag when it comes to movement. They may also teach her how to fight on stairs.

Staff training will provide her with the base necessary to move on to polearms like spears or even some swords if she wants to in the future. Staves with their heads and butts shod in iron as a defense against blades (and extra damage) were also common.

Due to this being self-defense, the focus of her training is going to be on using her staff to create escape opportunities rather than engaging in prolonged conflict.

For more on this topic, you can check out our staff training tag.

-Michi

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Q&A: Grief

Do you know anything about grief? If so, my character Vivian spent 6 months with a group of friends and fell in love with another character. The character he fell in love with head over heels for dies the night after they kiss. How would this grief affect active fighting ?

My grandmother on my mother’s side died when I was eleven, my father died when I was thirteen (the day after my birthday), my dog died a day before my college graduation, and my grandfather on my father’s side died from Alzheimer’s a few years ago. That’s not counting the friends and non-blood related family members who’ve died over the years.

So, yeah, I’ve got a little experience with grief, and grief counseling, and therapy, and… well, other people who’ve also lost friends and family.

I will say upfront that experience with grief can’t be faked when translating it into a fiction. You’ve either lost someone or you haven’t. You will never truly understand until you’ve experienced it yourself. And, if you haven’t, honestly, I hope you don’t join this unhappy club for a very long time.

Grief happens in stages, we consider them as five to be exact. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. There is no one size fits all here, or rules, no guidelines for the amount of time it takes because we work through it in our own time. You can and often do go through all five just to accept the physical truth someone you love has died, then all over again with the emotional fallout in the months even years afterward. It’s possible to go forward and back between the stages, and it isn’t a steady process. I’ve come to terms with a lot of the deaths in my life, but some took around a decade to reach the acceptance stage.

In initial the months after my father died, I waited to hear his car coming up the driveway at the time he usually arrived home from work (around 5:30). Anytime the doorknob turned, I’d feel a small bit of hope that it’d be him walking in. I still hope, sometimes, nearly twenty years later, that he’ll come through the door.

I tried to hold on to what he sounded like when I realized a month later I was forgetting. I managed a single word, the name of a friend’s father.

The problem with writing grief if you’ve never experienced it is this: you will over focus on the emotion and forget the detail.

Grief is not being able to remember where you live when you dial 911 for the ambulance. It’s the adrenaline leaving your hands shaking when you reach for the body, and the cold stiffness beneath your hands. The chalky white skin, and one eyelid half open. A frozen, milky, blue-white pupil pointed nowhere.  The faint, sour smell in the air.
The way you shake it, and shake it, and shake it like that’ll bring the body back to life.

The way you still describe it as the body years later instead of referring to it as him and in second person instead of first.

Grief is never being able to watch Oliver and Company again.

This detail is part of why it’s so difficult to describe or write grief
if you’ve never experienced the loss of a loved one first hand.

You’ve also got to describe that loss through the eyes of your character, re-imagine it so the experience is not only tailored to their experiences but laser specific to those exact moments when they learned or came to the realization someone they loved died. One of the first things to understand about death in fiction is that it won’t do the work for you.

My father died a week before my first degree black belt test, and I’d just turned thirteen. I honestly can’t remember much about that week. It was Spring Break, so I didn’t have to go to school. My days were mostly filled with martial arts and emptiness. There were moments I’d remember, then grow sad or try to avoid it by focusing on what was coming ahead of me. People told me how brave I was, clapped when I came back to training a day later, but the truth is that doing that was easier than remembering what happened. I was in the shock stage all the way through the test. Numb to the world, I didn’t feel anything. Not pride, not happiness, not “oh good we’re done now”, nothing at all. It wasn’t bravery, so much as it just was. The world moved around me and the rest of it was gray.

In that moment, I became “the Girl Whose Father Died The Week Before Her Test” in the organization and everyone knew who I was for years afterwards.

However, the moment I really broke down was when I returned to class afterwards and began to cry when one of my classmates pushed a crossword onto my desk that read “Father”. I cried so hard, then I went out into the hallway and cried through the rest of the class that day.

That’s one experience, though. Like I said, there’s no one size fits all and every experience is unique. If you’ve got a character whose lost a lot of people over the years, then it does get easier.

However, if you’re writing a character who experiences death on the regular then their experience is going to be different. You could get someone who numbs themselves out to the world, defers the loss until later, and deals with it then. A person for whom “doing things” is them showing their grief. They could crumple up into a ball, give up and just cry. They could get angry to the point they want to kill the person who took their loved one and want to kill them. They could be compromised to the point of they are incapable performing their job, and need to be scrubbed from a mission for their safety and their teammates.

They could get triggered by the violence to the point where they lock up and can’t mentally face it anymore, where it becomes too much for them to handle. Sometimes, they break all the furniture in their apartment. Sometimes, they don’t clean out the other side of the closet for six years. They may get angry and lash out at those close to them who aren’t experiencing this death as keenly as they are. Or the might do it just because, without reason. They might close themselves off from everyone they know and love. Wall up out of fear of losing another person, find it difficult to build new connections. Become a different person.

Or, rarely, they could be completely fine. Or, seem like they’re fine on the surface. Others who are suffering will get pissed at them if they’re fine. When it seems like you’re fine, others will call you a monster. How dare they.

Grief is not guaranteed to get you killed in combat, but it can. It leads to stupid mistakes because you’re mentally compromised, even when you don’t realize it. We run from it sometimes. It’s so big, and heavy, and dark, crashing down all at once with no easy answers. No platitude satisfies. Numb, angry, stricken, despairing, you can move through these states so rapidly that it’s almost impossible to follow. Grief just is.

In a situation where you need to be able to focus or your life and those around you are at risk, then grief becomes detrimental. If you’re mentally compromised and refuse to recognize it then it will only put others at risk. Many people will insist they are “fine”. That it doesn’t affect them, that they can still work. It does though. It will. As a result, events can be disastrous in the fallout.

Even if they can fight, revenge isn’t satisfying. It’s empty. Grief-fueled rampages will only lead to more sadness and more emptiness and a re-experiencing of the loss all over again. Usually, it causes more tragedy.

How will your character react? I don’t know.

How does grief affect fighting, even years afterward? It can be really bad, my friend. Really goddamn bad.

You’ve got to find an equilibrium in your mind and acceptance, real acceptance too. You can’t just tell yourself you’ve accepted it, and that difference can be difficult to grasp.

Understand loss is not the cause of grief, and not death itself. We will
grieve lost relationships and broken down friendships, when what we
love disappears from our grasp. Don’t assume it’s in the death, look at
the loss and how they feel about them being gone.

 

As a writer, your answer is they need to find a way to come to terms with this loss and that is a journey without an easily defined destination. I mean “come to terms” and not “get over”. Loss is with you forever, but whether we accept it or it continues to haunt us will be up to the person in question.

From me to you, here are some ways I dealt with my father’s death in my teenage years:

1) I went to counseling.

2) I read all the books of his on the shelf that I could scrounge from my parent’s bedroom, even when I didn’t like them. I still have a few of his fantasy hardbacks squirreled away.

3) I tried to play Star Wars: Tie Fighter.

4) I cried when I tried to tackle the Walkers in Rogue Squadron 2, because I’d always run to him and beg him to help me pass the level.

5) I’d go smell the shirts my mom left when she refused to clean out his side of the closet until they didn’t smell like him anymore. Then, I felt sad all over again.

6) I dedicated my open form during my second degree test to him, and picked a really sappy country song.

7) I read and re-read L.E. Modesitt Jr’s entire “Saga of Recluse” over and over again because Colors of Chaos was the first fantasy book my dad handed me to read.

8) I named my Sovereign Class ship in Star Trek Online after him.

I once sat with another student at college and we commiserated over our shared bond as members of the “Dead Parents Club”, telling stories about how our parents died and laughing about where we were now. To another student, who’d never experienced what we had, this seemed incredibly insensitive, they were confused, and they said so.

We said, “Dead Parents Club”. Then another student who’d recently lost their aunt asked if they could join us, and we expanded to members of the “Dead Relatives Club”.

It’s not all sadness and pain, misery and angst. In fact, if you go this route then it’s not really real. Much as it might seem like it on the surface, grief isn’t the same as literary angst. You need to show, not tell and that begins with actions. Start figuring
out how this loss affects your character before you take a stab at how
it’s affecting their ability to fight. Grief is about individuals, and
there are no easy answers. Only actions, decisions, and struggle for
good or ill.

 

-Michi

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Q&A: Balsa Staff Followup

peliaosfiendline:

add in, they’re the basis of many ancient infantry weapons. Knowing how to use one lends itself to spear and polearm fighting.

Also the sword, which may sound really weird, but there’s a surprising amount of techniques that transition over to the longsword with minor modifications. The staff is a very good “starter” weapon. A lot of the lessons you learn there can be adapted for use elsewhere.

Also bruised knuckles. All the bruised knuckles you could ever want can be found in staff training.

-Starke

Q&A: Not Enough Information

Not actually a fight question, but I couldn’t think who else to ask. My story has a living weapon type character who’s entire purpose is to kill the villain. But? Who are the weapon’s squadmates? Should I be basing them on Delta Force? Rangers? Green Berets??? It’s a landlocked mission so I’m figuring Army…Basically, who does a military send in when they need a dictator dead, and they don’t control the place the dictator is?

I hate to say it, but there really isn’t enough information to answer this question. Or, more accurately, the information I’d actually need isn’t here. I can offer some general advice which might help.

When you’re writing a story, once you’ve got your first idea in mind, your next step should be to conduct a lit review. That is to say, find other works that are playing around with similar concepts, and take a look at them. How did their authors put their story together? What did they do that you like? What did they do that doesn’t work for you? What can you learn from their efforts?

In this case, there’s a lot of material you can chew through. Ranging from bad 80s action movies staring Chuck Norris (Hell, The Expendables and Apocalypse Now both fit in this general theme), to a bunch of mid-90s XCOM clones (I’m specifically thinking of Jagged Alliance 2, here, but it was a thriving subgenre for a few years there), to loads of books, ranging from non-fiction to pure pulp. I can even think of a few comic books that might be useful, depending on what you want to do, (the Vertigo reboot of The Losers, and Queen and Country, come to mind immediately).

In the specific example of Video Games, they’ve become much more interesting for lit reviews in the past few years, with the rise of easily accessible postmortem analysis. A decade ago, I never would have considered looking at something like Ghost Recon: Wildlands and saying yeah, this might be useful, but the associated critical analysis and critique has been fascinating (even without playing the game).

Without knowing what you’re looking for, specifically, it’s kinda hard to pin this one down, and say, “yeah, this is what you want.” To be fair, I can usually make an educated guess at what someone’s aiming for. I can also be completely wrong; that happens too. So I offer the best advice I can, with the information given. It’s just, in this case, I’m honestly not sure what you’re looking for.

You do, however. You probably know if you’ve seen a movie, read a book, a comic, or played a video game that kinda conveyed the story you wanted to tell, or at least parts of it. You’ll know it when you see it. When you do, remember to look for things you can learn from what they did. Look for similar pieces. Look for what other people said about it.

-Starke

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Q&A: Balsa Staff

I’m unsure if this is a question to ask you, but how viable is balsa wood for a quarterstaff? And how viable is a quarterstaff in combat itself?

Balsa’s a bit fragile for a staff. Usually, when you want a light weight staff, the material of choice is bamboo. But, most durable woods can do the job. Pine is nice for this. Oak is the traditional choice for a quarterstaff.

Staves of any variety are very viable, this includes the quarterstaff. They’re easy to train people on, simple to use, and they can absolutely mess someone up. Even in the hands of someone who only kinda knows what they’re doing, they’re a good weapon.

-Starke

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