Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Stiletto Heels

Out of curiosity, how realistic is stabbing someone with the heel of a stiletto shoe?

It is realistic in that can and does actually happen.

It’s most commonly seen in bars when drunken angry women get into fights and hit the other person with their shoes, but you can blind someone with a stiletto heel so there’s that.

Is it effective?

It really depends on if you know where to aim and get very lucky, or just get lucky. The eye going is probably the best endgame result. It is worth saying that you can take out the eye with just about anything, including a number 2 pencil.

I don’t really recommend it.

If it’s the only thing you’ve got, then it’s better than nothing.

-Michi

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Q&A: Dual Wielding

Is dual wielding (like two swords, a sword and a knife or two knives) an actual effectiv fighting style or just something that looks cool??

With two swords, not really. There’s a few stray examples. It’s not so much ineffective as incredibly difficult. With that in mind, you can absolutely learn how to do this as an exhibition technique. Which, yes, ends up in the range of something that looks cool.

A sword and an off hand dagger has a lot of utility. The off hand dagger actually becomes a defensive tool.This can range from something like a stiletto, used to deflect an incoming strike, or it can include a swordbreaker, which depending on circumstances might simply hold your opponent’s blade in place while you turn them into goulash with your sword.

It’s probably worth remembering that the parrying dagger is more common when dealing with lighter blades, while sword breakers were more common when dealing with heavier, slower, blades.

Dual daggers are a legitimate, hyper-aggressive, knife fighting option. You’re trading any kind of defense for more opportunities to attack. When the user has the element of surprise it can make a bad situation so much worse, but if their foe can respond, it can go wrong for the dual wielder very quickly.

If you’re wondering how a knife can go from being a defensive tool to an offense option, it has to do with the ranges you’re engaging at. Incidentally, a swordsman with an off hand dagger does have the option to attack at extremely close ranges where they can’t attack with their sword.

I know we’ve said this before, but weapons have specific ranges. Get too close, and you can’t use them anymore. A sword works best at a little over arm’s length. For example: A sword won’t do much good

while you’re lying on top of your foe. On the other hand, if you can reach out and touch someone, knives are always good to go. The advantage for a sword is it will add 36-40 inches to your reach.

It’s also worth remembering that a sword with an off-hand pistol was a real option up into the 19th century. You’d open an encounter by putting a bullet in someone, and then use the sword.

-Starke

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Q&A: Vet Your Sources

I suggest you read The Templars and the Assassins: Militia of Heaven by James Wasserman. Very interesting read. A lot of what we know about the historical Assassins is slandar by their enemies. Also the characters of Assassin’s Creed are just as interesting as their historical counterparts. How Ubisoft took the legends of both orders and expanded them is amazing and a stroke of sheer brilliance.

When you’re conducting research: One of the first steps is to vet the author. Who are they? What’s their background? Once you understand that, you can make an intelligent assessment of what you’re reading.

For example, Wasserman is not a trained historian. In fact, as far as I can tell he doesn’t hold any formal degree. His area of expertise is mysticism and the occult. His own bio describes him as, “an admirer of the teachings of Aleister Crowley.” So, if you were researching modern American mysticism, he might be a decent point or reference. Detailed historical analysis? Not so much.

Another thing to consider, when writing non-fiction is that bold claims require strong evidence. In very general terms, claims don’t get much bolder than, “everything you know about this thing is wrong.”

Wasserman… doesn’t really do that. He collected a lot of interesting tidbits of trivia, though given the errors I found from skimming through the first few chapters, I wouldn’t trust any of it without first verifying in more credible sources.

Wasserman also appears to lack the ability to evaluate the quality of his evidence. This is a very important skill in academic literature, particularly when evaluating historical events. Not everything said or written is true, and as an academic, it falls on the author to evaluate the available evidence. This often involves looking at the larger context of contemporary events, the agendas of people involved, and the amount of surviving primary sources.

For example, confessions obtained under torture usually aren’t viewed as particularly credible. As we’ve said before, turns out when you apply enough force to someone, they’ll tell you whatever they think you want to hear, rather than actually coughing up the truth. Torture is a crude tool used to confirm your version of reality, and is not a functional investigative tool. And then Wasserman takes these confessions at face value, and tries to find some way to square them away with reality.

Yes, I am frustrated by Wasserman. He takes a fascinating part of history and injects it with confirmation bias so severe it would make a YouTube commenter blush. As a writer, there’s a real reason you should study history. Looking at why people, real people, took the actions they did can really help you understand how individuals think, and the options your characters have.

What Wasserman does very well is demonstrate how you can take real people and events, and distort them to fit your setting. (To be fair, it’s not an intentional demonstration.) This can be useful when you’re working off some “secret history of the world,” story, or when you’re writing an alt-history setting. If you want to write a story where the Assassins were secret defenders of an alien civilization that secretly founded western civilization, then Wasserman and Erich von Däniken are probably authors you should investigate closely. Also Assassin’s Creed, for the Dan Brown on mescaline vibe, and because that  is the plot for Assassin’s Creed. (Though, von Däniken is pretty good for that flavor of weirdness in general.)

But, hey, at least Wasserman managed to secure an endorsement from a Golden Dawn magus for the back cover. So, you know, he’s got that going for him.

-Starke

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Q&A: Swords in the Modern World

Okay 1. I love your blog. 2. I have a character who’s very strong and she is constantly fighting for her life. I planned on giving her a katana as a weapon but after I read your post about how katanas suck I was like “Okay, so I won’t give her a katana.” But what sword would someone be able to use in the modern world pretty effectively while actually using it to defend themselves?

There’s a real reason why we don’t use swords anymore.

Beyond the problems posed by guns (and knives for that matter), the sword is simply inconvenient in a modern environment. You could still carry one (depending on country/state restrictions on weapons… maybe not, especially not without a permit), but people will look at you funny. And, maybe, be a little worried about your mental health if you walked into the local MiniMart with a real, sharpened, honest to god longsword belted to your hip.

It’s basically the equivalent of walking into a store or getting into a taxicab with an AR15 strapped to your chest. Except, weirder.

Also, you can’t conceal it. You’re going to get arrested. You’re gonna get tased. No, I’m not kidding that really happened to a man carrying a katana on his back in SoCal.

This is not the only example. There are a lot of people who carry swords… and a lot people who get tased for their trouble.

The other human beings around you will see that sword as an active potential threat to their safety, and swords don’t have a gun lobby lobbying for the right to carry them wherever. The cops will arrest you. It is no longer culturally acceptable to openly carry these weapons as a matter of practice.

Society has moved on.

Now, in a fictional context we can fudge the rules a bit. Still, you should be aware of the realities especially if you’re writing toward modern fiction. The modern world is one you’re readers will be intimately familiar with, so if you’re working outside the set norms it’d behoove you to explain yourself.

Swords make sense in Urban Fantasy settings or cultures where guns have (inexplicably in many cases) ceased to work. (And if you’ve got any technology with a combustion engine, you’re going to have guns. Or explosives. The theory behind the gun is simply you use an explosion to propel an object at high velocities in the direction you want. What we have now is just a refinement of that thought process. If you have fireworks, someone will inevitably hit on the idea that you can shoot fireworks at your enemies then work to improve the process. We call this science.)

What a character does on their own property is their business, but it’s a different story when they’re out in public.

If you’re serious about your character carrying a sword, then these are issues that should be addressed or, at least, considered.

-Michi

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Q&A: Paralytic Poisons

Would you happen to know how fast it would realistically take someone to keel over when struck with a dart coated in a paralysing drug?

With the quick caveat that I’m not a doctor; from what I remember, most paralytics will take effect in under a minute, and kill the victim in under five. Most of these will cause respiratory arrest. You’ve paralyzed them, so they can’t go anywhere, but you’ve also paralyzed their lungs, so they’ll also stop doing that pesky breathing thing.

If you’ve got someone on life support, there are some real medical applications for this. Particularly in surgery. When it’s administered in the field, they’re dead.

You’ll also find a few animals that administer paralytic poisons. This is some seriously scary stuff. Same problem though, in higher forms of animal life (read anything with lungs) it will stop respiration and result in the victim asphyxiating because their lungs are paralyzed.

The mode of action, as I recall, is that the poison actually interferes (or blocks) the neurotransmitters responsible for muscle control. It doesn’t matter how badly the victim wants to move, their body can’t get the message.

-Starke

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Q&A: Larger Foes

I don’t know if you watch GOT, but how hard would it be to fight someone like the mountain hand-to-hand? (well, armed, like in the show). Does being big like him really makes for a better fighter?

Hand to hand is a bit different from armed, especially armored, but okay. The answer is pretty simple.

Start low.

Tall fighters, especially male fighters, have a rather serious issue that’s often overlooked: their center of gravity. It’s higher up off the ground than the average person, and a great many men (like the Mountain) do not drop low enough into their stances to compensate. The taller they are, the lower they need to go to counterbalance their size. Attack their feet, or their legs. Attack their center. Whatever you need to destabilize them. A lot of tall fighters have issues with their base. There are other flaws, but that’s often a big one.

Cutting the legs out from under of your enemy is a real tactic, or I should say: cutting them down to size.

Stab him in the foot. (Yeah, no, real combat tactic.)

Here’s a question: you ever hear the story about David versus Goliath? Probably, most people know the story of the shepherd boy who defeated the greatest, largest warrior in single combat with a sling.

The story is a parable, and a life lesson. It’s also a little more complicated than just brains over brawn. If you take anything from the story, the big one is going to be: never fight your enemy on their terms. Understand where their strengths are, where you’re strengths are, and change the rules.

What a big fighter has going for them is the intimidation factor, and mind games in combat are a huge deal. It’s not so much about physical prowess as much as what your enemy believes about your physical prowess. Or you believe about your opponent’s. What you believe will affect how you fight, how hard you fight, and how well you fight. Go into a fight believing you’re at a disadvantage or will lose and you’ll lose.

Assessing your enemy’s strengths for their weaknesses is the winning strategy. If never addressed, big fighters will have a lot of flaws because their opponents often cede them the field in their minds. This is especially true when in training, and training is the foundation of skill. When people treat you like you’re invincible, you’ll start to believe you are. And that’s how you get an over reliance on a natural advantage with no compensation for the flaws it brings.

The problem is that many people treat size and body types like they’re all or nothing. For every advantage one has, there’s a disadvantage to go with it. A fighter with a heavy reliance on what nature has given them (size, strength, what have you) often neglects more crucial skills if never addressed. You can have big fighters with exceptional levels of skill, but those are the ones who’ve realized they can’t brute force their way through every problem. When they don’t, their technique is sloppy.

Now, really, really, really big people often have to work doubly hard to develop their coordination because fighting with a big, lanky body is difficult.

The trick when you have (or feel like you have) the disadvantage is not to meet the enemy on their terms. The best fighters figure out how to exploit their opponent’s strengths in order to expose their weaknesses and fight with an advantage. The bad fighters are the ones who choose to fight at a disadvantage, who don’t prepare to face their enemy, and try to use the same tactics over and over. The smart ones change up, they are proactive, and understand the battlefield flows.

Ultimately, that’s what makes for the “best” fighter.

Fear is the biggest strength for someone who is massive in size, not their strength and not their bulk. When you are frightened, you become reactive, you cease to actively think, and fail to problem solve. The moment you are defeated in your mind, that is the moment you lose. It doesn’t matter how many steps it takes in the real world after the fact, cede the field in your mind and it’s over. Intimidation can win that fight before the battle ever begins, and the biggest kid on the playground is as natural as intimidation gets.

The Mountain isn’t great because of his skill, but the fact that he makes everyone around him afraid. His personal ruthlessness and cruelty back up that size, and strengthens his ability to intimidate. When facing the Mountain, you’re faced with fear over the (very real) consequences of what he’ll do to you.

He’s valuable because he’s frightening, not because he’s good at fighting. The good at fighting is the bonus that makes him more frightening.

Understanding the affect the mind has on combat is like 70% to victory. Understanding the assumptions made and why we make them is important to writing scenes with characters like this. If you put stock in the Mountain’s size, rather than the Mountain’s reputation then you miss where his strengths actually lie and why people are afraid of him.

The Mountain’s reputation is as a ruthless killing machine who delights in rape, murder, and pillage. Torture is his specialty. He does not abide by the code of chivalry or rules of knightly honor. He’s a sadist. For him, there’s no such thing as just warfare. He thirsts for blood and battle. He’s protected by one of the most powerful houses in the GOT universe, and he earns his pay as their enforcer.

His size is just a plus. He could be just as terrifying at 5?4, and then you’d have the joy of underestimating him before he put a knife through your eye. If he was small, he’d be even more terrifying because there’d be more bodies. His size doesn’t change who he is under the hood, it’s just one more attribute he’s utilizing to its fullest potential.

Stereotypes about tall and short people are just that. Stereotypes.

Every body type has its drawbacks, and their natural advantages can be made to work against them. Tall fighters are more gangly, their center of gravity is further away from the earth, their weight puts additional stress on their joints (especially their knees), and if they never work at addressing their issues they can be slower to start. You can also have overweight/heavy weight martial artists like Sammo Hung, where there’s virtually no difference between them and a martial artist half their size. Skill can close the gap. Understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses also helps. Knowledge is power. Training yourself out of society’s instilled biases is hard, but necessary. This is especially true if you perceive yourself to be the underdog.

Not automatically assuming bigger equals better is the first step. The second is realizing that the best warriors are not decided by outside metrics, but rather through an inward understanding of how to utilize their strengths and address their weaknesses.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a compilation of Cynthia Rothrock’s fight scenes. Cythnia Rothrock is a Hong Kong action star, a winner of world championships in the 80s, she has a wide variety of black belt level training in multiple martial arts, and is one of the most famous westerners to make it in the Hong Kong action scene.

Why end with this? Well, exposure to female movie martial artists runs the gamut between low to non-existent and that lack of exposure to different body types is where most misunderstandings about size come from.

-Michi

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Q&A: Abuse Fueled Angst

If someone wants that angst factor, but also wants to be more accurate… what about a trainer who’s an abusive human being towards the character outside of training, but isn’t an abusive trainer?

The best way to go about getting the angst factor is with the trainee themselves post-training, where you have someone who genuinely did buy in and then came to a realization later. They hate what they were trained to do, more importantly they hate what they did, and they hate themselves for it. They’re still excellent at what they were trained to do as they trained hard for it, it’s in their bones, an inextricable part of who they are, but the idea of doing it again makes them sick.

This is the setup of an internal conflict that is realistic, but requires an admission of personal responsibility. The “I Once Believed But Now I Don’t” is the foundation of a few hundred, grizzled and experienced action protagonists.

The trick behind this set up though is to go all in, the Atoner needs to have something they’re atoning for. The “I was forced” bit just weakens the motivation and gives them an easy out where they can divest themselves of responsibility. Maybe they do come from a background where they were taken/stolen from their parents at a young age and maybe they did fight against what was done to them in the beginning, but at some point they did give in. At some point, they made the choice and committed. That’s where the Atoner’s drama is. It’s born from personal choice and regret over actions taken. It really was their fault, and now they’re either running away or making up for it.

Abuse in martial combat training isn’t on the floor, it’s in much more subtle and coercive elements used to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do. It’s certainly possible to be victimized by martial combat training, used and abused. That abuse is just unlikely to come in the form of a physical beating. The problem is that martial combat is also, simultaneously, empowering. Adrenaline makes you feel good, and the act of taking control over yourself makes you feel strong. Add control over another person into the mix, get a head rush.

A good example of an abusive martial arts setup are the Karate Kid movies with the evil martial arts master. The other important reference point from these movies is a somewhat universal truth: the student is a reflection of their teacher.

Debates about use of force aside, you will occasionally find abusive setups in the real world as bullies are, unfortunately, a phenomenon where fiction reflects life. Students who come from these setups are likely going to be either abusers themselves or more prone toward falling into that category.

Strength first. Weakness is to be punished. Finish your enemy.

“Do not stop when our enemy is down. No mercy in the studio. No mercy in competition. No mercy in life. Our enemy deserves pain.” 

– Master Li, The Karate Kid.

Sentiments which all feel right, except the contexts they’re applied in are universal. Notice too, it’s all “us versus them”. Master Li in The Karate Kid remake is a well respected martial artist with a huge school and is famous for his ability to produce winners. The issue is where his values lie, and how he pushes his students. His hardcore, aggressive training tactics are applied only to those students who merit his personal attention, who excel. We see the values he’s instilled in his students through Dre’s conflicts with them. They all look up to him. He’s their father figure.

You’re right in that the attitudes of the trainers are the place to look
for when looking for abuse rather than the training itself. You’re
looking for scenarios that are emotionally abusive rather than
physically abusive, and they run in a pattern similar to those used by
emotionally abusive parents.

If you want to use these dynamics in your stories, it’s important to recognize the affect these figures will have on your characters. The student/teacher dynamic is a tightly knit one. This person is akin to a second parent. They are part and parcel to the character’s values, who they are, and how they’ve been shaped. Combating abuse takes real work, and it’s not as simple as shuffling the blame onto someone else.

Most of the issues when the fictional “abusive training” tropes pop up involves the author’s desire to get angst and allowing the character avoid taking personal responsibility through their victimization. Their experiences aren’t character defining, but rather perfunctory and act as a means of giving them some angst. It’s also a key means of identifying that this character is special, unique, and different from all the other rubes. In true cognitive dissonance, the presentation of this character is aces with their backstory except all the traits they’re claiming should be the ones they’re rejecting.

Atoning is an exercise in service and humility. A true Atoner is someone who has been humbled. This is a character type directly at odds with wish fulfillment. After all, the western version of this trope is Catholic. However, Atorners come from all over the world. Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin is a classic example of the trope, where in his desire to help others perverted his training and became the era’s most famous warrior (and mass murderer). He becomes a wanderer traveling Japan with a katana whose blade is reversed and blunted so he’ll never kill again. (Ignore for a moment that most of Kenshin’s techniques would absolutely still kill people via blunt force trauma and go with it.)

There are a myriad of places to take someone who has turned the people who trained them, on the system, or on their past beliefs. The Punisher is an example of a character who has decided to strike out on their own, he’s not truly atoning but rather is vengeance driven.

The problem with angst is that the good kind can’t be cheated into existence. Quality fictional angst comes from a personal place, usually resulting from a sense of personal responsibility for a situation (whether or not its their fault). A character can still be a victim of a system while also regretting the actions they took. The trick is understanding that being a victim is not automatically absolving, especially not from a personal point of view. A person can be both victim and victimizer at the same time. A bully with abusive parents isn’t automatically absolved for the bullying they’ve done, even if we feel sympathy for their situation and understand them better.

If you want to write an abusive trainer, this is going to be someone who is first and foremost emotionally abusive. If there’s physical abuse (and there may be), it will come long after the victim’s emotions have been secured. The victim will model themselves after their teacher, much like they would a parent, and become a “mini-me” because that is the best way to avoid punishment. They will become good at shuffling blame onto someone else, or trying to escape it because punishment is painful. That pain is likely to come from an emotional source rather than a physical one.

It will be difficult for the student to recognize their trainer is abusive. Their teacher will be someone they want to please, and the training will reinforce what the trainer says justifying the victim’s treatment in their own minds. All the good emotions you feel from doing exercise and the power felt by taking control over your body/over your mind becomes a parcel used to justify the emotional abuse. The student links their good feelings to what their teacher does to them and pursues it harder.

The key aspect to understand about an abusive training environment is that it is not automatically different from a normal training environment on a basic level. Which is to say, it’s not any better or any tougher or makes one a better fighter. Those in the abusive environment will believe their abusive training is the foundation of their skill and they wouldn’t be the same in a different program, but that is not necessarily true. What makes the training abusive is the way their teacher treats them and the values that are instilled. An abusive environment is often dominating, top down, and everything reflects back to the teacher.

Abuse is about control.

You can have two different teachers who do exactly the same things, but is abusive and one is not. This is why it’s so hard to tell whether or not a situation is abusive, because it’s based in attitude and outlook not in teaching techniques. The difference between an abusive teacher and one who is not is the psychological damage they leave behind.

A character with an abusive instructor may become a great fighter, but they will also be emotionally crippled. Like a bully, they will feel the need to exert control over their environment, create their own little kingdoms, and lash out at those who threaten their authority.

A character who cannot embrace their teacher’s outlook will be shattered, chased by self-doubt, and end up too mentally insecure to succeed at warfare. Their confidence is crushed, and whatever they learn from their teacher they don’t have the fortitude to use.

That’s the consequence of an abusive instructor.

You embrace them and become like them.

Or…

You reject them, and they break you.

This is not physical, they break their student emotionally through neglect, through failure, by critically hampering their ability to succeed, by undercutting them, or changing the goalposts on them.

This is where the fantasy of “the hardcore abusive training creating the best warrior ever who was never into it from the beginning” falls apart. A student is a reflection of their master.

A student in an abusive system survives and succeeds only by buying in. They can come to a different conclusion later and abandon it, but at some point they’ll be a True Believer. With the abuse serving as a means of motivation, a desire to please their teacher because of what that will earn them. Whether that’s glory, success, or just not being hit is all up to the teacher.

I hope that clears this concept up some.

-Michi

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Q&A: Think About It

One of my characters rely on their mind more then physical , however, they are required to use a weapon for battling. What is an easy weapon they could use if they don’t have much fighting experience?

Unless you literally mean they have psychic powers, that is how people fight. It doesn’t matter how strong, fast, or tough someone is, if you can outwit them, they’re fucked. This is why, the ability to think, and adapt is the primary attribute for a fighter.

I realize people like to say, “my character is different, they think about how they fight,” but it’s really a lot like saying, “my character is different, they use the turn signals while driving.” Yeah, you don’t need to, but it’s not going to end well.

Stepping back from that a moment, a smart fighter learns a wide variety of weapons, and picks the ones that will be most useful for the opponents, terrain, and situations they’ll be facing. That means learning as many weapons as they can.

There’s a strong bias in media for characters who hyper-specialize on a single weapon. The master swordsman, master martial artist, the gunslinger, the sniper, the archer. You know how to stop someone like that? Pick a weapon or strategy they can’t defend against. It doesn’t matter how good you are with a sword if someone else guns you down.

Being adaptable and merely proficient with a variety of options is often far more dangerous than someone who was studying the blade while you were reading this.

-Starke

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Q&A: Details

I’m writing a character that is learning a variety of martial arts from a teammate. Should I avoid going into detail when describing the fights due to her inexperience as she is relatively new to this fighting style

No. If you do cull the detail down it wouldn’t be because of your character’s inexperience.

In writing, the amount of detail included in the material is a balance. You use details to sell the setting to the audience; to establish a sense of verisimilitude. You also use details to convey important information to the audience without saying it overtly. Sometimes this is because you’re foreshadowing or because you’re establishing a theme.

In first and third person limited, culling details because a character doesn’t have the requisite experience or knowledge is a valid justification. That said, it’s something you should be very careful about using. Withholding information from the audience can be seen as screwing around with them. You had your scene, your characters went in, had their conversations, but your narrator missed something really important without understanding what they were seeing, and didn’t relate that to the audience at all. That last part is what can get you in trouble.

It’s fine to put a character in a scene and include details they don’t understand. There is nothing wrong with your audience being a step or two ahead of your characters. The reader has a detached view of things, and can evaluate what’s happening with a frame of reference the characters do not share.

The simple advice is: If a detail is important to the story, the atmosphere, or to your character (even if it’s a red herring), include it.  If a detail does none of these things, cut it. And, yes, those are very subjective criteria, this requires judgment calls from you.

Before someone asks, there are ways to get around this. For example: multiple characters recounting the same scene give you a lot more latitude to outright omit critical information a character doesn’t understand or notice. Characters recounting past events in dialog have a lot more latitude to be outright deceptive. Again, don’t be afraid of letting your audience get a step or two ahead of the characters.

With that in mind, training scenes tend to do two things. You can write a step-by-step walkthrough of a skill involved.  Someone is being instructed, it may as well be your audience in addition to your character. This isn’t necessary, but it can help the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Most writers use their training scenes to supplement their world building. It goes back to what I just said, if you’re going to actually teach someone, might include the audience. This is (arguably) one way to naturally deliver large doses of important exposition.

So, this all loops back to a simple question: What is the scene there to do? Once you know that, you’ll know what to focus on.

Also, all of these considerations are things you want to look at when you’re rewriting the scene. Not, necessarily stuff you need to think about when you’re writing your rough draft. When you’re doing your roughs, write the scene, then clean it up or cut it on rewrite.

-Starke

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Q&A: Psi Cops

I recently saw your Sith Academy post, where you made a reference to the Psi Corp of Babylon 5. Would you say Bester is one of those “True Believer” instructors who uses the enforcement methods he was taught, or as a cop, is it a different situation that applies? Thanks.

Oh, Bester is a “True Believer”. He’s a fanatic. He conspires against members of the Psi Corps because he believes the Shadow Conspiracy is not in the best interest of future telepath domination. He’s a fantastic villain, and he’s doing exactly what he was taught to do then taking a step beyond it. He’s loyal to the Corps, but he chases his own goals. He’s a great character who cloaks himself in righteousness but whose motivations are almost entirely selfish. He breaks the Corps rules all the time to his own benefit, they all do. Now, these are the rules they put into place so the “normals” or mundane humans feel more comfortable. So, those obviously would be the first to go. If every known telepath belongs to the Corp, no human can’t trust them, especially since they never know when the telepath or a Psi Cop has been illegally digging around inside their head.

Bester is a fantastic example of a character is a believer who follows the rules, just not the rules everyone outside the Corp knows. Now, most of the human characters know he doesn’t follow the rules. This is a point of conflict with the Psi Corps throughout the series. They are the Thought Police. Kept separate and segregated out of fear.

The Psi Corps are a great group (far better than the Sith) if you want to look at functionally abusive training methods. Bester’s parents, for example, were activists against the Corp. After the Corp killed them, he was taken them and completely reworked into the fantatic we see in the series proper. The telepaths wearing gloves to mark them in general society and keep them from having physical contact (even with each other) as a means of control. Talia talking about her memories of Abby, who made her feel safe when she first arrived (and psychically manipulated her into it). The camps and the sleepers are the most obvious, but there’s a lot of little touches to the Corp which are reflective of real world organizations who did successfully manipulate and coerce their followers into loyalty. The Psi Cops themselves wear uniforms modeled after the Gestapo. I mean look at this in-universe television spot, it has subliminal messaging hidden inside it. (Obey the Corp.)

We’ve got kids taken from their parents at a young age, re-trained so this is all they know.  The punishments for not joining the Corp include being put on the sleepers (drugs which suppress their telepathic abilities) and/or sent to concentration camps. A telepath can run, but the Psi Cops will hunt them down. The Psi Cops are trained from a pool of the strongest of the telepaths, they are the most fanatic, the most loyal, and rewarded for their loyalty by their ability to exert the greatest control over the others. There are no legal means for a telepath to appeal their status in general human society as the Corps legally has complete domination over them.

It’s a fantastic example of how fear can be used to create a political underclass, who have no rights but are simultaneously terrifying to the general population.

The Psi Cops are great as villains and the Psi Corps itself is a great example of an evil organization if you ever want to create one for yourself. Babylon 5 as a whole is fantastic, especially for setting building.

And, of course, Alfred Bester himself is a reference to the late, great science fiction author Alfred Bester who pioneered the concept of thought police and psychic cops.

-Michi

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