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Q&A: Feel Good Violence is Universal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inciting Incident > Negative Action > Consequences

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

Inciting Incident > Negative Action > Poot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Michi

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Q&A: Heat Followup

elerena  asked:

Just read your post on Heat and watched the clip, and while the whole clip was pretty horrific, the part that hit me the hardest was…… how in the nine hells did he justify taking that final shot? If the guy so much as twitched- not even deliberately using the girl as a shield, but maybe something happened off to the side- the cop would have wound up shooting a little girl in the head! Is he a sociopath or something?

A little bit. Vincent (Al Pachino) is not entirely stable, and Pachino has since gone on record saying his character was coked up throughout the events of the film, though we see almost no examples of that in this sequence.

So, a couple things worth noting. I didn’t cover the characters’ backstory at all, because it’s mostly irrelevant to an overall critique, however, Vincent is a marine. He mustered out and joined the LAPD, which is used as a point of comparison, because Neil McCauley (De Niro) is also a marine who ended up in prison after mustering out.

It’s very difficult to judge distance in Heat, because the film is shot, almost exclusively using 75-100m telephoto lenses which does very strange things to perspective, but Vincent and Michael (Tom Sizemore) appear to be within 30-50m of one another. At those ranges, someone with marine marksman training, using a reasonably accurate rifle on semi-auto, should be able to hollow out a dime.

You can see Vincent do two things before firing. He adjusts his shooting position, moving the sights into line for a precise shot, and he then holds the shot as Michael turns, to give him the cleanest possible shot. Note that the girl (Yvonne Zima)’s head is the furthest from Michael’s when Vincent fires. (Had Michael continued to turn, their heads would have been closer.) He is firing on someone using a human shield, but he’s doing his best to mitigate the danger to her.

If you really want a full, “use of force,” breakdown on the situation, then @skypig357 would be the person to ask, though, the short answer is that Michael was using the girl as a human shield while firing indiscriminately at civilians and police. He needed to be stopped. Unfortunately, given these specific circumstances, killing the perpetrator is the safest way to do that, for everyone else involved.

-Starke

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Q&A: A Setting’s Philosophy is Realism

Wow, okay, didn’t expect a whole discussion on Sith philosophy… My question was more like, does Kylo Ren punching his own physical wound help him in that specific fight? Does it keep him from passing out, does it help his body perform any better, that sort of thing.

That’s because the most realistic aspect of Star Wars is the combat philosophy running behind the Jedi and the Sith, and they’re not totally terrible as a way to start learning about how philosophy influences martial combat. They are ultimately an extension of the trope: Martial Arts Give You Superpowers. This is not unique to Star Wars, and comes primarily from Eastern philosophies like the Tao and how they were applied to the martial styles developed there. Martial arts often do look like magic to the casual observer. Besides that, the enlightenment/understanding of yourself, your body, and the universe directly correlates with your ability to throw an opponent across the room. The best thing you can do for yourself is understand that Star Wars, specifically the Original Trilogy, are useful as an introduction to this side of martial arts.

There’s not much point in discussing the mechanics of the final fight between Kylo Ren versus Finn and Rey in The Force Awakens. It isn’t a great fight scene, and one that only serves to undercut Kylo Ren’s competency both as a combatant and as a villain. It’s bad on a multitude of levels from character, narrative consistency to choreography, though the cinematography itself is nice enough when we’re not comparing it to the Original Trilogy. Even injured, that was a fight which should’ve been no contest for Kylo Ren. Or allowed Rey to use the weapons she was actually good at using, rather than a weapon which is very good at cutting off your own limbs when you make a mistake. The lightsaber is the three-section staff of Star Wars, if you don’t know what you’re doing then you’re guaranteed a concussion first time out. (No, that is not a joke. The three-section staff does that to real martial artists all the time.)

On a setting or narrative level,  you can’t divest Kylo Ren from the Sith philosophy and the behavior patterns which make a Dark Side user strong. In this case, both the Jedi and the Sith are more bombastic echoes of what real people can achieve in real life. We can’t talk about the physical applications of what Kylo Ren does without talking about his mental state and mind set. The useful effects of beating your wounded shoulder depend entirely on your approach to pain. As for Ren himself, he’s a fantasy character in a fantasy environment powered by the Force, which is essentially a concept straight out of the Tao. Him beating his wound has about as much relevance as him destroying a console with his lightsaber, and its also self-destructive. The script calls for it so he’ll look tough or more badass, and to remind the audience that he’s wounded.

A discussion on the Sith philosophy is crucial to Kylo Ren’s behavior as a character and how he uses pain to motivate himself, because the Sith use pain to motivate themselves and that philosophy is an offshoot of a real martial arts philosophy which exists in the real world. Powered by pain is a philosophy which directly relates to your mental state, and Kylo Ren beats his wound because he’s… trying to look tough. There’s no realism worth discussing with his fight decisions. In that way, he’s a moron.

You don’t want to get the blood leaving any faster or at all because you will start passing out from blood loss. When you fight, your heart starts beating more quickly, the quicker beat means the blood moves through your body more quickly, if your body has holes the blood will exit those holes quicker too. You do any physical exercise with an open wound you will bleed out faster. If you have a wound like that, you want to seal it off as quickly as possible.

The short answer is that Kylo Ren beats his wound to be dramatic because he’s a drama queen, and he likes to remind the audience that he is in pain. If he actually wanted to do do something about his wound quickly, stop the bleed out, and motivate himself with pain he’d cauterize the wound with his lightsaber. If he wanted to double that up as an intimidation tactic, he’d cauterize while Rey and Finn are watching in order to terrify them before the battle begins. This is a Sith tactic, and a method you can use to intimidate your enemies in real life. Sith have even been known to intentionally inflict injury before a fight begins because it gets them fired up. Kylo’s really not that clever though, which is why I call him a cosplayer rather than a Sith Lord. He showboats without any real substance. A better example of what Kylo Ren tries to do is found in your average Wuxia film. The original Die Hard with Bruce Willis is also better, and probably more useful for discussing realism and realistic injuries someone would sustain in an action film.

For what Ren does to work, you need a character who’s determination goes up in conjunction to the number of injuries they sustain. As I said, this is a Sith. The more you beat on a Sith, the stronger they get. This is an outgrowth of a real world philosophy regarding pain taken to extremes, which is: the more you beat on someone, the more painful their situation gets, then the more determined they get and the more motivated they are to succeed. There are people in the real world who do this, and this is a natural outgrowth of someone who has had a very difficult life and experienced a great deal of emotional/physical pain. The more pain you experience, then the more you adjust to it, grow comfortable with it, and start shaking off injuries other people would find incredibly debilitating. Often, this happens without the individual even realizing it because their base state for “normal” is skewed beyond recognizable and they adjusted to meet that state of pain in order to survive. This is The Determinator. You can rip them to pieces and like a human terminator, they. just. keep. coming. This occurs on sheer force of will alone, because your mind is more powerful than your body.

Get up!

You beat your wound because it feels good, or you’re frustrated with your arm not functioning the way you want it to and insist on it working again. Pain feels good, and if you can’t imagine a character to whom pain feels good, who enjoys experiencing injury, or simply finds their body’s failings annoying then this character archetype is not for you. Running into real people who are shades of this in your real life might also terrify you. They’re out there, and they’re not just combat professionals, soldiers, or martial artists.

Kylo genuinely tries for this but his personality doesn’t match. Compared to other Sith in previous Star Wars movies (like Darth Vader or Count Dooku), he’s actually very wasteful in his combat style when it comes to physical action. He makes big sweeping moves, he’s ultimately very slow, leaves himself wide open, and he lacks Maul’s dramatic flair. He has a very heavy fighting style which is supposed to represent power, or link him back to Vader, but Vader had the benefit of a sword style performed by Bob Anderson. The first fight between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope is actually fairly accurate to Kendo as duels go.

Kylo is the sort of character where any injury he sustains is supposed to make him more dangerous. In old school Star Wars canon, the injury he sustains in TFA shouldn’t benefit Rey at all. His injury should ramp up his connection to the Force instead, resulting in him becoming more dangerous and more deadly. That’s what the injury beating is supposed to show. However, this sense of danger is undercut by the narrative because neither Rey or Finn have any sort of training with the weapon they’re trying to use. Kylo being forced to fight on an equal playing field with Rey, even after defeating Finn, actually undercuts him as a villain and as a combatant. It frames him as incompetent when compared to his other Dark Side brethren, who all had the benefit of fighting someone who knew what they were doing or were taking it easy on someone who didn’t. (Darth Maul versus Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Vader versus Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke versus Vader in Cloud City.) Kylo Ren is allowed none of those opportunities, and he is the least threatening as a result.

He’s not a character who’s personality matches one you can kick out of a plane in a desperate attempt to get rid of them only to have them show up three weeks later, royally pissed off and ready to kill you all over again. This character is the outgrowth of and natural extension of the injury beating we see Kylo Ren do. This really is who he’s supposed to be and who he’s trying to be because that’s who Vader was. Vader got all four limbs cut off by his master, half-burned to death by lava, lost/attempted to murder his wife, lost his children, and went on to terrify billions across the galaxy.

-Michi

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Q&A: Powered By Pain

Can you use pain to keep yourself going? I’ve experienced back pains where the waves hurt like hell but at the same time sort of feel good to endure. As a fiction example, I’m think Kylo Ren punching his own wound at the end of TFA.

Yes, you will learn to do it if you engage in any kind of exercise on a regular basis, especially if you do any sort of competitive sport. You don’t need to train in martial arts or be a martial combatant, but there are entire philosophies built off the concept of using the general discomfort you experience while working out as a  motivating factor. Mind over Matter is one example. The Determinator as a character archetype is another. Sith philosophy is built around this concept dialed to eleven and taken to its most toxic extreme.

The healthy usage of pain involves learning to distinguish real injuries from your body’s complaint. In this way your body protesting when you push yourself to a sprint over the last half lap at the end of a mile feels really good. Pain becomes a mental and physical block to overcome and push past to new heights. That discomfort feels good. This becomes a tool for self-empowerment, and its a cultural cornerstone for anything… and everything. It’s everywhere, you just never learned how to look for it.

I get knocked down, but I get up again. You ain’t never gonna keep me down. – Chumbawamba.

In the real world, this tops out with some very toxic behavior by athletes, martial artists, soldiers, etc, where they will themselves through serious injuries in an attempt to ignore them for short term gains and result in permanently injuring themselves. Not resting when you’re sick and trying to power through it is one example, being restless and frustrated by your injuries, getting back to training before you’ve fully healed, etc.

Whenever we come through a difficult or painful experience, that experience empowers us. What we’ve endured, whether that pain is emotional or physical becomes a source of strength. We’ve overcome, and we’re proud of that. On the flip side, Positive Pain is also the philosophical basis for “oh, you’re so weak” attitudes, putting people down because they’re not “strong enough”, and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” are based on the idea that the pain and hardships you experience are good for you. That if you’re having trouble then all you need to do is toughen up. See also: child abuse as a disciplinary tool.

Kylo Ren is a terrible example of the Sith utilization of pain as a tool for personal empowerment, he’s not on the radar for the crazy stuff they get up to, and barely for the real philosophy. He certainly doesn’t use the philosophy or purse it in a meaningful way. Lord Sleeps With Vibroblades is probably the best example of this Sith taken to the extreme end. (In Legends, the Sith are secondary to the true Pain Kings of Star Wars i.e. the Yuuzhan Vong. They make the Sith pain obsession look healthy by comparison.) Kylo Ren’s not really out there for a Sith or martial arts philosophies about using pain to give yourself a power up/invincible/make you immortal. Which is a thing in Star Wars with the Force. The more you beat on a Sith, the more you fight them, the more powerful they become. In the case of Darth Sion, you literally have to talk him to death.

Luke fighting against Vader is Luke playing to Vader’s strengths, which is why Vader spends the entire battle in Return of the Jedi attempting to emotionally unsettle him. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader is a philosophical conflict, which is part of what lends the scene so much weight.

The Sith use their emotional conflict, inner turmoil, and internal strife to empower themselves. That is… Sith. Their training is actively physically and emotionally abusive in order to transform them into a character Powered By Pain. They don’t whine about it, they conquer it, they take pleasure in it, they enjoy suffering. They turn that pain into power, and inflict their negative emotions, their own suffering onto others. Some of the most powerful Sith are internally being torn apart, all the time, they’re tearing themselves apart. They start out abuse victims and those who survive conquer to become abusers themselves, that is the Sith cycle at its core. They’ll inflict trauma and misery and pain and suffering and and loss and terrible injury because the emotions those experiences will bring out make you strong. Access the Dark Side with raw rage, terror,  constant/immense physical pain, weaponize all three, add a dose of killer ruthlessness, and you get Darth Vader.

Look at him.

He’s in constant pain, his pain makes him angry,  leaves him enraged, and his hate for the world makes him a terrible force to be reckoned with. He is empowered by pain, by fear, and by rage. He’s mastered his emotions, weaponized them, and now forces others to experience shades of what he has.

Through pain, find strength. Through rage, find clarity. Through injury, know thyself.

A Sith is a wounded animal lashing out at the world around them,  raw, passionate, terrified, selfish, self-obsessed, incredibly destructive to those they encounter and just as desperately self-destructive. They taught to be that way by their master, then become it themselves as they learn to their own inner struggle. A Jedi finds strength in making peace with their wounds, in healing, where a Sith takes strength from letting themselves bleed. A Sith stalls out the healing process, and breaks their drivers stick in order to remain stuck in Stage Two out of the Five Stages of Grief: Anger.

If you lack a solid understanding of the way rage presents itself within the human condition, its varied nature, and varied approaches then you’ll end up with an angsty, whiny, immature teenager like Kylo Ren. You end up thinking the pain is what’s important, the rage is important, but rage poorly directed is impotent in the narrative scheme. Without maturity in your understanding, you get a child lashing out in a temper tantrum. They’re going nowhere.

Kylo Ren destroys a console with his lightsaber (wasteful) when things don’t go his way, he actively destroys what he needs to succeed. Darth Vader murders the admiral or captain responsible for the mission’s failure and immediately replaces them with a more motivated underling, he’s getting rid of impediments to success. One is a petulant self-sabotaging child, the other is the worst day shift manager who is still getting shit done.

Pain is not the important part, the willpower and drive to endure and overcome is. You’ve got to do something with your pain. This pain becomes part of what motivates you to succeed.

This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name.
– “Remember the Name”, Fort Minor

“The world treated me poorly so I will respond in kind” is really the starting point for a Sith, and this attitude upgrades into high key drama with black cloaks and sworn oaths of vengeance. They are living incarnations of the Id run amok, often wallowing in the worst aspects of humanity driven to the darkest extremes, but their pain (usually) comes from a real place. What makes them so compelling, I think, is that their behavior and their experiences are a natural extension of what the audience has experienced in their own lives. Their response to that pain is cathartic, and the attitude is natural; even sympathetic. We’ve all wanted to be selfish, devoted to our own ambitions at the expense of all else without societal judgement. The Sith are easier to understand than the Jedi.

Kylo Ren is a terrible example of this philosophy because he doesn’t take ownership of his pain, he blames others for his injuries, he doesn’t weaponize his suffering. In comparison to other Sith, his pain and internal strife are window dressing. They don’t mean much on a narrative level, his pain isn’t driving him to become stronger. He’s not using his passionate and painful emotions to fuel his strength, achieve greater enlightenment, or his strengthen connection to the Dark Side of the Force. He complains about the pain he experiences, he complains about how unfair life is, he complains about being in pain and seeks audience sympathy for the “unjust circumstances” surrounding his life. He’s like a whiny teenager,and, since he’s thirty, his development’s pretty arrested. That’s… not great, Bob. Compare him to Dooku, Ventress, and Anakin Skywalker. Their pain and rage catapulted them into actual narrative action, became the foundations of their characters, and led to ambitions they pursued for their own personal gratification.

Powered by Pain is a personality type that finds its extreme in The Determinator, they are willpower embodied. The more difficult the situation becomes the stronger they get, the more they’re energized by events, and they just keep getting up time after time. No matter what you inflict, they keep coming.

Characters who embody this philosophy even just a little are either those who find strength in what they’ve endured, or bullies lashing out at the world around them as they run from pain. You will either be a slave to pain, or you will face pain and take control of what hurts you. In this process, you’ll either become a kinder, more compassionate individual or someone who is colder, crueler, more distant, less sympathetic, and even elitist toward others’ “weakness” on the emotional spectrum.

The TLDR to your question is: yes.

Overcoming pain is absolutely one means of personal empowerment, both physically and psychologically, and an experience every single person reading this has shared to varying degrees (even if they don’t realize it.)

The problem is the conversation is so much larger than you might imagine, so fundamental to a multitude of cultures around the world, so embedded in the human psyche and popular culture that we really can’t have a quick discussion about it.

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off.
– “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
Yes, even Taylor Swift has this philosophy going on.

So, do me a favor, and leave Kylo Ren at the door. He can’t come in. He’s a weak-willed, lilly-livered wannabe with delusions of grandeur. He’s a bully, he has a “strong” exterior but his insides are crumbling. He’s more a vague cosplay than the genuine article, playacting. The Elric brothers from FMA are much better examples when it comes to using personal tragedy and physical injury as a motivating force to achieve your goals. They’re a much more positive example too.

If you want to be empowered by pain, you’ve got to run at your problems and not away from them. Use your fear as a catapult, let it propel you toward conquest.

-Michi

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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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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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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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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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Just how fit are cheerleaders? What fighting styles might suit them best, given the muscles they use the most? Any weapon suggestions? I’m doing some research, but i’m not understanding it. I always understand your blog, though! My character will be fighting monsters larger than her, if that helps any. Thank you in advance! You’re the best!

Cheerleading:

Cheerleading is a sport, especially in the nationally competitive range. It’s like combining dancing with gymnastics except as a choreographed team event. It’s a grueling sport with athletes who are in pretty incredible condition, and like similar sports runs the risk of serious blowouts in the joints which will result in semi-permanent to permanent injury.

When you’re setting up a cheerleading character, the most important thing to remember is that cheerleading is a team sport. This is a character who is better at working with and relying on others than going it alone. The other thing to remember is that they’re athletes. These are driven, competitive, hardworking, and intense personality types when it comes to their sport. These are the girls who ditch their boyfriends for practice (if they have them), and sacrifice their off hours to being the best they can be. Like any athlete training for the pinnacle of they’re sacrificing a lot of personal/life time to be the best they can be. Netflix has the reality show: Cheer Squad, which may help you some. Bring It On is, of course, a classic.

Remember, this is a character who is used to working in a team when under pressure and has a social outlet. They won’t transfer well to working alone, and you’re going to need to either address this or remember to create their cheer buddies. If you want a similar kind of athlete whose sports background primary gears them for working solo when out on in competition then you want a gymnast.

This is part of the real life dynamic where Buffy the Vampire Slayer really lies to you, because if you went with the cheerleader background you’d end up with twenty girls fighting monsters rather than just one. Only one might have superpowers, but you can bet your bottom dollar the others would be ride or die. For the Sisterhood!

So, what does this net you for starting them as a martial artist/monster hunter? It cuts out a lot of the ancillary issues.

We’ve got someone who is: courageous, fearless, a high achiever, nicely conditioned, flexible, with an athletic history which means she’ll breeze through endurance training and the vast majority of basic physical conditioning has been taken care of. She’s got a running start.

You can push her a lot harder in basic training than you can your average recruit who starts with zip. She’s got more control over her body, so she’ll adapt faster. Cheer is just far enough off the basic combat move set that the two shouldn’t conflict too badly when it comes to her currently conditioned reflexes. Coming out of a background in choreography, she’s going to need some retraining for her timing and gets more comfortable with free flowing chaos.

If you wanted a character with parkour for a background, then this is one which can be adapted fairly quickly.

Monster Hunting:

So, you’ve got a big decision to make on the Urban Fantasy front for how this character is going to go about fighting monsters and solving crime. So, I’ll break it down by some of the big supernatural shows.

The “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – The Buffy modus is essentially fisticuffs. You get a superpowered heroine whose essential means of fighting monsters is punching them out. There are a few other weapons here and there like crossbows, axes, and swords, but guns are persona non grata. You get magic from the support characters and someone else does the research.

In the end, Buffy’s approach to the supernatural is fairly limited on the combat front with the interesting bits happening in other parts of the narrative like the character’s personal relationships. If you want a pure human approaching the supernatural from a combat perspective then Buffy is not right for you.

The “Supernatural” – The Winchester brothers… aren’t quite human, but close enough. This model is The X-Files and Urban Fantasy Private Investigator. Your character is more of a Jack of All Trades. They need to be able to do it all: research, fighting with a primary focus on guns, and investigation (especially in the early seasons). This is “determine what the monster is and figure out how to kill it” mode with the occasional problem that can’t be solved. 

The “Charmed” – Magic is the solution. This is where the primary solution to defeating the monsters is through magic. Magic is the weapon, and the focus, and normal weapons are mostly useless.

Unless they’ve got some sort of special, mystical weapon or a setting clear on its rules, a character who hunts monsters needs a fairly wide array of skills because the ancient monsters of myth, folklore, and fairy tales often require diverse solutions that are all fairly specific.

The decisions between guns or not, the level of technology your character will be using/relying on, their skill at researching and hunting down hidden truths in forgotten folklore, and their flexibility with alternative solutions are all on the table. Whether your setting has a “barrier” between the mundane and supernatural world is also a big decision as that will affect what level of strangeness your character can get away with.

When looking at a “standard” weapon for the character to carry, you want one that will fit a wide variety of situations or the ones the character is most likely to encounter.

-Michi

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Is there such thing called as “too much dialogue” in a story? Like can it ruin my story or make it less interesting?

You can have a story that runs entirely on dialogue and nothing else. No description, no nothing, just dialogue. Not even acted, just written. The question is not whether or not there can be too much or too little. The question lands squarely on your shoulders: is your dialogue interesting?

We can’t answer that for you. This is where you’ve got to experiment with your own writing. Mastering the fine art of dialogue takes time and effort, and mistakes. With really good dialogue, you’re characters can be saying nothing while still saying something and be entertaining to listen to all at the same time. Good dialogue moves the plot forward, develops relationships between characters, conveys critical information, often without the reader noticing.

Conversation instead of explanation.

-Michi

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