Writing Exercise #2: Blocks and Counters

Today, we’re going to pass out an exercise for writing about counters. A counter is a combination technique that combines a block with a follow-up strike. The ability to combine defensive techniques with offensive ones is an important part of any character’s martial training. Characters who do use blocks and counters are characters who have had some sort of formal training. Check out our article Unusual Martial Art: Street Fighting for more information on the differences between trained and untrained combatants.

So, let’s get down to it! Using the information found in FightWrite: The Art of Blocking and FightWrite: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists) write a fight scene that includes:

1) an attack by the scene’s antagonist

2) a block by the protagonist

3) a follow up attack by the protagonist after they’ve blocked

Switch it up to write the protagonist losing if you feel so inclined. The lead up to the fight scene may be as long as you like, but the fight itself should happen in a single paragraph (five sentences or less) and you must describe the techniques used without naming them. Try to avoid kicks for now, unless you’re very comfortable with spacing and distance. Hands range usually means your character is past the point of effective kicking range (but within knee range).

Tips: The hand or arm that blocks and the hand that counters are two different hands or sides of the body so keep track of where the hands go and what they’re doing.

Try to use strong or powerful verbs like slam or slammed, drive or drove, ram or rammed instead of hit.

Example: she hit him with her fist.

Example: she slammed her fist into his throat.

Strikes have a physical weight to them that must be conveyed to the reader in order for the scene to be successful.

Below the cut is my attempt. Have fun!

-Michi

Lisa MacAvoy had known it wouldn’t be long until Marvin jumped her in some dank back alley behind McKinney Senior High. The trouble had started back when he’d made a pass at her in the lunch line back in September. Well, pass made it sound too pleasant. He’d grabbed her boob, she’d dumped him face first into a neighboring tray full of Mac and Cheese. He’d never been happy about that.

But I got suspended, so fair’s fair.

Marvin swung in, fist arcing at her into a wild roundhouse. He was big, strong from lifting weights every day in the gym after school.

It’d be over if she gave him the time to grab her.

Lisa stepped forward, ramming both her hands out into his arm. Her left went to the middle of Marvin’s forearm, the right to the soft pressure point between his bicep and triceps. Marvin’s body came to a sudden stop. Lisa didn’t waste time, her right hand reached up to grasp the back of Marvin’s neck. She slammed his face down as her knee drove upwards and the two connected with a messy crack.

Let’s Get Physical: Training and Physical Contact

I’ll probably do quite a few posts on training and all the aspects at play there from the perspective of student and instructor, but let’s start with this one. I warn: this post may be a jumbled confused mess, but that’s because while the physical contact aspect is an important part of the training experience, it can be a little embarrassing to talk about. I’ll do more posts on the subject, but I felt like I needed to get this one out there.

I’ll be honest, most combat training (any kind of combat training really) involves a lot of man-handling of the student on the part of the instructor. Whether it’s pushing the student lower in their stretching exercises, gripping the leg to show the path of the roundhouse kick, pulling back their shoulders, fixing their stances, or just offering up your unprotected hands as stationary targets so that the student can get the feel of the double punch, (I should say this is all long before we get into the really sensitive stuff like grappling) training involves a lot of physical contact.

A lot. It’s likely that a child from a household where the culture of physical affirmation is rare will receive more physical affection from their martial arts masters than they do from their own parents. So on any given day in a martial arts school, you may walk in to find adults touching kids in what appear to be very weird places (knees, shoulders, hips), or doing the same with young adults and teens, or the same with each other. They slap each other on the back, give high fives, pats on the head; you may even find complete strangers hugging each other like they’re best friends even though they have nothing in common except their uniforms. I cannot count how many random strangers I have hugged in my lifetime and I never saw again after that, I have hugged men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes as part of a greeting simply because we were part of the same organization. The people you train with often are more than just friends, they become a second family.

This can be very confusing to an outside observer who doesn’t really have the context to associate what they’re seeing with what’s considered “normal” behavior, especially when it’s between members of the opposite sex (or same-sex). It’s the sort of thing that can be especially confusing for students who begin as teens and young adults, especially if they’re in a school that has head and assistant instructors between their late teens to early thirties. It can be easy to misinterpret the contact in early sessions, but as the student progresses they will adjust and become used to it.

So, let’s talk about the sort of physical contact you see on the training floor:

Adjusting the body:

For a student to learn a technique, they have to master a few different stages. While a student can often mimic their instructor’s movements, they often miss out on key details like hand and foot position. It’s their instructor’s job to catch and fix the student’s mistakes. This means that when working with basic techniques whether as stand-alone or in forms like katas. The head instructor and his or her assistants (usually students they’ve trained who’ve risen to the upper belt ranks) will watch and wander through the group stopping to correct small things: such as pushing the font leg in the front stance wider, adjusting hand position by gripping the wrist, pulling back on or straightening the student’s shoulders to keep them from slouching, telling them to lean further forward. Different instructors in different schools will do different things, but whether it’s a martial arts school or a military academy, you can bet your character has gotten used to people putting their hands on them even if it’s from someone they may not be particularly comfortable with.

So, why is the contact necessary?

A large part of martial training is building muscle memory, but no student is going to be perfect their first time out. The more repetitions (reps) and the more practice a student gets, the better they will perform. But without course correction a student can develop bad habits, in the beginning the body doesn’t want to work and the mind must enforce its will to keep focus during training. The muscles need to remember the appropriate positions so that when the student does the technique at full speed they don’t get hurt. Once you physically correct a student, their body is more likely to remember the sensation and they are better able to push themselves there. Instead of guessing what it’s supposed to look like based on what they’ve seen, they now know what it feels like. The latter is easier to achieve than the former.

It’s especially important when teaching little kids kicks, their body is just developing its sense of balance and the older instructor can quite easily show them what to do by guiding their leg and the position of their body. It’s a very common exercise with roundhouse kicks which, because of the way the leg arcs in front of the body, can be difficult to grasp the first time around. Once the child has the sensation, they pick up the technique and improve their performance very quickly.

Kids Raised in the System:

Kids who have been raised in the system or reared to fight are more used to this level of contact than older students. They relax more easily under their instructors hands, they adopt techniques more quickly, and students who began as children (even in a different style) can learn new styles much more rapidly in just a few sessions than older, less experienced students. There is actually some truth in Cassandra Cain’s ability to effectively learn and adopt techniques into her fighting style that she’s only seen once, though the child in question doesn’t need to have as violent a background. I, for instance, can replicate most of the techniques I see in the instructional videos floating around the internet, whereas they’re pretty worthless to someone without the same level of training.

This is partly because of the way my brain learned, from a young age, how to translate the visual data I receive into a physical form. I start working with the basic underlay of what I’m seeing, the stance, the hand position, the feet position, and then replicate it without needing much guidance.

They can, however, be very dense when it comes to figuring out if someone else likes them. For obvious reasons, many kids who are raised in the martial arts system get used to physical contact as an expression of feelings like friendship, approval, affirmation, etc. Those signals get crossways of trying to physically show someone you’re interested, especially if the other individual is from outside the school or the martial artist lifestyle. Depending on the culture at play, something like a hug can mean anything from “hi! how are you?” to “omg, he/she is touching me!”.

It can lead to misunderstandings and trouble.

The Relationship between Student and Instructor:

I won’t really go into student and teacher relationships here that much other than to say: it’s icky, please don’t. The power dynamic at play can get screwy very quickly. My advice: If you want to combine love interest with teacher, the best way to do it is between two people who are older but of similar age and similar rank, a pair of thirty year old third degree and first degree black belts going out is less squicky than the third degree head instructor and a new white belt.

Or keep the love interest to an assistant instructor instead of the master or head instructor, they have less authority over your character’s training and are less likely to screw up the training of the other characters who are training with your characters.

Or have their love interest training them in a new skill after they’ve already mastered several of their own. This puts the two characters on a more even footing.

The more responsibility that’s at play, like the instructor being responsible for whether the character and their friends live or die (Like Four in Divergent) or responsible for whether or not a character passes their training (Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica), the more quickly the relationships snowball towards uncomfortable territory. Conflicts of interest are nice and drama-filled, but they also run a genuine risk of dismantling what the Instructor character is supposed to be about and what the student is supposed to be learning. It’s a conflict you should think about long and hard before deciding to include it in your story.

-Michi

amandaonwriting:

10 Things Aspiring Novelists Should Know

  1. Your novel is not a personal journal. Consider the reader. 
  2. Writing is a business. You enter into an agreement with a reader. You agree to entertain in exchange for their money and emotion. You agree to inform for their time.
  3. Readers don’t like charmless heroes. Just because your protagonist happens to be an anti-hero does not mean you are free to make him or her 100% unlikable.
  4. Only experienced novelists who have successfully completed two published books should attempt to use an anti-hero as a protagonist.
  5. Antagonists should be people, not things.
  6. If you aren’t willing to listen to advice, if you aren’t able to learn from your mistakes, and if you aren’t prepared to let go of stories nobody wants to read, you will probably not succeed.
  7. You have to read a lot to be able to write.
  8. Using examples of famous authors who were published more than 30 years ago to justify long passages of description in your boring manuscript is not a good idea. Publishing has changed. Readers have changed.
  9. Self-publishing does not mean you don’t need to pay somebody to proofread and edit your book. Readers are insulted when they find mistakes in books. It’s like serving guests dinner on dirty plates.
  10. Always delete the first three chapters of the first draft of your first three novels. It will always be filled with backstory you don’t need. 

Image created at Someecards

by Amanda Patterson

I don’t personally agree with all of these. Some are good, some are very important, some are meh. But I always recommend reading other people’s rules on writing, just so you can start sussing out what “rules” you want to throw out and what you want to keep.

Things to keep in mind:

1) Most of the above are for writers who want to be published one day, if you are a writer who is content with where you’re at and stuff like writing fanfiction is your passion or a side hobby, then awesome! There’s no shame in doing what you love or being content with where you’re at.

2) Translating your audience. This is for those of you who want to get published and I’ll be honest, this is something that took me a long time to figure out. “Writing for your audience” can sound big and scary, because it makes it seem like writing stories that you enjoy isn’t enough. Well, it is and it isn’t.

See, half the problem with writing to get published is that once you have the manuscript in hand, you need to find a market for it. People have to want to buy it or you can’t make money off it, no matter how fine a story it is. Going to your local literary agent and saying: “This is my novel, I wrote it for me” is dumb, even if it’s true. If you wrote it for you, who other than you is going to buy it? The selling side of publishing is convincing someone else, other than yourself, that what you wrote has value, value enough that you can convince others to pay for it.

This doesn’t mean: turn around and write for some random nebulous group of imaginary people out there. We start with ourselves after all, we write about what we’re passionate about. But, we’re not the only ones in the universe who are passionate about the stuff we’re writing about.

So, using myself as an example, I’ll break myself down.

Start: “I write stories for teen me, the kind of stories that I was looking for, but couldn’t find enough of when I was seventeen.”

This is general and not very helpful.

What were those stories?: “They were coming of age stories about young women, my age or a little older, usually fantasy because Buffy was just taking off and Twilight didn’t become a thing until I was in college. I liked strong atypical female characters, girls who didn’t fit the traditional feminine mold, who could fight like me, who were dedicated to a cause and goal oriented like most of the male Epic Fantasy heroes.”

What am I writing?: “Epic Fantasy heroes who happen to be female set against an Urban Fantasy backdrop.”

Who else writes stories similar to mine for the age range I write for?: “Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins are the big names from the last couple years, though my urban fantasy trends more towards George R.R. Martin and Hellboy than Harry Potter.”

So, who am I writing for?: “Teens and young adults, female, who are looking for coming of age stories with female protagonists in fantastical settings set against a more mundane backdrop, but want ones with a darker edge that have a splash of horror and a primary focus on world saving over romance. (Though romance is nice too). My stories will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce and Suzanne Collins, they are capable of riding the next fantasy wave when City of Bones hits theaters in a few months.”

And that’s how we roll. Writing is about what I can do for me, selling is about what I can do for you. Figure out how to bring the two together and you’ll have something.

-Michi

Character Development: Let’s Talk Snark

Snark can be a great tool in your author’s dialogue box. It can be wielded well and when used well it can be responsible for creating some solid heroes and villains. So, if it sounds like I’m bashing snark, well, I’m not. I’m a fan of snark and of sass, and I enjoy heroes with a healthy dose of sarcastic wit.

But, snark comes with it’s downsides. It’s not appropriate for all situations and used in the wrong ones, it can actually be very damaging to both the tension and the story. Snark can damage the threat level of your bad guys, it can weaken and degrade your minor characters, especially your protagonist’s relationship with them (if they’re your snarker). It can be used in situations where being snarky is senseless, useless, and even stupid. While this isn’t a bad thing on it’s own, it can be very good if that’s the author’s intention in the scene, when the senseless stupid snark is the means of the character achieving what they were after in a situation where such snark would usually be detrimental or downright suicidal, it’s generally very damaging to characters, tension, plot, and the overarching story.

So, let’s talk snark:

1) Know who your character is snarking at:

If you want to prove your character is intelligent (or that they’re self-destructive), they need to be capable of assessing the situation and moderating their behavior appropriately. It’s one thing to be snarky to a friend or someone your character knows well. It’s quite another for them to be snarking off at an authority figure, or any character who is in a position of power that is greater than the character’s own. It’s especially bad if that authority figure is someone the character has come to and needs assistance or permission from. (Like in Ilona Andrews’ Magic Bites, where her bounty hunter/mercenary protagonist got snarky while trying to convince the head of the area’s Magical Police Force to let her assist their investigation into the death of her mentor.)

It’s one thing to have a problem with authority, it’s another when the character is actually actively sabotaging their own efforts and the author doesn’t realize it. Think about this:

2) Snark is a defensive mechanism: snark is a defensive mechanism used to drive other people away from a character. Unlike other forms of humor, it requires making someone else look stupid to be successful. Someone’s going to have to be the butt of the joke, someone’s going to have to look bad for the protagonist to look good. Most people, especially when they are in the room to hear it aren’t going to be happy. A character whose authority relies on maintaining control of the situation and being in charge, isn’t going to be very happy when they’re mocked to their face. If they’re someone tolerant, they’ll just be more likely to say: “lol no”, when the protagonist comes calling. If they’re someone like the local crime boss, they’ll have to retaliate. Let’s just say, I hope the protagonist enjoys having all their teeth pulled with a pair of rusty pliers.

3) Snark is a sign of control: characters who have leeway to be sarcastic are usually the characters who are in charge or have power in the situation. These are the characters in charge of running the local army base, the jackass cop who is arresting your rebel protagonist. These are the characters who can get away with it, the characters who snark when they know the person they’re snarking at can’t fight back. Nobody really wants to put up with a jackass who makes them feel like shit most of the time. If your hero is constantly snarking off at authority and at their buddies because they feel out of control, maybe that’s a reason why they shoudn’t have friends. So, if your hero is snarking at your villain, it better be because they’re trying to make that villain angry enough to fight stupid or distract them, not because they believe the villain’s not a threat (and they’re proven right).

4) Snark is a good way to make someone angry: Like I said above: someone’s gotta be the butt of the joke. If you’re character’s going all John McClane snarky on someone because their tongue is the last weapon they have in a situation where their outmanned, outgunned, and dragging themselves through a skyscraper on bloody feet then…fine. Snark can be a great way for your protagonist to cover what they’re actually doing by getting the other guy angry. This is a great use of snark, so long as you remember the part about being outgunned and on the defensive. It doesn’t really work when your protagonist is in control of a situation at the end of the fight or just generally acting like an intellectual or emotional bully.

Or…they’re just not funny.

But let’s rewind that back. Snark is a good way to make someone angry. Your reader should never be questioning (unless you want them to question) why someone would ever want help your character, especially if all they’ll get from it is pain and misery. John Constantine ran into this problem on one of his more well handled comic runs, he kept getting his friends killed and he started running out of friends. Now, Constantine is a conartist (and arguably a villain protagonist), he’s a self-centered jerk, he’s an all-around asshole, he’s an adrenaline junkie, and the people in his setting generally respond to him like he is one. Including denying him assistance when he asks for it because they know they’re not going to get anything from it except pain and misery.

He spends a great deal of his time in a few of his comic runs backtracking, capitulating, and trying to talk people around into assisting him before he screws them over and gets them killed. It’s a theme.

I love Hellblazer, but let’s not pretend Constantine’s a nice guy people like. At least, not when he’s in the hands of a competent writer *cough* Garth Ennis *cough*.

5) They’re that damn good: Boba Fett is pretty much the only character I can think of who actually fits this description. He’s the best bounty hunter in the galaxy, everyone quivers at the sound of his name, and he’s actually far too skilled and useful for Vader to annihilate him for the crime of mouthing off. He’s not replaceable. Every other character in the story (including Luke) was replaceable. Yoda and Obi-wan even had a backup ready in case he failed. There are almost no characters in the universe who are so good that they can say: “You need me, so I can do and say whatever I want.” A Chosen One with that mentality who survives is a Chosen One who has the author cheating for them.

Look: Stories have to have an internal logical consistency. This internal logical consistency is what generates suspension of disbelief in the reader. You’ve got to stay inside it, if you break it, you break your setting and your story. Your character, even if they happen to be the better version of you, is someone who has to live in the setting world you create. They have to be responsible for what they do and say, even when they’re saying and doing the things you might wish you could do. Other characters will respond to them based on their own worldview, their own values, and their own needs or desires in combination with your character’s actions.

The local police chief isn’t going to want a newbie nobody assisting on his investigation, mucking around crime scenes, and mucking up evidence. Especially when that newbie nobody has no background in investigation and has a close personal tie to the deceased. It’s all well and good to say: well, they’re good enough so why would he turn them down? 1) Why would he need them in the first place?  2) Conflict of interest is a real problem. Revenge isn’t a legitimate motivation to give to a cop, it’s an understandable one, but it’s just going to get crossways of what they’re trying to accomplish.

It’s okay to have a character who is the Constantine level of self-destructive, it can create a good story. But make sure that’s the kind of story you want to be telling first, not “oh shit! I just made my biggest villain look like an idiot, now the tension bubble is gone and the reader might not be afraid of them anymore!”

I can’t worry about your character going into their final fight if I’ve already been convinced they’re going to come out alive.

The Writing Café: Why First Chapters Really Matter

The Writing Café: Why First Chapters Really Matter

If a character who primarily fought with their fists were forced to take up the use of a weapon, what kind of weapon would be most suited to them?

The kind of weapon that’s fairly easy to learn the basics of and is designed to be picked up quickly (or designed to make hand to hand more effective) so:
A new weapon:

staffs (basic staff fighting)

sticks (basic escrima: stick fighting)

knives (basic single blade knife fighting)

Any of these have very effective basics (the staff in multiple forms) that can be picked up very quickly in a few weeks and perfected within a few months.

To supplement their hand to hand skills (I.E. weapons that let them continue punching people, but make their punching more dangerous):

brass knuckles

the katar (nothing says “I love you” quite like strapping a sword blade to your wrist and punching someone with it, you can dual wield with these by the way)

Weapons on the edge:

nunchaku (the nunchaku (non-padded) are outlawed in most States in the US to be owned without a conceal and carry permit. Part of the reason is that a single nunchaku is far too effective at killing and can be concealed far too easily beneath a coat. It’s ironic that it doesn’t take long to learn some of the nunchaku basic strikes. I had one two hour seminar on the weapon when I was eleven and I can still wield it (the padded version) fairly effectively without a lot of practice.)

-Michi

Using Real Locations in Your Work of Fiction

Using Real Locations in Your Work of Fiction

i don’t have a specific writing question right now but can i just say i highly approve of your taste in comics

Thanks! Starke gets all the credit for that though, he was the one who introduced me to and got me interested in Western comics. He got all the good stuff before we met like Hellblazer, Preacher, Hellboy, BPRD, RIPD, Powers, Queen & Country, almost the full collection out of CrossGen before their untimely dissolution, so Sigil, Scion, Mystic, Meridian, Crux, and Negation. He’s got most of the good Batman comics like Hush and Long Halloween, and a few trades of the early Cass Cain Batgirl stuff, which is how I pretty much got to know and love her as a character.

He’s got the Absolute Editions for Planetary and most of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Watchman. The whole collection is pretty damn drool worthy, to be honest. (It’s part of what inspired our friendship and why I captured him for myself. Muahaha >.>)

Though I’ve got to say that my favorite DC stuff is what came out of the Timmverse era, especially the JL and the JLU shows. This is pretty much what inspired my forever stanning of Green Arrow, Hawkgirl, Huntress, and Black Canary. I even learned to appreciate Wonder Woman. (Those incarnations anyway.)

Thanks! 😀

-Michi

motivation for moving beyond your writing habits: thewritingcafe: Anonymous asked you:I checked the tags page, but you…

motivation for moving beyond your writing habits: thewritingcafe: Anonymous asked you:I checked the tags page, but you…

Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.