Q&A: Worldbuilding and Logistics

Hey, me again. I was busy today. Is it realistic to have a castle full of expert fighters (talking about 500+), like, cliché-knight-level experts (that have magical powers, mind you, like photokinesis) and still have plenty of food, supplies, weapons, etc. Like enough weapons for spare weapons?

silverwolf0516

The question here is, do the numbers support it?

It might not look like it, but this is a math question, and I don’t have the information to give a definitive number.

Ignoring the standing forces for a moment, a fairly large fantasy nation could easily support a large stronghold to hold elite forces. The arms and armor aren’t a problem, until they become one.

Now, conventional arms are supply and demand, if the idea is that each of your mage knights is supposed to be carrying around magical weapons, that becomes a bigger supply question. Can your setting’s smiths, arcane smiths or whatever produce the things in sufficient volume? If arms and armor are (mostly) mundane then that’s not a problem. Also if the weapons are simply “there.” That is to say, they date back centuries, and their actual sources are lost to time. Maybe they were all forged by some mythical creature that could pump them out. At that point, okay, fine, they’re there, and irreplaceable.

So, how many of them are there? I’m going to stick with 500 for the moment and run with that idea. But, you need to start asking questions about how common these powers are. Figure that most people with these powers wouldn’t spend the time to develop the powers to the point where they could become an elite fighting force. I’m going to peg this at somewhere between one in a hundred to one in fifty. (I think it’s entirely valid to inflate these numbers even further, it’s possible that less than one in a thousand  possesses the ability and drive to become one of these elites.)

So, we take the 500, multiply to get a rough number of the overall population for your world/nation whatever. This puts powered population of your nation somewhere around 25,000 to 50,000. (Obviously, if you take the 1:1k, you’d have half a million powered people.)

So, then we need to know how frequent these powers are in the general population. If one in ten manifests these abilities, at any level, that might mean your fantasy nation’s population is somewhere around half a million. That’s not unreasonable. And, if we’re talking about an economy supported by 500k people, these numbers are fine. But, to get here we made powers incredibly common in your setting.

At the other end of the spectrum, if only one in a thousand even manifests an ability, and only one in a thousand has what it takes, you’re looking at a population of 500 million people. The modern United States has a population of ~308 million. Your elites would literally be one in a million.

So, are there the numbers to support that? An economy of half a billion people wouldn’t have trouble maintaining upkeep for that fortress. The weapons and food are significant logistical issue, but in a large enough system that’s manageable, if expensive.

You can put your thumb on the scale and shift the numbers heavily, by selecting a non-representative chunk of the population. For example, if the magical powers are hereditary, you could significantly skew the overall powered population in favor of your organization. If one in five is part of the program, and in one in a thousand of your world is powered, you’re looking at a population of around 2.5 million. Again, for a “standard fantasy setting,” that’s not too high for a major civilization. This is also assuming that the full 500 are from one nationality, and not worldwide.

There are some limits to skewing the math too hard. Usually in favor of justifying your elite’s existence. Realistically you can’t get 100% enrollment. Even 20% is pushing it. Most people will not want to fight for a living. No matter how good your setting is at picking them, some will be missed (especially if there is no hereditary element.) Some simply won’t be good enough. They won’t commit to training, they’ll screw around, and ultimately, they’ll be worthless for your organization’s purposes. 20% is ridiculously high, but you could make an argument for it.

The overall rate of incidence, how common powers are in general, has a massive effect on your setting. The more people practicing magic, the more innovative was your setting will start to change from the real world (or its history.) Even after the superficial stuff, magic facilitates “impossible” technological growth. The more magic users your setting has, the more they’ll distort it.

There’s probably a legitimate argument that, in a fantasy setting, combatant is the least culturally valuable role for a magic user. When they could be doing almost anything else, advancing their civilization’s technology or understanding of the world, and that stuff can be applied. It’s still a necessary role, but it also argues against the overspecialization of magic users as strictly elite combat units.

Another problem is, just because “your” society came back with this answer doesn’t mean another couldn’t have come up with a different one. Just because your nation uses their magic users in a combat role, it’s entirely possible other nations on your world would have significantly smaller battlemage cadres with a focus on R&D. In practical terms, this means they could be facing forces that are far better equipped by technology they cannot comprehend, because when their mages were practicing how to stab someone, the other guys were developing autonomous power crystals that could be used to operate heavy machinery, or developing mass produced magical weapons that could be wielded by their standard infantry.

I haven’t answered the food thing. Short version is, if there’s the agricultural support to keep food coming, then sure. They’re going to eat a lot. Keeping in fighting condition is requires a lot of calories. But, if there are enough people to actually staff your magic using elite corps, the agricultural support is probably going to be there. However, this does dictate where your fortress can be. It needs to be someplace with ready access or secure supply lines to, your major agricultural centers. Again, you can mess with this a lot, depending on the overall sophistication of magic in your setting, (which is directly related to how common magic users are.) It’s possible you could see portal travel and cryomantic food storage, allowing your fortress to be up on a mountain somewhere and still stay supplied.

This might seem like a lot of busy work, but it is stuff you should think about, because it’s how you answer your question, “is this realistic?” I don’t know, what are the rules you set up for your world?

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Read The Art of War

I read the book description of The Art of War and wonder if this book is insightful for storytelling as well especially if stories tackle warfare and politics. I’m planning on writing a fantasy that involves disputes between kingdoms and such but I lack ideas of war strategies and politics. Do you think I should read this book to get have an idea or insight of the war strategies and politics?

Yes.

You may also find the book a little obtuse at times. If that’s the case, you might want to track down some commentaries or an annotated version (both exist.) Regardless, The Art of War is a book you should read. Even outside of the context of this project.

I’d also suggest The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. It’s an excellent “how-to” primer on European political rule, and can also offer some excellent insights that may help your writing. Keep in mind it was written in early 16th century, so some the ideas he’s espousing were relatively recent.

Both of these are challenging reads.

Sun Tzu asks you to do a lot of unpacking. The writing itself is extremely succinct, and on the surface, it’s just about armed conflict, but a lot of the advice given works on a much wider scale if you can step back and put it in a larger context.

So, yes, read them both.

Given they are on Project Gutenberg, I’m linking them here. The Amazon links above to benefit the blog, but these are both public domain.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Giles translation)

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (Kenaz translation)

Sorry this is such a short post, but they are worth your time.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Plate and Bayonets

Hey there, aspiring writer here that just discovered your blog, I was wondering if there were any ways someone with a bayonet could fight against an opponent in heavy armor, like a cuirass. A musketball piercing through a breastplate is a foregone conclusion, but if the enemy got in close, can the musketeer actually kill his enemy or is he basically already dead meat?

technonecromancerderaxus

Stepping back for a moment, putting a musket ball through a cuirass is not a foregone conclusion. If you’re talking about modern rifle rounds, yes, those will efficiently punch through metal armor, but black powder firearms are far weaker.

When you’re dealing with a foe in plate armor, you’re not going to be hacking through the plate. (The exception is if you’re trying to use a blunt weapon.) You’re looking for openings to slip a blade in.

The easy openings are at the joints, these are necessary for the armor to function, because if the wearer can’t move, they can’t fight. By necessity, this means that elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips are not completely protected by metal. There were often additional elements designed to help protect those points, but there’s only so much you can do to protect someplace like the armpit.

Armor does confer a significant advantage, since it means that while your musketeer needs to land a precise hit, their foe has far more options for attack. So, your musketeer isn’t already toast, but if they’re one on one against a fully armored foe, they’re in a bad situation.

Detachable bayonets date back to the 1600s, which comes in at the end of full plate. Early bayonets were used to convert light infantry over to deal with incoming cavalry charges. This means the specific match up you’re talking about would have happened sometime between 1610 and 1650.

Also, the early bayonets used a plug design to attach to the weapon, sealing the barrel. Meaning that if a handgunner converted their musket with a bayonet, they wouldn’t be able to fire the weapon until they removed the blade. Ring mounted spike bayonets, which allow the weapon to be fired while mounted, date to the late 17th, or early 18th century.

As firearms became more numerous in war, full plate fell out of favor. Full plate was always expensive enough that its battlefield use was limited. It was useful to put on elite infantry and heavy cavalry. Against melee weapons it was a reasonable investment, particularly for elite forces, but against volleys of musket fire, it didn’t offer enough additional protection to justify the costs. By the time firearms had gained the accuracy to make it viable again, their armor penetration capabilities had improved to the point where plate never made a return.

Something I alluded to a moment ago, but I should probably point out. In a larger battle, it’s unlikely your character would be in a protracted one on one fight with another foe. For one thing, anyone in plate would be an elite in the enemy forces, meaning there wouldn’t be as many of them, and your character would probably have more allies on hand to assist with dealing with them.

However, gunshots do lose velocity over distance, so a round that might not pierce plate at 20ft, might still blow through a dented plate at a few inches. Remember that your character is now in melee with their foe. It’s entirely possible one of their allies might put a hot loaded bullet through their foe’s cuirass at point blank range to save their friend.

Another factor to consider is that in a battle, your character (and their foes) would be continuing to fight for extended periods of time, so fatigue is a major factor. Related to that, fighting while wearing full plate is far more exhausting, meaning that their foe may be more fatigued when they first match up. This is more of a consideration depending on where your fight is during the battle.

Battles are not a single fight scene. They’re an extended sequence that can potentially last for days. Remember they’ll only be fresh at the beginning of the battle. Even that isn’t certain, if they’re coming off a forced march, have been under siege for an extended period, or any number of other potential scenarios, they may already be a bit worn at the beginning of the battle.

When you’re staging a battle for your work, you need to know the scope of your perspective. You’re talking about focusing on infantry, which means the vast majority of the battle takes place beyond their frame of reference, so it becomes more of an ongoing endurance test of combat and trying to find a moment to catch their breath. If your PoV character is a general overseeing the battle, the way the sequence is structured should be significantly different, to reflect what they know and are responding to. So, instead of individual fights, they’d be focused on the overall tactics being used by and against their forces, and formulating ways to respond to those. At the most removed, this might simply be someone in a war room, hundreds of miles away, reading reports and issuing orders to their generals in the field.

The nature of your story should inform you what level of combat you want to engage with. If the war itself is the point, then that’s going to lend itself better to command or strategic level characters, while if it’s focused on the experiences of an individual, that’s probably going to be front line military. (It is possible to have a mix of these if you’re comfortable juggling different PoV characters, but keeping focus in a story like that could prove tricky.)

In a one on one, your character isn’t completely screwed, but it is a bad match up for them. They shouldn’t be in a one on one situation in the middle of a larger battle, but it is possible. However, it will be a very dangerous situation for your character.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Mediums & Realism

Well, this is embarrassing. If you’re looking at the clock, you know I’m running a bit late tonight. What I didn’t realize, until after writing the post was that Michi had already addressed it. So here we are, with a second take on a question.

Hi! You raise a good question on choreography. Actors can’t do realistic fight scenes and it has to look entertaining. Well, then why are we creating realistic fight scenes in writing instead of entertaining? Of course on screen it’s restrictive by the medium. Are realistic fight scenes in writing more entertaining than unrealistic movie fight scenes in writing? Or is it just because it’s writing we have free rein and not restrictive to what can be done for a movie.

One big reason is, you can’t write visual spectacle. You can describe absurd events playing out, but you can’t actually present the image. Visual mediums, including films and comics can show you what’s happening, and keep you engaged on the pure, “look at this,” spectacle.

When you’re watching a film and you see someone throw five punches in quick succession, it’s visually engaging. When you write that it just lands flat. At best you can inventory each hit, but that’s going to kill the momentum. You can abbreviate it as, “five punches,” but that becomes weightless, and has no real effect on the scene. But, when you look back at the video, each hit can be showcased without disrupting the scene. The director and cinematographer even have a lot of control over how you experience those moments. Longer cuts smooth the action out, while quick cuts result in a more disorienting experience. If your PoV character is the one dealing the blows, they benefit from the former, if they’re on the receiving end, jump cuts can help convey their disorientation. A wider shot can pull the audience out of the moment and put them in a more objective state of mind, watching what happens, while a closer camera pushes them to empathize with (at least one of) the characters.

Film benefits from longer fights. Yes, it fills time, but it also allows the director to orchestrate a full story within the sequence. It’s a strong opportunity for character building.

I know I’ve said it before, but film and prose are entirely different forms of media. The way you tell a story on 35mm includes a lot of tricks of framing, perspective, composition, and editing. Even things like color can become crucial touchstones to inform your audience what’s happening.

Ironically, a lot of those editing techniques are necessary to convey things to the audience that a writer can simply say. You don’t need to dramatically orbit your principle character and show them looking at the city below as they make their decision, you can simply tell us what they’re thinking. You can expose their entire internal discussion if you want. It’s two roads to the same destination, but options are vastly different.

When it comes to fights, film benefits from spectacle. It benefits from giving the audience time to process what they’re seeing. Because the speed is controlled by the editor a fight will have a tempo. Hell, it’s going to be scored to music before they’re done, and if something still doesn’t fit, there’s always ramping.

Your fight isn’t going to be scored to a soundtrack when it’s read. Even if you offer a suggestion, you have no control over how fast or slow someone else will read it. You can’t fully control the tempo; all you can do is keep your words short to speed the scene up.

If you want to maintain the impact of your fight, you want to keep it short. The longer it runs, the more time your audience has to tune out and lose interest.

So, here’s a very basic writing tip: If something doesn’t need to be there, cut it. At the most granular layer, this includes unneeded words in a sentence. In a fight, this means cutting the parts of the scene that don’t matter. When you step back and compare a fight on film to one in prose, there’s a lot of stuff that has little to no value at a narrative level. It’s important for the film because it’s contributing to the tempo, it’s relevant for the scene’s pacing, but it’s not like the story would make less sense if you cut a couple parried jabs from the fight. (The editor probably already did.)

As a writer, your best option is to keep your fights short and to the point. Films have to worry about production cost and logistics, but your budget is the word count, and keeping your audience engaged. (In fairness, run time is also a consideration for films, but the factors involved are weighed differently.)

Obviously, context is important; if your character is training in a martial art, you’re going to spend a lot more time discussing what they’re doing, and digging into their art’s philosophies. In a situation like that, having a little discussion about what’s going on in a fight is relevant, because it’s showing how much they’ve learned. But, this is a very singular example; if your character’s training wasn’t the focus of the narrative, this isn’t going to resonate as a part of their growth.

We regularly suggest a realistic approach, but that doesn’t mean what you think.

In fiction, “realism,” refers to internal consistency, not how well the work conforms to the real world. Are your characters following the rules of the world you created? This includes things like behavior that feels artificial. Plot points that feel forced. In fights, this happens when your characters suddenly burst out inexplicable superpowers. Like the ability to fight for ten minutes. Sure, the movies make it look easy, but that is damn near superhuman.

In the absence of altered rules, the ones from the real one are fine. Your fights should always be realistic, but that might not look the same in your world, so plan accordingly.

Because film and prose are completely different mediums, there’s a host of things that work for one and not the other. You may find ways to get a similar effect if you get creative, but simply lifting one from the other medium won’t do it.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Expert Weirdness

Is it possible someone unskilled in fighting may be able to get a one time move to disable an expert fighter, simply by coming up with a weird move that made them go wtf and lose concentration? Something like bringing the fight to the next room and on entrance someone else clangs a cymbal in the expert’s ear to make them wince and let go and subsequent clangs smashes the guy’s head in the middle.

Taking this one piece at a time, it’s possible someone with no combat experience could get the drop on an experienced combatant and end the fight before it started. This example offers none of that.

There’s something to be said for the take the third option, “do something crazy” mentality for self-defense. However, that involves hopping up and down on one leg while singing a little song until the guy with the knife thinks you’re too much trouble to bother with. This is a real example of how a woman escaped a mugging. People don’t like crazy and the unexpected can throw someone off. However, you’ve got to actually throw them off. This scenario you’ve created for yourself is too much within the range of an actual fight. These are the choices of someone who knows nothing about violence and thinks they’re being out there when the scenario proposed is what I’d expect from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. You want someone to go, “what the ever-living fuck was that?” Kill someone with a rubber chicken. Wait, what? how? Who knows, but that’s going to result in some confusion.

So, let’s dig into some advanced concepts that your character wouldn’t begin to understand.

It takes someone a moment to register a threat they’re unaware of. This runs around a quarter of a second for unexpected visual information. That’s basically dead time while their brain is processing what’s happening. (Sound is processed faster, and reflexes from touch stimuli are the fastest at 0.15s.) (All of this is, “average,” so there is some range here.) If you have the capacity to end a fight on the edge of that window, it is impossible for your opponent to respond.

If your character’s cunning plan was to hide behind the door and mace them when their foe entered, that’d work, (with caveats.) If they were behind some sound equipment, they might be able to topple the stack on the other character, though that’d be less effective.

Cymbals? Nope. The sound isn’t going to be debilitating enough, and before you suggest, “but maybe if they’re bigger,” that’s the problem. Small symbols aren’t going to produce enough noise to have any appreciable effect, though you could box someone’s ears with them. If you’re using symbols larger than their head, those will get caught on the target’s shoulders, reducing the impact. At large enough sizes, these will collide with the shoulders, and then each other, meaning there will be little to no force applied to the head. Also, larger symbols are noisier; I don’t mean they make more noise when used, they’ll do that too, but they also produce noise when held, picking up and amplifying small oscillations. Remember the thing a moment ago about reaction times? Actively making noise informs your opponent that you’re there and their brain processes that information faster, telling them where you are, and significantly carving down reaction times.

Giving your position away also significantly reduces your opponent’s reaction delay. Once they know you’re there, they can start preparing to deal with you. Now, in fairness, we’re talking about a difference of less than 100 milliseconds, but in the context of combat, that’s significant. This is also part of why the trained vs untrained thing is such a hard line. If you’ve had sufficient training, you can intelligently react to what you’re seeing, hearing, and feeling. You don’t have to stop and decide what to do next. If you don’t have sufficient training, you need to stop and think between strikes. This means, under most circumstances, an untrained fighter cannot maintain the initiative.

You might also, now, have a better idea of why ambushes work so well. Storming through a door is a good way to take a bullet. Especially if your foe knows you’re coming, they’re listening for you, they’re actively ready, and they only need the visual confirmation to go. This is also introducing us to a lot of problems with your, “expert.”

You didn’t specify how they’re an expert, and that’s kind of an issue, because they’re making a lot of very inexperienced mistakes here.

Your expert has decided to enter a new room. Since you said, “let go,” I’m going to assume they have one of two things, a weapon or a hostage (possibly both.)

Your expert’s first task would be to “sweep” the room. This starts happening as they enter. You divide the room into “pie slices,” from the door, and as you open the door, you verify that there’s no threat, panning from the side opposite the door’s hinges, across until the door is fully open. This means they’re going to see the “musician” before they can act. They’re also actively looking for threats, which means their reaction will be far faster. They’d also use their foot to block the door so that it couldn’t be used against them as a weapon. (I’m working off the assumption that the door opens into the room, because that is how architecture works in most places, the exact process for scanning a room (or corridor) from the other side varies a little, but the basics above hold true.

There is a good element in here; your character has a plan to disorient their foe. This can open up options for finishing the fight. Except, your character doesn’t have a plan to finish the fight. Boxing someone’s ears is disorienting, (though your character would be better off doing that with their bare hands), and it will put an opponent off balance, but it won’t finish a fight. Your character needs a way to incapacitate their foe.

Is it possible to incapacitate a foe through sheer weirdness? Maybe, but probably not. You’d need to come up with an engineer a situation so bizarre your expert decides to throw in the towel and take up a career in making table candles. That’s a kind of strangeness, you’d really need to work up to.

Now, we have other problems with this scenario. Your expert is the driving force behind the pacing for the scene beyond just the fight. If your protagonist is running, then you should assume that they’ve already taken control of the initiative which means the protagonists reactions are a result of the expert’s actions. Outlining those priorities, goals, and skills for yourself will be necessary in working out either a plan of attack or escape. What does the expert want? What is their goal? What are they trained to do? How do they go about achieving that goal?

All these can decide whether or not this expert will even choose to fall into the protagonist’s trap and walk through that door, or simply lock the protagonist in. If the room has multiple exits, they might choose another method of entry.  One of the traps you shouldn’t fall into is trying to structure a fight based on what you want the outcome to be. Rather you should create the sequence with a focus on the strengths of these two characters. Grabbing the cymbals is the kind of attack someone without experience thinks is a good idea, so they try it and… it fails. (You’d need a something like a blowhorn, not cymbals to disrupt their concentration.) Now, what?

Depending on your character’s skills, they may have far more effective ways to deal with an expert hunting them, which could be as simple as working to avoid detection and escape. Having a character who isn’t trained to fight doesn’t mean you have an incompetent character, it just means violence isn’t an option they can use effectively. They will need to look for alternative options to achieve their goals.

Cheesing this so that your untrained protagonist can win by brute force weakens every character in your narrative, it diminishes your tension, and if this character is a dragon for another villain then you’ve devalued both of them. You’ve devalued your protagonist too.  Focus on what your character is good at, and make their strengths the backbone to their achieving victory. Don’t be afraid to let a scene slip sideways or for a character to lose, if you’ve created a scenario where your character doesn’t have the means to win then let the scene play out. Ask: what happens next?

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Training Bruises

Is it normal for a dojo student (10 year old) to have defensive bruises on their arms from training? There was a boy at school who was questioned by his teacher on where he got a bunch of bruises on his arms and that’s where he said he got them from. His instructor. Is that okay or is that abusive?

flowerapplejacks

This is a very serious topic so Starke and I are going to take turns answering this question. We’re going to have similar answers from different perspectives. Keep in mind we were both exposed to martial arts at very young ages, and I am a former martial arts instructor. I come at this from both the perspective of instructor and child martial artist. I have fourteen years of experience in the community of what we’ll call commercial martial arts which is where the martial arts studio functions as a business, which is the type this child is most likely practicing.

Starke:

Without seeing them, I don’t know. You’re asking me to render an opinion based on almost no information.

Michi:

Martial Arts is a physical contact sport. Bruising is as normal here as it is in any other contact sport. Would you ask the same question if the child was participating in one of them?

My initial response to this question is yes, that’s normal and doesn’t necessarily mean anything untoward occurred. I’d need to see the instructor’s practice in class and speak to the child before I could conclusively determine if any abuse took place. If the bruises are on his forearms then he was probably practicing blocking. If he received them from his instructor then the likeliest answer is they were practicing the techniques closer to full force rather than with another student where there’s no contact allowed. His instructor is the safest person to practice with because they have the best control.

That said, bruises happen. In fact, bruising is the most common injury you’ll receive during martial arts training. It is so commonplace you won’t notice it happening, and, depending on the severity of the bruising, this child might not have even noticed them until the teacher pointed them out.  Martial arts is a physical contact sport. You’re gonna get bruises, and you’ll get so many it’ll become so normal you don’t notice.

Other people do notice, though. If you’re not from the culture or community, and are used to bruises being a signal of something being wrong either at home or on the playground then you’re going to perceive the bruising on the wrists as being wrong. This child’s teacher’s response is also normal.

Starke:

Minor bruising in martial arts training happens.

In particular, learning to parry hand strikes can easily result in a pattern of bruises along the outer forearm. The bruises will be centered around the bone, as that’s the point of contact. The most basic form of these techniques involves catching the opponent’s incoming strike with the forearm, and redirecting it away from the body. Initial practice can be done very lightly, but, eventually, you’re going to get some minor bruises from practicing this with a partner.

How extensive and severe may indicate some issues with oversight in the dojo, or it may reflect actual abuse. From a very superficial, “hey, this is a thing I saw,” it’s very hard to render a professional opinion. In most cases, a public school teacher is not going to be qualified to render that opinion, and will react to any sign of physical injury.

The only thing about this that bothers me is the statement that those injuries came from his instructor. But, we’re in a game of telephone here. You told me that you heard that he told someone else, that… so, what happened originally?

It strikes me as odd that his instructor had him practicing parries with enough force to bruise. Though, some of that could, legitimately, be the kid’s enthusiasm. So, technically the bruises would be self inflicted (because he was striking his instructor’s arms with more force than was called for by the exercise), but the instructor would still be the one who “caused” the bruises, when someone asked the child.

Michi:

I’m going to disagree with Starke. At ten years old, it doesn’t actually take much force to bruise. I spent most of my pre-teen years wandering around with inexplicable bruises on my forearms, or halfway up my upper arm, or on the inside of the wrist, depending on what techniques we were practicing that week. I usually didn’t realize I had them until days later, and they only ever hurt if I poked at them. I’d sometimes show off particularly hideous ones to my peers (or ones I was proud of) just to freak them out.

I don’t know what you mean by “defensive bruising”, but my concern kicks in when the bruises are in unusual places that don’t correlate to the type of training the child says they’re doing.

You could easily get bruising on the wrist from practicing wrist releases, especially if you’re working with your instructor and they want you to experience breaking free from the real thing. The bruise you might get from the training could be indistinguishable from someone forcefully grabbing your wrist. Practice involves simulation.

We don’t know what his martial art is. “Dojo” is a common term in the US when referring to a martial arts school because everyone knows what it means. When I was a kid I’d tell people I was going to my “karate school” because no one knew what Taekwondo was and Taekwondo is the second-most popular martial art in America. So, we don’t know what he’s practicing and don’t know what’s normal at his school.

Lots of traditional Japanese martial arts don’t practice with pads, or use them in a very minimal way. If he’s practicing any strand of Karate — which he might be, karate is one of the most common martial arts — there’s going to be more bruising there.

Starke:

Is this abusive? Without a more comprehensive investigation, I wouldn’t be comfortable making that call. I’m inclined to think that it’s a credible story, so far as it goes.

Is it fine? Not exactly, but minor bruising isn’t automatically a sign that anything’s wrong with the Dojo. This could be the result of a cautious instructor making the right call, and not asking the boy to practice with his fellow students.

Ultimately, I don’t know. There’s not enough information on what happened here. I’m inclined to think everything’s fine, but I have scars from training, so my zero point might be a little off.

Michi:

Martial arts studios are businesses. The most common students studios make the most money on is children between the ages of five to twelve, and many parents use martial schools as after school day-care. These are usually family oriented establishments who put a heavy emphasis on child safety, they have to or else they don’t stay in business. I’m not going to say abuse doesn’t happen in martial arts schools, it does. However, we’d need a lot more information to make a judgement call.

I don’t know his martial art. I don’t know his belt ranking or how long he’s been training. I don’t know if these bruises are common for him or not, if this is a first or just the first time his school teacher noticed them. I don’t know if he’s had any serious behavior changes within the past few months which might indicate psychological signs of abuse which correlate with his injuries. From the information given, I’d say his bruises are most likely the result of normal training; especially if he wasn’t hiding them.

Exterior bruising on the outside forearms, upper arms, thighs, and shins is very common in Taekwondo because these spots are where you take the hits. Interior bruising on the inner arm/inner leg is less usual but not concerning. The severity of the bruises, the color and depth of penetration are the important factors because I need to know how hard they’re getting hit. I’d want to know about bruises around the core, and I’d still need an established pattern rather than knowing if it was a one off accident. The only place I’d initially be very concerned about is bruising on the face or neck. A ten year old should not be getting bruised on his face or neck, especially not by his instructor, but I have seen it happen from other students as an accident. I’d also need to observe the instructor, the demeanor of the students, the attitudes of the parents, and probably on multiple occasions to be certain.

Let me tell you though, the instructors are the ones who come away with the most bruises. We’re the punching bags, especially for younger students. Even when it’s something simple like holding out a paddle, you never know when they’re going to miss and… there go the fingers. I can’t tell you how many jammed and occasionally broken fingers come out of board breaking seminars. Someone is going to miss at least once. Again, you need to hit and get hit to ultimately test out whether your technique is working. Your instructor is the one who is safest to do this with because they’re the only ones with the control to hit just hard enough so the child learns whether or not they’re doing the block right. This lets them simulate the real thing without being in any danger, even from the other students. The worst bruises come from your peers, not your teachers.

Media dresses up martial arts training to be more harsh and nefarious than it actually is. We deal with those questions on this blog all the time. The real world is much less salacious and more mundane. Martial arts training for kids is very safe, much safer than some other sports (I’m looking at you football and gymnastics), but it does involve physical contact which can result in bruising.

-Starke and Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Adrenaline and Pain

Hi! I dug through your page and found that adrenaline can numb a person’s pain, as I though it might. However, my character is supposed to die of her wounds (a stab into her stomach by blade and into both of her arms, cutting through muscles). It is not like a gunshot wound that could go unnoticed, so do you think adrenaline would be enough? Since adrenaline is a hormone, would it kick in instantly? Or only some time after the wound was inflicted?

rokokokokolores

Adrenaline usually kicks in before the injury is sustained. That will happen sometime before combat starts, when your character realizes they’re in danger. So, technically, yes, there is a delay between when the adrenaline starts pumping and when it kicks in, but it will be up and going before your character’s injured.

Also, the biological half-life is only a couple minutes, so your character will come down from adrenaline pretty quickly once the threat has passed. Strictly speaking, when medically administering adrenaline, the dose only lasts about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on metabolism, when your own body is producing the stuff, the effect can last longer, as it’s regulating the adrenaline.

Once she crashes, she’d feel the pain. Personal experience is that the pain gradually filters in. The intensity doesn’t change, but your ability to ignore it fades. (Michi’s personal experience with a broken leg is the pain kicks in quickly, especially once your body realizes there’s something seriously wrong.) For example, there’s not going to be any ignoring or powering past an arrow piercing through your calf.

Blade and arrow wounds tend to directly impair your body’s ability to move in a way that gunshots, normally, do not. Your muscles form a kind of complex “pulley” system over your skeletal structure. Unless a bullet shatters bone or specifically severs tendons (before someone asks, no your character can’t make a called shot for someone’s tendons with a gun), the system will continue to work, more or less, until something does break.

Blades tend to sever the meat. Meaning they cut through muscle tissue, reducing your ability to use the associated body part. Deep cuts on the arm can impair or prevent use of that limb.

Arrows are a similar story with a slightly different detail. Muscles are layered, and these layers move over one another as you act. When you’re struck by an arrow, it skewers those layers together, which can completely arrest movement in anything controlled by the affected tissue. If you take an arrow to the shoulder that completely immobilizes the upper arm.

So, adrenaline can keep your character from noticing the pain of a sustained injury, but they would probably notice that they couldn’t lift their arm. The gut wound might be something they could overlook for a few minutes, but in that case, the blood loss would slow them down pretty quickly.

Now, one important thing to remember, pain is transmitted to your brain through your nervous system. As with your muscles, nerve damage is more likely when you’re getting carved to pieces. Depending on the nature of the injury, this can result in partial (or complete) paralyzation of the affected limb. In a case like that, severed nerves cannot relay information to the brain, so there would be no sensation whatsoever. Pain or otherwise. However, if the nerve was severed along with a chunk of meat in the upper arm, that’ll hurt.

Another detail worth remembering, adrenaline increases the heart rate, and blood flow through your body, significantly.  This means you will bleed out faster while you’re in an adrenaline rush than if you’re not. This is mostly an academic detail, because if you’re bleeding to death, you’re probably going to be a bit stressed, but it is part of the reason why you’d want to keep someone calm, after they suffered a traumatic injury.

Finally, new detail for the day, since I didn’t know this before I went and double checked my research: It seems that adrenaline increases the intensity of newly formed memories. As you pointed out, it is a naturally occurring hormone, so it should be unsurprising that it has a variety of effects depending on the affected tissue. I have no idea if my inclination to agree with the statement is simply power of suggestion, or if that really does mesh with my own experiences, though I’m inclined to believe the latter.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Firefight

Hello there! I’m trying to write a fairly grounded gunfight (trading shots from cover, moving up with covering fire, not spraying rounds everywhere, etc.) and I’m wondering how I can keep it tense and engaging for the reader. Any tips?

thefriedcomputercollectorblr

Remember that all it takes is a single bullet to end a firefight. Each gunshot can seriously wound or outright kill one of your characters, removing them from the fight. So, the tension comes when you remember that at any given moment anyone could die. If your characters are outnumbered, their chance of getting out alive takes a nose dive.

Concealment is not cover. A character who hides behind a residential wall, a couch, or something similar will not be protected from incoming fire. In the real world, someone hiding behind an overturned conference table is only, “hiding,” they’re not safe.

A bullet that misses your character will still damage their surroundings. It will tear holes in walls, punch holes in metal, and blow chips of concrete out. This means, you can be injured by flying shrapnel.

For reference, I did read both of your questions. If you’re having issues with your fights getting boring, you’re taking too long. Violence is fast. It’s here, it’s happened; and then people have enough time to get bored without dying.

What’s tripping you up is that you want a longer scene, but a contained firefight won’t deliver that. In the gunfire, you might have lulls, while people are moving, and re-positioning. The entire point of suppressing fire is to keep someone from sticking their head out, so not a lot of reason to waste ammo on their general vicinity so long as they’re keeping their head down. Sending someone out to get a better angle while your shooter keeps them pinned will take time. Of course, if there’s someone out there your characters don’t know about, any flanking tactic could quickly go horribly wrong.

Also, there’s no clean way to know for certain a gunfight has ended. Even in a simple situation, where one side opened fire on someone who took cover and killed them, it’s going to take awhile, before anyone can safely get over there to check, and make sure they’re dead. Simply stepping out of cover and walking over is a good way to get shot. Even if they see blood spray from a hit, there’s no grantee that the victim is dead, and not simply bleeding to death.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Powers and Limits

How would you suggest subduing (not accidentally killing) a super villain with fire powers?

So, the villain has flame based powers, or you want your characters to subdue them without accidentally cooking them?

If your characters are going up against someone who has fire-based powers, then they’re going to need to understand the limits of those powers. This is something I feel we’ve said many times before. The entire idea of taking down a super villain (or superhero, for that matter) needs to start with getting accurate intelligence on what they can do, and (more importantly) what they cannot. In many cases, that means they’d need to find ways to test that character’s limits, though if this is a hero or villain who’s been active for decades (or longer), that information may already be out there.

Also, the overall power of a character is vitally important. A character with minor pyrokinetic abilities could be pretty easily subdued with mundane methods. A character who is a living avatar of flame, and no recognizable physiology, would require a significantly more specialized approach. What options are available is entirely dependent on your world building. So, at that point, “best,” is very flexible.

Now, let’s flip this, because dangling modifiers are awkward. If your character has flame based superpowers and they’re going after a villain, the answer is probably to incorporate more options into their toolset.

This might not be immediately apparent, but having the ability to set things on fire with your mind isn’t an incredibly useful ability. Sure, it makes caramelizing creme brulee a snap, but outside of bar tricks and setting people on fire, there’s not a lot of utility that doesn’t end in death, suffering, or BBQ. This creates the odd situation where you have a superhero who really needs to supplement their superpowers with abilities that won’t result in catastrophic property damage.

For your superhero that means they’re going to need to train in mundane skills. They may be able to subdue a foe using a tazer or tactical baton. They may need to know when to point someone else at their target, or when to walk in and draw attention while someone else subdues their errant supervillain. 

Social skills are another legitimate option. A character may be very persuasive, even ignoring their abilities, so it’s not entirely impossible that your superhero’s plan is to talk the villain into surrendering.

Talking a character down operates off the same process as above. It requires your characters learn about their opponent, discover what’s causing them to act, understand the reasoning behind it, and formulate arguments to convince them to take another path. Even then, your characters are probably going to need some good followup points. Dialog like this is as much of a fight as combat, it’s just the structure and outcomes are different.

Even if it doesn’t work out, trying to talk the villain down is a very “superhero” behavior. It is the best recourse before things get messy, and people get hurt. This is especially true for a character where their innate powers are inherently destructive.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: House Rules

I looked but didn’t find if you answered this before, but how would I write the very start of a “proper” fist fight? Like writing the character’s entering fighting stances without sounding awkward or just writing “they raise their fists”

I’m not sure what you mean by, “proper.”

If characters are engaging in a duel, there’s going to be societal expectations for how will be conducted. This includes a brawl between a couple kids on the playground. They’ll have rules they understand (implicitly), and grasp the idea that violating those rules is unfair (whether that will influence their behavior is another matter.)

So, if your characters are going to duel, then they have a ritual they’ll follow. This could be as simple as a round of insults followed by them squaring up, or it could be far more elaborate. This really depends on their culture. Also, if those cultures don’t match, it’s entirely possible for one of the participants to botch the ritual elements, offending their opponent.

I’m going to step back and define some terms, in case it’s not clear.

A duel is combat between two participants as a form of dispute resolution. This can range from armed combatants (which is the context you’re probably thinking of) down to bare knuckle boxing. This is culturally sanctioned by the participants and their peers, though society at large may not agree, and may punish them for their behavior. Duels have set resolution points. These can range from coercing submission to death, with any number of potential other acceptable stopping points between.

Ritual just means that there an established social process. Again, if you’re thinking of an elaborate ceremony, that’s possible, but you could just be looking at something like a round of insults followed by violence.

In general terms, the more culturally acceptable a duel is, the more elaborate the ceremony will be. A society that permits dueling to the death will have a fairly elaborate ritual process to initiating a duel.

European dueling is an example: it required multiple non-participating witnesses, and a specific process of shuttling messages between the duelists well in advance of the actual fight. Failing to do that meant it wasn’t legally recognized as a duel, and didn’t enjoy the legal protections. As society evolved, the practice of sanctioning duels legally fell by the wayside, but the actual ritual was preserved for centuries.

If you wanted to twist it around, you could categorize the entirety of prize fighting as duels, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. They are examples of ritualized combat, with extensive rules.

So, if your characters are having a proper brawl, they’re going to have rules they need to follow, even if they never think of them as rules.

Now, if this isn’t a factor, the answer is far simpler: the fight starts when someone attacks.

The danger of approaching combat as a ritualized exercise is assuming everyone will play by your rules. Violence, even unarmed violence, is dangerous. If the goal is to neutralize your opponent, there’s no prize for good sportsmanship. There is no, “proper, upstanding,” combat, only the living and the dead.

Mistaking live combat for a more ritualized exercise happens to people. It gets them killed. There’s comfort in ritual. It affirms that the world you live in is not so random and uncaring. It helps you define your place in the world. Many people have made the mistake of thinking combat works this way; that there are rules we do not make for ourselves.

The rules we make for ourselves define us. You’ll go this far, but no farther, and that is how you know you still have some humanity. This isn’t a bad thing. Like I said, it’s how you know you’re still human, and not a monster. The problem is when you assume the people you’re fighting will follow those same rules. In a duel, they (probably) will, but in an actual fight? Who knows?

So, how does a fight start? When someone attacks. Probably without declaring, as calling out your attacks is a phenomenally stupid idea.

How will a duel start? However it’s supposed to. The final stages of the ritual play out, and then the participants will engage.

So, in answer to your question, it depends on your characters and the world they live in.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.