Q&A: Similar, But not the same (Improvised Weapon Follow-up)

rainbowfoxes said to howtofightwrite: Would someone who’s been trained in a particular weapon be able to adapt to a makeshift one? For example, if someone was trained in the chain whip, would they be able to use a bike chain to similar effect?

A bike chain not so much, but only because it moves on a single plane and isn’t flexible. A regular chain? Sure. You put a heavy steel lock on the end of a regular chain and you’ve got a makeshift flail/meteor hammer.

However, improvised weapons are not the same as the real weapon and they are more limited in capacity. So, you could probably use a length of chain with movements derived from the whip chain but only the basics (single hand with the other holding the rest of the chain, no redirecting off your upper arm/elbow) and most likely without the same range. This doesn’t mean a simple length of chain cannot be used to devastating effect because it can be, but it won’t be exactly the same with the same techniques. They don’t transition fluidly, and you have to be very specific about the weapons and every day objects you pick out for to combine for improvisation

A tire iron is not designed to beat someone about the head even when that’s what it’s being used for. The benefits of the tire iron lie in the fact its a length of solid steel with a handle and hitting someone with it will hurt a whole hell of a lot. However, given the choice, you’d rather be using a tactical baton. The tactical baton will transition much better to a skill set learned on, say, eskrima with fewer limitations than a tire iron. If you took your tire iron up against someone wielding a tactical baton, you’d be at a disadvantage with subpar weapon.

Add to this the fact you are used to wielding a whip chain and not used to wielding a regular length of chain, you’re going to run up against some problems. The chain is going to be heavier, it will be less fluid, more difficult to spin, your tempo will be slowed, and you’re going to be heavily reliant on the most basic of techniques. The ones you might normally transition into will be out, and there’ll be specific patterns (like the ones where you’d catch on your ribs and stomach) that you will need to avoid for your own safety. Your reflexes will be trained to transition smoothly from one technique to another, which can lead to costly mistakes with a heavier weapon you’re not used to wielding. Those fractions of seconds in delay, the parts where you actually need to stop and think about control rather than react and let your body act, where you’re splitting your attention between your environment and the techniques you’re trying to carry out, can cost you the fight.

This is the advantage of the trained combatant over the untrained combatant. The trained combatant has their techniques ingrained into their reflexes, their reaction times are ten times faster, and this frees their conscious mind up to focus on what’s happening around them rather than on what their body is doing. This is the result of practice, practice for hundreds and, on occasion, thousands of hours retraining their body’s reflexive reactions. Training their muscles to respond, cutting those reaction times down, slimming down the time it takes for their brain to send orders to their limbs. All of this will give them an advantage over someone who does not have similar preparation.

However, weapons are not interchangeable and they are not the same. You hand someone a meteor hammer when they’re used to using a whip chain or rope dart and it will still take time for them to learn how to use the meteor hammer effectively. They’ll learn more quickly than a raw beginner, but they still have to learn. The same truth follows for improvised weapons. This is not the weapon your character is used to using. Similar, yes, but not the same.

This distinction is important to grasp because it can be an excellent source of tension in your scene. In fact, it is one of the hallmark handicaps for experienced fighters handed off by fight scene coordinators. Experienced fighters being forced to rely on weapons they’re not used to can provide uncertainty, and part of stacking the odds against them. Others are numbers, unfamiliar terrain, unexpected combat, without weapons, and forced improvisation. These can all be used to great effect to transform even the most experienced and talented of fighters into underdogs.

And you want them to be underdogs, you want your hero in situations where they’re out of their depth, you want them in situations where they need to get a little creative, you want them in situations where they’re forced to run. You want to establish their limits because once they have limits you can create scenarios where they start to shine, where your audience has a chance to bond with them, and you build up your antagonists in the bargain. It is not very fun to read a fight scene where we know the outcome, even when we already know the outcome. If your hero is not under pressure, if they’re not facing difficulties, if they’re not uncomfortable, if they’re not just a little out of their depth (but not so far that they drown) then the scene has no tension.

Improvised weapons are one means of turning the experienced into the underdog, especially when the enemy has actual weapons. If you can beat the idea into your brain that actual weapons trump improvised weapons no matter who is wielding them (hero, villain, or mook), then you’ll have a better chance of establishing your tension. A character can be unconcerned due to their own ego if they’re outnumbered and outgunned, but you, the author, should be giving your audience reason to be concerned. That starts with establishing limitations.

No two weapons are the same, even those of the same type. Each weapon has its quirks, its flaws, and imperfections that the character who wields it has learned to account for. A character may be able to wield someone else’s longsword, but they won’t wield it as well as their own. Two different weapons of two different types, even those from the same family, are not interchangeable. Improvised weapons suffer from severe limitations because they are not, really, weapons.

Understanding limitations works to your advantage because limitations, external, internal, physical, mental, and moral are key to building tension. Tension is what keeps your narrative interesting.

Your character has her whip chain but she is used to wielding it in open areas with room to swing it and is forced to fight in a crowded street filled with parked cars against five or six enemies who are hunting for her.

This could be a great scene if you’re able to make the most of the presented limitations: numbers, populated area, unfamiliar terrain. You can use the whip chain in close quarters, but the advantages of the whip chain against numbers are out. So, the character must fight in a way the audience was not primed to expect given the weapon choice.

See? Similar to what might’ve been, but not the same.

There’s your wrench. Throw as many as you can.

-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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.