Tag Archives: character building

Q&A: Faked Deaths and Cheap Writing

Would an arc involving a character coming to terms with a friend’s death feel cheapened to readers if it is later revealed that the friend’s death was faked?

Not, unless your character knew their friend’s death was faked from the start, but you neglected to share that information with the audience. This is a little more complicated, depending on who the characters are, so let’s pull out some potential permutations.

Probably worth saying, but faking your own death isn’t something you come back from. You’ve just lied to everyone about something very serious, and that’s not the kind of thing most people are willing to simply laugh off. For someone who intentionally fakes their own death, there is no coming back from that.

Someone who’s been missing for years and was presumed dead will face some of this, but at least in that case, they may be able to present a legitimate narrative for why they disappeared. There’s some gradation here. Someone who intentionally vanished, and set up shop in another state is not going to be received the same way as someone who was presumed dead in a plane crash on the far side of the world, and was cut off from outside civilization.

If your character is dealing with the death of a close personal friend. As far as they know, everything’s above board, and they’re coming to terms with that. Then, no, having that friend pop up later would be a serious betrayal for your character, but, the audience is right there with them. Everyone was betrayed by that former friend, and there’s certainly a lot of ways you can proceed from there. (Again, there are some potential permutations, for example, if the friend was abducted, and their captors faked their death, or other singular circumstances like that. This is something I’d be cautious about recommending, because it could become melodramatic, but the option exists. Or, if said character didn’t fake their death, and has been resurrected somehow.)

You can flip this, if your point of view character is the one who faked their death and hid it from their friends and family. Again, nothing wrong with this from a writing standpoint, but expect their former acquaintances to be less than enthusiastic when they learn the truth.

If your character knows the truth, that their friend is alive, and they’re going through the motions, pretending to grieve, while the audience is kept in the dark, that’s cheap.

Cheap writing is when you decide to screw with your audience. Screwing with your characters is fair game. Whenever you decide to hide critical information from your audience, particularly information your point of view character have, you’re being cheap.

The idea of pulling one over on your audience can be very appealing, and there are ways you can deliver a good plot twist, but the cheap way to approach this is to simply deny the audience the information they need to know what’s happening.

There’s a wonderful phrase you can apply to this: being “economical with the truth.”  You are lying, but you’re doing it by carefully giving enough truthful information to mislead.

Writing can become cheap when you withhold too much information. There’s nothing wrong with putting enough out there so that some members of your audience can guess where you’re going. No twist “amazing” enough to stand on bad writing.

There’s also nothing wrong with putting out truthful information that is designed to mislead. An excellent primer on this would be the entire library of Agatha Christie’s work. She built her career on logic puzzles where the available information is designed to make you jump to the wrong conclusions.

If you have to choose between withholding information from your audience, and withholding it from your characters, you should err on the side of screwing over your characters long before you consider keeping your readers in the dark.

Lying to your audience is a very tricky thing. In most stories, I wouldn’t recommend it at all. The exceptions are genres where the entire structure is intended to mislead the reader. Mysteries and some varieties of thrillers are the normal examples here. Even then, you need to work very carefully to avoid betraying the audience’s trust, even while you’re engaging in slight of hand with them.

Lying to your character, and bringing the audience along is different. The audience will be predisposed to empathize with the protagonist in most cases, and if both have been deceived, then expect hostility directed at the former friend. At that point, it’s only cheap if your protagonist drops the ball, and doesn’t behave in a plausible way.

-Starke

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Q&A: Mace v. Staff

Mace v.s. staff, both unarmoured, both have equal level of training/skill (Western-style, so just focused on their own weapon): who wins? (The mace-wielder primarily has experience fighting armoured opponents, but has fought unarmoured ones plenty of times before; the staff-wielder has almost exclusively fought the latter)

Staff.

This isn’t a question, and most of the additions in this question are ultimately pointless. Primary weapon advantages are decided by distance, or a concept called reach. Weapons aren’t universal or all made equal, the staff is much longer than the mace with more available attack patterns and defensive options. However, the big one is the weapon’s reach. This means the weapon can hit you before you get into range to hit them. The mace is meant to be wielded together with a shield, and against an armored opponent or an unarmed one. The staff will beat out a sword, and will strike at distances from which a sword wielder cannot retaliate.

This isn’t a training problem, a staff wielder with significantly less experience can beat an experienced fighter using a mace. The mace is meant to crack open plate, or get around Catholic restrictions regarding priests causing individuals to bleed. That’s it’s purpose. It is a highly specialized weapon. A staff will parlay into the base for a multitude of different polearms from the spear to the halberd. The fighter carrying the staff needs to do is put a metal tip on the end of his weapon and he can poke holes in his enemy. He doesn’t need to though, because a heavy quarterstaff made of solid oak will shatter bones and bust up internal organs just fine on its own.

The fight will end before the guy using the mace can close, and without a shield he’s going to leave one half of his unarmored body entirely open. All you have to do is hit that part. Or start with their legs and move upwards. The staff is a highly effective self-defense weapon on par with, if not more popular than the sword. It lacks the glamor and the prestige, but it is incredibly effective in a wide variety of situations where the mace is just a metal club. Clubs are great, but they’re very repetitious and definitely not friendly.

This fight will start and end with one guy getting his ribs broken, maybe his collarbone after, then his head, and end the day dumped in the drink. Knocked off into the river.

The staff runs between being six to eight feet long, and the mace is… much shorter than that. Check out this fight scene from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, this showcases a fight between spears (this is an iconic fight scene) but pay attention to how far apart they are. When you’re fighting someone with a staff, they’ll keep you at a similar distance and they can use the entirety of the weapon. They can transition up and down the weapon with their grip to create new distances when the time comes to close. The guy with the staff can block the guy with the mace with one end, and then transition into a strike from the other without letting up pressure. Or, knock the mace away (if they’re in any danger, which is generous) and strike back across. The staff is controlled via leverage with the hands, and the fulcrum is where the hands are.

The guy with the mace would know, if he’s trained, this is a weapon that he doesn’t want to deal with and is unprepared for. This is a fight he wants to avoid, and he’d bring a different weapon. A weapon like a maul. Unarmored, a sword wouldn’t be much better for him if he has a mace and lacks a shield. Give the guy with a mace a shield and some armor, then you’ve got a fight.

No, this is not suddenly an entirely uneven fight and the guy with the mace is still at a disadvantage.

Allow me to explain.

A heavy oak staff can put a dent in your plate. This isn’t some light weapon, these are dense weapons. They often came plated at both ends in steel.  The mace has no real defensive options, it is made for swinging and you need to get close enough to your opponent to hit them. The staff is going to make that difficult. Remember, Little John’s traditional weapon is the quarterstaff and no one really questioned him taking that up against Norman knights. Despite being one of the Merry Men who generally takes it on the chin in modern adaptations, Little John could wreck a tax collector’s day. Trained people. Trained footmen. Trained knights.

You actually need the shield to block the staff, allowing the character with the mace to get close enough to strike their opponent. This won’t be easy, as the staff can still strike at the body parts the shield won’t or can’t block including the feet/legs and head.  This is where armor for the head and the feet come in. This limits the staff’s options, but doesn’t negate them. They can still go for the side of the body with the mace.  The guy with the mace needs to hide behind his shield, use it to block t attacks by the staff, get close enough to hit the staff wielder, and then strike them overhand with the mace.

If they lose any part of their body from the shoulder to the arm to hand to their legs on that side then they are done, thus with one side protected by the shield then the weapon side becomes the preferential target. Attacking the arm/hand wielding the weapon is an accepted strategy in martial forms across the globe.

Even with a shield though, the strikes taken on the shield are going to wear out the arm of the guy with the mace. The angle the shield is held is a strain, and the constant impact is going to wear out the bicep and tricep fairly quickly. Far more quickly than the impact will wear down the staff wielder’s hands. Without armor, the mace wielder’s muscles take the impact through the shield straight. Remember, a shield mitigates impact. It doesn’t negate it. Armor is the same, it mitigates the damage taken by impact. It does not, however, negate it.

Don’t underestimate one of the most common, functional, easily learned, and versatile weapons in human history just because it’s made of wood.

Ultimately, these pieces of cause and effect, opportunity and cost, and risk assessment with weapons are what make your fight tense. Me showing you why this guy is screwed should, honestly, be exciting to you because sacrifice is where the tension is and what makes a battle exciting. The battering of resources, the cutting away of options, the slow or quick degradation of the muscles to the point they’re no longer usable. The shield arm being battered so hard that the protection becomes worthless when the character can barely lift their arm. Understanding specifically what it is which makes a battle uneven or even creates opportunity to add tension to your fiction.

The dragons’ wings snapped open and they leveled off, sweeping over the train. Shooting over them in a blast, air screaming as they passed.

The dinosaurs shuffled, pressing together, milling from the scents and sounds.

“They’re going to stampede the train,” Anara observed, drawing her pistol from within the folds of her cloak. “Not that the diplo move fast.”

Nathan glanced at her sharply. “Have your men hold them!”

Anara lifted her wrist, murmuring into her link.

A sensation passed across the back of Nathan’s mind, the shiver of incoming danger. His neck prickled, hair raising on his skin. He whipped about.

A shadowy, hooded figure leapt across the packs on the back of the triceratops, fiery orange blade flashing in the sunlight.

Nathan’s blade ignited, he lunged between the attacker and Anara.

Circling overhead, Leon, Baral, and Dorcal roared a challenge the newcomers.

Nathan felt Leon shudder when the attacking dragons answered. Fifteen drakes, ten now, and two dragons. One male, a fully grown beta-king, and the other a female — a matriarch. The Renegades have a matriarch, Nathan thought, as the realization sank in. His blade clashed in a sizzle of flaming red light on orange, his enemy pressing her advantage, and he’d no more opportunity to think. He pressed his advantage, leveraging his blade as they slammed together. Pushing her back across the unstable footing of the packs. Or, he wondered when a boxes fell away to the ground in blow after blow, drawn after her.

Yes, his heart quickened, her.

Thin and lithe, the hooded woman leapt lightly from one box to the other. His mental pressure glancing off the tight bubble she contained herself within, telekinesis similarly blocked. She danced between the packs as they fell away. Dropping onto the triceratops long back when the last finally hit the ground, she levered her orange blade at his heart.

Two of the enemy drakes overhead broke off. Cutting away from Baral and Dorcal, they twisted in choreographed precision above the shifting herbivores and let out bone shaking roars.

Nathan’s teeth grit. Leon!

She’s here!

The diplodocus came crashing to a halt, their tails switching back and forth in terror. The train halted, backing up, and breaking off toward the trees. A massive wave of terror rose from the milling dinosaurs, sweeping out across the road. Animalistic terror and… something else.

Nathan stretched out with his mind, to get a better feel for the human undercurrent, but a second mind leapt between them. The shrouded woman jumped past him, cutting his mind off cleanly as her blade locked up his. She’s a dragonrider, he realized. No just any Renegade, but a trained Dragon-Knight. Her sword style faintly reminiscent of the Jesaran sabre techniques, but with stances predominantly influenced by those practiced by the Dragon-Knights out of High Reaches. He rained attacks down on her, striking evenly in tempo.

She answered him blow for blow, weight shifting with each of the triceratops lumbering steps.  telekinetic thrust threw her back across the packs and she twisted in midair to land on her feet. Her legs splayed, one hand pressed to the uneven canvas and rope. Her hooded head rose. Flame licked up her orange blade, light and heat crackling in the air. The woman shot forward, racing toward him along the length of the triceratops’s spine. She closed the distance between them, pulsing bright as a star in his second sight. A raw storm within his senses, sizzling his synapses.

Nathan struck low, toward her legs, and her blade met his. Bearing down on her with his weight, his sabre edged closer and closer to her protected leg.

Yielding under the pressure, she shut off her blade and stepped sideways. Let his weight carry him past her. Launching off the back of the triceratops, she twisted into a backflip and landed lightly on packed dirt. He saw a shadowed head lift as the triceratops continued on and felt the brief touch of her mind passing through his like fingers tracing over his palm. Then, she was gone, disappearing into the thickening gray-brown underbrush without a backwards glance.

Duels can provide a powerful effect in your fight scenes, there’s a horde of cultural and fictional tropes associated with them. You want them to be as evenly matched as possible, which is why they should carry the same weapons. However, you need to understand how to use them and the weapons you’ve decided to display. Training isn’t a good catch-all way of saying these two characters are evenly matched, because that’s not what training means. Two similarly equipped characters are on an equal level where they can display their skills, two characters carrying different weapons are going to be at the mercy of the weapon’s advantages. Trained characters know that. They’ll know when they’re at a disadvantage, and plan accordingly.

Two characters fighting with similar weapons with a similar level skill level are evenly matched.

The floor cracked apart into pentagons and two shifted clockwise, while the three others rose to create a staircase revolving in the opposite direction. Each moved a few fractions faster than the others as the lasers fired in triangular patterns across the training room.

Leah ran, blocking, dancing, shifting between the lasers. Her blade became an orange blur, leaving a wheel of fire about her. She leapt between the plates, counting the fractional seconds between shots. Her mind expanding, spreading to encompass the room.

See, Matron Helena’s voice echoed in her head, see everything.

The war droid gave chase, tracking her movements with its internal crystal memory cortex and processor. Assessing her, her habits, her steps, her fighting style and firing in predictive patterns meant to corner and eliminate.

Not simply the machine before you, see the connections, all the connections.

She froze the lasers before they reached her, and sent them glancing off toward the walls. Not long enough to pause, not long enough to appreciate, preen, or question. No room for uncertainty. No, she must be certain. Certain the energies flowing through her would answer commands without question. Must trust her body to answer when she needed it and trust herself to know what she needed to do.

There is a flow in the universe, a universal river bonding all life together.

Leah twisted between the lasers, they came on fast. Onto the ball of her foot, to her heel, swirl and step. Her feet found positions between scorch marks, her body disappearing and reappearing through red slashes. The blasts quickened as she raced counter clockwise across the platforms, chasing the ones moving above her.

Give in to the current, her mother’s voice thundered. Do not think! Do not fight the river! You will only drown. In order to gain control, you must cede to it. Cede your desire to control!

A hiss of steam lingered in her ears. She spun, blade lifting, to catch a downward stroke by the android. Its force pike bore down on her tired arms, bringing the crackling heat of her blade closer and closer to her skin.

There is a part of you which listens.

Leah twisted her blade sideways and leaned back, giving way under the android’s pressure. The staff swept past her. Her figure rippled, there and gone, mind catching three laser blasts and directed them into her attacker.

The android stumbled.

Listen, and let go!

Lunging, she swept her blade through the android’s chest in an orange flash. Plasma shearing into its central cortex and electric processors, she jumped past it onto the next platform. At the brush of her weight on adamantine, the platform began to shift in the opposite direction. Away from those above her, gap and speed widening massively rather than incrementally. Metal rattled underneath her feet, gears whining and humming. Leah grinned, knocking away blasts with her sabre. She ignored the sweat dripping down her forehead, streaking her cheeks and chin, the aching pain in her legs forgotten. The platform circled the hexagonal walls, bumping and hitching at the corners. “So, that’s how you want to play?” she called to the centralized computer. “Let’s go, bolt-bucket!”

Below, the separated android reactivated. A second set of legs sprang from the chassis, and it flipped onto them. The pike broke apart in its hands and became a pair of batons. Out of its separated bottom, four arms extended, two from the waist, and two from the thighs. Each palm glowed with red light, turned upward, and began to fire.

A character fighting against incredibly bad odds and winning? This character is proving their mettle as a badass and they pull dual duty ensuring you see the other tougher characters they battle as real threats. When you respect a character, you respect the characters they respect and their adversaries.

However, it is up to you to convey the physical and emotional stakes to the audience. You can’t expect them to understand, or to assume for you. Physical stakes come from understanding the difference between weapons, by grasping the inherent advantages and disadvantages they pose.

Real combat comes from strategy, rather than technique. Techniques combine to become a tactical strategy. One attack leads to another. You get the sense there’s a plan involved, even when the characters don’t say so. They communicate this plan to the audience through the techniques they use and their behavior. The techniques produce results, and the strain of combat wears on the combatant. Things start going well, and then events change. They get worse. You follow this rising pattern in escalation until we hit victory or defeat.

Fight scenes come with their own miniature narrative arcs, just like every other scene. You utilize everything you know about physical exertion to show the character being worn down, just like you would be in real life and having to draw deep on their inner reserves to break past the next hump. This is what makes sequences like this successful, not the other ancillary nonsense. Buzzwords like “training” and “experience” only work if you understand the logic they connect to. You can say two people are equal, but that doesn’t make it true when comparing context and circumstances. Weapons and martial combat exist to create scenarios which are inherently weighted in one person’s favor, which are unfair, and every individual wants to be the person on the side with the advantage. They are all going to try to ensure the situation falls in their favor, but the circumstances won’t always allow for it. The part where they’re not the same is a large part of what makes these scenes exciting. A weapon face off is to put one character at a significant disadvantage. It is a scene primarily about the weapons and not the people in match up. Where the people come in is their cleverness in using the weapons, the underdog as he or she tries to bridge the gap and the one who is ahead of the game trying to keep their advantage.

You want characters who are actively working out a way to win, rather than passively accepting their statistics and relying on those stats to do the work for them.

-Michi

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Q&A: Assholes

I got a character who might be a “deadpan snarker”. She loves the have the last word, troll people with words, taunts those she dislike, makes snide and sarcastic remarks about flaws or situation, and can be very abrasive and rude when she is angry or demanding. Does this makes her an asshole? Do likeable assholes exist? She can and will be nice to the people she loves and conform them, but she still trolls them for fun occasionally. She is not a bully, nor has low self esteem, just a big ego.

Yeah, sounds like you might have an asshole there, not just someone with a dry sense of humor and a never ending store of sarcasm.

Can an asshole be likable? Yes… with some reservations.

It’s a lot easier to like an asshole, if you never have to interact with them. This might sound counter-intuitive: if you never interact with them, how would you know they’re an asshole, or why would you care? Thing is, the momentary actions from an asshole, the snide comments, the sarcasm, even the egregious behavior, can be pretty funny, if you’re never the target of it.

If you’re watching a show, where a character is tearing the guts out of everyone around them, and you’re not interacting, that can be funny. You can like that asshole, secure in the knowledge that they’ll never direct one of their rants at you in particular. The same thought process carries over into other forms of entertainment.

You can center a story on someone who is a horrible human being, and still entertain your audience. The inveterate asshole protagonist is a staple for sitcoms as a genre. They’re not mandatory, but they can be incredibly entertaining and cathartic. Even in a non-comedy setting, an asshole protagonist can (sometimes) be compelling in their human misery.

It’s easier to like an asshole if they’re selective. Alternately, you can call this filtering if you want. A selective asshole picks who they go after. It could be certain groups of individuals, like people who dress a certain way, fans of some pop group, people who own small dogs, or some wide reaching collection of groups. If you’re not one of the people they target, it’s a lot easier to laugh it off. It becomes harder to stomach when they’re going after you.

Depending on who an asshole targets, you might even empathize or agree with them. It’s entirely possible to have a character who goes off on some group you hold in singular contempt. It doesn’t make their behavior appropriate, but if it’s something you would do or wished you could do, then that can certainly be engaging to you.

Unfiltered assholes are very unpleasant people. They lash out at anyone who gets within easy reach. No one is safe; nothing is sacred. The only people who stay in their lives are ones who don’t have a choice, or refuse to give up on some idealized version of them. I could probably write an article on people having an image of someone else that has no relation to reality, but the short version is that this exists.

Again, if you’re outside of their life, looking in, an unfiltered asshole can be hilarious. You never know quite where they’re going to go next, or what will cause them to flip out. Note: I said, “can be hilarious.” It’s entirely possible for them to simply be temperamental human wreckage with no redeeming value. The fine line between these two states is if the writer (and or actor) can land the jokes.

Comedy is a defense mechanism. No, really. Humor doesn’t all come from the same place, but the kind of vicious comedy you’re describing is, very specifically, a defense mechanism. It’s your character either trying to drive everyone around them out of their life, and create a safe space to inhabit, and/or it’s an attempt to invalidate their own insecurity by taking the people around them down a notch.

You’ll run across a concept from time to time stating that: In order to be a good writer, you need to have had a messed up childhood. I don’t think this is really true. It is possible to become a good writer, through hard work, study and effort. The inverse is not true, having a messed up childhood does not automatically make you a good writer, as anyone who has taught creative writing can confirm.

A messed up childhood will make you hypersensitive to your environment. This doesn’t mean you’ll break down on a whim, but it does mean you are far more likely to pick up on small changes in your surroundings, or in someone’s behavior. With a background like that, you’re wired to pay far more attention to exactly how other people in your environment behave. For writing this is an important skill. For comedy, this is absolutely vital.

It doesn’t matter if you’re making benign jokes, or taking someone out at the knees, comedy requires you’ve gotten into a fairly messed up place, and hung out long enough to get familiar with the mindset. So, when I say, comedy is a defense mechanism, it really is. More accurately, it’s the third stage of a self-defense system for someone who’s been through some serious psychological trauma.

The first stage is that hypersensitivity. Now, this can be acquired through benign causes. It can also build up as an adult.

“What are you talking about? You haven’t been through anything fucked up, I’d know.”

“No, you don’t understand; I’ve worked retail.”

To be fair, if you start developing this awareness as a child, it will be far more refined by the time you’re old enough to drink.

The second stage is learning to operationalize what you see. It’s looking for irregularities, and then connecting the pieces. Usually, when something doesn’t fit, you’ll pick up on it much sooner than a happy, well adjusted, individual would.

Again, if you’re living in a situation where knowing things are about to go pear-shaped is critical to your safety, you’re going to cultivate that skill because your life depends on it. This is also where comedy starts.

A lot of humor begins when you start realizing that something doesn’t quite make sense, then finding a way to articulate that to people who haven’t quite gotten there. Stuff your brain picked out, you noticed it didn’t quite add up, now you’re looking for a way to put that out there.

The trick to being funny is getting there before anyone else did. Jokes don’t play as well on repeat because you’ve already pointed out the idiosyncrasy or weirdness. Your audience knows. Time to find something new. (In fairness, there are concepts about repetition to land a longer joke. Sometimes telling the same joke again so you can flip it around later is a thing. As with any other kind of writing, humor has a large collection of malleable rules.)

The third stage is affecting your environment. This is where you take a joke and actually use it. There’s a lot of ways these can play, and it’s entirely dependent on the jokes themselves, but let’s focus on two approaches for the moment.

You can tell jokes to get attention. Get people to look at you and say, “hey, I like that strange being.” If you’ve been neglected, or just isolated, this is probably your goal. The humor will take the tone of the group you’re trying to ingratiate yourself with. I actually typed, “inoffensive,” but these can actually get pretty messed up; the important part is that the humor helps you blend into the community you want to be a part of.

You can tell jokes to get people to go away. This is the, “fuck you,” of an asshole who has been the subject of direct abuse, and just wants to shove people in their environment out.

Depending on context, there’s a real possibility of the exact same joke switching between these states. (Also, as I said, there is a lot more you can do with humor, but, for the purposes of this specific example, I’m trying to keep things simple.)

Why your character cracks jokes will affect how they use their humor. Someone who’s using it as a weapon is more in the range of trying to push people out. Someone who’s attention seeking is going to try to find an in. Normally, the former would be an asshole, and the latter would not. This isn’t 100%, because context is king here, but the behavior you’re describing is solidly in the asshole camp.

Someone who’s dryly sarcastic can end up in either group. It’s a flavor of delivery, and somewhat agnostic for what you’re doing.

Similarly, deadpan is just a comedic delivery. Literally, the term simply means, “dead faced.” “Pan” was slang for one’s face in the 1920’s. For reference, that was also when the term was coined. You stand up, deliver your joke, but show no emotion or response. It’s almost entirely agnostic to the jokes.

So, this is a long road to get to saying, “yes, your character’s an asshole.” She might also be funny. I haven’t read what you’ve written with her. I’d also question the idea that she’s doesn’t have self-esteem issues, and isn’t a bully.

Now, I’m just going to step back and say, this isn’t automatically a bad thing. Like I’ve said before, your characters don’t need to be good people. They can be walking dumpster fires.

However, you need to be honest with yourself about your characters. They can lie to themselves about who they are. That’s fine, it’s a little messed up, but still it is fine. You can lie to your audience about who your character is. That’s also fine, a little tricky, but still fine. But, you need to remember who your characters really are, under the surface, flaws and all. Also, remember that your character is fictional. You do not need to advocate for them, that’s their problem, your job is to make their story interesting and compelling.

The behavior you’re describing sounds a lot like a bully. Not, the kind of schoolyard kid, who roughs up others. An adult with serious self-esteem issues who looks around, and seeks opportunities to bring others down a peg in order to feel better about themselves. The methods change, but the ultimate goal remains. Someone who looks at the world, and lashes out at the people in it in a desperate bid to feel better about themselves. Internally they may couch this as justified behavior, that their vindictive behavior is justified by prior actions. It’s not. But, they can tell themselves that if they want, and many real people do.

Normal assholes. The kinds who try to keep people out of their lives, can, and do, filter. Well, some of them can anyway. In those cases, it’s entirely possible for someone to have hard lines between people who they’ll go to bat for, and people they’ll take the tar out of.

This kind of approach is incredibly common among people who’ve had abusive childhoods, or engage with human misery on a regular basis, especially as part of their job. Cops, social workers, EMS, people who work retail on Black Friday. In each case, there are subtle differences to how they approach things. Occupational hazard. Because you really don’t want to talk about the drunk boating accident where the underside of the DUI’s hull was smeared into the faces of a dead family. It’s not funny. It’s just fucked up. “How was your day?”

The important thing to keep in mind, when you’re writing this kind of an asshole, is that their aggression needs to be laser focused. They have certain things that will set them off. Everything else can kinda slide. Someone who is this kind of a selective asshole may be an otherwise normal-ish person. It’s not the character you’re describing, but people like this do exist. Some of them will be reading this post.

Someone who started with a finely filtered flavor of asshole who’s letting their focus slip will likely see their life fall apart. People who used to be safe will be getting driven away. Their behavior may become erratic. And, yes, this can happen. Sometimes the strain of the job can lead someone to deteriorate.

At that point, the smart choice is to cut them loose before they snap and make the evening news. Of course, if this was your friend, or someone who’s turned out decent results for years, you might be inclined to turn a blind eye, or try to get them to come back. This can lead to an entirely realistic situation where someone has deteriorated into a complete asshole, but has yet to drive everyone out of their life.

Again, having a character who’s going through this kind of a breakdown, can be an element of a good story. So long as you remember that’s what’s happening, and are keeping track of the bridges your character burns. Having a character who’s at risk of alienating the people they need to do their job, is one way to create tension. Particularly if they started the fires before they realized they’d need them.

-Starke

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How realistic is it for the retired agent/spy/assassin to come back and kick just as much butt as they did years before? Does such training come back to you easily if you haven’t used it in a long while or will you be rusty enough to get killed?

Parts of this are realistic, others not so much.

If you’ve spent enough time training techniques, this stuff
gets baked into the way you move. It’s not, “oh, I’ll do this to someone;” it’s
just there. Training can also affect
how you look at the world; this is true as a general statement on life, but it also
applies here. Again, as with muscle memory, this is always there, always affecting
how you view your surroundings and the people in them.

So, in that sense, yes. A veteran character coming back after
years away from the job will still
have their skills and training. Some of that will be rusty, but this stuff
sticks with you. Especially if you were maintaining your training for years.
That said, they’ll still get their teeth kicked in.

Ironically, one of the more realistic takes I’ve seen on this
was in the middle seasons of 24. In
the early seasons, the protagonist, Jack Bauer, is a federal counterterrorist
agent. After the third season he’s basically on his own, and no longer a part
of the agency that trained him. By the fifth season (about 3 years later) he’s
at a point where he’s getting his ass handed to him by a security guard.

The problem is something we’ve explained, repeatedly. Hand to
hand combat is not static. The training I got 20 years ago doesn’t apply now.
It will work against untrained
opponents. Basic physiology doesn’t change. However, going up against opponents
who’ve been keeping their training up to date, (or are some of the people
responsible for updating the techniques in the first place), is not going to
end well.

Something I know we haven’t discussed on this subject is how
this updating happens. It requires contact with people who are actually using
their training practically. Seeing what people are doing isn’t something that
you can do sitting on a mountain top. You need to actually be immersed in the
community. You look for how people are adapting to the techniques you’re
training others in, and look for ways to get around those counters.

In the case of law enforcement, one major source if
intelligence to guide updates is watching what criminals are teaching each
other in prison. Career criminals will look for ways to counter police hand to
hand, and once they have that, will (usually) share it with people they work and/or
socialize with.

A veteran coming in after years away may be able to execute
their training perfectly, and still get taken down by a rookie who received
their training last year, because they were trained to counter the veteran’s
approach.

Updating is about looking for the things that are most prevalent,
and finding ways to defend against them. It’s very likely your veteran will
understand this concept. Whether that affects their behavior is more of a
characterization question.

Incidentally, this doesn’t just apply to hand to hand, it’s
also a relevant concept when you’re talking about things like tradecraft.

Tradecraft is the shorthand for techniques used in
intelligence gathering. It’s (somewhat) all encompassing. So, anything from
social engineering to dead drops or even the way you set up surveillance could
be lumped in under this header.

Just like hand to hand training, this stuff does go out of
date. Usually once someone’s actually exploited a method and gotten caught
doing it. Though, sometimes it’s preventative.

The irony is, when it comes to being a spy, the biggest
problem is being a veteran, not being out of practice. It’s being a veteran. When
a spy starts their career, no one knows who they are, they have no reputation,
they’ve never turned up in strange places, they’re just someone walking around,
taking in the sights, maybe doing a job for some NGO.

Even if a spy is never caught, as they work, their name will
start ending up on desks, in lists of witnesses, employees, or whatever. Once
is not a pattern, but as their name keeps coming up over the years, it becomes
easier to identify them. Potential enemies start keeping files, and gradually
filling them with what they know. This means it is much harder for a veteran spy to operate in the field undetected,
than it is for a rookie.

There’s a similar issue for assassins. Either they’re a
complete ghost, no one knows who they are, and may not even believe they ever
existed, or (more likely), if they were working for a government (or any other
large, overt organization, like a corporation), they’re in the same boat as a veteran
spy. People may not know your character is an assassin, but they will know that
they worked for someone. Which in
turn, will put them on guard, and make your character’s life much harder.

There are concepts a veteran will have internalized, which
someone without training won’t understand or grasp. Thing that just don’t go
out of style. For example, bullets will blow through most residential walls and
furniture. So, if someone’s taking cover behind a couch, kitchen wall, or car
door, it’s far more expedient to simply shoot through whatever’s in your way.
Another concept is one I’ve mentioned recently, you reload when you have the
time, not when you’ve run your gun dry.

Similarly, experience they’ve learned from may still be relevant.
Being able to read someone’s intentions, know when they’re about to resort to
violence, or simply knowing the value of good intelligence aren’t going to go
away because your character spent the last five years pretending to be a well-adjusted
human being.

-Starke

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What might a character with extensive hand to hand combat skills (from say a special ops background) be shaky on when learning swordfighting skills? What kind of “mistakes” might someone with that background tend to make? Thank you!

The tricky thing about people who come from Special Forces
backgrounds is, they tend to be very adaptable. A lot of the time, people get
the perception that Special Forces get lots of specialized training that no one
else has access to, and this allows them to be more effective. That’s kinda true, but it can easily lead to a
distorted perspective of what makes them useful and effective.

What makes special operators useful isn’t their rote ability
to kill people. It’s not the specific techniques they’re trained in (though,
those do help). It’s the mindset their training screens for and then
encourages. You can, as it turns out, teach nearly anyone how to use a gun. The
hard part is finding someone who can think on their feet and come up with
solutions to their current problems quickly.

This brings us back to your question. Someone who’s trained
in hand to hand will take a little time to get used to the idea of a sword. It’s
just not something they’ve spent a lot of time with. Someone who has trained in
knife fighting will have to learn a new approach as well. But, these are things you can learn from, and adapt
to. For someone coming out of a special forces background, their training and
outlook should put them in a much
better situation to identify and address weaknesses that come with learning a
new skill. It won’t always, but it does put them in the right mindset.

Special operators aren’t unbeatable, they’re not omnipotent,
but they have been trained to identify problems and find ways to solve them. I’m
not being euphemistic here. I don’t mean, “problems” in the sense of, “oh, hey,
I need to kill those guys.” That is
a part of it, but also things like: “I need these pages somewhere I can see
them quickly;” proceeds to tape them to the wall. When you’re approaching a
character like this, it’s someone who is very good at identifying problems,
both life threatening, annoying, and everything in between, and then looking
for a way to solve them.

Also, from what I’ve seen, if an ex-operator doesn’t have
any problems to solve, they’ll get bored, then set their sights higher, and
start working towards a new goal. Again, this is part of the mindset.

Now, we are talking about human beings. Just like everyone
else, sometimes they’ll miss details, overlook something, or forget pieces of
salient information. They’ll try not to, particularly on forgetting things, and
if they identify it as a problem, they’ll try to find some way to work around
it, but it happens.

This also means, any mistakes they make, when learning a new
martial style, are something they’ll seek to learn from. Someone from that
background will make mistakes in training, the same kinds of things anyone
will, poor initial stance, imperfect technique, the kinds of mistakes you will
see from every student in that field. The difference, and why this question is
so tricky, is that they will work to
address those mistakes as quickly as possible, and to their best to learn
everything they can from those mistakes.

As for making mistakes in the field? Yes, that can happen.
But it will be based, entirely, on the situation at hand, and the information
they have. If they’re trying to solve a problem and they don’t know about something, they can’t account for it, and they can
end up with a solution that does not work. But, that’s not going to be a
problem with a sword or their technique (usually).

-Starke

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Hello there! I saw your last response to the aikido/fencing/taekwondo character anon, and I was wondering: you mentioned that muay thai and krav maga could both conceivably be blended or added to aikido– what kind of background might someone have where they might encounter those styles? And what sort of thought process do you think might lead an aikido practitioner toward wanting to add very aggressive martial arts to their repertoire? Thank you!

An Aikido practitioner who wants to be able to attack comes
to mind. As we’ve mentioned  before,
Aikido itself is a very pacifistic martial art, that doesn’t mean everyone who
practices it is. It’s fairly common for a martial artist to pick their first
martial art, “blind.” They like the idea of taking classes, but they don’t
really know what they’re looking for, so they’ll start with one that doesn’t
fit their outlook. Good schools and instructors should talk this
stuff through with prospective students, to determine if they’re a good fit for
the curriculum, but it doesn’t always happen.

Another possibility is that the Aikido practitioner found
themselves in a situation where their training really did not prepare them.
Again, this is pretty common, especially among martial artists from recreational backgrounds. When presented with an actual combat situation, they
aren’t ready. I suspect this is especially true with Aikido, given the martial
art has almost no margin for error, but I’m not sure.

As for where someone would run across Muay Thai? It’s all over the place. A lot of the schools that have popped up in The
States are far less vicious than the martial art’s original form, but this did
start out as a brutal, competitive martial style. It’s also possible someone who
wanted to compete in MMA may have gone from Aikido to Muay Thai.

With the practical variant of Krav Maga, the list is a lot
shorter. Israeli Defense Force veterans are the primary vector. That said, if
you’ve got a character with a background in law enforcement, or military
service, it’s possible they learned from an ex-IDF soldier.

However, Krav Maga is also one of the fastest growing
martial arts in the US. The version available to civilians hasn’t been kept up
to date (and may have been altered to make training safer, I’m unsure), but it
is fairly easy to come across if you live in a major metro area.

It’s probably worth pointing out, people don’t usually start
blending martial arts together until they’ve been practicing for a couple
decades (at least), and most never do. If they learn another martial art, some technical elements will bleed across (unintentionally), but
making the deliberate choice to take pieces of one martial art and incorporate
them into another is much more challenging than it appears. In the examples I
gave above, it’s more likely the Aikido practitioner would have abandoned that
martial art in favor of another style, rather than trying to mix them together.

-Starke

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My question would be which weapon (preferably one with a blade, but basically any that would be helpful in a duel and maybe on a battlefield) could be handled quite easily by an untrained woman so it could be fought with an a rather short amount of time.

When you’re
simply asking for dueling weapons you can train quickly on, the first answer is
going to be the pistol. Depending on the era, there’s a massive array of
different swords and knives which were used for ritualized duels, this is
without resorting to settings that pick a dueling weapon based on some cultural
significance.

If you
have a setting where people duel with arming swords, then that’s what your
character would need to train in to use one. If your setting uses rapiers, épées
or lightsabers, again, that’s the weapon they’re going to use.

Dueling
isn’t simply one on one melee combat. It’s a ritualized form of combat with its
own rules and procedures. Depending on the setting, this could be as simple as
declaring it, showing up and murdering your opponent, or it could be a complex
back and forth, of seconds trying to talk their duelists out of doing something
profoundly stupid, then, if they fail, serving as witnesses to confirm that the
procedures were followed correctly.

One
thing that’s important to understand is that duels are a form of dispute
resolution. Roll your eyes if you want, but this is an important concept to remember. You don’t duel someone for fun
(outside of an MMO), you duel because you perceive harm from someone else’s
actions. Within that context, a major concept in the duel is that it’s supposed
to be a, “fair fight.”

The idea
of a fair fight is something we generally criticize pretty harshly, but duels
are rare moment where it applies. Unlike in normal combat, the participants
need to follow the proper steps and observe the appropriate rules, because if they
don’t, it’s no longer a legitimate duel. This is a somewhat unusual concept
when it comes to combat, because usually, last whatever standing is the winner.
But, because it’s about resolving a dispute, duels create a very different
standard for victory.  If the person who
violated the rules prevailed, then they didn’t, “win,” instead they’re simply a
murderer (or if the duel wasn’t to the death, then the dispute remains).

In most
circumstances, duelists would have matched or “equivalent” weapons and
equipment.

Matched
weapons are pairs. For example: A brace of dueling pistols is a pair of
identical handguns. Depending on the timeframe they may be completely identical
or they could be aesthetically distinct variants of the same design. For
example, a pistol with silver filigree and an ivory grip, matched to one with a
gold filigree and a rosewood grip. I’m using pistols as an example here, but
matched dueling blades did (and do) exist as well.

Equivalent
weapons would be where both duelists have a specific type of weapon. If you’re
talking about seventeenth century Europe, you’d be talking about the rapier or
épée. This can appear to be the duelist picking their weapon, but it’s actually
reversed. The local traditions regarding dueling would dictate the weapon, and
the duelist would be limited to finding an appropriate blade.

If this
sounds a little circular, that’s because it is. Remember, a duel is a ritual
(even if it’s not usually described in those terms), and the participants must
follow the proper steps. If there’s a nominally agreed upon weapon for dueling
in that civilization, nation, or city, then that is what your character would
need to carry. They don’t get to, “pick.” In cases where dueling was rare
enough that there wasn’t a single automatic choice, then one of the
participants (depending on the local traditions, this could be the one issuing
the challenge, receiving it, or the seconds) would pick the weapons used. In
these cases, it’s entirely possible the dueling weapons wouldn’t belong to the
participants, instead being provided by some third party.

Depending
on the setting, it’s entirely possible the weapon chosen would be something
that saw battlefield use. But, again, the weapon used for dueling is decided by
the setting, not your character. Even if she had a preference, she could not
rely on taking it into a duel, unless it was the “appropriate dueling weapon.”
That means picking a weapon that’s easy to train on is, basically, not
happening.

When it
comes to training, there’s an immediate problem: You’re not training to achieve
some kind of baseline proficiency. At least, not if you intend to survive. You’re
training to be better than your opponent, thing is, your opponent’s skill isn’t
a static threshold. If they’ve been training to kill people with a blade for
years, there’s no way you can make that up in a couple weeks of intensive
training.

You can’t
rush training, not really. You can fully commit to it, and come out better than
someone who’s just going through the motions. But you can’t simply jump ahead.
You need to learn the basics, get those down, and move on to the more advanced
stuff. If you don’t, then when the moment comes, you’ll blank, and make
mistakes or freeze up. The hard part to grasp about training is, you’re not
simply seeing someone demonstrating a technique and learning it, the way you’d commit a book to memory. You’re taking that element, copying it, integrating it, making it a permanent
part of your muscle memory and the way you move, until you can execute it without thinking. There is
no way to force that to happen faster without sacrificing the quality of your
training, and your ability to actually apply it in the field. Or as my sensei
used say, “you can’t cram for muscle memory.”

-Starke

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Hey there love your blog. Quick question I’m trying to write a fanasty book where one of the main characters use both swords & guns. A katana on his left hip & a short katana on his right aswell as carrying a desert eagle on his person but he lives in a world where technology & magic exist except firearms are illegal. Is it possible to write scene’s where this combintaion works?

The “short katana” would be a wakizashi. It’s a distinct
weapon in its own right and was traditionally part of a samurai’s accoutrements,
though this is probably the least significant issue here.

The combination works in so far as you remember that real
people make really horrible decisions in an attempt to seem cool. The Desert
Eagle is a very flashy, somewhat terrible, gun. You carry one as an aesthetic
choice, not because you want to actually kill someone with it. It’s big, bulky,
unreasonably heavy, and stupidly expensive. The only point to owning one is to
say, “look at what a badass I could be.”

The katana is a very flashy, somewhat terrible, sword. Stop
me if this one sounds familiar; this is a sword you carry as an aesthetic
choice, not because you actually want to kill someone with it, but because you
want to say, “look at what a badass I could be.”

In both cases you’re talking about items that present the
concept of a weapon far more valuable, lethal, and cool, than the real articles
offer. With the katana, there’s also all of the associated cultural baggage. The
katana is, literally, a holy symbol in Shinto. If your character is carrying
one for religious reasons, that’s one thing; but, if they’re looking for “the
best sword,” then, it’s a terrible choice.

It’s also probably worth pointing out that both the Desert
Eagle and the katana require two hands to wield properly. Desert Eagles have a “floating
mag,” meaning the magazine remains somewhat loose in the grip, while locked. If
the operator fails to properly stabilize the pistol, this can result in the
pistol failing to feed, meaning it won’t properly load the next round into the
chamber, and forcing the user to cycle the slide manually. This isn’t an issue
if you’re using the pistol as designed, but if you’re trying to fire it one
handed, because your other hand is occupied with a katana, it could easily
result in a dead man’s click long before the magazine is empty.

There’s a similar issue with the katana, the design works
with the idea that the wielder will be using it with both hands. Specifically
you use your index and middle ring and pinky finger on your off-hand to control the blade,
while using your main hand for power. The problem with wielding one single
handed should be immediately obvious; you can flail around with it, but you can’t
really get much value from it that way. At that point, you’d almost be better
off with a machete, simply because it would offer a more comfortable grip, and would
be easier to swing.

While wakizashi are frequently matched with a katana and sold
together, they’re not intended for simultaneous
use. The wakizashi had distinct uses, mostly so the samurai would have a blade
they could actually use in doors, but it wasn’t supposed to be dual wielded
with a katana. Think of it like buying a kitchen knife set, sure there’s eight
knives in there, but you’re not going to be using all of them together at once.

I’ll add, I’ve got nothing against a character that has a
reason to use a katana. If it’s a badge of office, a family heirloom, a sign of
their order or training, that’s fine. It’s the idea that “this is the best
possible sword ever,” which I object to. It’s a two-handed sword. It’s not
particularly great. It has a dedicated martial style, predicated on using very
fragile blades, (and historical katanas are exceedingly fragile).

Finally, if you’ve got a setting where firearms are outlawed,
there’s a few problems specific to the Desert Eagle. I mentioned that they were
large and expensive, so let’s break those down a little. First, these are
massive pistols. A Mark XIX Desert Eagle weighs just under four and a half
pounds. For a pistol that is comically heavy. This is also a gun that is over a
foot long. These are large handguns.
They are difficult to conceal. If you’re living in a setting where owning a gun
is illegal, this is the last thing you want to be carrying on the street. (They’re
pretty terrible carry weapons in the real world as well.)

On the current market, with firearms that are legal to buy, a
used Desert Eagle will set you back at least $1,200 ($1,400 to $1,700 is more
likely, for a gun in decent shape). In contrast, if you’re shopping for a solid
conceal carry pistol you can expect to spend somewhere between $400 and $500.
Even high grade “tactical” pistols rarely break $1k, unless they’re collector’s
items (or SIGs). Most “cool” pistols you see on TV probably cost between $600
and $1k.

If you’re wondering why SIGs manage to command higher prices,
it’s because (in most cases) they’re remarkably high quality. I’ve had issues
with the American produced SIG Sauer P226s, but in general SIGs are worth the
money.

The Desert Eagle really isn’t worth the money. As I said
earlier, these are guns you buy to show off, not because you’re looking for a
carry weapon.

And, all of this is before you step back and apply the
economics for a setting where getting a handgun is illegal. At that point, you’re
talking about a gun that could easily cost more than an older model car. Those
economics skew against you even harder every time your character pulls the
trigger.

Desert Eagles come chambered in a couple different rounds.
There’s .357 magnum, .44 magnum, and .50AE. (Technically, there’s also .41
magnum and .440 variants as well.) Gun stores aren’t going to stock a lot, but
you can buy them if you’re using something chambered for it. Also worth noting,
if you’re dropping the hammer on a .50AE Desert Eagle, it will set you back
more than a dollar per bullet. (The current, actual cost in the US is ~$1.35
per round.) But, if you’re in a setting where firearms aren’t easily available,
your black market’s going to need to focus on rounds they can actually sell.
They may keep a little bit around
(and would charge way more than the
price I just quoted), but once it’s gone, getting your hands on more could be
very difficult. In this sense, it would be much safer if your character was
using a firearm that matched to the common calibers in their setting. The
reasoning is, that your black market may not keep much .50AE around (if they
keep any at all), but they probably will stock 9mm, .45, or whatever your
setting’s cops use. It’ll cost substantially more than it would in the real
world, but it will be something your character can buy. It also won’t leave
behind freakishly expensive shell casings every time they open fire. A string
of killings involving a .50AE pistol? That will bring the cops down on their
contacts looking for someone who’s been scavenging around the black market for
those 12.7mm rounds far faster than a few people who got plugged with a black
market .45.

To a lesser extent, the katana and wakizashi have a similar
issue. Yeah, sure, they’re cool, I guess, but they’re also memorable. If your
character is using a sword (and that’s common in the setting), having the cops
looking for someone using a guy with a katana will result in a much shorter
search ending at their doorstep than someone with a random non-descript sword
or even something like a machete.

If the katana is enchanted, then sure, your character is kind
of stuck with it (up to a point), but it’s still a weapon they’d need to be
somewhat careful about hiding, and more careful about using.

So, yeah, it’s entirely plausible that you’d have a character
who thought all of these were a good idea. If you have a setting where they
could actually get their hands on them is a different question.

If you’re thinking they could use the weapons together, then
no. They could switch between them, but trying to use them all at once would
result in wild flailing, and a malfunctioning pistol.

I can think of, at least, one legitimate reason why your
character might carry around a Desert Eagle (or a katana) in a setting like you’re
describing, and that’s to scare people. If you’re an enforcer for some shadowy
criminal organization, then being able to shove a 14 inch, chrome, monster gun
up someone’s nose is an effective option (and yes, the Desert Eagle is a model of handgun you can press
into someone without disabling it). But, even then, they’d probably carry
something far more practical for times when they were there to kill someone,
and not just put the fear of Elmer Keith into them.

Depending on the setting (or the organization they work for),
then they might carry and use a katana for that kind of intimidation instead.
For instance: If they were Yakuza, it would make some sense. At that point, you
might reasonably get a character who
used that exact set of weapons for intimidation, and would actually use the
katana or wakizashi when provoked.

In general, though, there’s nothing wrong with a character
thinking this is all a good idea. It’s not. But, if they could afford it, they
might go chasing after that concept anyway.

-Starke

EDIT: As @fox-bright kindly reminded me, it’s the third and fourth fingers on your off hand that you use to control a katana, rather than the first and second. Sorry about that.

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hi i was wondering if you new anything about how to write from the point of view of a sniper? like in what would be going through their head as they take the shot? thanks :)

This probably isn’t going to be a particularly satisfying
answer for you; but you need to learn about your character’s profession. This
is a mandatory step when you’re creating, nearly, any character. The old advice
is to, “write what you know.” The restrictive way to interpret it would be
thinking you can’t write someone fundamentally different from yourself, which
isn’t true, you simply need to do some research, and learn about who your
character would be.

In this case, that means looking into the mindset of
snipers. There’s a fair amount of non-fiction material on the subject out there.
Offhand, Chris Kyle’s autobiography, and a couple books from Nicholas Irving come to mind. These are blind recommendations, I haven’t read any, but, they
should help you with understanding the mindset of a modern sniper. Obviously,
if your character lacks a military background, then these books might not be
exactly what you’re looking for, but it should point you in the right
direction. There’s also a much wider range of literature on the subject, if modern
day US Special Forces really isn’t on point.

Depending on what you dig up, the answer may be as simple as
simply running the math, adjusting, and then putting a round out there, without
any real reflection on what that bullet is doing.

The best source of information would be people who have
actually been snipers (or done whatever job you’re researching). You may need
to parse out and analyze who they are as a person from what they’ve written,
but they would be the ones who knew what they were thinking.

-Starke

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How realistic or unrealistic are battle couples, provided they have sufficient mental discipline? Is it even realistic to have two people working together to fight the same opponent hand-to-hand, or is focusing on both your opponent and your partner too much? What if one person is a distraction (by fighting the opponent head-on) so the other person can stab them in the back, so to speak? Is that too risky?

You’re asking a lot of questions here and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with having a romantic relationship with your working partner.

Some things first:

1) The relationship between a battle couple and any platonic working partnership are not really any different in most cases except that they share a romantic relationship.

2) You don’t need a functional or professional partnership or partnership at all to fight in a group or gang up on an individual.

3) Fraternization just as often falls into casual sex as it does a romantic relationship, if not more often.

4) Almost none of what you’re asking has to do with romance.

Falling in love on the battlefield happens, it happens a lot. Combat is a high stress environment and people are people. Just because something isn’t a good idea or is unprofessional doesn’t mean it won’t happen, it just means you’ve got an added benefit of complications.

Some people can handle romantic relationships with an SO who also engages in combat, even one who engages in combat with them. Those are the ones who can compartmentalize between being on the battlefield and being off it. However, if they can’t (there is a very good possibility that they can’t) then it becomes a real problem. When they can’t handle the stress or the distraction, if they can’t put the romance aside, then their relationship puts everyone at risk, including their mission.

When you’re fighting, especially with a goal in mind, one person’s life cannot be more important than the mission.

It takes a significant amount of trust for a battle couple to function because their romantic partner cannot afford to jump in and save them when things start going sideways. Both participants need to be the kind of people that when the choice is between their partner or the mission, they choose the mission.

This concept is one that’s very difficult to grasp if you’re setting out to write a romance, because most of the normal steps you’d take to fulfill that romance will leave the battle couple hamstrung and unable to function. You can’t have the guy or girl jumping in to save their guy or girl when it looks like they’re about to die, they have to trust their partner to save themselves.

That is hard.

This is a very difficult state to handle emotionally. Imagine, you are at risk of losing your loved one at all times and you can’t do a damn thing about it. You can’t obsess or brood over it, because you can’t afford that kind of distraction. Whether they’re right in front of you or on a battlefield somewhere else, you can’t think about it. You’ve got to focus on keeping yourself alive, because that keeps everyone else alive, and by doing what you can you help to ensure the survival of both your loved one and your team. You’ve got to do your job, even when you’re about to lose everything you ever gave a damn about and its within your power to stop it.

A true battle couple is one who exists in complete equality, trust, and partnership with their significant other on the battlefield. They keep a cool head and a cool heart while in the midst of gut wrenching emotional turmoil. They don’t baby, they don’t hover, they don’t keep a careful eye on, and they don’t obsess until the fighting’s over. They don’t sacrifice their own life or their own body to keep their lover from getting injured. They don’t break position.

If they do any of the above, they will both die and so will anyone who is relying on them. If you are writing characters where the relationship is more important than the mission, more important than the team, more important than surviving the fight in front them then you have, narratively speaking, a serious problem.

This is not a bad one to have in a story or an unrealistic one in life, romantic relationships on the battlefield are built around this concept, but it does need to be addressed. If its not, tragedy strikes.

If you’re writing a battle couple, you need two characters who when faced with the choice between saving their loved one and stopping the bomb from blowing up downtown Manhattan, they pick the bomb.

And, in fiction, that’s not normally what love is.

It also has to be both of them, they both need this very specific outlook to function while in combat together. If one has it, but the other doesn’t then tragedy strikes. If neither have it, tragedy strikes. They need to be on the same page.

The reason why the military and other combat groups prohibit fraternization is because romantic relationships inevitably fuck everything up. If they can handle it, great. However, the all to likely outcome, for either one or both parties involved, is they can’t.

They’ll do it anyway though, because people are people.

When you engage in violence, that violence and training separates you from the general population. You’ve been through experiences that most people cannot comprehend or relate to and that makes maintaining relationships difficult. There’s a lot to be said for being in a relationship with someone of similar background, who can empathize with your experiences, who has been through what you’ve been through. You don’t need to look much further than the rate of divorce among the FBI or CIA to understand just how difficult maintaining a relationship in an incredibly stressful environment is.

As humans, we crave having a partner we can relate to. With whom we can share our secrets. Who won’t judge us for the terrible things we’ve done. When you have to rely on each other for survival, attraction, desire, even love becomes easy. It’s often a false sense of connection built on desperation, one which if born inside the environment won’t function outside of it, but that doesn’t mean it feels any less real.

When you might die tomorrow, sometimes you just want to feel something, anything at all, and that’s where the causal sex comes in.


Casual Sex:

In mixed gender units, casual sex is really common. Not romantic relationships, mind. It’s just sex, and it doesn’t go any further than that. It’s desperation, it is all about sensation, and a reminder for the participants that they are alive.

When dealing with these types of relationships in your fiction, its important to remember that the emotional component is neither needed nor wanted. They’re not looking for comfort. They’re looking for sensation, to feel something before they (potentially) die.

Because the author controls everything in their fictional world, it can often become difficult to remember and insert qualities like the random chance of dealing with the unknown. We’ve often got characters that are necessary to the plot, who become identified as “safe”, and behave differently because they know they’re going to live through the fight or battle to get to the end of the story.

It becomes important to learn to live in the moment. To live in the twilight hour on the night before a battle, to be unsure, when the character doesn’t know what will happen next. If you don’t then there is a whole array of human emotions, experiences, and terrible choices that you’ll never touch on in your fiction.

If you don’t, you’ll be all the poorer for it.

The Two on One Battle: Real.

You don’t need to be in a relationship, or even particularly well-trained, to accomplish this. Two versus one happens a lot and the pair off usually wins because eight limbs trumps four. One person locks up the individual, the other circles and attacks on vectors they can’t defend from. We’re social animals. Our natural instincts will help us more when we’re fighting in a group as opposed to fighting alone.

1 v Group is a bad situation to be in if you’re the one, and it doesn’t matter how well trained you are. Numbers will kill you.

Part of the reason why you see single characters fighting groups in movies and other fiction is to establish that they’re great fighters. The problem is that this has become so widespread that we now think fighting a group is easier than fighting a single, skilled individual. This is untrue. The group will kill you because the individuals within the group can move onto vectors that cannot be defended.

What your describing in your question in a battle between three people in a two on one is normal behavior, its standard tactics. However, you’re also demonstrating the exact kind of behavior for why two people engaged in a romantic relationship should not be on the battlefield together.

If you’re ever sitting there and wondering if something that is a basic and bog standard tactic is now, suddenly, too dangerous because your characters are dating then that is the exact problem.

Things that are normal suddenly become too risky, and the focus transitions to preserving their lover’s life rather than making use of their significant advantage over their enemy.

That is the exact kind of thinking which will cost them their lives, and for no benefit at all.

Good job.

-Michi

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