Tag Archives: character building

Seasons greetings to you! Q: how do pull off the Reveal of the Hidden Villain? The heroine didn’t know she was the Big Bad ’til Part 3, nor was she visible or near the heroine. They do have a personal connection, but my trouble is showing that. D:

I don’t usually nitpick the way a question’s phrased, but in
this case, “The heroine didn’t know she was the Big Bad,” is an ambiguous way
to phrase it. This could mean either that your protagonist didn’t know who the
villain was, or that she didn’t realize that she was in fact the antagonist all
along. Of the options, the latter is more of a head trip, so I’ll hit that too
on the way out.

When it comes to structuring a story, where the villain is ambiguous,
identifying them will be a persistent thread through the story up to that
point. It may be the entire focus. A very loose structure these kinds of
stories work with is that your protagonists spend their first act working to
identify their foe, the second act learning about them and formulating plans to
go after them, and the final act putting their plans into motion, and
scrambling to pull out a victory.

I say, “very loose,” because you can step back and really
mess with the structure. Such as having your characters know who they’re going
after from the beginning but working to prove it, or learning a lot about who
their foe is without actually putting a name or face to them (which is what you’re
describing).

If you want to look at this in an overly mechanical way;
your characters are going to be spending the story trying to collect
information. That’s the currency that drives their story. They need pieces of
it to put together who is responsible. Missing even a few pieces along the way
can critically undermine their ability to accurately anticipate who they’re
working against. This has a knock-on effect of further distorting their
expectations and perceptions of what’s to come. One mistaken assumption or
missed clue can lead to erroneous assumptions that form the basis for theories
that are further removed from the truth.

Most good mysteries operate off a very careful formula: The
author drops the evidence about what really happened in front of the
protagonists and the readers, mixed into a larger collection of red herrings,
and relevant information that the characters do seize upon initially.

Bad mysteries will usually withhold the information necessary
to contextualize the rest, and then pull it out in an effort to keep the
audience off balance. Often with the intent of making the protagonist seem
preternaturally intelligent. Really, all the author did was lie to the
audience, and then stick their pet in the spotlight.

In case it’s unclear: Please, do not do this. Having your
audience get ahead of your biggest reveal is not the end of the world. Sure,
some will be smug about it, but realizing the author was, in fact, playing fair
with their puzzles can make the material infinitely more interesting on a
return trip.

Also, it’s basically impossible to hide anything from your
audience. If you have a character who’s secretly the villain, a savvy reader
will realize it due to Ebert’s Law of Conservation of Characters (assuming you’re
writing with that in mind). The easiest way around this is to make sure that
your secret villain is actually pulling double duty, and not just there to be
the antagonist, but we’ll come back to that in a second.

Roger Ebert’s Law on Conservation of Characters holds that
every character in a film (or any media, really) needs to serve a purpose, so
by eliminating each character who serves a necessary narrative function, you
can immediately identify the killer/traitor/secret santa/whoever you’re trying
to hide from the audience.

The thing about this is, it is really good advice. Good writing is, usually, concise, clear, and
easy to understand. You’re communicating with people, and presenting as little unnecessary
information as possible is a strength. (The red herrings in mysteries are an
exception to this, but you should still strive to deliver them as quickly and
concisely as you can.) It’s worth remembering, some of the texture for your
material is necessary for selling the
scene. But, you need to be asking yourself, “do I really need this line?”

The same is true of characters. If a character doesn’t need
to be in your story, they probably shouldn’t be there. This is more pronounced
with films, where each character indicates that they were important enough to
include in the story and pay an
actor to stand there and deliver the lines. It’s one of the reasons why you’ll
often see minor characters excised from adaptations, while their only critical
dialog is migrated to one of the more important characters. With this in mind,
Ebert would run through the cast and simply look for someone who wasn’t doing
anything useful. Thing is, this does work in writing as well.

This is what I meant about the antagonist pulling double
duty. It’s not enough to show that they’re the villain, if you really want to
hide it from the audience, they also need to be the mentor, love interest,
perky sidekick, CGI “comic relief” atrocity, or the protagonist.

Once you know what their role in the story is, and the fact
that they’re also secretly the villain, you have a lot of room to work with, and you can set up some fantastic subtext
tension for your villain, that is only obvious on a second reading.

For example: if your protagonist is being mentored by the
villain, and the villain genuinely cares about the protagonist’s growth as an
individual. They have an immediate conflict of interest. They may honestly want
the protagonist to grow, learn, and have a better ability to understand what
they’re looking at, while still advancing their own agenda that the protagonist
opposes.

When you’re working with something like this, it’s important
to remember that people can want two separate things, and due to the actions of
others, those goals can come into conflict with each other. It doesn’t mean
that you immediately pick a side, but it will put some hard decisions in front
of you. Or, your characters in this case.

If you’re still wondering how to tie your characters
together, it’s the connections like this that you’re probably looking for. At a
very simple level, “how do you show a connection between two character?” You
put those characters in a room and have them interact. You let them show their
relationship with each other. Whether that’s romantic, platonic, mentor/pupil,
patron/client, or just shared history. But, you show that.

The other option is, of course, that your heroine is also
the villainess. There’s a lot of ways you can run with this idea, that range
from cheesy to profound. The cheesy end includes things like a character who
swaps between two separate persona. Without something to justify it, this
specific approach tends to undermine the whole, “I didn’t know I was the villain
all along,” thing. There are ways to pull it off, where someone ends up
investigating their own under the table operations, without realizing it,
because they’ve insulated themselves from that level of their criminal
enterprise. For instance, you could have a corrupt cop, who knows they’re a
corrupt cop, but doesn’t realize that the drug dealers they’re investigating
actually work for their proxies. A situation like that wouldn’t, usually, last
long, because one of their minions would ask them what they’re doing.

Another classic option is the doppelganger. This may simply
be a copy of the character from somewhere else, a supernatural simulacra, an
alternate version from the future, whatever. There are uses for stuff like
this, but it’s tricky to work with. I’d scratch it off the list entirely if things
like mirror universes didn’t also allow you to play around with a radically
different interpretation of your characters. In traditional folklore the doppelganger
was a sign of one’s impending death (though not at the hands of the doppelganger
itself). Make of that what you will.

Finally, you can have a protagonist who is, in fact, the
villain, as a result of their actions. Heroes and villains exist on a very fine
line. The actions of the hero are sanctioned based on the context of those
actions. When you start to strip that context, or reveal it as a lie, it
becomes very possible to present someone as the hero only to realize, at the
end, that they really were a villain all along.

There’s two ways to approach this. The first is that your
character comes to their villainy over the course of the story. By abandoning
their principles in pursuit of victory. The cliché is, “the road to hell is
paved with good intentions,” though I much prefer Buckminster Fuller’s, “Those
who play with the devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.” However
you want to abstract this, the arc is that your character grows from a hero
into the new villain. It’s one hell of a third act revelation, when they can
step back and in a moment of introspection, realize they’d become what they
fought against.

The other approach is that your character was always the
villain. This may be that your noble freedom fighter was, in fact, a ruthless
terrorist, who distorted the facts to soothe their own conscience. They may
have viewed their actions as justified, when they actually violently
overreacted at every turn. Their casual cruelty may have been the very thing
that fed the movement they were working against, justifying the group they perceived
as the villains.

To quote Michael Douglas’ Bill Foster in Falling Down (1993), “I’m the bad guy?” “How’d
that happen?”

-Starke

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Hi! I am writing a character who is new too special operations group of witches responisble aprehending magic & monsters. For plot reasons they engage in a firefight vs humans. How do i write the thoughts of a character reluctant to shoot but has to

By writing a character who is reluctant to shoot, but needs to.

There are many potential contexts where you may be required to do something you don’t want to.

A character who signed up to kill monsters may not like being forced to open fire on civilians who are attacking them, but they may not have a choice. For some it is enough that they’re in danger, or that their friends and colleagues are under threat.

This gets especially muddy if the normal humans are being manipulated via magic, or some monstrous compulsion. These are the same people your character signed on to protect, and in order to save others, they’ll need to kill these victims.

How your character deals with this is a major element of what defines them as a character. If they’re well disciplined, it probably won’t happen in the moment, but in the days and weeks after the incident, they’re going to need to find a way to come to terms with what they’ve done. That could be simply rationalizing it as a “them or me,” or “for the greater good,” or it could be a real sign that this line of work just isn’t for them, no matter how badly they wanted it to be.

-Starke

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what kind of sniper rifles would be used by americans? my characters are in a “”gang”” of sorts and one of their trademarks is having a member outside with one for headshots if a deal goes down. i haven’t been able to find information on what they would have access to, or even rare types of rifles that would surprise the police that they owned but still be in the realm of possibility

If it’s a “trademark,” that’s going to cause problems. People dealing with
them will learn they need to find and eliminate the sniper, and then they’re
free to screw over the other rep.

On the surface, this kind of contingency planning is a good thing. But, it’s
also important not to simply use the same tactic repeatedly. Eventually someone’s
going to want to rip off your characters, and at that point, if your character’s
backup is predictable, that becomes a known quantity they can neutralize and
get on with their day.

Someone who rigs the merchandise with explosives on a deadman’s switch one
day, has a sniper on overwatch the next, and rounds out the week with a hand off
in a public place is going to be a lot harder to screw over than someone who
sticks with a single method every time.

Incidentally, another fantastic way to screw your sniper plan over would be
to insist on the hand off occurring in a crowded public space like a train
station or inside the security cordon at an airport. Your sniper can’t just
start shooting into the crowd if things go wrong, and depending on the
population density, one guy with a 9mm there, specifically, to screw over your
characters will be able to walk away in the ensuing chaos.

Headshots are also a problem, though not exactly for the same reason. The
thing about shooting someone in the head, even through a scope, is it’s a lot
harder than putting a round in their chest. Professional shooters aim for the
torso, calling it “center mass.” The logic is fairly simple. You’re odds of
putting a bullet somewhere in their chest are much better than trying to put a
round through their head. Combine this with the fact that headshots are not always
lethal, and taking someone’s head off becomes a lot less appealing.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a character that focuses on headshots
because they think that’s what being professional means, or because they’re a
showoff. But, they’re more likely to completely miss their target, especially
if they’re moving.

Like headshots, center mass hits aren’t completely lethal, but you’re far
more likely to hit something necessary on an imperfect shot, than a near miss
that was trained on their head.

In an urban environment, you don’t actually need a sniper rifle. At the
ranges your characters will be dealing with, your character could make due with
a scoped .223 varmint rifle. Really, the difference between a hunting rifle and
a precision sniper rifle is just quality control. If you’re trying to put a
round in someone a block away, slapping a scope on a civilian variant H&K
G3 or M14 would serve your character adequately. Failing that, they could get
the job done with nearly any off-the-shelf .30-06 hunting rifle. Which is
basically what you’re buying with most sniper rifles. An overpriced, QA
certified, hunting rifle.

If your character is engaging in criminal activity, that “overpriced” part
is just money down the drain. They don’t get anything for it, and the weapon
needs to be tossed after it’s used. That is; if they’re smart.

When the police investigate a crime scene they’re going to be looking bullets
and shell casings. The bullet will allow you to match to the barrel, while the
casings will allow you to identify the model of firearm used.

At this point, if you’re reusing a gun between multiple crime scenes, there
will be, easy to follow, forensic evidence that will tie your character’s
actions together.

This is more of an issue if they’re acting as an assassin, but if your
character is an intelligent, professional, criminal, they need to toss and
replace their guns after using them on a job. There are plenty of idiots who
will keep using the same guns, or don’t have the resources (and connections) to
replace their weapon on a whim. But, depending on how your characters are
presented, this is a serious consideration.

Either their gun is an element of their character, and a serious liability
moving forward, or it’s a tool they need for their job, and something they
replace as needed.

Similarly, if your character is focusing on exotic or unusual firearms, that’s
something that will make them much easier to identify and track, than someone
using cheap, off-the-shelf weapons they bought on the black market.

The goal for most professional criminals is to be as unremarkable as
possible. It makes tracking them down after the fact much harder. Conversely,
someone waving around a WA 2000 is going to be singularly memorable. It’s an
incredibly rare and expensive gun that, yes, you can buy, but there are only
176 of the guns in existence (and only about 15 in the United States). That
means, if your character is using one, they’re part of a very small group of
people, and much more easily identified than someone using a $500 Remington Model
700 they bought with a stolen ID at Wal-Mart last week.

This doesn’t mean your character can’t spend $40,000 on a WA 2000. It also
doesn’t mean they absolutely have to throw it in the trash if they use it on a
job. But, in both cases, it’s a very bad idea, for the reasons mentioned above.
As with headshots, this is a legitimate choice, it’s just a very poor one on the
part of a character, which illustrates that they’re an amateur pretending to be
a professional.

What your character needs is an accurate high power rifle. It can be
semi-auto, or bolt action. It needs to accept a scope, almost all will. But
that leaves a lot of options, ranging from civilian variant battle rifles to
common hunting rifles. The former are going to be slightly more “exotic” and
come with the benefit of being semi-automatic, with large magazines, but this
is something you’re going to need to nail down for yourself.

-Starke

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Hello! If I have a character who is a near Olympic level gymnast, how could this influence her fighting style? I’m willing to stretch a bit of the disbelief as far as using her skills in combat, but I don’t want to be completely unrealistic.

Realistically, it means she can’t afford to fight, or she doesn’t know how.

Olympic level training is beyond a full time job. It’s something that requires a serious, constant, commitment. It is not something you receive, stop doing, and come back to later. The line between Olympic and “not quite” is on your character’s determination to be the best, not how much training they’re doing. You need a lot of training just to approach Olympic level in anything.

Olympic level training also isn’t something you can take a break from and come back to later. Extreme conditioning like this only lasts as long as you keep maintaining it, and will quickly degenerate when you stop. Additionally, your character is in constant competition with other athletes. Combine these factors and any time they take off will put them at a distinct disadvantage against their competitors. This includes time they need to heal any injuries sustained in fights.

Ironically, in this respect, it’s not that different from practical hand to hand training. It needs to be maintained because you’re in direct competition with the people trying to kill you. Though, the time commitment for hand to hand training is much lower. (With, the important exception: characters going for advanced belt rankings will need to commit considerable time to their training. The higher the ranking, the more time required.) Practical hand to hand training is usually refreshed every few months, rather than being a constant commitment.

There aren’t enough hours in the day for your gymnast to reach near Olympic levels and train to combat proficiency in a martial art. As in life, your characters need to specialize. People can’t do everything. There are limits. “If I want to do this, I’ll need to give up that.” This is called opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is the idea that for each decision you make, you give up alternate options. The opportunity cost for even attempting to be the best in the world at anything is severe. You need to sacrifice a lot in pursuit of that dream. It’s important to remember, this also applies to your characters. And, yes, being “near Olympic level” is an attempt to be the best in the world. A failed attempt, but an attempt all the same.

For a character who is pursuing an Olympic dream, the strain of combat is career ending. We’ve talked about the physical costs associated with violence before, but it’s worth saying this again: combat will wreck your body. Even if you come out on top, even if you win, violence will tear your body apart.

For a normal person, assuming there aren’t any serious injuries, the strain of a single fight isn’t a serious problem. Everything aches for a couple days (sometimes up to a week), it’s unpleasant but life goes on. (In most cases, we’re more concerned with the cumulative effect of violence over time.) However, for someone who is already pushing their body to its limits, those aches mean they should take time off and allow their body to recover. But, they’re not likely to do that because stopping will put them behind the curve. This means that rather than giving their body time to heal, they’re going to aggravate their injuries, which will also impair their ability to compete.

So, the very short answer is, it will affect your character because she didn’t have time to learn how to fight. If she’s still training to be in the Olympics it will probably knock her out of contention. Both because she’s getting into fights, and because it will prevent her training. Though, if that’s because of an attempt to power through the pain going catastrophically wrong or because of her trainers pulling the plug and making sure she has the opportunity to heal is up to you.

-Starke

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I’m writing a story about people who fight demons, which are generally bestial, and range in size. I’m trying to give all my characters different weapons to make it a bit more interesting, and I was wondering how effective a kusarigama might be for fighting against demons? And if not, are there any weapons that are somewhat similar that might be better to use?

So, we’ve said this before: you use the right tool for the right job. Weapons are just tools. You have a situation where you need to remove an ambulatory object from your environment. What that object is, and where it is, will determine the necessary tool.

When you’re dealing with aggressive monsters, a kusarigama, is almost certainly, the wrong tool. For those of you who don’t know what a kusarigama is; it’s a kama (an Asian hand scythe) with a weighted chain attached to the grip. It’s held like a normal kama in one hand, while the other hand grips the chain, adjusting the length, and controlling the pattern of the chain strikes. The blade on the grip is then used when the opponent closes, or their defense is compromised, to the point that the kusarigama’s wielder can close the distance. And, no, you don’t grip the chain and swing the blade around.

Unfortunately, when dealing with monsters, the issue isn’t getting close enough to use something like this, it’s surviving if you end up there. If you’re dealing with something that is inhumanly strong, and inhumanly fast, getting that close is suicide. It’s a large part of why, historically, spears and bows were used for hunting, along with much more specialized tools.

The problem with one weapon warriors is: what happens when the weapon breaks, is lost, or otherwise disabled? If your character has a sword as their only weapon, getting backhanded by a demon, thrown 10 feet, and seeing their sword flying off into the valley below is a death sentence.

Now, what you’d actually see, historically, were soldiers who would carry backup weapons. They’d frequently start with a polearm, and carry a sword as a sidearm, and possibly other weapons as backups, or for specific situations, or emergencies.

If your characters are hunting a 10 foot tall demon with polearms, and other more specialized tools designed specifically to exploit it’s weaknesses. If that’s a magical sword, that is the only thing that can actually slay them, then that is going to have to be there.

As a general rule, don’t rely on weapons to distinguish your characters. It’s fine as a stepping stone while learning, but I would strongly encourage you to look at your characters as people, with distinct personal histories, shaped by their formative experiences, and colored by their resulting philosophies. Rather than just, “I have a big guy, so he needs a big weapon.”

Think about what your characters experienced, and how that shaped them into who they are when your story begins. You don’t need to go back and dredge all of that up for the reader, unless you feel it’s appropriate. But, let your character’s experiences shape them into the people they’ve become, rather than using their weapons as a flashcard.

There is one major exception to this. If you’re working in a visual
medium, particularly anime and manga, though the same can apply with
comics and cartoons as a whole, then the individual weapons can help the
reader quickly distinguish your characters at a glance. It also varies
up your combat sequences in a way that can keep the material feeling
fresher, longer. If that’s what you’re aiming for, it’s a genre
convention for good reason. But, this is a design element that does not
translate to prose.

This may seem like a non-sequitor recommendation, but, I would strongly recommend taking a look at The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. The Last Wish is probably the best self contained introduction to the setting and characters, though Sword of Destiny is a much meatier look at the idea of professional monster hunters in a fantasy setting. Both are absolutely worth being included in your frame of reference for writing fantasy monster hunters.

-Starke

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How can a blind person fight an able bodied person in a farmhouse, and still manage to get away?

They can’t.

Blind martial artists do exist. They’re something of a rarity, but blindness
doesn’t mean you can’t learn martial arts. They can’t learn it the same way a
sighted martial artist would; it requires an entirely different teaching
method. Blindness also doesn’t mean they can’t win a fight. But, being able to
see is a critical advantage.

It’s the difference between knowing there’s a knife on the kitchen table,
and not. It’s the difference between knowing your opponent is going for that
knife, or not. It’s the ability to transition stance and techniques to deal
with a suddenly armed opponent.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “but, they’ll hear it.” Yes. But the sound
itself is far less informative than the ability to see what your opponent is
doing. Was that a knife? A loaded 1911? The TV remote? If you can see it, then
you know. But, if you can’t…

In fact, of the two major sensory disabilities, a deaf fighter will be far
better suited to deal with actual combat than a blind one. You can operate
without being able to hear your opponent. You’re still at a serious
disadvantage, but it is far less debilitating.

That’s the first problem, the second is escape. How does your character know
it’s a farm house? More importantly, even once they find a way outside, how do
they know what direction to run in?

If they know where they are, then that’s partially averted. If it’s their
home, they can get around, and know where to go for safety. But, if it’s
unfamiliar territory, then running won’t make things better.

Even in the best circumstances, without a disability, getting away from an
attacker takes quick thinking, situational awareness, and some running. For
someone who’s blind, that’s not impossible, but it is much more difficult. They
need to know where they are, where they can find safety, and how to get between
those two points without being harmed or killed in the process. Without using
visual cues to establish or help with any of that.

We get variations on questions fairly frequently. But, disabilities mean
there are things characters cannot do. Things a normal person could do easily
become difficult. Things a normal person could do with difficulty become
impossible. It doesn’t mean they can’t participate. Or that they don’t have
value. But it does mean, for someone living with a disability, they can’t
simply overcome it on a whim.

I say this, and I still love Daredevil. I’ll still argue he’s one of the
most compelling characters Stan Lee ever created. You can have a character who
finds strength in adversity. But, it never comes from disregarding his
disability.

We get a lot of questions that run in a similar thread to this one. “My
character lost an arm…” “Is deaf in one ear…” “Has PTSD…” “Is blind
in one eye…” “Has no lower intestine…” And it follows to the inevitable, “how
can they ignore that and do what I want?” They can’t. You shouldn’t. Ignoring
it is incredibly disrespectful to people that actually live with those
disabilities, and, to borrow a term from roleplaying games, being a munchkin.
These are very different issues from the original question, but, let’s hit each
one in turn.

The first is an extension of The Law of Conservation of Characters. This is
a term that was coined (I think) by Roger Ebert. Basically, if you’re taking
the time to put a character in your story, they need to be there for a reason.
He would use it as a test to identify the traitor/killer/surprise lagoon
monster, ahead of schedule by looking at the cast and identifying any character
that did not serve a purpose.

The extension is to turn it around and be aware of this in your own writing.
If you’re putting a character in your story, there needs to be a reason.
Further, if they have a trait (any trait) it also needs to be there for a
reason. If you’re adding a character with a disability because, “you want to,”
then you’re going to (at best) be pandering or (at worst) pretending to be inclusive to
make yourself feel better.

And, yes, actually talking about a disability is a legitimate reason to put
it in your story. If you’re writing about the experiences of someone who has
lost their sight, then that is a trait that needs to be there. If that’s the
case, then you really need to do some in depth research on the subject
before starting.

If you’re adding traits to a character because they add texture to the world
or provide red herrings, that can certainly be legitimate. For example: if
you’re writing a murder mystery, and one of the suspects was a soldier who
fought against the victim’s side during “the war,” then that’s both. Also, in a
good classic murder mystery or spy thriller, a few extra red herring characters
aren’t necessarily a misstep.

But, at the same time, you do need to consider what those traits are, and if
they’re appropriate for the story you’re trying to tell. If you’re writing
about a character escaping from kidnappers, then blindness or being a
paraplegic will throw a monkey wrench into the entire endeavor.

If you’re writing a murder mystery, and the character with the clear motive
couldn’t be the killer, because they’re blind, and the victim was sniped… then
that’s a piece of the puzzle.

I’m singling out mysteries here, because that’s one of few the genres that
embraces red herrings as plot devices.

If you’re simply adding disabilities to a character because you want to be,
“inclusive…” Please, for fuck sake; stop. It’s not inclusive, it is, at best,
pandering, and frequently, insulting.

So, let’s talk about munchkins, and what they mean to you as a writer.

If you’re somehow not familiar with the term, a munchkin is an RPG player
who aggressively builds their characters to be as powerful as possible,
subverting the rules and common sense as needed. As far as I know, the term
dates back to UseNet posts in the early 90s, though the word itself is borrowed
from The Wizard of Oz books.

The closest literary relative would be a Mary Sue, but that’s not really an
applicable analogy because of the methods a Munchkin uses to optimize their
character. Munchkinism is heavily dependent on a game’s specific rules, but, in
extremely broad strokes, a Munchkin will take penalties in something they don’t
care about in order to boost the capabilities they’re using to exploit the
system.

What does this mean? It goes back to what I was saying a minute ago. If you’re
giving your character a trait, it needs to be there for a reason. The basic
trade off mechanic that munchkins feed on is one that makes a lot of sense in
building a character. If you have a character who is socially inept, but very
intelligent, that makes sense as a basic design tradeoff. It is a quick
reliable way to remind yourself that your characters are different people. One
does this, another does that.

Frequently, in Munchkinism, you’re looking for ways to take penalties that
won’t actually matter, because you can just work around them, or trade the
penalties elsewhere. If you’re building a character as a combat piece, and nothing
else, that’s not really a problem. But, in roleplaying, as with writing, the
first goal is to tell a story, not to demonstrate your prowess as a rules
lawyer.

You’ll see elements of this in some Mary Sues. The character, as written,
has some horrible flaw that just… gets… ignored, by everyone. We’re told
they’re socially awkward, but see no evidence of it in the actual text. We’re
told they can’t drive, but we’re never shown any of day to day hindrance that causes.
We’re told they’re pathologically afraid of violence… because they’re
fantastic at it? That’s not how that works.

And, that’s the problem with a lot of these questions. They boil down to, “I
slapped a penalty on my character, now how do I cheat my way around it?” You
don’t. You shouldn’t. Embrace it.

When you’re writing, you create the world and set the rules. You might be
borrowing those rules from some approximation of reality, but you set them. What
makes characters interesting isn’t the things they can do, it’s the things that
limit them. The things you put in front of your character that they can’t
overcome without significant effort, or that they’re unwilling to yield
against, even when it breaks them. In creating your world, you need to set
those limits and work within them, rather than looking for ways to subvert them.

Characters who work against their limits are far more interesting and
memorable than ones who slip the bounds and stomp off. Sometimes that means you’ve
written a character who can’t fight. You can go two ways with that; they refuse
to admit they’re not up for it, and keep getting beaten down, or they try to
work their way around without resorting to violence.

How does a blind character get out of a rural farmhouse where they’re being
held? By being smarter or more manipulative than their captors. By working out
the weak links in the social fabric of their captors. By finding a way to
contact someone in the outside world. By thinking, really, thinking about their
situation, and making sure they have a plan for what they’ll do next. (Get a
knife, stab the guy… what’s next?) That you’re asking, suggests you have no
more of an idea than I do, and you have more information on the setting.

Does blindness give them access to any more information that a sighted
character wouldn’t have? Maybe. But, if asked about a character with no prior
history of violence, my final advice would be the same. You set up a situation
where violence should be the last resort, and has the greatest risk of getting
your character killed. Unless they want to die, their own ability in risk
assessment should have pointed them somewhere else.

-Starke

Fight Write: How Do You Choose a Martial Art?

The weapon choices and martial style that an author makes for their character is just one more expression of who they are. What we choose tells the reader a great deal about them without the author having to spend time a lot of time elaborating on what it is and what that means. So here area few simple questions to ask yourself when picking out a MA:

1) Ask yourself: what sort of person is my character?

Often times, authors choose Martial Arts based on what they look like, not on how well they mesh with the character’s outlook/job. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually an excellent example of this, in the first few seasons she uses a basic punching and kicking style based mostly out of Tae Kwan Do because it’s more visually dynamic. But the style rarely reflects the sort of fighting she’s actually doing, nor her personality. Buffy is a heavy hitter, she enjoys beating on others in a very close environment. She enjoys slamming them into walls and doors. She’s not actually a well-trained fighter, instead she relies mostly on her superpowers to get the job done. Comparatively, Tae Kwan Do requires an immense amount of training. It’s a style that focuses on accuracy, control, and speed over physical power to finish the fight quickly. It’s unsuitable for a fighter a) doesn’t spend a lot of time stretching and b) who doesn’t want to put a lot of effort in to become good at it.

Now, compare the choices made in Buffy to those in Avatar: the Last Airbender. In Avatar, the character’s personalities are a reference to the four elements and the styles they practice are based primarily around those elements. Aang as a character can be hyper and flighty, zooming from place to place on his air scooter. Katara is a Yin/Yang like water, capable of both extreme anger and extreme kindness, her personality is built around a complex set of pushes and pulls. Like the water she wields, she can be both stubborn and flexible in her outlook.

2) What does my character do?

If you have trouble with the first question, the second best place to start with a character and an MA is their job. What do they do? Are they a dried up policeman/woman? Then, their training will be based in what’s commonly taught to police officers with possible additions from outside sources that they pick up on their own time. Army/Marine/Air Force are the same, however their training is similar but separate, the hand to hand styles the Military uses are constantly in development and are constantly being updated to stay relevant. If your character is former Special Forces/CIA/FBI then they’re training will no longer be up to date, no matter how good they were initially.

So, make sure you pick a style that is relevant to what your character does for a living or is being asked to do.

3) Research the Style’s History

Every MA is based around a specific ideal, it was designed to counter or combat an enemy and the techniques reflect that history, even if they have been updated for a modern era. Knowing the history of the style will allow you, the author, to understand the philosophy inherent in the style itself and whether or not that will be suitable for your character.

Again, don’t pick based on what looks good or cool to you, choose what’s appropriate to your character and a style that will help you build a better story. The old adage is: Write What You Know and if you don’t know, then it’s time to study up.

Below are some examples to help you get started¸ happy writing!

Krav Maga: This is an Israeli Martial Art taught to their military forces. It’s increasingly being known as one of the best modern combat styles in the world, though that’s up for debate. It is a fighting style that, for the most part, bases it’s strikes in boxing and kickboxing with elbow, kicks, and knee strikes that have a passing similarity Muay Thai. It is an intense and aggressive MA designed around the idea of tight urban combat and close quarters fighting. Krav Maga is a heavy hitter, one that is growing in popularity for self-defense training and in the MMA arena.

Characters Krav Maga is Appropriate For: Aggressive characters and brutal characters, both male and female. It’s useful to characters who fight in an urban environment and worth looking to if you want to create a street fighter who is constantly looking to be in their opponents face all the time. Krav Maga works off the idea that your opponent doesn’t understand what they’re doing and will win by virtue of overwhelming force. Hit as hard as possible, as fast as possible, as quickly as possible while terrifying your opponent into submission. It’s an up close and personal style, if your character likes to constantly be within grabbing distance of their opponent this is one for them.

Tae Kwan Do: Like I talked about above, Tae Kwan Do is all about control, precision, and speed. This MA is for a character who is incredibly limber, small, and light. It’s a fighting style that works very well for both women and men, women especially because it bases it’s strength in kicks as primary over punches and requires an intense level of flexibility. Tae Kwan Do is all about building powerful momentum through a variety of kicks both offensively and defensively. It’s a style built around keeping your opponent away from you and finishing the fight quickly with the body’s strongest weapons. Tae Kwan Do kicks aim for the chest and the head.

Characters Tae Kwan Do is Appropriate For: Tae Kwan Do is best suited to characters who began training at an early age, who have a solid sense of balance, and are very flexible. Tae Kwan Do is a very effective fighting form, even in a modern world, especially when it’s weaknesses (hands) are compensated with by training in additional MAs. But, it is difficult to learn and those who come to it late will have trouble mastering it and/or achieving the required level of flexibility. A character must have near perfect control over their muscles and an almost complete synergy between body and mind to be effective. For reference: a traditional Tae Kwan Do master will be able to perform three to four kicks on a single leg, before that foot ever touches the ground. They will then be able to follow up those kicks with another strike from the same leg, by simply sliding into the next one. If your character is a slacker or doesn’t want to train, this is not the form for them.

If you’re looking to avoid Asian styles, one no nonsense alternate kicking style is the French Savate. It’s one of the major, surviving European MAs and a good style to study up on, especially if you’re interested in having a character from a European background who combines kicking techniques with fencing.

Reference:

 If you want to spend some money and avoid Wikipedia, I recommend picking up Gurps: Martial Arts which is a good primer on a variety of different MAs and some good solid background ideas that you can give to a character to make them realistic. You can usually find it used or on Amazon, if you don’t want to pay full price.

 The History Channel’s now defunct Human Weapon is sadly no longer on the air, but you can find it’s episodes on YouTube. It’s an informative show and an excellent more in depth primer on a bunch of different MAs, including some non-Asian biggies like Savate, Russia’s Sambo, and Greece’s Pankration. They also took a look at the Marines’ hand to hand combat style, if you’re looking to write a military character this is a good resource. It’s also a nice look at fights between fighters trained in one kind of MA learning another and fighting with an unfamiliar style.

 Once you find the style you want to study, it’ll be easier to find information on the web, at your local library, and talking to Instructors who run dojos in your area.

Happy Writing!

-Michi