Tag Archives: fight write

Nine Steps for Training Techniques

So, we get a lot of training questions on this blog and, personally, they’re almost always hard to answer. Not only is training a very involved process, it’s also fairly difficult to break down even when you’ve been on both sides of the teacher/student relationship before. There is no set way to do it, and every technique varies in complexity. However, let me lay down the steps of learning a new technique.

Step One: Explanation

After warm ups, your instructor calls you over and gathers you together. They tell you what you’re going to be learning and, often, why you’ll be learning it. The “why” trends towards programs that focus on practical application (military or self-defense) or a simple basic explanation of what the technique is. Explanation is often coupled with demonstration.

The point is to get the intent behind the concept down.

Step Two: Demonstration

After they’ve finished, they’ll usually call on the assistant instructor or (depending on safety) a favored student from the audience. This student is usually one of the ones who have excelled in their training. The teacher is comfortable with them experiencing the technique firsthand without seeing it, and trusts them to follow instructions without questioning or putting up a fight.

Teacher then proceeds to demonstrate the technique. First, they show it fast and at full speed for effect. The student will rarely be able to follow fully, because they don’t know what they’re looking at. Then, they break the demonstration down step by step and run through it slowly so the students can follow while explaining each step in technical detail.

Then the teacher will perform the move again, so the student will get a better understanding and better conceptual idea.

You will always see the teacher demonstrate first before practicing yourself, even for very basic techniques like stances or footwork. Step by step demonstration, or call on a student who knows the technique to demonstrate before the class while they explain.

All combinations will be broken down step by step first before they’re brought together. A student will not learn the cross-step axe kick or slide front kick for example until they’ve learned the cross-step and the axe kick separately, and never will they begin with a partner unless the situation calls for it. (Exemptions being: grappling, chokeholds, joint locks, and others that require hands on for practice.)

Step Three: Step-By-Step Practice

Unless the technique (like some grappling or throws) specifically requires practice with a partner, this practice will be done without a partner. The student will begin performing the technique in its broken down form, step by step as their teacher calls out the number or name associated with each part.

For example, when you’re first learning to kick it’s often broken down like this: (from the beginning fighting stance) chamber, kick, recoil, plant. Each step pauses and holds, this serves a double purpose of not only teaching the student how the kick works but also building strength in their legs and allows them to work on their balance. Some kicks like the sidekick require a full foot rotation of 180 degrees on the stability leg that is simultaneous to the kick itself in order to remain balanced and to turn over their hips. Slow reduces strain on the muscles and limits chance of injury.

While the student might prefer to rush, the step by step practice is where they gain the fullest understanding of the technique and where they will come back to when they want to tweak or correct mistakes they’ve been making at full speed. It does a better job of building up their strength and flexibility due to forced full second holds, ensuring they are less likely to injure themselves when moving on to the next stage.

Step-by-step comes before you get to hit anything or swing in the direction of your partner. Sometimes, step-by-step can be the entire half hour practice.

Step Four: Put It Together, Slowly

What was practiced in pieces is now put together, and still usually performed in lines and on a count. The student practices the technique, sussing out the new problems that come from acting in a single smooth motion. The beginning stages are practiced slowly, and how fast a student grasps the technique will define how quickly they get to move on to the next stage.

Again, slow reduces the risk of injury and allows the student to get in tune with their body, finding out where in the technique they’re having trouble putting thought into action. They may understand the concept, but whether they’re body can follow is another question entirely.

Step Five: Put It Together, Quickly

Now that the student has gained understanding and can move with relatively less chance of hurting themselves, they get to go at full speed. Whee! Practice over, and over, and over again.

Step Six: Practice With A Partner, No Touching

Then, the students pair off and practice their new techniques together. This helps the student get a better grasp of distance between themselves and an opponent. The other student gets practice watching the techniques, memorizes the pattern, and grows more comfortable with fast moving objects coming near their face.

Step Seven: Hit the Pads

Hitting pads can come before partner practice. (And there are many different kinds. Big shields, handhelds, etc.) The point of pads is to allow the student to go full out without risking injury to themselves or someone else, they get a sense for what physical resistance and impact feels like so they can suss out the other problems they have with their technique or inside their own minds.

This is also where practicing with wood or other dummies comes in. You want to get around to punching or blocking hard objects, you’ve got to learn how to punch first.

Step Eight: Spar

A free spar is different from only being allowed to spar with specific techniques. There are many different kinds of sparring, all with different rules. The point of sparring is not just to simulate a real fight, but also to get the student used to the feel of physical resistance in a less tightly controlled environment. The point of sparring is practice.

Step Nine: Conditioning

I’m kidding, this isn’t a step. This is built in at every step. We’re taking a break. Time to… RUN WIND SPRINTS. Pushups. Situps! Burpees! Perform front stances around the track. Go jog it out. Come back, now when you’re body’s nearing exhaustion, to practice all over again.

Trust me, it’s harder when you’re tired.

Rinse lather repeat for every single technique in the character’s arsenal, and rinse, lather, repeat for when they practice them together as combinations.

Some Myths and Misunderstandings:

“Best In Class”: this is what that status earns you, by the way. You get more responsibility and taking a turn at being the test dummy getting thrown around the room. This is who the most popular kids in the dojo are, what their popularity gives them, and why they’re looked up to. If you just paused and imagined a couple characters squabbling over who sensei’s going to throw this week, congrats. That’s it.

I’ve been on both sides; the one who looked up at the school’s shining stars, and eventually became a star others younger than myself looked up to. A person whose skill they envied and who they wanted to be like. Status in a martial arts school isn’t like high school. Popularity is based on respect, and that’s decided by time, effort, and investment. Usually because you’re the “last man standing” i.e. still here after everyone else quit.

Often times, the most popular members of the school will be those out of reach. These are the older students who work as assistants for the instructor on the floor, or are seen practicing while waiting for their class to start. What draws attention to them is their enviable skill, and how easy they make advanced techniques look. I suppose we’ve all dreamed about beating up the seniors as freshman, and eventually came to realize how silly that was. If you want a rival for your character, this is the wrong place to look. You want a contemporary who is good but still at the same level they are.

Talented? Let’s Work You Harder: It doesn’t matter how talented a character is, they still have to go through the same steps as everyone else. They might move through them a little faster and get more frustrated with the process when their instructor takes them back to basics, but it’s worth knowing that the more talent one has then the more responsibility they will given both for their own training and that of others. There will also be higher expectations. Status is earned on the floor through the acquisition of skill, dedication, and effort. The one who persists and keeps at it will come out on top in the end. Talent offers a leg up on the competition, but it doesn’t secure victory.

My Master is Sadist: It is not uncommon to feel this way, though it’s usually only true in the same way as your well-intentioned gym teacher or coach. Physical exercise sucks all around. It’s messy, it’s sweaty, and at some point (no matter how good you are), you’re always going to feel like your arms are giving out. Huffing and puffing up and down the hill, freaking out about missing a step when climbing bleachers, etc. There are masters who are sadists, but this is not what they look like. We don’t attain skill or endurance through osmosis. The truth is our biggest barriers are in our minds and we often don’t know ourselves or our capabilities as well as we think we do.

Understanding Violence Makes One More Violent: Not in those who gain a real understanding of it, when you’ve proven your ability to yourself then you don’t need to with others. Demystifying violence is on the same level as demystifying sex, once you understand how it works it’s a lot less magical. The idea of punching out the high school bully is a lot less appealing when you know the consequences (and the bully is a lot less terrifying), just like waking up to an electronic baby squalling at one in the morning reminds us that safe sex might just be the best way to go.

-Michi

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Hi, Aunty Scripty! Thanks for running this blog! It’s such an amazing resource, and I appreciate all the hard work you put into it! On to my question, my character is in a bad situation, and as a last resort, because his hands are bound behind his back, bites his attacker’s throat. Would it be possible for him to actually tear out his attacker’s throat with his teeth? Sorry that it’s such a gruesome ask! Thanks again!

scriptmedic:

Probably not, but it’s certainly worth trying.

The throat is pretty well protected. The skin is thick and tough, the trachea itself is made of hard cartilage rings, and it’s actually surprisingly difficult  for a human to get a good mouth-hold on another human’s neck. (If you have a significant other who is okay with this, give it a try; don’t actually bite down though).

Hunters who do the throat-ripping thing usually have longer mouths than we do, which helps them get a grip on their prey. Humans have fairly short mouths by comparison, and really aren’t evolutionarily adapted for this task.

Now, that is not to say that having a human try to rip out your throat is not an absolutely fucking terrifying thing, because it is, and flesh missing from the neck can be psychologically devastating even if it’s not actually physically lethal. Your character could probably significantly damage the musculature and the skin, and possibly cause a severe venous bleed from the external or internal jugular.

If your character is going to get any better of a bite than that they’ll need their hands to hold the neck in place while they bite.

(Also, bites in fights is proooobably more @howtofightwrite‘s territory much more than it is mine 😉 ).

Best of luck!

xoxo, Aunt Scripty

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We’ve answered this kind of question before on several occasions, they’re in the biting and the only unfair fight tags. For a better exploration of this topic, read this ask answered by Starke about biting off fingers.

The short answer is that physically you certainly could take a good sized chunk out of their neck with your teeth (terrifying enough in and of itself), the problem is the psychology necessary to follow through with it. Biting is straight up nasty and, when it comes to other humans, runs up hard against a whole bunch of self-preservation instincts that any protagonist would need to fight past in order to pull it off.

More than that, with his hands bound he’d have no way to hold onto his opponent thus not enough time to get a good bite off. He’s got to get to them, lunge in fast enough to get his teeth around their throat or (possibly) lure them close enough to get the bite off, and hope they don’t stop his head with their hands (or head) before he gets there. Attacking the throat, even with the element of surprise, is a great way to get someone to guard it.

The truth is in the heat of battle you’re more likely to come up with
ramming your head into your attackers throat (more effective) to a
temporary stun, then follow up with a headbutt to their face or move on
to using your shoulders and legs before thinking of your teeth. (It’s
difficult, but you can kick with your hands tied behind your back.)
Strikes to the throat can crush or halt your ability to breathe entirely
with enough force, but are more often used as stunners, to distract via
fear (brain freak out, vital place has been attacked, internal screaming) and temporary loss of breath. These create what we call “openings” as in openings in defense.

As @scriptmedic says, the throat is
fairly well defended by your physiology.  This is going to be true of
the most obviously vital places.

You get far more mileage out of convincing someone they’re being attacked there in order to strike elsewhere because your instincts will move to defend those places at all cost. Like your hands automatically rising to your throat if it feels like someone is going to hit it. (This doesn’t make you good at blocking, it’s just instinctual order of operation. Sacrifice the less necessary body part for the essential one. This is why we never fight on instinct.)

And frankly, depending on his position, a fake out headbutt to the
throat while actually hitting the stomach (rising on that upward
diagonal into the diaphragm) will probably be more effective. Then, if
they’re still standing, headbutt to the face.

The first question is: can he bite?

No, really think about it. He cannot hesitate, not at all. A split second hesitation and he’s done for, he must complete the act in one simultaneous move. He can’t drop the moment he tastes the dirt and sweat coming with their flesh, then the blood running over his tongue, and get enough for a lethal rip away while his opponent is trying to get away. (And the attacker is, he started backing up the second the protagonist came at him, and the protagonist has no way to make him stand still.)
Remember, we humans don’t have the sharp teeth of a carnivore to sink in and keep our prey from running.

I mean it, spend some time thinking about what it’d feel like, taste like, and smell like. Then think about it from his perspective, it’s a dramatic idea but can he follow through?

The second question is: can he move in and bite in .5 seconds?

This is the sort of attack where he doesn’t get a second shot, and the kind where threat level is upgraded into automatic kill territory. Biting is socially unacceptable, dishonorable, and offensive.

The four scenarios for the victim are terrified enough to be paralyzed into inaction, terrified into action, so terrified they run, and righteously pissed. The protagonist has got to kill before fight, flight, or freeze takes effect. (And they can’t, really, unless they somehow manage to take out the carotid.)

The third question is: will the attacker be shocked enough by this bite to not retaliate while it’s happening?

The problem with the mechanics of a bite is you’ve got to get your teeth on the other guy’s throat for a solid rip away (and not miss because they moved their head or the teeth slip off), this takes time. The worst thing if he gets seized by the hair, punched in the face, stabbed by a knife, or gut checked by a sword pommel in the middle of (or slightly before) this bite going down. The protagonist needs to be mostly through the process of tearing by the time this antagonist realizes what’s happening. Even then, he’s in just the right range for some vicious retaliation. Even if he gets enough of a bite to kill, the other guy isn’t going to die right away. That could easily lead to an “I’m Taking You With Me” scenario.

The good news is that if he does manage a bite, he doesn’t need to take their windpipe. The human mouth is a vile, dirty, disgusting place and his victim will most likely die from either blood loss (depending on where he bites) or an infection.

The downside is his mouth will be full of their blood, and he’ll probably get sick too. If he doesn’t manage to escape, whoever else is working with his attacker will probably kill him because biting another human is as feral as it gets and automatically shifts whoever does it from “human being” into “animal”. While dehumanizing yourself to terrify your victims is a great strategy for psychological warfare, it doesn’t work so well when the shoe is on the other foot. In writing, you also run the risk of dehumanizing the character for the audience too. If it fails or the other guy lives, then he’s still the crazy idiot who tried to grab a guy’s throat with his teeth.

The trick to writing good fight scenes is being able to see and plan from the perspective of both parties in a fight. When trying to figure out whether something is possible never assume the guy they’re doing this action to is just going to stand there and take it. Everyone wants to live.

When talking about fighting, you’ve got to go through two steps. The first is the purely theoretical of “would it work?”, if the answer is maybe then ask “what would the other guy do in response?”

Most of the stupidest fighting ideas in real life die in this second stage (sometimes on the battlefield itself) because a live actor is much more difficult to deal with than lifeless dummy or someone whose given you permission to put your teeth around their throat. If the idea doesn’t float or sound good when pit against resistance then it’s usually no good, even if you’re crazy enough or desperate enough to try.

If rapid escalation into sudden, terrifying brutality isn’t in this character’s skill set (eye crushing, biting, and others) then this approach probably won’t work out for him. Does he think about ripping people’s throats with his teeth on a general basis? Has he ripped throats out before? Does he find the idea repulsive? If there’s a no to any of these questions or a yes to the last one then this approach may not be right for him.

Alternate approaches:

1) With only his head, shoulders, and feet, your protagonist could put his attacker on the ground and then crush his throat with their foot. It would take slightly longer, be less shocking, and require a finer grasp of tactics, but that’s possible.

This has the potential to be exciting. I understand, however, that it is very difficult for someone without a martial arts background to think with their feet or plan a fight scene around kicks or anything other than fists.

2) Ram their attacker and drive them both to the ground, and give their head a few solid hits with their forehead if they manage to land on top. Then run for it.

This one would be much easier to go with, though their chances of killing via this method are slim unless they manage to land a concussion or damage the brain some other way. However, it could provide them with a chance to make an exit if they can do enough damage so their attacker doesn’t try to stop them from escaping.

There’s also the risk of what the other guy does with his hands. However, the one who lands on top is usually in the best position.

3) The environment surrounding your character and where they are fighting can become a weapon they utilize in their escape.

This is often overlooked in fight scenes, but utilizing the environment and terrain is a huge factor in combat. There may be a way for your protagonist to kill their attacker sitting right next to them, or they can take advantage of.

Throwing your body weight around is something anyone can do because your utilizing your core and momentum to destabilize the enemy’s balance. This can be done with just your shoulder and feet planted in the right place. Knock ‘em into walls. Use this force to create new, creative means of attack and opportunities in the environment.

4) Stun this guy, duck past, and run for a crowded area to make his escape.

This is what it says on the tin.

5) Or wait and plan an escape later when he’s in a better position.

This may not work depending on what’s about to happen to him in prison. The best time for a prison break is not from the prison itself but while the prisoner is in transit. Try to remember, depending on the situation, your character needs to escape in a way that keeps his pursuers from following him. This doesn’t necessarily they have to die. (At least, in this exact moment.)

6) He tries it and fails.

He tries it, he fails, or might be mildly successful but not successful enough, gets caught and the situation plays out another way.
Sometimes, scenes don’t go the way we want but that doesn’t mean the
story ends. Another interesting path is waiting right around the corner.

7) You ignore all advice and just do it. YOLO.

Try it and see what happens.

-Michi

Q&A: Wonder Woman

Did you see Wonder Woman? The fighting that the Amazons did was extremely choreographic and really beautiful to watch for a plebeian like me, but did it seem grounded in reality?

There’s nothing about Wonder Woman that’s grounded in reality. This is an intentional design decision and, to be fair, the likes of Atomic Blonde and Haywire aren’t either. In Haywire’s case, it’s because what makes for a good MMA fight is about as far from SpecOps as you can get.

The combat seen in Wonder Woman is stylistically designed to be superhuman because Diana and the Amazons are superhuman. They’re immortal, godlike beings who live on a paradise island hidden from the rest of the world. Their combat style and choreography emphasizes that aspect of their characters. It’s part of the visual storytelling ongoing to show us who and what they are.

Wonder Woman is the sort of archetypal character meant to inspire, who we look up at in wonder, who inspires us to be better, and to believe in ourselves.

The combat isn’t grounding in reality and it doesn’t need to be. In reality, we can’t reflect bullets with gauntlets and walking across No Man’s Land with just a shield would just lead to Diana’s legs being shot out from under her by a gatling gun. Realism isn’t the point of the movie though.
Besides that, Wonder Woman is no more realistic than Captain America fighting Nazis with a shield or Batman doing whatever Batman does in the Dark Knight. Or Athena kicking Ares keister in the Illiad.

Wonder Woman walking into the No Man’s Land is thematic not realistic, and that’s the same for the movie’s fight choreography. Hear it: Wonder Woman walks into No Man’s Land. You don’t even need the visual to feel a sense of awe. This woman walking where soldiers are scared to go.

This is archetypal, mythic storytelling with mythic heroes.

The problem is that “grounded in reality” has become the new version of “believable” or “suspension of disbelief” or “relateable” except with much more restrictive rules. Usually because this justification is really “I don’t like it, therefore”. Used more often to shut down conversation than start it, because “realism” sounds more legitimate than personal preference or inherent bias. If you’re ever in a discussion with someone and they can’t elaborate on why it isn’t “realistic” with a genre that was never about realism anyway, then you can usually say this is why.

Realism as an argument gets brought up a lot with superheroes, and the idea that anything in the superhero genre (and this includes superspies) is real is laughable. It’s called “superhero fiction” for a reason, and DC’s heroes from the Gold and Silver Age are all archetypal, mythic heroes who are better than humanity and through which we find the best of ourselves.

What’s real are the emotions and beliefs Wonder Woman inspires in you, the sense of awe, the wonder, and the hope. To hope for and fight for a better future than the one we see before us. To inspire our dreams so we find the courage to chase them. To look up at the stars instead of down at our feet.
To believe we’ll find victory so long as we keep getting up again.

To remind us we can change the world.

Sometimes, we just need freedom reality’s constraints to find the best in ourselves. Inspire us to see who we could be, beyond what we’ve previously believed to be possible.

You know how many glorious scientific inventions we have because of science fiction? Like hoverboards from Back to the Future. Or flip phones from Star Trek. They weren’t grounded in reality either when they were imagined. There was only the possibility they might, maybe exist… someday.

When discussing anything creative try and remember this: no is not a shut down nor does it remove the idea’s value.

Rather, any explanation on the subject is meant to help us gain a better understanding of the subject. The more we know then the more choices become available, and we’re able to pick the one best for us.

The choreographers, directors, and producers who put together the Amazon’s combat style are people who have a firm grasp of how combat is supposed to work both onscreen and off it. They chose this route because what we see on screen is representative of the themes they had in mind and the story they were trying to tell. It was intentional, not accidental. They knew what they wanted.

The point is don’t be discouraged from chasing after a feeling or a dream just because fiction is what inspired you. The difference between fantasy and reality is the will we have to take ourselves there.

-Michi

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Q&A: Paralytic Poisons

Would you happen to know how fast it would realistically take someone to keel over when struck with a dart coated in a paralysing drug?

With the quick caveat that I’m not a doctor; from what I remember, most paralytics will take effect in under a minute, and kill the victim in under five. Most of these will cause respiratory arrest. You’ve paralyzed them, so they can’t go anywhere, but you’ve also paralyzed their lungs, so they’ll also stop doing that pesky breathing thing.

If you’ve got someone on life support, there are some real medical applications for this. Particularly in surgery. When it’s administered in the field, they’re dead.

You’ll also find a few animals that administer paralytic poisons. This is some seriously scary stuff. Same problem though, in higher forms of animal life (read anything with lungs) it will stop respiration and result in the victim asphyxiating because their lungs are paralyzed.

The mode of action, as I recall, is that the poison actually interferes (or blocks) the neurotransmitters responsible for muscle control. It doesn’t matter how badly the victim wants to move, their body can’t get the message.

-Starke

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Q&A: Larger Foes

I don’t know if you watch GOT, but how hard would it be to fight someone like the mountain hand-to-hand? (well, armed, like in the show). Does being big like him really makes for a better fighter?

Hand to hand is a bit different from armed, especially armored, but okay. The answer is pretty simple.

Start low.

Tall fighters, especially male fighters, have a rather serious issue that’s often overlooked: their center of gravity. It’s higher up off the ground than the average person, and a great many men (like the Mountain) do not drop low enough into their stances to compensate. The taller they are, the lower they need to go to counterbalance their size. Attack their feet, or their legs. Attack their center. Whatever you need to destabilize them. A lot of tall fighters have issues with their base. There are other flaws, but that’s often a big one.

Cutting the legs out from under of your enemy is a real tactic, or I should say: cutting them down to size.

Stab him in the foot. (Yeah, no, real combat tactic.)

Here’s a question: you ever hear the story about David versus Goliath? Probably, most people know the story of the shepherd boy who defeated the greatest, largest warrior in single combat with a sling.

The story is a parable, and a life lesson. It’s also a little more complicated than just brains over brawn. If you take anything from the story, the big one is going to be: never fight your enemy on their terms. Understand where their strengths are, where you’re strengths are, and change the rules.

What a big fighter has going for them is the intimidation factor, and mind games in combat are a huge deal. It’s not so much about physical prowess as much as what your enemy believes about your physical prowess. Or you believe about your opponent’s. What you believe will affect how you fight, how hard you fight, and how well you fight. Go into a fight believing you’re at a disadvantage or will lose and you’ll lose.

Assessing your enemy’s strengths for their weaknesses is the winning strategy. If never addressed, big fighters will have a lot of flaws because their opponents often cede them the field in their minds. This is especially true when in training, and training is the foundation of skill. When people treat you like you’re invincible, you’ll start to believe you are. And that’s how you get an over reliance on a natural advantage with no compensation for the flaws it brings.

The problem is that many people treat size and body types like they’re all or nothing. For every advantage one has, there’s a disadvantage to go with it. A fighter with a heavy reliance on what nature has given them (size, strength, what have you) often neglects more crucial skills if never addressed. You can have big fighters with exceptional levels of skill, but those are the ones who’ve realized they can’t brute force their way through every problem. When they don’t, their technique is sloppy.

Now, really, really, really big people often have to work doubly hard to develop their coordination because fighting with a big, lanky body is difficult.

The trick when you have (or feel like you have) the disadvantage is not to meet the enemy on their terms. The best fighters figure out how to exploit their opponent’s strengths in order to expose their weaknesses and fight with an advantage. The bad fighters are the ones who choose to fight at a disadvantage, who don’t prepare to face their enemy, and try to use the same tactics over and over. The smart ones change up, they are proactive, and understand the battlefield flows.

Ultimately, that’s what makes for the “best” fighter.

Fear is the biggest strength for someone who is massive in size, not their strength and not their bulk. When you are frightened, you become reactive, you cease to actively think, and fail to problem solve. The moment you are defeated in your mind, that is the moment you lose. It doesn’t matter how many steps it takes in the real world after the fact, cede the field in your mind and it’s over. Intimidation can win that fight before the battle ever begins, and the biggest kid on the playground is as natural as intimidation gets.

The Mountain isn’t great because of his skill, but the fact that he makes everyone around him afraid. His personal ruthlessness and cruelty back up that size, and strengthens his ability to intimidate. When facing the Mountain, you’re faced with fear over the (very real) consequences of what he’ll do to you.

He’s valuable because he’s frightening, not because he’s good at fighting. The good at fighting is the bonus that makes him more frightening.

Understanding the affect the mind has on combat is like 70% to victory. Understanding the assumptions made and why we make them is important to writing scenes with characters like this. If you put stock in the Mountain’s size, rather than the Mountain’s reputation then you miss where his strengths actually lie and why people are afraid of him.

The Mountain’s reputation is as a ruthless killing machine who delights in rape, murder, and pillage. Torture is his specialty. He does not abide by the code of chivalry or rules of knightly honor. He’s a sadist. For him, there’s no such thing as just warfare. He thirsts for blood and battle. He’s protected by one of the most powerful houses in the GOT universe, and he earns his pay as their enforcer.

His size is just a plus. He could be just as terrifying at 5?4, and then you’d have the joy of underestimating him before he put a knife through your eye. If he was small, he’d be even more terrifying because there’d be more bodies. His size doesn’t change who he is under the hood, it’s just one more attribute he’s utilizing to its fullest potential.

Stereotypes about tall and short people are just that. Stereotypes.

Every body type has its drawbacks, and their natural advantages can be made to work against them. Tall fighters are more gangly, their center of gravity is further away from the earth, their weight puts additional stress on their joints (especially their knees), and if they never work at addressing their issues they can be slower to start. You can also have overweight/heavy weight martial artists like Sammo Hung, where there’s virtually no difference between them and a martial artist half their size. Skill can close the gap. Understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses also helps. Knowledge is power. Training yourself out of society’s instilled biases is hard, but necessary. This is especially true if you perceive yourself to be the underdog.

Not automatically assuming bigger equals better is the first step. The second is realizing that the best warriors are not decided by outside metrics, but rather through an inward understanding of how to utilize their strengths and address their weaknesses.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a compilation of Cynthia Rothrock’s fight scenes. Cythnia Rothrock is a Hong Kong action star, a winner of world championships in the 80s, she has a wide variety of black belt level training in multiple martial arts, and is one of the most famous westerners to make it in the Hong Kong action scene.

Why end with this? Well, exposure to female movie martial artists runs the gamut between low to non-existent and that lack of exposure to different body types is where most misunderstandings about size come from.

-Michi

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How do you write a fight scene without becoming repetitive? I feel like it just sounds like “she did this then this then this.” Thanks so much!

I watch her as she fights. Her left leg flies through the air – a roundhouse – rolling into a spin. She misses, but I guess she’s supposed to. Her foot lands and launches her into a jump. Up she goes again, just as fast. The other leg pumps, high knee gaining altitude. The jumping leg tucks. Her body rolls midair, momentum carrying her sideways. She kicks. A tornado kick, they call it. The top of her foot slams into Rodrigo’s head, burying in his temple. Didn’t move back far enough, I guess.

His head, it snaps sideways like a ball knocked off a tee. Skull off the spine. His eyes roll back, and he slumps. Whole body limp. Legs just give out beneath him. He clatters to the sidewalk; wrist rolling off the curb.

She lands, making the full turn and spins back around. Her eyes are on his body. One foot on his chest. I don’t know if he’s alive. I don’t know if she cares. Nah, she’s looking over her shoulder. Looking at me.

The truth twists my gut. I should’ve started running a long time ago.

The first key to writing a good fight scene is to tell a story. The second key is having a grasp of combat rules and technique. The third is to describe what happens when someone gets hit. The fourth is to remember physics. Then, roll it all together. And remember: be entertaining.

If you find yourself in the “and then” trap, it’s because you don’t have a firm grasp of what exactly it is your writing. “He punched” then “She blocked” then “a kick” only gets you so far.

You’ve got to get a sense for shape and feeling, and a sense of motion. Take a page from the comic artist’s playbook and make a static image feel like it’s moving. Try to remember that violence is active. Unless your character is working with a very specific sort of soft style, they’re attacks are going to come with force. So, you’ve got to make your sentences feel like your hitting something or someone.

“Ahhh!” Mary yelled, and slammed her fist into the pine’s trunk. A sickening crack followed, then a whimper not long after.

Angie winced. “Feel better?”

Shaking out her hand, Mary bit her lip. Blood dripped from her knuckles, uninjured fingers gripping her wrist. She sniffed, loudly. “I…” she paused, “…no.”

“You break your hand?”

“I think so. Yeah.”

“Good,” Angie said. “Think twice next time before challenging a tree.”

Let your characters own their mistakes. If they hit something stupid in
anger, like a wall or a tree then let them have consequences.

Injury is part of combat. In the same way, “I should be running now” is. When the small consequences of physical activity invade the page, they bring reality with them.

People don’t just slug back and forth unless they don’t know how to fight, or their only exposure to combat is mostly movies or bloodsport like boxing. Either way, when one character hits another there are consequences. It doesn’t matter if they blocked it or even deflected it, some part of the force is going to be transitioned into them and some rebounds back at the person who attacked.

Your character is going to get hurt, and it’ll be painful. Whether that’s just a couple of bruises, a broken bone, or their life depends on how the fight goes.

However, this is fantasy. It is all happening inside our heads. Our characters are never in danger unless we say they are. They’ll never be hurt unless we allow it. A thousand ghost punches can be thrown and mean absolutely, utterly nothing at all to the state of the character. This is why it is all important to internalize the risks involved.

The writer is in charge of bringing a dose of reality into their fictional world. It is much easier to sell an idea which on some level mimics human behavior and human reactions. The ghost feels physical because we’ve seen it happen on television or relate to it happening to us when we get injured.

You’ve got five senses, use them. You know what it feels like to get injured. To be bruised. To fall down. To be out of breath. Use that.

Here’s something to take with you: when we fight, every technique brings us closer together. Unless it specifically knocks someone back. You need specific distances to be able to use certain techniques. There’s the kicking zone, the punching zone, and the grappling zone. It’s the order of operation, the inevitable fight progression. Eventually, two combatants will transition through all three zones and end up on the ground.

So, keep the zones in mind. If you go, “she punched, and then threw a roundhouse kick” that’s wrong unless you explain more. Why? Because if the character is close enough to throw a punch, then they’re too close to throw most kicks. The roundhouse will just slap a knee or a thigh against the other character’s ribs, and probably get caught. If you go, “she punched, rammed an uppercut into his stomach, and seized him by the back of the head”, then that’s right. You feel the fighters getting progressively closer together, which is how its supposed to work.

Use action verbs, and change them up. Rolled, rotated, spun, punched, kicked, slammed, rammed, jammed, whipped, cracked, etc.

You’ve got to sell it. You need to remember a human’s bodily limits, and place artificial ones. You need to keep track of injuries, every injury comes with a cost. Make sure they aren’t just trading blows forever.

I’ve seen advice that says fights all by themselves aren’t interesting. I challenge that assertion. If you’re good at writing action, then the sequence itself is compelling. You know when you are because it feels real. Your reader will tune out if it isn’t connecting, and the fight scene is a make or break for selling your fantasy. It is difficult to write or create engaging, well choreographed violence that a reader can easily follow and imagine happening.

-Michi

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hey there! thanks for answering all our questions on this blog + how possible would it for someone to crack ribs with a solid kick? there’s a character i have in mind that’s escaping captivity, but they’re also young, so i’m not quite sure how easily they’d be able to hurt the (adult) antagonist in such a manner, especially lacking any fighting experience to begin with?

Well, you can break someone’s ribs with a kick. That’s the entire purpose of the roundhouse, especially the version where you strike with the ball of the foot rather than the top of the foot. (And… aren’t like me when I was seven or eight, when I was new to sparring and totally stubbed my toe in another kid’s side at a tournament after my brain/body got confused between the two. I didn’t break my toe, but I could’ve.)

That story above is important, by the way. If you’ve got a character who doesn’t know how to fight then they’re not even going to get that far. If you don’t know how to kick then that’s a great way to get your leg caught by someone who knows what they’re doing. They catch the foot by the ankle, and then drag you wherever they want. That’s assuming the character can get their leg up and out without falling over. Even if they do manage that, say because they’ve watched a lot of martial arts flicks, they won’t know how to generate power and will be very slow. A, B, and C occur anyway. Your protagonist is going to end up back wherever they were being kept, this time in a much less comfortable position.

Even for an experienced martial artist, kicks require fairly constant bodily upkeep in order to be able to do them cold (much less perform them at all). That’s not a combat scenario, that’s just in general. You’ve got a great chance of pulling all the leg muscles you need to get away, including ones you didn’t realize you had and that’s if you don’t break your toes. Board breaks with the roundhouse kick are the most terrifying of them all because you’ve got to remember to curl your toes just right in order to carry your foot through the board.

Kicks are off the table.

More importantly, this is an exact rendition of the “Feel Good Violence” trope: My Instincts Performed A Wheel Kick.

The protagonist is suddenly and randomly enough good at fighting to not only fight, but win when making their first attempt at a violent altercation. They use techniques which require a fairly high level of dedication and aptitude out of “natural ability” and “instinct”.

Unless you’ve got an ironclad reason for invoking the trope (past lives/ immortality/memory loss/the matrix) it will undercut your narrative credibility in ways the story cannot recover from.

When you’ve cracked your foundation, you’re done.

“The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible,” – Mark Twain

Narrative integrity is based on the rules or limitations we’ve set for ourselves, those limitations are the ironclad rules by which the narrative functions. They exist on two levels: in behavior and actions of characters within the world, and on a secondary level the setting’s behavior around them. Everything in your story must be working to uphold the fiction. When it doesn’t the audience’s “suspension of disbelief” starts to crack. You are beholden to the rules and limitations set down by your setting. Without them, you have no story.

When you’re setting out to create a character, there are four questions you should ask yourself:

1) What can the character do?

2) What can’t the character do?

3) What is the character willing to do but can’t?

4) What can the character do, but is unwilling to?

Within these four circles you have your character, their ethics/morals, and their limitations. That is the box you’ve created for yourself. It is important to own it and abide by it. When dealing with a protagonist, those limitations are not just the foundations of a character but the entire narrative.

Your character cannot fight your antagonist in a one on one and come away with any victory because you have established they don’t know how to. That
is a limitation you set for yourself. That the audience knows and
understands, so they will expect this character to act in accordance
with it. They may want to walk up to the antagonist and kick them in the ribs so hard those ribs break, but they can’t. That desire could be a driving force behind them learning to fight later. As of now, though, their powerlessness in active violent conflict serves to reinforce the antagonist’s position. Reinforcing the antagonist’s position is for the narrative good.

They should be making choices based on the Venn diagram’s center: when what they can do meets what they are willing to do.

If what they can’t do conflicts with what they’re willing to do and they go with it anyway then the result is a failed escape attempt. A captive’s survival is based on their value. If they’re valuable enough for the antagonist to go through the trouble of capturing them in the first place, then they’re probably not going to be killed. At least, not until their value runs through. They lose and wind up back in captivity under more scrutiny, more security, and with fewer exit options. This reminds us why they were captured in the first place, and reinforces our villain’s position.

A protagonist can fail and retain their legitimacy many more times than an antagonist can. While this is a perfectly legitimate narrative outcome, I don’t think its the one you’re looking for.

This is the second issue with your question:

A narrative’s antagonist is its backbone.

Your antagonist is one of the most important pieces of your story, if not the most. They are the lingering threat, the shadow hovering over the story, and the knife at your protagonist’s throat. They are seventy percent threat, and the last thirty relies on their ability to make good on it.

One of the biggest mistakes an author can make is assuming their antagonist’s position in their narrative and the threat they provide are impervious to harm.

Unlike your protagonist, your antagonist is always in a precarious position. They must constantly re-affirm themselves and the threat they represent through their actions. That threat is all consuming and when challenged, it must either be defeated or confirmed.

If defeated, then the threat is gone.

If confirmed, then the threat level is heightened because now we imagine what they might do next.

An antagonist can re-affirm themselves after a defeat, but they’ve got to double down on their effort and create a new threat rather than relying on their old one. You as the author must work harder to make up for what you lost, and even then you’ll never have the initial fear ever again.

The first rule of the antagonist is: your capital is limited, so spend it wisely.

When you undercut an antagonist in favor of the protagonist before its necessary, you damage the antagonist’s credibility and, subsequently, their position in the story. When you lose your antagonist, you lose most of your narrative tension.

A character who doesn’t know how to do something is applying a limitation to the character. You are applying a restriction to what they can and can’t do. If you’re character doesn’t know how to fight, then fighting will be off the table. More importantly, having your character succeed at a skill set they have no experience in doesn’t make them “awesome” or “cool”, it means instead that the other characters who put time and effort into honing these skills suck.

When those characters are your antagonists… that hurts.

If you’ve got a protagonist with no hacking experience who manages to overcome a supposedly great hacker on their first or second go round with no time spent learning how to hack, then who looks bad? The second hacker. They’re the ones who are supposed to be good at hacking. If the narrative hinges on them being a major antagonist, then the author just shot their narrative in the foot.

Combat skills are the same way. They’re a skill set, not an instinct. They don’t come naturally, and take a great deal of time and effort to hone.

If your goal is to show your dangerous antagonist is a bumbling moron when an untrained teenager gets a lucky shot so miraculous they manage to lay them up for the rest of the story, then that’s a job well done.

If your goal is for the antagonist to maintain their credibility within the narrative? Don’t use them for a punching bag.

Violent confrontation is based just as much on threat of force as it is on the follow through. The threat is usually more frightening than what follows, and your protagonist is already challenging the fear by trying to escape. From a narrative perspective, if they get over their fear enough to challenge their antagonist directly then it’s game over. You spent your all capital either at the beginning or midway through the story, and you’re not getting it back.

Remember, your antagonist has to do just as much work to earn their street cred as your protagonist. Their position is a delicate balance of power management and threat of force. They rely on show over tell. They need to live up to whatever it is you’ve been saying about them. They need to be as dangerous as they’ve been puffed up to be, unless their reputation itself is the real antagonist. Never forget, your antagonist (whoever they are/whatever it is) is the backbone of your story. They are often the driving force of action, the reason why the protagonist is struggling, and the focal point. In some ways, they are more important than your protagonist because without them the protagonist’s got a whole lot of nothing.

When you undercut your antagonist, you also hurt your protagonist’s development. You cheat them of their chance for growth, and deny them their ability to show off whatever it is that they’re actually good at i.e. using their bravery, intelligence, and cleverness to sneak out.

If your protagonist beats down their Goliath at the beginning of (or even the middle) of the story then there’s no reason for them to go to the mountain master and learn to throw rocks.

-Michi

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Do you have any advice for writing characters undercover? Thanks!

So, we’ve covered this topic a lot in the past. Undercover operatives, intelligence agents, black ops, assassins, and spies I’d start with a spies search on our website, as that’ll get you started. The really good references will be there. My
big advice for writing any kind of spy fiction is to have a clear idea
of what you want and which genre you’re chasing. Do want James Bond or George Smiley? You can blend these genres, but it’s a good idea to have a clear idea as that’ll define your narrative.

The first thing to understand about spies and any sort of shadow operative is the Burn Notice quote: “A spy is just a criminal with a government paycheck.”

Take a look at this passage. This is a character (Thirteen) trained as
an undercover operative exiting a bad situation. What do you see?

Limping down the hall, I forced one foot before the other. Slowly, my stride lengthened. The silver door at the end didn’t open, so I pushed it, and stumbled out onto the launch pad. My gaze fell on a string of oval automatic airstreams parked all in a row. No, I frowned, eyes sweeping to street and the vehicles winging by in the air overhead. No self-respecting AI would let me drive in this condition. Robots always insisted on hospital, and I had no time to hack. To get out fast, I needed a human. A cabbie. Older, preferably female. Fingers to my neck, I tapped twice. Up came the ODS, my thoughts linking to: call a cab. Human.

A string of numbers and faces appeared before my eyes, the oldworld men and women working a dying industry. Better for No Questions Asked rides in our digital world, no one else called when they could pay a corporate run robot for half the cost.

I picked the first female face that flashed across my dash.

Time to pick up… thirty seconds.

I gripped my injured arm, and ran an analysis. Tucked out of sight, Sixteen’s pistol rested against my ribs. Ammunition at less than half a magazine, so seven rounds. Eight, if I counted the one in the chamber. The Uplink already registered the irreparable damage and severed the blood flow to the damaged limb. So, no more bleeding out. My upper lip curled. A bad trade off for no more arm. Damn, Sixteen.

Fifteen seconds.

I couldn’t hide in the shadows. Needed to seem desperate, distraught. Call up tears.

Ten seconds.

My blurred gaze flicked to the skyline, watching for black. The Ghosts wouldn’t appear in the datastream. Still, NIS hadn’t cut my access. Not yet.

Five.

A beat up airstream in ruby red dropped out of the sky to the left, pulling up to the curb. They were early. From the shabby state of their car, probably desperate. Good.

I limped over quickly. Even if they weren’t my ride, they were human and sitting in the driver’s seat. A car enthusiast who needed no AI systems to handle the steering. Likely to have built in cameras. More likely to possess a slow Uplink. Slow data received poor police service. My fingers seized the handle, flung open the door, and threw myself inside.

“Need a ride?” the voice was sympathetic, unfamiliar.

I slid across the bench into the seat behind the driver. My free hand tight on my damaged limb, couldn’t do much about my nose. So, instead, I tilted my head and caught her reflection in the mirror. Younger. Mid-thirties. Red hair worn short with one gray streak, tied back in a severe bun. Clear hazel eyes. Talk like you’re in pain, scared, but putting on a brave face. Tears. I wiped the blood from underneath my nose, sniffling. “Y-y-yeah.” I cleared my throat. “Yeah. Thanks.” I tried for a half-smile, half-grimace, and leaned on the window. “Just looking to get away. The address should be—”

“You don’t need to worry, I have it,” the driver said. “Came in with your order. Grace, right? You want to go downbelow, the Rep Shop.”

“Yeah.” Resting my cheek against the glass, I closed my eyes; Uplink sizing up her car’s systems. Automatic turned off, but easy enough to hijack. My free hand drifted off my injury, and moved near the pistol hilt jabbing my ribs.

“I’m Marla, I’ll be your driver today.” A pause followed. “You sure a pretty girl like you wants the Rep Shop? Not a hospital? You look pretty banged up.”

“No,” I replied. I got what she suggested, this was a nice neighborhood. “I just need… need to go…”

“Boyfriend trouble?”

I grimaced, eyes squeezing shut, and wished I felt a twinge of guilt. It’s like the Overseer always says, love is just a cover.

“Don’t worry, no need to say it,” Marla said as the engine revved, the floorplates shook, and the airstream lifted skyward. “Shipped enough victims out of here to know.”

Notice, she pays attention to her surroundings and makes choices based on her condition in service of her needs. She needs to get out quickly, but would run into more trouble stealing a car so she calls up a cab driven by a human. Human’s are easier to manipulate in short order than code cracking. She specifically aims for a female cab driver, one preferably older than she is.

Why?

She’s female. Another woman is more likely to assume her injuries are because of a man, and a cab driver will have encountered this scenario often enough to not pry too deeply into it. An older woman is likelier to be maternal and protective, but not so protective that she’ll stay beyond when Thirteen needs her too. However, pay attention to the fact that Thirteen never verbally confirms it was a man who caused her injuries. She lets Marla assume, and fill in the blanks herself. This gives her an out later if she needs to change her story and place the blame on Marla’s shoulders for misunderstanding.

This is an example of what’s called social engineering.
Deliberately manipulating the people in your environment to divulge
confidential information or getting them to do what you want.

Notice also: After getting into the vehicle, Thirteen’s hand goes to the gun she stole. As she is playing to Marla’s sympathies, she is also assessing the possibility of killing this woman and taking control of the car if things don’t go the way she’s planned. Thirteen would prefer to exit by the easiest means possible, but a good spy always has a contingency. She won’t compromise her safety, and civilian lives mean next to nothing. A dead body is one more problem to deal with, one more attention getter that she doesn’t want, but she’ll go there. Violence is messy, and sometimes necessary.

There’s no real difference between a spy and a conman. Still, if you want to trick people there’s a few rules to follow.

What a spy isn’t:

A compulsive liar, an overseller, or lies all the time. An undercover operative needs to maintain their identity, that is one identity, singular. While a spy can create many false personalities, they should only be using one at a time with the goal of giving away as little information in trade as possible.

Notice: Thirteen does not tell Marla a story, she lets Marla create the story and then plays along. It is easier to convince someone of a lie when they’ll craft it themselves. Why say something when you can get just as much by saying nothing at all?

“You’ve told her three lies. Suppose she’s an asset, now you have to make all three lies true.” – Spy Game

Your character can’t just lie, a liar will be caught after a prolonged period of time. They need to manipulate the truth by creating a fiction. A cover is a fictional person with a fictional job who people think really exists when they check the character’s identity. Assume their identity will be checked, re-checked, and checked again. They are not maintaining a cover to a singular individual, but multiple ones. Their assets are the locals they are manipulating in order gain access to information, and who often run the jobs for them. These assets will, most of the time, not know the truth or not know the whole truth about who the spy really is.

Assets can be friends, business associates, girlfriends/boyfriends, wives/husbands, disgruntled employees, janitors, etc.

Your character can’t enter a business or government agency as a pretend janitor if they’re also going there everyday as a reporter or contractor or some other job. They must maintain the fiction of their identity.

This is the biggest problem most authors will get into when writing spy fiction. The concept of telling lies is something that comes easily to most of us, the problem comes in with keeping up a fiction over a prolonged period of time. The next step is to be able to lie without guilt and throw over people who help you without remorse. Crafting that dual identity of a person who genuinely cares about their friends and allies versus the real one who… really doesn’t.

You need a solid grasp of social functions, mores, and conventions in order to write a spy because a spy is manipulating all those points to gain access. You also need to understand these rules change based on what society your character is entering. Social rules change based on social groups, be it economic or cultural. The expectations for a man or woman in Mexico City versus Seattle are vast, and your character needs to be versed in the world they’re walking into. They need a cover identity to suit their work. Someone who has the freedom to go many places without being questioned, but unimportant enough to be neither needed nor remembered.

A spy is always looking for a way in, to slide into your confidences or sympathies however they can. They are going to use you to get where they need to go. They are very convincing actors and they are changing, modifying themselves slightly for each person they encounter. Not so much though that their falseness becomes obvious to the other people who know them.

When we’re working with a female spy, for example, all the “bad woman” societal traits you’re inclined to throw away are exactly what she needs to succeed. She will flirt, and flatter, and seduce, and manipulate the men (and women) around her to gain entry. She may rotate between being a gorgeous woman and an unremarkable one by the use of fashion and makeup. She is exactly what so many men are afraid of, a social climber who is manipulating their feelings and her attractiveness in order to get what she wants because it is the most expedient method to get what she needs. The one who is manipulating society’s view of women as nonentities, nonthreatening/replaceable objects in order to do her job.

Don’t be afraid of these characters. Don’t be afraid of “unlikeable” characters.

Spies are bad people who do bad things. They are often cold, calculating, impersonal manipulators looking for the most expedient method to get what they need. Your spy’s cover is just a cover. Never forget the real person underneath, especially when they’re lying to themselves.

-Michi

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FightWrite: Your Killers Need to Kill

lunaloveralex:

prompts-and-circumstance:

howtofightwrite:

Killers need to kill. It’s surprising how many writers ignore this very specific and important piece of the ones they claim are killers, heartless or not. Sometimes, there’s a difference between the character we describe in the text and the actions the character takes. An author can tell me over and over that a character is a deadly and dangerous person who strikes ruthlessly without mercy, but if they don’t behave that way in the actual story then I’m not going to buy it.

Show versus tell: the difference between who the author says the character is and the actions the character takes in the story. Especially if the actions counteract the description. Now, you do have characters who lie, characters who misrepresent themselves, characters who say one thing and do another, but these are not the characters we’re talking about. This is about ensuring that you, the author, know the character you are writing. Unless you’re hiding their habits, let us glimpse the worst they’re capable of.

Monster. I could tell Jackson I was a monster, but he wouldn’t believe me. He saw a strawberry blonde, five feet eleven inches. A waitress, a Pilates nut, not a murderer. The nasty scar across my slim waist that I’d earned when I was ten? He thought I’d gotten it from a mugging at twenty one. Just as a natural layer of womanly fat hid away years of physical conditioning, I hid myself behind long hair, perky makeup, and a closet full of costumes bought from Macy’s and Forever 21. To him, I was Grace Johnson. The woman who cuddled beside him in bed, the woman who hogged the sheets, who screamed during horror movie jump scares, the woman who forgot to change the toilet paper, who baked cookies every Saturday morning, the woman who sometimes wore the same underwear three days in a row. The woman he loved.

No, I thought as I studied his eyes. Even with a useless arm hanging at my side, elbow crushed; my nose smashed, blood coursing down from the open gash in my forehead, a bullet wound in my shoulder, Sixteen’s gun in my hand, the dining room table shattered, and his grandmother’s China scattered across the floor. He’d never believe Grace Johnson was a lie. Not until I showed him, possibly not even then. Not for many more years to come. Probably, I caught my mental shrug, if he lives.

“Grace,” Jackson said. “Please…” The phone clattered the floor, his blue eyes wide, color draining from his lips. “This isn’t you.”

Gaze locking his, I levered Sixteen’s pistol at her knee.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Morrison will take you in, he’ll fix this.” Her voice cracked, almost a sob. For us, a destroyed limb was a death sentence. Once, we swore we’d die together. Now, she can mean it. “Thirteen, if you run then there’s no going back.”

My upper lip curled. “You don’t know me.” I had no idea which one I was talking to. “You never did.”

My finger squeezed the trigger.

Sixteen grunted, blood slipping down her lip. In the doorway, Jackson screamed.

Do it and mean it. Let it be part of their character development, regardless of if which way you intend to go. In the above example, there’s a dichotomy present between the character of Thirteen and her cover Grace Johnson. There’s some question, even for the character, about which of them they are. It sets up a beginning of growth for the character as she runs, but it also fails to answer what will be the central question in the story: who am I? Which way will I jump?

If Thirteen doesn’t kill Sixteen, if the scene answers the question at the beginning then why would you need to read the story?

Below the cut, we’ll talk about some ways to show their struggles.

-Michi

Read More

Where is this glorious passage from and how can I acquire the rest of the story!?

Same! I would love to read the rest of that!! It really proves your point too

Unfortunately, I wrote the above passage specifically for this an article and that is all that was ever written. However, I am glad you like it.

Thank you.

-Michi 

So it’s obvious that trying to knock people out is mostly unrealistic and often times lethal. But what about when someone is tired from their injuries? Is there a difference between passing out and being knocked out? Where’s the line? Can trauma from head hits not knock someone out, but result in passing out? Can being knocked out for more than a few seconds be bad news, but passing out for hours just be regenerative, and if so what would cause that distinction to physically manifest?

The distinction between passing out and knocking out is very simple:

1) Passing Out: Your body is so tired that it can’t go on.

2) Knocking Out: Someone else is traumatically forcing your brain to rapidly shut itself off by convincing it that its dying.

When you’re talking about hitting someone in the head as opposed to strangulation, this generally means a concussion. They have hit your head so hard your brain has bruised itself against the inside of your skull and you have now gone unconscious. When you punch someone in the head, you have zero control over what actually happens to them. You can hope, but you can’t control it. In comparison to a choke hold, where you have almost total control over their body and can feel for the moment they go limp (and a mistake is still going to potentially end their life), it isn’t worth it as a tactical choice.

Humans are persistence predators, they can go and go and go for a very long time. You have to work pretty hard to physically exhaust them to the point where they’ll collapse on the battlefield. Their brain/body will usually stop them long before that point arrives. When you’re talking about combat, they’re far more likely to die before they ever reach a point of total exhaustion. We’re talking days without rest, the kind you’re only ever likely to encounter in mass battles or with a character who is being hunted.

The truth is that if you see a character who has been consistently knocked out multiple times on screen, they’d either be suffering from serious damage to their brains or dead. Most of them would be dead. If you ever feel like testing the theory out, go check out the late life prospects for boxers and football players who’ve sustained several concussions over the course of their careers.

The whole “knock someone out to get rid of them” is a Hollywood trope built for narrative convenience. The actual process of physically subduing someone is long, drawn out, and takes a great deal more energy and effort than a one, two punch or a knife to the gut.

The “Knocking Out” Contrivance in media acts like character death but without the audience having to evaluate the protagonist’s morals or the narrative’s values. They maintain their “good guy” street cred, and the audience doesn’t have to ask the questions. We switch easily from one scene to the next without any of the hoopla. The audience gets their action sequence and no one needs to feel bad. It’s a bloodless death. Or it’s a scene transition, or someone’s been taken prisoner without the author having to figure out how they move tie them up, move them, and get them from Point A to Point B. (Nevermind that it’s actually much harder to move dead weight than it is someone who is conscious.)

It’s lazy.

No, yeah, it is.

It’s there for shock value when the protagonist is taken prisoner.

Still, if you want to use this narrative contrivance in your story you can. No one will stop you. The vast majority of general audiences won’t question it. Judging by the number of questions we’ve received about this topic alone, people do commonly think the knockout genuinely works as a tactic for subduing the enemy. However…

The “Knockout” is prevalent in media because it is a convenient narrative tool.

If you’ve got a burning need to use it then use it, just don’t sit there and try to say it’s “realistic” or safe after the fact. It isn’t. Accept the narrative knockout for the bit of smoke and mirrors it is, and move forward.

It’s part of a collection of tropes that I like to call “Feel Good Violence”. They have no relationship to reality or responsibility, but they’ll make the audience feel good and the character seem powerful. It is “Feel Good”.

So, that’s it. I have nothing more to say that we haven’t covered in previous posts about head injuries. Unless @scriptmedic has anything they’d like to add, we’re done with the topic for now.

-Michi

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