Tag Archives: michi answers

You once said that a human trying to follow their instinct would get killed in a fight. But what about someone who is not a human, like a human/dragon hybrid. Being descended from a race of apex predators who have been hunting and killing prey and enemies with their own bodies rather than using weapons or tools.

The problem with this logic is that its avoiding the basic issue of instincts and combat, which is that the most basic combat techniques are designed to exploit your natural instincts. In this case, it’s your reflexes, your response to danger or when under threat. Combat is about finding holes in the defenses, in utilizing your opponent’s reactions, and even acting in such a way that tricks them into the response you want.

The reason why martial combat works the way it does is because the techniques are designed around dealing with human opponents, but it applies as much to say dealing with attack dogs as it does with humans. There are people out there right now trained in how to handle an attack from dogs, and utilize those same attack instincts and patterns against the animal in a manner that is either offensive or defensive. The same goes for any other animal, and it would be the same for any other species.

There is nothing natural, really, about modern combat when it comes to the human instincts. Your instincts are retrained over the course of your training, adapt as you learn new techniques and acquire new skills, then run the risk of getting exploited when these same techniques disseminate into common knowledge and your enemy develops a counter designed to mess with what previously worked.

On a purely cerebral level, from strategy to application, martial combat is all about fucking with your opponent.

Humans are persistence predators, we have the capacity as a species to simply keep going and to quickly recover. We excel at working together in groups. Apex predators come with their own drawbacks, and those instinctual drawbacks can be just as easily exploited when someone realizes what they’re dealing with.

When we’re looking at practical combat, you must continually update your skills to keep pace with opponents who are learning to counter what you were trained in.

Instincts don’t update. They may change over the course of thousands of years, but we’re talking about changes that need to be made within months and sometimes even days. That is why instincts put you at the bottom when it comes to practical combat, because that’s where you start when learning how to exploit people. When you’re fighting by instinct and up against someone who understands how your body functions, you may find anything between your nervous system being messed with, exploited by the way your eye and brain tracks moving objects, and walk right into their fist.

A character possessing different instincts don’t solve the issue because practical combat adapts around the idea of exploiting how your enemy’s mind and body function. In the advanced stages, it moves on to exploiting how a trained combatant’s mind and body have been trained to function.

A fantasy apex predator like a dragon attempting to hunt a human still falls prey to those same limitations and the same exploitation if the human can figure out their behavior patterns. If they learn nothing else, then they’re still at the bottom.

So, no, it doesn’t help them that much.

-Michi

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How effective are using people as human shields. In a lot of shows to protect themselves from getting shot characters pull people in front of them. How realistic is this and does it actually offer some protection from small caliber weapons.

There’s no guarantee that the hostage is going to stop the bullet, the point of holding someone hostage is to stop the other person with a gun from shooting in the first place.

It is, unironically, the exact same reasoning behind holding someone hostage with a knife or any other implement. The idea is that the person trying to stop you will care more about the innocent getting hurt than they will stopping you. Or they will want to get that person to safety before apprehending you, giving you time to potentially maneuver into a better position and/or escape.

It’s worth understanding that taking a hostage is usually an act of desperation. They’re taking a big bet on the morality and/or ethics of the person they’re trying to escape from. They are betting on the value of the hostage, whether that’s personal or political or simply because they’re an innocent.

This is part of why its an act of desperation, the other part is that moving while holding someone else and forcing them to come with you is difficult. The hostage taker is also betting on the hostage’s willingness to be compliant, that they will value their life more than they will attempting to get free or fight. They’re banking on fear, mostly. It’s hard to split your focus on two at once.

Now, hostage taking happens in real life though I honestly have no idea if it occurs with the same frequency we see on television. Television and movies, especially those surrounding cops, are addicted to the hostage narrative. It has become a genre cliche as much as a genre trope at this point. However, it serves as a cheap, fast point of narrative and character development for both the audience and the protagonists.

Hostage taking usually acts a convenient moral and ethical dilemma for the protagonist. This is more true of some shows than others, but its a staple trope in procedural and television dramas involving cops. Often, it’s here to tell us what kind of people these protagonists are and, if there’s more than one to make the choice, where their breakdown is. The good cop will usually try to talk the hostage taker down. The one who threatens them down by being a worse person. The “by any means necessary” risk taker often just shoots through the victim. There are other variants, but that’s the common breakdown.

Compare Law and Order to The Shield or 24 for comparisons in how the protagonists deal with hostages, hostage takers, and even, sometimes, take hostages themselves.

The ethical quandary is the centerpiece of a hostage negotiation. Whether you risk their deaths by acting, whether you try to save them and allow the villain to succeed, what you do when you can’t choose both. Lives are hanging in the balance. The greater good is pitted against the importance of an individual life. Either way, someone will die.

It’s great drama.

If you want to a fun fictional glimpse into the minds behind a hostage negotiation, working from procedure, then I recommend watching The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. The plot of the movie is Jackson’s character, a hostage negotiator being framed for murder and he tries to clear his name by… taking people hostage.

If you ever want to try your hand writing a professional in a hostage negotiation or just talking someone down, then this movie is a must see.

Burn Notice has some great episodes regarding this topic as well, offers up some information on the thought processes of those taking the hostages in various scenarios from bank heists to professional kidnapping, which will be helpful.

Television doesn’t do it because it’s a smart choice, because taking a hostage is never, really a smart choice. When someone has taken a hostage, it’s usually because they’re backed into a corner and are trying to bargain for an escape hatch. They’re betting on the fact that they’re willing to go further, faster, harder than whomever they’re trying to escape from. It’s a time buy, an attention getter, and a negotiation whether they actually intend to kill their victim or not. Outside of just human shields, the hostages often do die. Television plays this sequence for the drama.

When they really want to up the ante, they have the hero’s girlfriend, boyfriend, wife end up in the hands of the villains either as a human shield or on the other end of the line. That’s when it gets personal. Die Hard plays this one like a violin. The Chicago cop trying to stop terrorists who have taken the building hostage, while his estranged wife is one of the victims and constantly in danger of discovery.

The trick to making a hostage situation, whether its a human shield or people trapped on the 100th floor is to ensure the hostages are characters rather than moveable objects. They need personalities, agency, opinions so the audience has a reason to connect and relate to them. They don’t necessarily have to fight back, but its important for the author to recognize their importance as minor characters because a successful scene hinges on them rather than the major actors.

In fiction, the audience always needs a reason to care. Death or threat of death isn’t enough to create tragedy. If your audience isn’t following along with your hostage and facing the same moral dilemma as the hero, then the impact of the outcome will be lessened.

If you want to know why scenes like this fail, why death scenes in fiction fail, then understand its a failure to make use of the supporting pieces. Whether its a big death or a small death, a major or minor victory, those supporting characters need to get used. If you don’t put any effort into developing them before their untimely demise, then death is meaningless. We can hate them, love them, want to strangle them, but we do need to feel something.

-Michi

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Is it possible to walk, well, attempt to walk, on a broken leg in any way? Would this result in permanent problems, such as a limp after healing? I assume it would…

All I remember about broken legs is the one I got when I was twelve, which was a spiral fracture of the tibia (but the fibula remained intact). After I was helped to my feet, I immediately started falling down again after I tried to put weight on it as the whole thing just gave out. I needed two grown adults to help me get to a nearby bench, which I hopped to, and then got carried out to the car when my mother finally arrived to pick me up. It was pretty terrifying.

Now, that’s not all breaks. So, I suggest you go check out @scriptmedic as they can probably give you a little more help in the medical department than we can.

-Michi

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

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

Some things first:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Casual Sex:

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

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

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

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

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

The Two on One Battle: Real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good job.

-Michi

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Do you have any advice for using rhythm to craft pleasant prose?

There’s just one, really.

Read poetry.

You can, and should, read lyrical and poetic prose as well, but this approach by itself is like looking at the rain and thinking that’s all there is to water. In reality, there are oceans, rivers, lakes, and clouds. Water takes many different shapes, flows in many different ways.

Understanding words requires the study of words.

Poetry, good poetry, is all about studying words. Words individually. Words separately. The function and impact of a single sentence. The impact of a word. The impact of punctuation. Where the emphasis is in the sentence, and you craft it so you draw more attention to your intended point.

Read poetry. Read all the poetry.

The more you read, the more you absorb, the better you’ll get as you learn to replicate the form and structure for yourself. You can apply all the theory learned and perfected in poetry to your prose. All those lessons about the impact of a poem’s visual shape and the usage of white space are still applicable.

A poem can teach you why you must be careful to never make several paragraphs in a row the same visual size and shape unless you intend to lull your audience into a sense of security/boredom/complacency.

As a writer, you should be studying all different kinds of writing even if it’s not what you want to do. From journalism, to creative non-fiction, non-fiction, various fictional genres down to poetry, there’s plenty to be learned from all different disciplines. The more you read, the more you absorb, then the better the writer you’ll be.

Second, you need to practice. Rhythm is one of the more advanced aspects of writing and, if you don’t have a natural knack for it, one of the most difficult to track. Practice is necessary. Even if you have a natural “ear” for rhythm in your prose, it will suck in the beginning. That’s okay. Let it. Rhythm is crafted as much, if not more so, in the editing phase as it is written on the first draft. Well-crafted rhythm is crafted. It may (and probably will) take multiple drafts and careful attention across the entirety of the piece in order to get the flow right. Be patient. Be kind to yourself.

When looking at writers whose styles you want to imitate, avoid the surface level. Look at the structure of the sentences. The word choice. More, challenge yourself to figure out the why. What purpose does the rhythm and structure serve. Assume the impact you received from the piece was intentional.

Writing is often like looking at a puzzle. You have many pieces that fit together to create an often beautiful whole. The neophyte writer, with no skill in analysis, simply seeks to steal pieces and slap them into a different setting. They assume all writing is modular, that if it had one impact over here then it will have the same elsewhere. They see the end, but not the beginning. The big picture, but not the details. They take and use a trope, a twist, a rhythm, or a technique without trying to understand the connective tissue which informs why it worked within the story and had the impact it did. Some of it is intentional, some of it is accidental, but stepping beyond the what to learn why and how is key to moving past imitation.

We cannot force our audience to experience anything, but we can invite them down the garden path.

When looking for rhythm, begin at the beginning. Start small. Look at poems before moving on to prose. When you grasp the concept behind four lines, you step forward into studying two hundred pages.

-Michi

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Do you have any advice for using Red Herrings well? Are there any major gaffes often made by amateur writers that I should keep in mind?

Don’t let fear of the Red Herring’s discovery control you, your story, the Herring, or the logical progression.

In a well told story, the twist is inevitably cathartic and doesn’t feel like a cheat. In a poorly written one the twist is unsatisfactory. There’s a general belief that the catharsis with the reveal comes with the reveal itself, but it’s the set up that makes it. You need to set your Red Herring up in such a way that it makes logical sense with your plot and characters.

A good story will always be good and the Red Herring is only one part of the whole fabric. You want your audience to reread your story after you’ve finished. You want them to keep coming back to it. A story that is only a “Gotcha!” won’t have repeat customers. Once you know the answer to the riddle, there’s no reason to return.

Many writers who go on this path become overly concerned with the mystery and staying one step ahead of their readership, trying to ensure that they can’t figure it out on the assumption that it’s better if they don’t.

Don’t try to outsmart your readers. If you fool them, great. If you don’t, oh well. They’ve got a lot more time on their hands than you do and will, ironically, probably think about your story more than you ever will. Some of them will be smarter than you, or more familiar with the genre conventions than you, or just more practiced at putting together puzzles.

That’s fine.

Let them have their victory. In a well told story, it honestly doesn’t matter if the reveal gets blown before the ending. If it gets guessed. The Red Herring isn’t the whole show, it’s just one piece of candy in a whole bag of goodies.

The Red Herring must always serve the story.

Don’t get so wrapped up in the Red Herring that it ends up the other way around. It’s not worth sacrificing your story or your characters intelligence/integrity over. Remember that how these characters deal with the fallout of whatever is happening or act during the course of your story is just as interesting as the mystery.

Plenty of writers have ruined their stories by trying to stay one step ahead of their audience and becoming overly focused on it to the point they change their plans just for a “gotcha!” and the characters end up acting in ways that don’t make sense. It leads to terrible decision making. (See: 24 Season 3)

Never lose sight of the whole story and don’t build the entire thing on a single Red Herring. Instead, balance it with your characters and their development, establish your setting, include multiple plot twists, and pay attention to your pacing.

Your Herring is just one thread in the tapestry, don’t let over focusing on it unwind the whole thing.

-Michi

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Hey just found this blog its Amazing! Thanks for existing! Can i ask you for some pointers? I have a character born without an arm and im trying to figure out his fighting style. He’s physically fit and heavily trained. Any advice?

As a writer, you need to know how something works before you start trying to break it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s guerrilla warfare against an oppressive regime or a hand to hand duel. You need to know what the pieces are, and what they’re used for. This is doubly important when writing about or crafting characters with disabilities because the status quo has a direct effect on them and their existence. Most of the time, they must come up with alternate solutions.

You can’t develop alternate approaches for a character with one arm when you don’t know why both arms (and hands) are important in martial combat. Think of your character as an ingenious problem solver. He looks at the status quo rules with a new set of eyes, determined to find ways in which they can be beaten, adapted, and overcome.

You can’t write a rebel if you don’t know the rules. You can’t think outside the box if you don’t know what’s in it. Start with the status quo, establish what it is, then expand outward.

I have two rules whenever setting out to write a character with any disability (mental or physical).

First: Have a firm grasp of your setting and the types of combat, including culture and standard requirements such as with a military that you wish for your disabled character to be taking part in. Essentially, the world as it is for someone who is considered defacto “normal” by the mass majority of its citizenry i.e. nurotypical or able-bodied.

This is the world your character will inhabit. If you want to understand a character who is outside of what the vast majority consider normal, you need to start by determining what that normal is.

You can’t answer the question of “what is combat like for a character with one arm?” if you don’t understand on a basic level the function of arms in combat.

You can’t answer question about their experiences if you don’t know what the attitudes are toward able-bodied combatants even before we get to a disability. If you want to write a character who is a soldier but only has one arm then you’ll run up against questions like, “how do his buddies feel about going into battle and entrusting their lives with a one armed guy?”

Those questions are based in societal perceptions about disability. Now, there are plenty of real live human beings throughout history who have adapted their disabilities to suit their needs, survived, and thrived.

Yet, you will still find plenty of “able-bodied” people in the world who see disability as an insurmountable obstacle. Just like any number of men will say that women can’t fight, even though there are women everywhere from professional fighting to sports to law enforcement to military. Perception and reality are different, but often perception informs how we view and see ourselves, and what we believe to be possible.

The beast of fiction relies on established rules and all outsider characters in fiction rely on the author having a firm grasp on social conventions to communicate what exactly it is that they are defying.

You can’t craft solutions if you don’t know what the problem you’re trying to adapt to is. As a writer, you need to figure out how a character fights with two arms, two hands, two legs, two feet and why all the appendages are important before you move on to how they fight while missing one.

Second: Understand the limitations of the disability. What can the person do? What can they not do? How does this conflict with the expectations created for the “normal” or able-bodied who also participate? How it affects the character’s life. The perception of them by the others versus their perception of themselves.

You can’t skip the portion of “learning about combat” and go straight to “how disabled person fights” because, well, it doesn’t work like that. In addition, you won’t gain any appreciation for the level of work involved, the ingenuity, creativity, out of the box thinking, and general guts it takes to blatantly challenge social convention.

You’ve got a character who has to learn how things are “supposed to be” then adapt everything out and come up with strategies to beat what is considered to be, by most people, an insurmountable disadvantage.

They’ve got to find other characters in their desired field who are willing to teach them, work with them, and devise new ways of approaching combat/their martial art.

This is not an automatic assumption. Those people, just like the people who do in real life, will take on the social stigma and more than likely the accusation that they are just sending the protagonist out to die.

The infantilization of the disabled is very real and such a character requires a support network of those willing to assist them. Training in martial combat requires a team of people. A master and those willing to submit themselves to be practice dummies while the student learns.

It’s going to take a lot of trial and error on their part because this sort of training doesn’t come prepackaged.

And you, yes, you are going to have to most of that research and lay the groundwork yourself.

The fighting style doesn’t matter, except when it comes to the setting, timeframe, availability of the training, and the requirements of the job.

Plenty of people of all shapes and sizes get into martial arts, martial combat, professional fighting, etc. These people do so out of interest, not based on what is statistically relevant. If you’re looking at training in martial arts based off of “what’s best for my size and shape” then you’re going about it wrong.

When writing a character with a disability, you’re going to be doing the vast majority of the work by yourself. There are real life examples to draw from, which I will get to below, but you and you alone are going to be responsible for your research. There is no handy, easy chart or common martial art specifically developed to be suitable for a character with only one arm.

The character trains in and adapts their chosen martial style to suit them, developing strategies to deal with their opponents. In this way, they are just like every single other person on the planet. It’s just more obvious and therefore, more difficult. Especially when you, the writer do not share in that disability and must teach yourself an entirely new way of thinking/looking at the world while also convincing yourself (for the purposes of writing this character) that that other way is your new normal. Instead of wondering what it’s like to be without an arm, you’ve got to forget that you’ve ever had one.

You are going to be doing what you should be doing for any character you write. In this case, the differences are just more pronounced.

If your character cared about “the best way for someone like me”, he wouldn’t be doing this at all. Conventional wisdom would kill his fighting dreams right out of the gate.

You’ve got a character who when the world said “there’s no room prepared here for you.”

He said, “That’s okay, I’ll do it anyway.”

He went out, found someone to teach him, and pursued his dreams in the face of social convention. Those deep desires should be the foundation for how you pick his martial style. Base it off of what he wants, what he wants to be, and what he thought would be the best way to get there.

Don’t think about that missing arm.

In this decision making process, it’s irrelevant. He chose to pursue what he wanted regardless of what conventional wisdom said. His disability is not going to factor in until the time to learn comes.

For example, I have ADD. Born with it, diagnosed in the second grade. Was always considered to be “strange” even before my diagnosis. When I was in kindergarten, KWJN Gary Nakahama and his Palo Alto West Coast Demo team came to my elementary school and put on a presentation.

I was five years old and enthralled. I grabbed one of the flyers they were handing out, carefully stashed it in my backpack, held it in my head until my parents picked me up from afterschool daycare, and begged them to sign me up for classes.

Now, I have three black belts in Taekwondo.

This is the story of thousands of kids all around the world and I didn’t even need to add my mental disability as a qualifier, but I did because we’re talking about disabilities and how, at this stage, they really don’t matter.

The desires this character is going to have and the drive to pursue what they’re going to do come from events in their own life, like anyone else. The specific martial art can be a choice made by chance or research.

Here’s a few more examples.

Nick Newell, born with a congenital amputation of his left arm, wanted to be a UFC fighter and found a gym willing to train him. He was a walk-in. Now, he’s a UFC Champion.

Johnny Tai, a blind man, who already possessed a brown belt in Taekwondo but began training in Krav Maga because his blindness restricted him from participating in competitions.

There are multiple other examples of other martial artists with disabilities who sought out training, either because they wanted to defend themselves, because they were interested, because they wanted to do competition, because they wanted to be on TV, the list goes on. The story behind why they began learning is ultimately going to be more relevant due to their desires than their disability. Training for martial combat is a long, difficult process on its own. Your character is going to be better off doing it because they love it rather than for some mythical, statistical “better”.

Most people who go in for “better” or “best” often end up miserable and quit.

Research different martial arts. Pick one. Learn everything you can about it. Then figure out how it applies to your character and how your character applies it. As needed check for stories about those with disabilities and martial arts programs which cater to them. Learn about them, and use them to help further your character within their setting.

More on Nick Newell:

Check out Nick Newell for inspiration. He’s a UFC fighter born with a congenital amputation of his left arm. He’s made a pretty good career for himself on the professional fighting circuit.

Now, before you get too excited, remember that combat on the street or on a battlefield has different priorities than combat in the arena. You can’t just take one and slap it onto the other. It’ll work out about as well as Gina Carano in Haywire where they decided to use straight UFC combat for their action sequences with Federal Agents. The problem with UFC combat is primarily it’s perennial focus on grappling. It isn’t about ending fights quickly, like most forms of entertainment, it’s about extending them.

Boxing and other forms of bloodsport are where the misnomer about the amount of time combat takes come from. Street fights are usually under a minute, usually withing the 30 second range. It’s fast and it’s over.

UFC makes its money on butts in the seats. If the fight’s over in a few seconds then the crowd leaves disappointed. One of the major complaints levered against Ronda Rousey, for example, was that she’d end a fight in the first few minutes rather than being a showman.

So, instead of looking at Newell’s fighting as a source of inspiration, my suggestion is to look at Newell himself. Look at his determination to overcome a handicap most people thought to be impossible, even on an amateur level. Look at the way he and his trainers adapted the techniques he used in order to make that handicap (missing half his arm) his strength. Look at how he made his lack of a lower arm part of his fighting style and transformed what most saw as a disadvantage into a championship winning strategy.

However, also look at the resistance to him from other members of the UFC community. His difficulty at getting fights. The way he was occasionally pidgeonholed as a sideshow act, and how many fighters turned down bouts with him because they saw it as a lose/lose situation for them.

Don’t copy Newell.

Instead, research the core of personal dedication which brought Newell success, his strategies, the training devised for him, his approach, and the discrimination he faced. Try to get at the underlying principles of how someone with a disability adapts their techniques to their advantage, rather than trying to force fit them into a preconcieved notion of what a fighter is.

To do that, you need to understand the type of combat that you plan on writing in your novel and what the general rules associated with it are. This is both from a technical/technique standpoint and a cultural one.

Writing disability in fiction requires a lot of research on the simple basis that someone who is disabled is actively influenced by the culture that surrounds them and how it perceives them. A disability is not the total sum of a disabled person’s being, and it’s wrong to present it that way. For them it’s a fact of life, a part of themselves they negotiate around and adapt strategies for. It’s the rest of society at large who try to define a disabled person by their disability.

-Michi

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I saw your post on improvised weaponry, and I wanted to ask: what about a fire axe? How big/strong would a character need to be to wield something like that effectively?

You’d need to be able to lift about five pounds.

The problem isn’t the weight, it’s being able to balance it and perform repetitive/continuous motions over an extended period of time. This is where the “strength” and “size” misnomers come in for a lot of people.

The kind of physical activity required is like being able to do a bunch of pushups or run laps around a track. It’s not a strongman’s one time five hundred pound lift.

Your character can be any size, be any shape, and weigh anything.

The skills they need fall more in line with being able to swing the axe multiple times, balance for its weight, swing it fast enough to hit their target, and recover (get themselves into a ready position so they can strike again) quickly.

The recovery is the key bit because recovery is where the openings are and where most of the critical mistakes happen.

90% of the time, the moments when your character is going to get hit will happen in the moments preceding their strike (their windup) or in the moments after it doesn’t land/misses/connects poorly. “Recover” is one of the most difficult concepts for the inexperienced fighter to grasp and most of them don’t do it, they don’t reset their defenses to ready for the next strike or block an incoming attack. It is difficult to keep up a continuous assault if your unfamiliar with the concept or the weapon in hand.

For example: the trick with using a fire axe as a weapon is to swing it in a figure eight pattern, and keep it moving. This allows the weapon to move faster via its own weight and reduces the strain on the arms. Once it starts moving, you ensure that nothing can stop it except for an incoming body. The continuous motion also creates a solid, intimidating defense.

The fire axe is in a category similar to a machete. It’s the cousin of a real weapon and can act as a weapon when necessary much more easily than trying to transition a dinner plate into a weapon to beat people with. Hammers, sledge hammers, culinary knives, dinner knives, etc, are in that same category.

They aren’t “improvised” in the same way a beer bottle or a garbage can lid is, they’re much closer to being weapons and make the transition fairly easily. Call them second-cousins. They’re not as suited for the situation as the medieval weapons designed for war, but they’ll work in a pinch.

However, unless they have a background in HEMA, most people who pick up a fire axe are going to use it the way they think an axe should be used. They aren’t going to think about figure eight patterns, attacks on alternate angles, spinning defenses, and rolling strikes. They’re going to use it the traditional way, like a lumberjack or a fireman trying to break down a door or split some wood. (Which works perfectly well when dealing with stationary objects that can’t fight back.)

This is going to be where the problems of the axe occur. While the overhand is a very powerful strike, there’s a reason why it was generally performed in conjunction with a shield.

The overhand/overhead motion creates huge openings in the defense both coming and going, it’s also repetitive and easily adapted to. When you bring your arms up, you expose your entire torso. When the arms come down, your head is now in an easily reachable range. The time which it takes to lift the axe back into position and bring it down are where the openings are.

For most people, axe strikes are also stationary.

What the axe has in its favor is that it is a recognizable weapon and also terrifying. The axe has been the favored weapon of Hollywood horror monsters, it’s recognizable for what it can do, and person threatened with it will know that they are being threatened with a weapon. 

This isn’t like a character standing around with a bottle of hairspray and a lighter while pointing it at their aggressor, a beer bottle, or just a can of spray paint.

Walking out with an axe is like walking out with a knife, or even a sword. It may seem weird for the situation, but their opponent is going to what it means, what it is, and what it can (potentially) do.

While the weapon can’t fight your battles for you, intimidation and headgames are part of warfare. If your character wants to intimidate an attacker or an enemy, then the fire axe is going to be a lot more useful than the frying pan or the dinner plate.

Can any character pick up a fire axe and go to town?

Yes.

If you find yourself asking the question of “Can X do Y?” when it comes to combat. The answer is probably going to be yes, especially if it involves size, weight, height, or any of those statements about sex, gender, and body type.

Much as Hollywood and society at large want us to believe that the only ones capable of combat are six foot tall men between 180 to 225 pounds, life doesn’t work like that.

Physical activity is as much a matter of mind as it is body. You can learn to adjust to your body, condition your body, and adapt your body to the technique. It doesn’t matter who your are or your size, if you try you can learn to do the thing. If you decide to give up because of some arbitrary reason, then you won’t.

Most of us give up inside our own heads before we try.

And the only combat metric that matters is: did you live?

After that, everything is gravy.

When working with fiction, we create a simulacrum of real life. The point is to stick in enough “real life” bits to sell the audience on the suspension of disbelief.

What matters most is that you asked the question.

-Michi

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Hi! I’m a fanfic author working on a LotR Glorfindel-as-an-Avenger crossover, and I was wondering whether a staff, spear, or battleaxe would be the best choice of weapon (of course I know that the way the Avengers fight isn’t realistic!). Obviously I can’t use a bow, hammer/club, shield, guns, or batons because the other Avengers already use those. I know this is a wacky question, so I understand if there’s no good answer.

Actually, there’s a pretty good answer: Glorfindel’s sword, Laure (”Golden Light”) is the weapon he should be wielding. It is his second sword, the first was lost in battle with a Balrog during the First Age, and the weapon he carried when he brought Frodo to Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Give him the sword he used when he went toe to toe with the Nazghul.

(I know I just sent some hardcore Tolkienite into a rage there for not including the proper characters on the ‘e’. I’m sorry, all I ask is that we not ask me to figure out how to do it in Tumblr’s askbox. )

It’s important to remember that Tolkien was writing myth when he wrote Lord of the Rings, he believed that all the world’s good literature ended with Beowulf. Tolkien structures his narrative and his characters (yes, all of them) around that style of storytelling. A style more akin to say, Norse Myth than it is to most of what you’ll find in the general fantasy section of your bookstore. For one of the founders of the epic fantasy genre, very few fantasy authors actually write like Tolkien.

When you’re working with any of his characters, it’s important to take that into account. The named weapons, especially the swords, are a huge deal in Western European mythological tradition. The characters themselves are more archetype than individual in the classic sense of characterization, they are intended to be larger than life. (In this way, a Marvel/LoTR crossover is not as odd as it might seem at first glance.) The swords act as symbols, communicating a vast amount of information to the reader about who these characters are supposed to be, how we’re supposed to perceive them, and what their place in the narrative is.

In European myth, the sword itself is not by itself a symbol in the same way that the katana is for the Japanese. Rather, because swords were common, specific swords become a means of denoting importance. The named swords, from the purely legendary ones like Excalibur to the real life swords carried by Kings, Lords, and famous retainers like Charlemagne’s Joyeuse and (the ironically more famous) Durendal (’Endure’) carried by his paladin Roland.

It’s so crazy and important in myth that Beowulf’s sword Hrunting, carried into battle against Grendel’s mother and lent to him by Unferth, gets its own Wikipedia entry.

These swords have their own lineage, history, and stories behind them. How they were gotten. What their names are. Who made them. Who handed them out. What battles they fought in.

“This is my sword.”

Or:

“This is Frost, named by the Seven Singing monks in the valley of the Black Mountain, gifted to my father Omar Strongjaw by King Redovir for his service in the War of Five Blades, and borne into battle against the giant Gorim Longtooth.”

It’s the epic’s way of saying, “Hey, in case you weren’t clear, THIS GUY IS IMPORTANT.”

Tolkien adores this trope, almost every single important character (and probably even the unimportant ones) are going to have a sword or a bow like this, with a name, and the weapon itself has a history equivalent to the one who wields it. Just like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. And it should be pointed out that the legendary/mythical Thor (not to be confused with Marvel’s Thor) is one of the inspirations for all this in the first place.

Do the elves hold a similar narrative position to Marvel’s Asgardians?

Yes, they do.

Tolkien gave his characters the weapons he did for a reason. Aragorn is the obvious go to with Narsil as the Excalibur stand-in to point out that he will be king, but Legolas’ bow, Frodo/Bilbo’s Sting, and Gimli’s axe are all subtle to not so subtle narrative tells communicating information to the audience about who these characters are.

I mean, honestly, they’re so recognizable as archetypes that we have an entire array of DnD classes based on them.

It’s so specific in its intent that these characters cannot have their weapons switched out without changing the substructure of how we as the audience are supposed to see them as their presentation hinges on a subconscious understanding of how Western European myth functions. They are bound up in their weapons and their weapons are bound up in them.

It’s as signature as a signature weapon gets.

Don’t think about it in terms of effectiveness but rather storytelling significance. If you want to do research outside of Tolkien for your LoTR characters, I recommend the classics and Tolkien’s classics only aka Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Norse Myth, The Welsh Triads (Mabinogion), etc. What he drew from to create his own myth.

Also, trust that Tolkien understood myth and how to draw out those storytelling qualities to create mythological characters within the consciousness of the modern reader better than you or I ever will. He was a Cambridge Professor, myth was both his passion and his job.

Take the opportunity of playing in Tolkien’s playground (especially in adaptation) to get into the nuts and bolts of how he worked. Why his characters worked and why they are so enduring in our consciousness.

If you get stuck, Joseph Campbell (beyond The Hero With A Thousand Faces) might be helpful in unpacking the mythic tropes that Tolkien mastered, what they mean to the human psyche, and why these themes so captivate our imaginations.

And if you ever have any question about what weapon a Tolkien character should wield, always check what their canonical weapon is first. It may be difficult to track down, but that’s what the thousands of Tolkien scholars on the internet are for! The beautiful thing about Tolkien’s popularity is that if you don’t know, someone else probably does and will expound upon it at length, in great detail, until all you want is for them to go away.

Happy writing!

-Michi

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who would kill the other in a fight Fightwrite or Starke

I think if you anthropomorphized the blog by Starke and my powers combined, it could probably take out Starke out. It would then proceed on a Skynet plan for world domination and become the most awesome fighting machine ever known. At least, on the internet. I’m afraid this website isn’t that deadly outside of cyberspace.

My heart, however, is broken that you forgot about me.

-Michi

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