Tag Archives: writing advice

Hello. In my story I have my characters decorate their weapons with feathers/scales/hairs/ect. from their mythical creatures. As I edit, I realize these items will, most likely,have a negative impact on fighting ability. Should this type of decoration be restricted to ceremonial weapons or is there a way I can incorporate it without “harming” my fight scenes?I really like having the decoration as a way for my characters to show ownership over their weapons so any insight is appreciated. Thanks!

It’s going to depend. Off hand, it’s a lot easier, and safer, to decorate armor with trophies than weapons. That said, depending on the weapons, and where the trophies are attached, it could be fine.

The important thing is to make sure the trophy attaches to a part of the weapon that isn’t actually critical in combat. That means it can’t be a part that actually connects with either the wielder or enemy. It also can’t be a moving part.

For example: if your character is using a revolver, they could attach a feather to the base of the grip, but if it’s a magazine fed automatic that loads into the grip, that wouldn’t be an option. The feather would interfere with reloads.

There’s a little more flexibility with melee weapons. Swords and axes can be ported, to reduce their weight. This will result in holes that trophies could be mounted on. But, it also weakens the weapon overall.

If your character is using a monster’s skin, that could be applied over a grip. Though, that’s getting more into the range of an actual weapon modification, rather than a trophy. Similarly, bone or ivory can be carved into grips for some firearms.

With swords, it would actually be safer, and easier, to mount the trophies on the scabbard rather than the blade itself.

When it comes to armor, slapping feathers or fur on your pauldron might look a little weird, but it should be structurally sound. For some reason Boba Fett’s Wookie fur braid comes to mind as an example. Though, really that’s just scratching the surface. So long as the trophies don’t impair the armor, or interfere with movement, you’d probably be good to go.

-Starke

A is a trained soldier with some regular work out. B can be described as a spy with an office job. To be on a similar level concerning hand-to-hand combat, what initital training should B have received, and how regularly does she need to train?

A couple hours a week will keep you mostly up to snuff. But, she’s still screwed. It’s not because she’s out of practice, it’s because her training is out of date.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but modern combat forms evolve, constantly. Counters are developed to deal with popular techniques. Those techniques are adapted to prevent the counters from working. The counters evolve or are replaced with different ones. Or, the technique is abandoned in favor of techniques that currently lack counters. Everything evolves.

It’s not that combat gets better, it’s more like combat wanders around a little bit. It isn’t more lethal or even more effective, it’s just learned from its past mistakes, and ready to make new ones. If you’re behind the times, however, this is disastrous.

One of Michi’s favorite scenes from 24 is where Jack gets his ass handed to him by a security guard because (by that point) his training is about four years out of date. (It’s actually a recurring theme in the later seasons.)

Realistically, you need to be updating your hand to hand training roughly every six months. Ideally, you want to be updating as frequently as possible.

Your soldier/mercenary is going to be on their own for keeping their training up to date, but, if they want to survive, they’re going to understand that they need to.

Your spy might not, particularly if combat isn’t something they need to do on a regular basis. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how hard or long they train, they won’t be able to keep up.

-Starke

I am writing a fantasy world with many new planets involved, I was wondering if you had any suggestions for fantasy books to read? I’ve read a few, but feel like I need to read another two or so. Please and thank you in advance. Also, I love the helpful posts you put every day so thank you for the time and effort you make.

Off the top of my head, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, and Fritz Leiber are all necessary reading.

Howard because, well, if you’ve never actually read the Conan short stories, you need to. He’s one of the founding fathers of modern fantasy. Without him we wouldn’t have the sword and sorcery genre at all. Any fantasy you read that isn’t Tolkien owes a huge debt to Howard. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Boris Vallejo artwork, and we do all know the trashy reputation Howard’s work has, but his writing was actually remarkably concise and clear. His worldbuilding is a weird pastiche of history shoved in a blender, but for heroic fantasy, it’s necessary reading.

Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is, in many ways, the origin of urban fantasy. It’s not fantasy in modern day, but fantasy in an urban environment. Lankhmar was the New York Leiber knew, even if he did file the serial numbers off and set it in a less technologically advanced era.

Moorcock is the origin of dark fantasy. Without him, we wouldn’t have Game of Thrones, The Witcher, or the wave of fantasy writers who think smearing everything in blood is “dark.” So, you know, mixed results. He was criticizing the heroic fantasy genre. Specifically his Elric of Melniboné novels are a direct response to Conan.

I’m going to toss H.P. Lovecraft out there before someone else suggests him. He’s got a hell of a following, but, well, his prose is bad. He abuses adjectives in ways science never thought possible, and might accidentally make a few new ones on the way through. He’s also the father of modern horror and racist as hell.

That’s not two separate statements, Lovecraft’s xenophobia is the cornerstone of his horror, and you can’t really extract it from the work without also removing the horror. He’s still worth looking at, and the foundation of mixing horror and fantasy, but, you’ve been warned.

In the less foundational range, I have a soft spot for Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels (I’ve never really been able to get into the games.) There’s a philosophical bent to novels that chews on a lot of assumptions about modern fantasy, and modern heroic fiction.

For world building, the best source is, oddly enough, role-playing games. Well written RPG guides provide the player with a toolbox to use in their story. Really good ones show enough of the worldbuilding to actually give you some insight into doing it for yourself.

One of the reasons I keep recommending Exalted is because the books spend a lot of time explaining why the setting works the way it does. The books aren’t just a series of, “…and here’s a neat little thing,” it’s a lot of explanation for what causes that neat little thing, and mixing human nature with fantastic elements.

If you just want settings with neat concepts, and a large volume, D&D is an excellent jumping off point. There are a ton of campaign settings ranging from horror, Tolkienesque high fantasy, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy (both in the Leiber sense and modern day with monsters) and some stuff that’s really hard to categorize.

The actual guides themselves are all over the place. I mean, this is an imprint that’s passed from TSR to WotC, and gone through five or six different iterations. It’s been worked on by a huge swath of writers over the decades. It doesn’t describe a single setting, rule system, or thematic element.

D&D guides do have a bad habit of being overly systemic. That is to say, D&D is very stat heavy, and depending on the book, you might only have one or two paragraphs of useful information per page, with the rest being massive stat blocks and/or art. If you’re familiar with the game, then that information might be useful, but if you’re not, then it’s just going to be an intimidating wall of numbers that doesn’t really provide anything useful.

That said, getting basic information on the settings is remarkably easy. Because of how massive the settings are, there are entire wikis dedicated to a lot of D&D campaign settings, so you don’t actually need to go digging for the books.

Of the top of my head, some of the settings worth looking at are: Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Planescape, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and Eberron.

Depending on what you’re doing, Planescape, Spelljammer, and Ravenloft all deal with traveling between different worlds, so that might not be a list to start looking at.

There’s also a lot of tie in fiction for D&D, though I’m not particularly well versed in it. Off hand, Margret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance novels are top notch. By reputation, R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels are also very good.

That should be enough to get you started.

-Starke

So, in my novel, an Interpol agent is tracking a murderer who has killed in many different countries. Should they notify everyone or should they act secretly? And what is stealthier, a silenced pistol, a knife or a silenced sniper rifle?

Okay, so a lot of media screws this one up. Interpol is a just an advisory agency. Today it’s a part of the UN, though the organization actually dates back to the 1920s (as the International Criminal Police Commission).

They have no actual law enforcement powers of their own, and they have no direct involvement in criminal investigations. Interpol agents pass information to governments and function as administrative liaisons between national law enforcement agencies.

Today, Interpol is mostly just the curator of multinational databases, including things like: fugitive warrants, arrests, fingerprints, and general crime statistics. Interpol Agents are more likely to be tasked with assisting local police in actually having access to, and being able to use those databases, than being asked to consult on specific crimes.

If you’re doing sociological analysis of criminal trends, they’re actually a fantastic source, but, they don’t actually do anything.

They’re not spies, they don’t hunt down criminals across national borders, showing up at crime scenes unannounced. They push paper around. That isn’t to say their services aren’t useful, but they’re not some kind of transnational FBI agent.

Further, Interpol does adhere to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which pretty quickly takes out your “covert assassin” concept at the knees.

If your character is a spy, an Interpol Agent would actually be a pretty terrible cover, unless the intent is just to bug a police detective’s office, get out, and disappear. It’s not a cover they can take into the field, doesn’t provide much freedom of action, and Interpol won’t authenticate it.

On the question of stealthy weapons, one of those things doesn’t depend on an explosion to function. Which will make it much quieter. But ultimately this is a “right tool for the right job” kind of situation.

Remember, in Europe, tight gun control is the norm. If your character is caught by local law enforcement with a suppressed weapon, that’s probably going to be serious jail time. I’m not sure what the fallout from an Interpol Agent going off and operating as a vigilante would be, but the scandal would almost certainly massive.

If your character is going the spy route, The Bourne Identity might be worth reading. Even if you’ve seen the film, dig up a copy. It’s not a fantastic book, but there’s a lot of basic tradecraft in there.

If you’re willing to dig through RPG systems, AEG’s Spycraft core books can work as a basic primer for writing espionage themed fiction, including what you’re describing. The core books are somewhat agnostic on the martini/stale beer spectrum, but, they do specifically provide information for stories of both varieties.

-Starke

Would a shotgun firing shot have less identifying ballistic evidence than a rifled gun such as a pistol? (In terms of matching fired rounds to a specific gun)

If it’s loaded with buckshot? Yes and no.

When you’re trying to match a bullet to a gun, usually you’re looking at the pattern of striations (scratches) on the bullet itself. This is caused by the bullet moving through the barrel and scraping across the rifling. This is what gets the bullet spinning, and keeps it from tumbling in the air, but it also leaves a distinctive pattern on the bullet itself.

Keep in mind, lead is a very soft metal, so firing into a concrete wall, or even just pulling it out of the victim with surgical tools will destroy some of those markings.

With a shotgun, the shot itself won’t have striations that you can tie back to a specific weapon, but the spent shells can still be forensically useful in identifying a weapon.

Spend shell casings pick up scraping and indentations from the firearm that they’re fed through. The firing pin will leave an indentation in the back of the shell casing. The breach block (which seals the battery/chamber when firing) will impress on the shell when it’s fired. And, finally, the feeding system, the extractor and ejector, will leave markings on the spent shell. And, all of these things will apply to a shotgun.

Spent shells can be useful for identifying the make and model of a weapon, and in some cases actually identifying a specific weapon (the same way bullets are). Though, my limited understanding is, that it is less useful for identifying a specific weapon, unless there is some anomaly or defect in the components that handle the shell.

However, if the shotgun isn’t cycled after being fired (with a lever or pump action) or reloaded (with a breach loaded shotgun), then there wouldn’t be any casings left at the scene.

Also, breach loading shotguns and revolvers won’t leave extractor markings, and some don’t even have ejectors. The extractor is the mechanism that removes a round from the magazine and cycles it into the chamber. The ejector removes a round from the chamber and kicks it out of the weapon, so the extractor can load the next round.

If the shotgun is loaded with slugs, and the barrel is rifled, then it should leave striations, though I’m not completely certain this is the case. A smooth-bore shotgun probably wouldn’t, though, again, I’m not sure.

Although it’s not generally an issue with shotguns, suppressors will further scrape the bullet, meaning they can make matching striations much harder or impossible.

-Starke

Hi there! Quick question about strangling. I was going to have one of my characters use a garrote to strangle a man that was following her but then I started reading about choke-holds and thought that might be more believable than her just happening to have a garrote on her. My question is that since my character is rather petite would that effect her ability use choke-holds or are there ones specifically for petite people? Note : The characters been trained for years as a a kill for hire.

No, it wouldn’t. However, most choke holds, and garrotes, for that matter, are designed to be used from behind. So, a head on attack trying to choke someone out is just not going to work.

You can just go for the throat with both hands, but anyone who managed to stay awake through a self defense seminar should know how to break out of that. To say nothing of someone with actual combat experience.

Your character could crush his windpipe with her elbow, which would have mostly the same effect, but without her having to stick around and make sure that, “no, really he’s done trying to breathe and you can let go now.” The downside is, she’d need to be standing right next to him to do it.

Making sure someone stays down is actually an issue with most choke holds. While you can accidentally kill them with a blood choke (where you’re restricting the flow of blood into the brain, rather than the flow of air), most choke holds take a long time to kill someone.

They are useful for subduing someone long enough to get handcuffs on them, or for them to calm down (if it’s an anger thing), but actually incapacitating or killing? That’s a lot of time to spend on one combatant.

I’m not sure how long it takes to kill someone with a garrote. I’ve just never gotten reliable information on that one, sorry.

-Starke

I write fiction set in the Classic Battletech universe and, while I have my main character pretty figured out as far as personality and psychology, I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock: When she’s 33, she gets pregnant with fraternal twins. There’s plenty of scientific research out there on pregnancy and symptoms/side effects, but not having a had a child myself, I’m having trouble pinning down both when the mother is able to feel the fetus move in utero and what it feels like.

Well, this is pretty much the exact opposite of the kind of questions we field on a regular basis but…

I remembered running across a post a couple weeks ago, turns out it was actually reblog of this list that Writer Help put out last month, and it should cover your question. Also, Write World put out what looks like a decent research primer last year.

I’ll admit, I’m not familiar enough with the Battletech setting to really know the state of it’s medical technology, and if the Clans use of genetic engineering, skews that information at all. That’s something you’d need to find in the source books, if it’s covered.

-Starke

Hello, I have two questions about one subject. I have two characters who are injured in my story. One has a deep stab wound in his upper back. The other has a sprain wrist. I want to know, realistically how fast each one can heal? The stab wound is a clean cut in-out job and I would like to know how fast the character is able to walk about. The one with the sprained wrist is also a sword fighter, how quickly could he heal at a push? It will be a great help, thanks.

A couple of weeks on the sprain. Technically it can take as much as two months until it fully heals, but the joint should be useable long before then.

The stab wound… depending on the circumstances, you could be looking at a month before it’s even sealed up, to say nothing of actually healed.

The closest I’ve gotten to being stabbed was stepping on a nail about a decade ago, and I cannot recommend it.

Accounting for various factors, including the victim’s age, diet, and general health at the time of the injury, you could be looking at six or seven months before the wound is mostly healed.

Moral of the story: if you want to use that character again, and your time frame isn’t spread out over years, don’t stab them. Shooting them and car accidents come with similar warnings.

Again, I’m not a doctor, so some of my numbers could be faulty because someone was getting creative with case studies on the internet because they wanted to sell their “new” medical techniques. But, best guess.

-Starke

readingwithavengeance said: To be fair, with the stab wound, he can *walk about* the whole time. It’s using the shoulder/arm that’s going to take healing.

That’s correct, and this is why I probably shouldn’t be answering questions in the middle of the night.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that you really can’t “push” to heal faster. Proper medical treatment will speed the healing process, but pushing (in most senses) will usually aggravate the injury further, meaning it will actually last longer. This is especially true of the sprain if your character is pushing to recover as quickly as possible. Once they’re mobile, if they try to push the joint too hard before it’s fully healed they could very easily injure it again. My suspicion is, they’d also be at risk for a more severe injury in that case, but I’m not sure.

-Starke

Hi, my questions are is berserker a type of fighting, what would be a counter to a berserker style of fighting, what are the different types of fighting, plus the cons and pros of each fighting style. Thanks in advance. :D

Used to be it was a psychological warfare tactic. Berserkers (and Vargserkers) would strip naked, work themselves into a frenzy and charge screaming at their opponent. Because if twenty or thirty screaming naked barbarians running at you doesn’t freak you out a little bit, nothing will. Or, at least that was theory.

It’s also important to remember, berserkers weren’t a replacement for infantry. The groups that employed them would have some berserkers to break their enemy’s cohesion, and normal combatants to actually finish off their foes.

If the names are to be taken literally, this apparently meant naked except for some bear or wolf skins. Which isn’t really better, but you’ll see them get mentioned in connection with werewolves occasionally because… a naked guy wearing a hollowed out wolf head as a hat and swinging an axe around is “close enough?”

A single individual working themselves into a frenzy isn’t really a threat for a disciplined opponent. But, it can be intimidating, especially for someone who isn’t mentally prepared for it.

Psychological warfare aside, it’s not a legitimate combat style. Blindly striking and thrashing is the opposite of a coherent combat form. It’s possible to get lucky with it against an untrained opponent, but, against a trained martial artist, the actual attacks are going to be very easy to predict, counter, and exploit.

-Starke