Tag Archives: writing advice

I have a Japanese character who is exceptionally skilled in martial arts.. lets say he is a modern day legend to some. Now I have it where he is skilled in karate, kung fu, swordsmanship and he was also a assassian/hitman type most of his life though he is very young for his experience but had to mature before normal puberty stages. I want to do a friendly yet intense fighting scene between him and an older family member for him to show how skilled he actually is but I want him to also lose the

Your character has a terminal case of “trying too hard”, best to take him out behind the woodshed right now, and put him out of your misery.

Kung Fu is not a martial art, it’s not even a family of martial arts; it’s a collection of unrelated martial arts that originated in China in a specific historical timeframe. Karate is an Okinawan martial art. Using either of these would be an affront to a Japanese hitman or assassin.

A Japanese Assassin would be a Ninja, full stop. They’d practice their family’s variant of Ninjitsu. Practicing Chinese martial arts like Wushu or Shaolin would be a stain on their honor.

A Japanese hitman would, almost certainly be Yakuza. These guys do not mix with Ninjas. To the Ninjas, and for that matter most of Japanese society, the Yakuza are street rats, it would be a disgrace to associate with them. To the Yakuza, the Ninja would be an uncomfortable reminder that their place in modern Japanese society isn’t earned. Also, like Ninjas, Yakuza aren’t going to be learning non-Japanese martial arts, including Karate.

If you’re scratching your head right now and saying, “but, Okinawa is part of Japan”, you’re absolutely right, today. Historically it wasn’t, and the Japanese still look down their noses at its people, their martial forms and weapons.

Here’s the thing; there’s the classic writing advice, “write what you know.” You can think of this as the training wheels of writing, eventually you’ll be researching new things, and writing about stuff you don’t have any background in, but for today, you probably want to trash this whole project and start over with something much smaller and closer to home.

I’d actually say, ditch the violence as well. I mean, from whatever you end up working on. Violence can be a very difficult thing to get right. Start with characters talking to each other, they don’t have to like one another, or agree on anything, but start with dialog. Build your stories in places you understand. It’s not what you want to write, I get that, but it will give you the tools to write what you want to once you’ve learned more about what you’re doing.

Also, writing characters in any culture you’re not intimately familiar with is very difficult. This is especially true of Japan, which, even today, has a very ridged and stratified society, with very strict rules of behavior that change based on context.

-Starke

If in the near future, guns were not preferable for some reason, what would a sword made with modern technology and practices look like and what would it be capable of?

I’m sorry, if you really want an answer to this, “for some reason” will have to be a lot more specific. The short version is; I don’t see swords coming back into use anytime in the near future.

The only situation I can think of, in a modern setting, where a sword would be preferable, is if you were dealing with things that could take an inhuman amount of damage without being affected, and where lopping body pieces off is the way to go. I’m thinking classic horror monsters, here. Even then, there are shotgun loads, and anti-materiel rounds for that kind of situation.

If you want a crash course in using firearms to hunt the supernatural, I’d recommend Ultraviolet, (the TV Series, not the film), about modern day vampire hunters, who’ve adapted modern technology to deal with vampires. They strap cameras to the ends of their guns, in order to quickly identify vampires (the whole, no reflections thing), load their weapon with pressed carbon fragmentation rounds (to effect the wooden stake through the heart), use gas grenades designed to respond to the chemical weakness in the old garlic folklore. In short, it’s a very inventive (and at six episodes, very short), look at how one can adapt modern technology to hunt monsters.

If you’re thinking of some kind of apocalyptic event, I’d refer you to Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt. It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a group that sets off from St. Louis into Canada in search of a lost archive of pre-plague books. The main thrust of the setting is that the printing press is lost technology, but firearms remain in frequent use.

The problem being; guns are incredibly easy to manufacture, and basic gunsmithing is common enough, and useful enough, that it’s unlikely to be lost.

On top of that, an apocalyptic event like that would snuff out most of the interesting things we’re seeing in modern forging technology.

If it’s a technology marches on, kind of situation, then there isn’t much that could really negate the bullet without making a sword equally useless.

On what we can actually do right now, the only thing that comes to mind is cryoforging; I suspect that’s a trade name. From what I understand it’s just a tempering process involving liquid nitrogen to quench the blade. It supposedly results in an improbably durable weapon that will keep its edge through almost any abuse you can throw at it. I’d take this with a grain of salt; the only material I’ve seen on it was from a company that was selling cryoforged katanas back around 2002.

On the “in the year 2000” side, it depends on what your setting has, nanotechnology might be an option. Pick your poison on what you want a nanotech blade to do. But it’s worth pointing out that in the real world, nanotech research has gotten mired pretty heavily in patent conflicts, and the entire field is at risk of stalling out.

Carbon Fiber Weave swords are another possibility, basically this is a plastic, but it’s fairly durable stuff. I don’t know if the current iteration of the technology can hold an edge in combat, but edgeless training swords have been around for years.

If you really want to play in that range, I’d say dig up all the William Gibson and Neil Stephenson you can stomach. They’re the architects of modern cyberpunk, and really almost required reading if you want to push the envelope of what can be done with technology. For Stephenson, I’d recommend Snow Crash, and Cryptonomicon. With Gibson, I think Neuromancer is the place to start. If I recall correctly, Snow Crash is the only one of those which really talks about a character using a sword. Still, if you haven’t read them yet, and this is the genre you’re looking at writing in, they’re all worth your time.

-Starke

Not sure if this has been asked before, but how do you write a scene that involves a gunfight? Obviously engagements happen at beyond point-blank so how does that work?

First off, I’m sorry this took so long to write up, this is a much deeper topic, and there will be some full articles on the subject coming in the near future.

But, to your question, the short answer is; not much, really. Fights at close range are very short, and will involve characters firing as quickly as they can at one another.

Some of the same assumptions also hold true, characters who have training and experience will win out over characters that don’t know what they’re doing.

The biggest difference is with guns, there is no playing nice. Any character that’s injured from getting hit will be seriously injured. Healing from a gunshot wound will probably involve months of recovery.

As with other weapons, guns are unique to one another. A character that’s used to using a USP .45 will be at a serious disadvantage if you hand them an M1911. Some of the basic theory and practice caries over, but the way you operate one is different from the other.

Bullets will penetrate light cover. If you’ve played a lot of recent military themed shooters, this should be a familiar concept, but games tend to undercut how severe this can be. If your character is opening fire with a handgun, there’s a real risk the bullets will blow through walls, cars, and whatever else, and hit someone they didn’t intend to.

In most residential or business settings, you won’t find cover thick enough to stop a handgun round, meaning the whole “take cover behind that couch/upended table/car door/lawn chair” tactic doesn’t actually work. Throwing a conference table on its side may look cool, but it won’t save your characters from getting perforated.

Military combat is a completely different animal. It focuses on long range fire, suppressing a target (keeping them from moving or firing back), while other squad members move in to eliminate them.

This tactic makes its way back into gunfights involving trained characters. In a firefight, their primary goal should be getting out of sight, and moving around to the side or behind their attackers.

-Starke

Five Simple Ways To Write Convincing Fight Sequences

Writing relies on ‘where, what, how, and why’ to develop a convincing narrative. This is a rule that is an umbrella over of both the entire narrative and the individual scenes that hold the plot together. A fight scene has to fulfill those requirements and it must do so within the greater context of the narrative while supporting the underlying logic of the setting as well as remaining functional and relevant on its own. This should always be your primary goal: making sure that all your sequences work together to support a cohesive and coherent whole. Knowing how to write fights and fighting characters is an extraction and extrapolation from the skills you’re already developing as a writer. Remember, it’s not a separate skill or knowledge: it’s a supplementary one. In American popular culture, martial combat tends to be mystified and it’s ironically done in the same way whether we’re working with the military or overlaying orientalism in the martial traditions of “the mysterious East”. Many writers, ironically or not, treat combat skills like they’re magic or a superpower. Often: it just happens. The discussion of what happens in the scene is vague and often anatomically incorrect. The characters are incapable of supporting their own backstories with important details and outlooks. Violence and its effects are segregated out as unimportant because again the character’s ability to fight isn’t treated as an important part of their personality or a skill they possess but as a tacked on superpower that the author doesn’t feel they need to explain. It just is. It just happens. They’re just amazing. Don’t ask questions.

As easy as this approach is, it doesn’t work and it will handicap both your characters and your writing in the long run. Like so many other skill sets, knowledge of combat isn’t something we can actually fake in our writing. Well, we can’t by being vague about the particulars. You need research and for research, you need a place to start. So, here are five simple pieces of advice to improve both your descriptive writing of your fight scenes but also line the sequences up with your characters.

Remember: your characters are the driving force behind your narrative, if the skills they’re using do not jive with their personality then that’s like throwing a rock through the reader’s suspension of disbelief window. Everything must sync together, a character can only do what they know based on their own experiences, these actions have to be justified by the setting, the narrative, the character’s backstory, their personality, and their outlook. These tips are just as applicable to character development as they are to the single scene on the page.

1) Develop a Functional Grasp of Anatomy

Fighting is all about the body and the body is all about anatomy. You can’t write a strike without understanding where that strike can go and what it’s designed to disrupt once it gets there. A punch to the windpipe will have different results than a punch to the stomach or a punch to the kidney. But what does that mean in the long run? You can only know that if you know what the organs are necessary for in the first place. A punch to the windpipe will either disrupt or destroy someone’s ability to breathe depending on the level of force, a punch or any strike to the kidney risks death from internal bleed out over the course of three days and that’s part of the reason why strikes to the back are outlawed in most forms of professional sport fighting (Muay Thai is an exception), a punch to the stomach will knock their wind out. When working with fighting, it’s good to know the end result and since we’re working with fiction we control what happens. This is both a gift and a trap. So, ask yourself before you sit down to write a scene: how does the body work together? What makes it function? What openings can be exploited? How does your character keep from killing someone?

Anatomy combined with technique is a nice cheat sheet.

2) The Trick is in the Application

Here is where anatomy comes in and becomes important. The trick to convincing your audience is not what the character knows, but in what they can do with the techniques they have. Once you know what the technique is supposed to do when it connects, you can dial it back: is the technique I’m planning to use logical to the beliefs and motives of the character I’m writing. Characters of varying skill level may or may not know what it is that they’re doing in the moment, but the writer better know the difference. I’ve encountered too many well-trained characters who are supposed to be opposed to killing who then turn around and perform kill strikes on a target in the name of subdual. Now, this isn’t bad when it’s intentional but when it’s not? Pitch another rock through the suspension of disbelief window.

If you develop a basic grasp of anatomy you will be more capable of dissecting the strikes and techniques you uncover in books, see in movies, or read about on Wikipedia. Once you know what the technique is supposed to do, you’ll know how the character feels about using it and whether or not they fit into the philosophical and thematic elements their style supports. The writer is responsible for cause and effect in a story, a character is responsible for their actions regardless of their intentions. We have to know what happens to the characters the protagonist hurts and the more skilled the protagonist is supposed to be then the more exacting and greater detail is necessary. You want to write a character that is considered to be the best in their field? They better know exactly what they’re doing and they have to be able to convey that knowledge to the reader. The writer doesn’t need to actually possess the level of skill their character is supposed to have, but they need to support the illusion.

So, stop and consider the techniques your planning on using, what are they designed to affect? How are they applied? What parts of the body are necessary for their application? How does it affect the acting character? How does it affect the character they hurt? Does your character know what they’re talking about?

3) Detail, Detail, Detail

So, you want to prove you know what you’re talking about? Well, the devil’s in the details. Now, you have a functional grasp of how the body works together and possibly some of the techniques you want to use and it’s time to put it all together. Be specific. Be exact. Be ready to explain both the action and the consequences when necessary. For example: what are the intervening steps between someone getting their throat cut from the front: they need to be quick and be able to get close without arousing suspicion, because they are in plain view of the guard or the target, they must keep their blade somewhere where it won’t be visible and drawn quickly, possibly in a wrist sheath as opposed to on their belt. They have to slash before their target can cry out in alarm and also be able to get out of the area before anyone else notices, if escape is part of the plan. A slash across the windpipe reduces the risk of the blade being caught in muscle or bone, it’s also a big strike and more risky.  While a strike to the carotid artery requires the blade go up at an angle, it’s more exact but also difficult to hit without a fair amount of practice in a tense situation.

Remember, detail extends beyond just the action and the description, it’s also important to character. A character’s behavior is based on what they do and don’t know and their outlook. The details you provide about them and in the way they behave will key the reader to the kind of character they are and what they will be willing to do. Violence changes us, a character who participates in acts of violence regardless of what they intend will be changed by it. Their ability to fight will be reflected across every aspect of their personality, inform who they are, and plays a role in what details they notice in the world around them. For example: tensed, hunched shoulders with tightened back muscles in a standing position could be a sign that someone is depressed or angry or it could be a sign that they were in fights as a child, are worried about getting jumped, or that they’ve been to prison. Hunched shoulders and tensed back muscles are a defensive posture used to protect the vitals against assault, someone who has lived a life where they have to worry about being shanked by anyone for anything may stand like this. Whether the character notices will be predicated on their training and their past experiences. A cop will notice, someone else who has been to prison will notice, a military professional or martial artist may not.

These pieces that your character picks up are part of the greater whole of the story. They need to fit into the thematic elements of the narrative and the plot. They are important for creating a coherent picture and part of convincing your audience to trust what you’re saying. Attention to detail for a writer means more than just step-by-step walkthrough of a technique or how many pine needles a branch on the tree has. It is part of putting together a clear picture before the fight ever occurs. Too much information can slow down a fast paced sequence but it can also distract from the story at large with details that are unnecessary. The details you use need to further connect the character to the action, show the character’s personality, outlook, and training, while syncing them together with the setting.

It’s ironic to say that your character fighting, even in a technically well-written fight scene isn’t enough to prove that your character knows how to fight. The believability of your fight scenes is being set up from the very first page and in the first character introduction. I’m not even talking about foreshadowing. I’m just talking about consistency.

4) Know Your Style

So, how do you know what details are going to be important? Well, you need to know what style of combat your character is practicing. This is one of the major problems that writers face when trying to convince their audience that the character knows how to fight. They use terms like “high level martial arts” or “exceptional fighting ability”. Skill means nothing, except when combined with experience. They choose umbrella terms for a bunch of different styles like “karate”, “taekwondo”, or “kung fu”. With the exception of taekwondo, that actually doesn’t really tell the reader anything.

The World Karate Federation recognizes four distinctly different forms of karate: Shotokan, Shito-ryu, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu. The World Union of Karate-do Federations recognizes eight different and unique styles that fall under the karate header. Those are the just styles that are officially recognized. They don’t cover the different variations between master to master or between different schools or the outlooks of those schools. There’s a big difference in the training a character receives from a traditional school and the training they receive from a non-traditional school. In America, karate is a catch all phrase by most for any Eastern martial art regardless of the country it comes from. When I was growing up it was easier to refer to the style I was practicing as “the karate school” than it was trying to explain the difference between karate and taekwondo ten different times in a single afternoon. Especially when the people I was explaining it to weren’t going to remember the next time I brought it up.

But, if you’re going to write a character that fights, you need to know the specifics of the style they practice and the social customs of the country they practice in. A karate school in America, even with a Japanese instructor trained by a master in Japan or a master trained by a master in Japan or a master who was trained by another master who was trained by a master in Japan will be different from a school based in Japan. There will simply be different values at play on the social end much less the technical end and those will also have influenced the character.

Be specific. Be exact. Know what you’re talking about to the best of your ability and you’ll be less likely to fall on your face. For example: variations of police hand to hand come from CQC, the Military uses CQB. (CQC stands for Close Quarters Combat, CQB stands for Close Quarters Battle.)

How can anyone take your character seriously if they can’t even tell the audience what style they’ve been trained in? This is an important part of their backstory, they’ll know the ins and outs of it, who trained them, and who they trained with. Even if your character has a supernatural level of aptitude, they’re going to need to learn how to refine that skill somewhere.

5) Stick to the Basics

Many writers think that to write a black belt or an extremely proficient fighter they need to show them using advanced techniques. This isn’t true.  In times of crisis, a character will turn to the techniques they are most familiar with, the ones they practice constantly, and the ones they know best. Those techniques are the first ones they learn, the basic techniques. These are the techniques that you can get an easy overview on in any practical handbook relating to the style, go to your local library or bookstore and dig through the many, many self-help books relating to each individual style. These books will provide you with pictures and diagrams and usually an overview of the style’s history, the reasoning behind its development (or why it was revived). Pretty much most of what you need to start to piece together how the style is supposed to work, with background research and other books or interviews with local schools about the style, combined with an understanding of basic anatomy, you should be able to begin the process of writing a decent fight scene.

This is the stuff you can learn in a short amount of time. If you can use these techniques convincingly and effectively in your writing, then you’re golden. You don’t need anything else. Besides, in a real world fight most of the fancy exhibition stuff will get you killed. It will get your character killed. They aren’t usually appropriate as combat techniques anyway or are the risky kill moves. The basics are the safe stuff and they are the easiest to begin working with. You can learn how to write your character using them quickly and learn how to write them well.

Here’s the thing to remember: being able to fight and being able to write a convincing fight scene are two different skill sets. There’s a point of knowledge that overlaps, but that’s it. A martial artist isn’t necessarily going to be able to write about what they do and writer martial artists have a whole subset of potential flaws that they have to work to avoid. You don’t need to be a master martial artist to write a master martial artist, all you need to know is the steps that go into the creation of a master and what the general results are.  

Breaking the pieces apart from the whole picture and puttng them back together is an important skill in any writer’s toolbox. Writing about fighting is supplementary to the skills you already posses, figure out what something is, how it was created, and what it means in the backdrop of the bigger picture and you’ll have what you need.

It’s as easy as that.

-Michi

Is there some kind of moves in martial arts that resemble dancing moves? Like a really elegant, swift, and light way of fighting?

No.

Pretty much, any master can make their style look elegant as hell. With practice and dedication, any competent martial artist can polish a kata down to really good performance art.

But, katas aren’t for fighting. They’re a set of moves designed to help students get used to shifting from one strike to the next. In theory, anyone can polish them into one fluid performance; but it’s kind of missing the point.

And, nothing will get you killed faster in a fight, than digging out a kata. It’s a rote set of moves, anyone who recognizes the kata you’re using will instantly know what you’re going to do next, and while they’re not standardized, they are teaching tools, they get around.

Here’s the thing; outside of a fight, as a demonstration or a kata or an exhibition, most mainstream martial arts can be performance art. There are styles like Capoeira that were specifically designed to be disguised as dancing. But, when a fight starts, the styles change.

In combat, martial arts styles are reactive. They key off what your opponent is doing at this moment. As an unarmed combatant, you need to be building momentum, building force, or working with pinpoint precision. You can’t do any of those things while you’re pirouetting around; you have neither the time, nor the energy.

More than that, at a training level, dancers make poor martial artists, and vice versa. To an outside observer, what they do may look similar, but on a technical level, the skills are almost completely incompatible.

-Starke

Since you mentioned Jack Bauer and I’m a huge 24 fan, could you talk more about his fighting style? Also, what would be a believable background/fighting style for a character like him? Thank you very much!

As I recall, Jack mostly uses Krav Maga, with some other CQC techniques mixed in. I don’t think we’ve actually talked about Krav Maga yet; it’s a modern combat style designed by the Israeli Defense Force, which focuses on very close quarters combat. It’s a little strange that a Federal Agent would be using them, but, it isn’t completely unreasonable. The style was very popular for a few years back in the early 2000s, and you can still find schools for it in the US.

It’s one of the few actual combat styles that you can get training in “off the street,” though the civilian version is probably about ten years out of date.

Now, as much as I love 24 in a minute to minute context, there’s a lot of stuff in its background that just doesn’t work.

CTU is supposed to be a military or CIA operation. Before the Department of Homeland Security, domestic counterterrorism was a bit of a bureaucratic mess. Theoretically the FBI had jurisdiction, and if it was a bombing, they were the ones called in to investigate. After 9/11, the DHS was set up to coordinate intelligence gathering from the CIA, NSA, and FBI, to assist in the prevention of future terrorist attacks. It outright consumed a few agencies, including the Secret Service, ICE, and, I think, the DSS.

In theory, the CIA has never been allowed to operate domestically; the same is also theoretically true of the NSA. Now, that’s never really been the case, domestic actions by the CIA go back at least to the 1950s, and Echelon, an NSA surveillance network, dates back to the mid 60s. Obviously, this stuff goes down the rabbit hole fast, but the critical thing to take away is that, even after the PRISM leaks, the CIA and NSA aren’t allowed to operate openly on US soil. Meaning, at least in the world we live in, CTU would be a legal impossibility.

If you’re writing a counterterrorism agent in the federal government, today, you’re looking at FBI or DHS. DHS’s primary interest is supposed to be sharing intelligence, not acting on it, so really, if you want a Jack Bauer type counterterrorist investigator, you’re probably looking at a Special Agent in the FBI.

If you want the specific requirements for a character to be an FBI Special Agent, I could rattle what I remember off the top of my head, or just link this: https://fbijobs.gov/114.asp

The short version is, no serious physical impairments, including colorblindness, or less than 20/40 vision, no serious criminal record, at least a four year degree, between the ages of 23 and 37 (when they’re recruited). But, that link goes into some interesting details. (Also, question 17 still cracks me up, until I remember that it really was one of the most common questions they were getting for years.)

What it doesn’t cover is that military service, or a background in law enforcement is a plus. It’s not technically necessary, but a character who didn’t serve, and wasn’t a cop, will be somewhat socially isolated. As far as I know, this isn’t malicious; it’s just that the Agent in question won’t have the same shared experiences to help with making friends and networking.

The FBI does their hand to hand training at Quantico. I don’t have any real details on it, but it’s safe to assume it’s a fairly standard police hand to hand variant. Given recent trends in police tactics, it’s entirely possible that it’s started incorporating military hand to hand techniques.

If you want to avoid the FBI for some specific reason, all of this is still a pretty reasonable baseline for any federal agent.

Jack’s background in Special Forces is, let’s call it “difficult to justify”. Ex-Special Forces has become a flashcard for badass, but, as with a lot of things, it tends to get massively misunderstood by people on the outside. I’ll probably come back to this at a later date, but, in general, people who come out of the Special Forces programs aren’t really well suited for jobs in law enforcement. Most often, this is used to designate a character as trained in combat, just like, literally, everyone  that serves in the Armed Services.

My final advice on writing a character like Jack Bauer is; don’t. The only reason Bauer works at all is Kiefer Sutherland’s performance; he’s walking a very fine tightrope to keep the character likable. On paper, without an actor to kludge the character into line, that’s going to be a very difficult mark to hit.

-Starke

A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950), Essayist and Biographer (via thewritingcafe)

The Writing Café: Why First Chapters Really Matter

The Writing Café: Why First Chapters Really Matter

I’m the fighting supernatural anon. Thank you so much for your help! The creatures my character fights are mostly humanoid/human shape (but there’s a reason why she’s the one to fight them). They’re still faster and stronger, but I’m thinking of creatures she could overcome with some strategy. The fighting is not the focus, but I want it to be plausible. So, which skills should she develop, including for defense? Which fighting styles are more fit to those needs? Thank you very much again :)

The short version is; there isn’t one. As far as I know, there isn’t even anything vaguely relevant. Forms like Judo focus on dealing with opponents that are stronger than you, but there are practical limits, and a human being can only take or deal so much punishment.

This is a big part of why there are no hand to hand styles for dealing with bears, or wolves, or lions, or any other apex predator. (No, wrestling alligators doesn’t count.) Putting yourself that close to an animal like that will end badly. In the real world, we’ve dealt with that by using ranged weapons, and polearms; which is why I suggested those earlier. They allow you to kill a creature without getting close enough for it to disembowel you.

If she’s using hand to hand when dealing with other humans, and only using the blade on monsters, I’d suggest aikido, it has a strong focus on non-injury, and while it’s not terribly practical, it might philosophically fit, transitioning into junkyard aikido or jujitsu if she’s willing to harm people who get in her way.

Now, I keep pushing the whole “don’t go into hand to hand” thing, and here’s why: It depowers your monsters. If they’re supposed to be foot soldiers of a greater evil that anyone can deal with, and your character is just one of many people fighting them off, then it’s really fine. And, I’d offer the same advice as above, junkyard aikido or jujitsu.

But, if they’re a scourge upon the world, and no one else can oppose them, having your character take them out unarmed is going to risk doing seriously unfortunate things to your audience’s suspension of disbelief (unless there’s some really good justifications in why everyone can’t deal with them).

I’d recommend looking at The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski. Though, I’d be slightly more cautious about suggesting any of the adaptations of his work. But, Sapkowski does almost exactly what you’re describing, and has some excellent justifications.

For use of the Katana, I’d recommend Kirasawa’s Yojimbo (though there isn’t much sword combat). Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol I might be worth looking at, if you want the more mythical version of the blade. (Though, as with all of Tarantino’s work, you’ll need to bring a strong stomach.) Michi’s recommending Rurouni Kenshin. She’s also recommending you look into the underlying cultural history of the katana, that’s The Book of Five Rings, and spending some time looking at Bushido. There’s a lot of cultural context with the katana, so if you’re setting your story in an amalgam of historical Japan, or even just using a Katana, it’s probably worth doing some further research.

-Starke

If you’re insistent on working with the katana, then The Book of the Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (circa 1645), it’s a philosophical text on the kenjutsu arts and conflict. I’d also recommend looking into Iaijutsu: the art of drawing and sheathing the blade (Iaido in a modern context), Kenjutsu (Kendo), and Battojutsu as a study of sword combat in Japan. Do yourself a favor and pick one.

She can pretty much learn the sword or the hands, but she’s only got time for one unless she’s been practicing continually and doing nothing else like in a good old fashioned apprenticeship like in Medieval Europe with pages.

If she’s been training to fight monsters specifically, I’d look into a variety of other supplemental weaponry. If you’re going Japanese, stay with Japanese weapons as supplements. The naginata or some variant of glaive would be her pole arm, they might also train her on the bow, and practice with a wide variety of other useful skills like poison brewing and trap-making, spike traps, pit traps, etc.  All the useful extras any good hunter needs to give them an edge. I don’t know if the Japanese ever did actually attach a kunai to the end of a rope and used it as a whip like the Chinese did with the Shaolin rope dart, but you know it’s not a bad idea.

Just try to stay within the Japanese frame and you should be fine, it’s a bad idea to play mix and match with martial styles unless you’re really willing to do the leg work (all the leg work) to understand all the themes they bring into play in your story.

(Edit: an investment of time, if you haven’t already done so, into some of the Anime and Manga that deal with Japan’s mythology and monsters might also be worth it. Digging into the monster ideas used in Claymore and Inuyasha might be helpful.)

-Michi

For the use of a katana, another good movie might be Ame Agaru (After the Rain, in English). Its fight scenes are considered to be incredibly well choreographed.
Anonymous
 

I’m sorry if this ends up being unrelated to the actual blog, but I’ve always wondered how defenestration should work believably. Say, someone was thrown out of a window, or through glass, or even jumped through glass on purpose. Would a regular window shatter, like in movies, if someone was thrown into it/pushed in a combat situation. How would this affect their ability to fight?

Okay, first caveat, I’m not an expert on glass, either being thrown through it, or breaking it…

Films used to use something called sugar glass. This was basically a transparent candy that looked enough like glass on film, but was brittle enough to shatter without tearing someone’s hand apart. (I seem to recall this stuff was actually edible.) According to a quick web check, they’ve moved over to synthetic resins in the past few years, so in films where you see someone punching glass or getting thrown through windows, they’re either going through a sheet of candy, or a polymer.

Real glass comes in a lot of different varieties, with a lot of different characteristics. The glass in modern cars is designed to shatter into small cube-ish pieces with relatively dull edges. They’re then coated in a plastic sheath to keep the window from spraying everywhere in the event of an accident. The windshield itself is made from a slightly different reinforced glass; that will break around point of impact. Though, this can take someone being thrown into it.

I’m not 100% certain about glass in residential or commercial construction. This should be able to withstand the force of someone being thrown into it, or survive a stray punch. Anyone with a weapon or tool should be able to shatter glass with it, specifically I’m thinking of claw hammers, crow bars, tire irons, baseball bats, or golf clubs.

Reinforced glass (with a metal crosshatch) is designed to take a lot of physical abuse. I’m not sure how much force is needed to break this stuff, but it’s a reasonable guess that a crowbar wouldn’t be enough.

Ballistic glass is basically just an amalgam of two different sheets of glass designed to absorb gunfire. It can be penetrated with enough force, but you’re going to need high powered weapons to get through it. I remember reading a few years ago about the introduction of an aluminum compound into ballistic glass, that pushed it’s durability even further, but, I don’t think that has made it into the commercial sector yet. I have no idea what explosives will do to either variety.

Punching through a sheet of glass can result in some pretty serious injuries to someone’s hand. Most glass tends to break in a spiderweb pattern from the point of impact. The individual wedges are very sharp, and will tear through someone’s muscle tissue. Throwing someone through has a similar effect, except instead of just mangling their hand; it will be their entire body. The statement about three inches of penetration holds; If they end up with a shard of glass that penetrates into their body, they’re probably going to die quickly.

There’s actually a similar risk if someone uses explosives on a window. The explosive itself should force most of the glass away from the character setting it, but anyone on the other side will risk being impaled by flying glass shards.

Getting thrown out of a window above the second floor is also pretty serious. A bad landing will kill them, and even a good one can shatter bones and leave them unable to move. Obviously, there are a lot of factors, a few people have survived falling out of airplanes (without chutes) while a bad landing can kill from a six foot drop.

-Starke