Tag Archives: writing advice

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combat styles that you can get training in “off the street,” though the civilian version is probably about ten years out of date.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


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.


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.)


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.

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.


5 Stupid Habits You Develop Growing Up in a Broken Home

5 Stupid Habits You Develop Growing Up in a Broken Home

Hi again! Thanks for your previous answer–it helped very much, and I still love your blog. Today I’d like to ask about futuristic weapons. I like writing sci-fi, and I try to look at history and how weapons and fighting have evolved (I try to keep space swords out, even though they’re cool as fuck). I was wondering if you had any input towards futuristic weapons/fighting/combat, both widespread (war-like conditions) and mono y mono or similar. Thank you times a billion!

Honestly, with this, I’d say dig into existing settings and see what they’ve used.

Warhammer 40k comes to mind. The setting dials itself up to parody, but a lot of it underlying logic is actually surprisingly well thought out, and there are a lot of bits you can take inspiration from.

The quality of the tie-in books waffles pretty wildly between completely unreadable and some of the best tie-in fiction I’ve ever read. The Caiaphas Cain novels (by Sandy Mitchell) are a pretty good introduction to the setting, and should give you some ideas. I’m not a huge fan, but Dan Abnettt’s Eisenhorn novels are also a good look at the setting, though you might need to do some outside referencing on a 40k wiki.

The tabletop game itself is expensive as hell to get into, but, you should be able to find some of the army codices cheaply in used bookstores. Those should give you some ideas of what you could outfit your characters with.

As a bonus, 40k does have some fairly good justifications for melee weapons in a distant future setting. That said it is supposed to be a Dark Age fantasy world in space. And there’s a lot of material you’ll probably want to filter out; it IS still a fantasy setting, psykers are Mages, Eldar are Elves, Necrons are Undead, Daemons are demons, and Orks are… well, Orcs. But it could still be useful for giving you ideas.

I’d also recommend looking at GURPS. GURPS isn’t a conventional RPG, so much as it’s a toolbox for the GM, and while I’ve never been a fan of the system itself, the research that goes into the average GURPS book, makes them invaluable research tools. I’m not sure if Space, Ultra-Tech, or High-Tech is the book most suited to what you’re doing, but if you can find any of those used, you’ll should have some top notch material to work with.


othersidhe said: BTW all of this post is good for advice on writing characters whom are in the same situation as the original anonymous poster.

Ha! Yeah, life is pretty good for character building. Honestly though, I actually recommend the “Do It Yourself” approach first and foremost. It’s hard to write experiences we don’t have and even building off someone else’s isn’t the same as our own. Our blog is about supplementing that, but everything Stark and I write and do is through our own biased lens.


First, let me say thank you for this blog. Your posts have helped me more than most of my own research combined. You guys deserve some kind of Writer’s Badge of Honour. Now, I have a follow-up question to your sword-related post: My setting is roughly a blend of 1600s central Europe and a fantasy nordic country. My MMC is a tribe leader’s second-in-command and wields a longsword. But what kind of weapons would normal people use? Axes? Knives? Clubs? Any answer would be greatly appreciated :)

The only things I’d add to that list are staves, spears, pikes, and… well, guns.

The thing is 1600s Europe was rapidly heading into an era when the firearm was the primary weapon on the battlefield. Matchlock muskets had been around for, about, 150 years, and 1610 saw the introduction of the flintlock, so depending on what part of the seventeenth century you’re using, these could be a real weapon in your setting, or just an expensive, rare, novelty.

These weren’t accurate weapons, the rifle was still over two centuries away, and smoothbore firearms usually just put a bullet in the general vicinity of where you’re pointing. This is what led to the massed musket infantry formations firing in volleys.

The key here is “fantasy.” That alone gives you a lot of latitude to play with the world, and change the assumptions of how it functions. If your culture is based on some perpetuation of the Vikings, then, you’re looking at a mix of longswords, and axes. For ranged weapons, you’d either be looking at bows, spears, or (if you want to make them a part of your setting) early firearms.


So in my story my character is beat up (bullying) and I just want to know-how many punches and kicks are hospital worthy? I need to have her able to go back to class without needing attention basically. Really, I need help on the whole of it together-being beat up and how much her best friend (muscled, tall, strong) would take. Yeah. I need help because now I’m scared it is not accurate.

One; it just depends on the strike. The good news is, if the people attacking your character don’t know what they’re doing, the human body can take an absolutely absurd amount of damage.

Without going into a huge article on internal injuries, when you’re dealing with an untrained fighter, like most bullies, the answer is, “quite a bit.”

I’m going to make a quick aside: because of the way they fight most bullies do not (usually) develop into street fighters. They rely on violence, but they’re motivations don’t lead them to want to be better combatants. They don’t look at moves they see elsewhere and keep playing with them until they can do them. In short, when I’m talking about untrained fighters this time; I don’t mean street fighters.

Anyway, there are a couple vulnerable places that can turn lethal quickly: the neck & throat, head, lower back and spine. For your purposes, you’ll want to avoid blows to these.

Blows to the upper torso, stomach, arms, legs, and even (to some extent) the face, aren’t that dangerous, for a couple reasons. Note: this isn’t true with trained fighters, but, we’re dealing with bullies here.

The first is muscles. Tensed muscles are amazing at absorbing blunt impacts. The skin will still bruise, but for the most part, if someone has managed to tense up their muscles properly, simple punches won’t do too much damage.

I’ll probably never type this again on this blog, but: you can probably try this right now. Feel your stomach, poke it a bit. Now, tense up your abdominal muscles and try it again. The same principle applies to someone trying to punch your character.

Even with proper tensing, blows will still cause bruising, and can be painful, but they won’t be life threatening. For reference, the kind of bruising we’re talking about is bleeding that occurs just under the skin.

For the arms and legs the situation is a little different. The legs are basically nothing but dense muscles that are almost always tense. And, for untrained fighters, and even most trained ones, kicking or punching below the waist are awkward strikes.

For trained combatants, strikes to the arm always involve locking it in place first. If a combatant fails to do that, or doesn’t understand that it’s necessary, the arm will be pushed away before being injured. What this means is, most of the force generated hitting someone in the arm is lost to simple physics.

The face is a complex situation. A lot of untrained fighters will try to punch people in the face. It’s a nice, natural, visceral strike, and a really stupid one. Boxers and UFC fighters target the face because they’re wearing fiberglass armor over their hands. This is there to protect the bones in their knuckles. Without that armor, blows to the face are very hazardous to the attacker; there’s an uneven and fairly sturdy bone structure, which will wreck your bully’s hand.

I just got through talking about concussions, but the other thing near your face, and your character’s face, is their forehead; also known as the single thickest part of your skull. Punches to the forehead are, singularly ineffective. In turn, head butting someone in the face is a very effective technique in the rare situations where it’s viable. It’s also an easy and natural reflex to duck your forehead into the path of an incoming punch.

The other kind of tissue that’s almost as good at protecting internal organs is fat. Body fat will absorb some of the force of a blow. It’s not as effective as tensed muscles, but it’s actually harder to beat someone who’s overweight than someone who’s physically fit. This also includes the breasts, though there are some other factors at work there. I know Michi just did a post on them earlier today, so there’s probably going to be a more detailed write-up of them in the future.

We’ve had a post on bullying in the works for awhile, though the move did a number on our rhythm, so it might be a bit before that one’s ready to go up.