Tag Archives: writing advice

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


My MC (a highly skilled fighter posing as cleaning staff) disables an assassin (amateur and unskilled, but armed with a knife). So as not to blow his cover, he disables the man with maximal flailing and, once the knife is under control, a small shallow injury to himself for extra sympathy. Maybe the knife “slips” as he grabs it. Plausible? How precise can he be? I thought a slash to the forehead, which’d bleed safe & spectacularly, but he got knifed in the eye once and might be leery of that.

Plausible? Not especially. There’s three problems.

First, knife fighting is very dangerous. There’s no margin for error, and screwing around is a fantastic way to end up dead with no warning. Trying to get hurt, is a fantastic way to end up dead, because your character wouldn’t be able to pick and choose between a strike that would kill them (or could lead to certain death) and one that would be superficial.

This is actually one way a lot of real world martial artists get themselves killed. They approach a situation with a knife (or another weapon), the way they approach sparring, and they get shanked (or shot).

Also, getting stabbed in the eye usually means it no longer works. Which means they should not be getting into knife fights under any circumstances. The lack of depth perception would be fatal there.

Second, your character has no way of knowing their opponent is unskilled. This is actually getting into general writing advice, but you always need to keep what your character knows separate from what you, as the writer, knows. Always.

Your character has no way of knowing this is an unskilled amateur. They have no way of knowing that they can jump into a fight with this assassin and not give it their all. For that matter, they may not even know the guy is an untrained assassin, because whatever tells they’re expecting to see from a trained killer won’t be there.

Third, what are they blowing their cover for? Your character went undercover for a reason, and it wasn’t to deal with this one off, random, untrained assassin that any security guard could deal with. He’s got an actual job to do, probably surveillance, based on the information you’ve given. Risking their cover to deal with this one guy isn’t heroic, it’s sabotaging their work.

Going undercover isn’t about being a secret good guy, it’s about disappearing and passing yourself off as someone else. This whole, Clark Kent would change in a phone booth, but he doesn’t have the time, so he’ll just have to do this out of costume thing doesn’t apply for undercover operations. That’s superheroes, and it’s very different.

Your character would need to do whatever a janitor in their position should, which is contact security or trigger a silent alarm and let the people who are actually being paid to deal with situations like this do their jobs. They should not jeopardize their position by exposing themselves so they can pretend to be a superhero.

If your character is a competent spy, they’re not going to risk their cover unless it is necessary to achieve their goals.

As a stray note, if your character’s lost an eye, they’re going to be a sub par choice for undercover work. Ironically not because of the vision issues. The problem is they’d be more memorable. Which is exactly what you don’t want. While an actual janitor with a missing eye makes perfect sense, they’re also someone you’re more likely or remember than “that nondescript guy over there mopping.”

Now, if the point was to get noticed by someone, your one eye janitor getting shanked by some crazy would be a good way to do that. In that case, the missing eye is a good way to keep in people’s minds. Along with a story about being some blacklisted/burned out/screwed over badass who’s been reduced to cleaning up other peoples’ vomit.

But, that approach would be more about ingratiating your character to the villain. It would require your “untrained assassin” to be an accomplice, who can stab your character safe(ish)ly, before taking off. Because the entire thing is a scripted act and not just improv night with knives.


Should size and weight be put into consideration when picking a weapon that a character is going to use most of the time in fighting? Or is it more about training, or both?

I assume we’re talking about weapons, in which case, size and weight are both very important considerations, though possibly not for the reasons you’d think.

Size is critical for determining reach. This is how far you can reach out and impale someone. Generally speaking, longer weapons have a significant advantage over shorter ones. I say “generally” because there are a ton of specific exceptions, but if you can stab someone before they can reach you, that’s a combat advantage.

Weight is a major issue, but it’s never about being able to lift a weapon, (unless we’re talking about weapons designed to be used from an emplacement, like the M2 Browning) it’s about how agile the weapon is, and making sure that you can carry and use it all day.

This is why the heaviest swords intended for combat rarely exceed 8lbs. It needed to be light enough that its wielder could carry it and a couple other weapons and use them during constant physical exertion.

That “intended for combat” bit is a fairly important distinction, though. Parade swords were the historical equivalent of your friend’s gaudy katana display. They were there to look cool, not to be useful. Parade swords could get into the 20lb range. Some of those are amazing pieces of art in their own right, but they’re not practical weapons.

If we’re talking about your character? Then size and weight aren’t major considerations. Overall physical fitness is vitally important, but beyond that weight isn’t a huge issue. Depending on climate and diet, weight is semi-independent of physical fitness. I realize that may sound insane, but particularly in cold climates, it’s entirely possible for someone to bulk up while maintaining a layer of fat as insulation.

Size isn’t a huge issue unless your character is unusually large or unusually small. Characters that are less than a foot taller (or shorter) than their opponent should have roughly similar (unarmed) reach.

That said, shorter individuals do have lower centers of gravity, which makes it much easier for them to get into more stable stances.

It’s worth pointing out that: women have a lower center of gravity for their height than men.


What kind of weaponry would be the most effective in a highly urban environment? It’s a futuristic setting, but most weapons are improvements on existing ones, so many are still valid. Would it be SMG type things, or lighter pistols?

It wouldn’t be pistols. If you’re talking about actual military operations, handguns occupy a position somewhere between “badge of office” and, “that’s cute, it thinks it’s a gun.”

Before I get going, I’m going to be naming a lot of guns, feel free to Google Image Search these as you’re going, so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about. When it comes to the firearms themselves, my recommendations are about near future aesthetics.

If your characters are dealing with an area where there are a lot of civilians they don’t want to kill accidentally, you’re probably looking at SMGs and shotguns with an ammunition solution.

Rounds like the Glaser safety slugs are expensive as hell, but frangible ammo might be a good solution when dealing with combat where you do not want blowthroughs. Also, if you’re talking about DoD contracts, you could expect the price on those rounds to be a little more manageable.

Even if that’s the case, in fairly tight quarters combat shotguns are still a solution to both the blowthrough issue, and a good close combat weapon choice.

The Kel-Tec KSG might be a good one to look at. The UTAS UTS-15 might not be a bad shotgun to look at.

Now, actual urban combat presents a real problem for weapons. Full size rifles are very awkward for room clearing and moving through tight spaces, but SMGs don’t (usually) have the accuracy to replace a combat rifle in engagements at ranges over 100m.

One of the biggest solution has been bullpup weapons. These are weapons where the grip is located towards the front of the gun. The FN P90 is an excellent example of the design that’s all over the place in popular media.

In close quarters, a shorter weapon offers enemies less to grab in the event they try to get the gun away from the shooter. It also provides less to get caught on the environment, and, in general, allows more mobility. This is part of why SMGs and compact rifles are preferable in city fighting situations.

Normally, when you simply shorten the barrel, you end up with a firearm that’s harder to control and less accurate. Bullpup designs get around this by keeping the barrel length, and by using the stock as an integral part of the firearm instead of dead weight.

This results in compact, highly accurate, assault rifles that can be used indoors and in the streets.

You might want to look at the FAMAS, FN f2000, Enfield L85 and FN P90 for inspiration here. Also, if you want a more rugged looking bullpup, the Russian OTs-14 “Groza” (“Thunderstorm”) might be a good choice. As I recall, the OICW was also supposed to be a bullpup when finished, that project was abandoned about a decade ago.

The FAMAS is a bit bulky, but it already looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie. The L85a2 is (reportedly) incredibly accurate in the right hands. The P90 is technically an SMG, (because the FN Five-Seven uses the same round) though, honestly it’s a weird little monster all it’s own; not a true assault rifle, but with some of the characteristics of one.

Beyond this, there are also a few very compact SMGs like the H&K MP7 and MP9. The KRISS Vector probably deserves a mention, this is a new .45 that has a fairly compact form, and an interesting recoil control mechanism, that redirects the force down, reducing climb. This technically isn’t a bullpup, but it’s worth looking at. Just keep in mind, all of these would be substandard solutions because your characters would have to switch weapons when heading outside.

It’s worth pointing out, that for law enforcement, SMGs are actually a better choice. Combat rarely occurs at long range, outside of dedicated police marksmen/snipers), so the short range of an SMG actually becomes an advantage.

If you’re wanting some high tech pistols to go along with them, the Berretta PX4 (this was Cobb’s pistol in Inception), the H&K USP and USP compact (the USPs actually have an internal counter-spring that does amazing things to reduce recoil), the Walther P99 (this has also been used in a few of the more recent Bond films, and I distinctly remember a sci-fi film trying to pass them off as distant future hardware), the SIG Sauer SigPro pistols (like the SP2022).

I know I’m missing some examples there, but that should give you a start on what you want to tinker with.

If you’re a gamer, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a virtual buffet of near future hardware to play with, including a lot of non-weapons tech, interspersed with levels set in the 1980s. Crysis 2 has a nice mix of modern/near future weapons in an urban environment, though the focus there is the nanosuit… and alien invasion, rather than high tech guns. (I’ve also got a soft spot for Crysis’ take on the FN SCAR.) Come to think of it, Deus Ex: Human Revolution might be a bad choice, again the guns aren’t really the focus, but it might mesh with what you’re trying to do.

If you’re not a gamer, or at least not that kind of gamer, some of the old Shadowrun source books might be worth looking at as a reference. Just be prepared to filter out the fantasy elements you don’t want from the ones you do.