Tag Archives: writing advice

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.

-Starke

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.

-Michi

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

I have a question: if a person were to be stabbed with a small knife, say, a pocket knife, where on the body would the stabbing do the least damage? For the purposes of my scene, the character would likely be stabbed near the hip or possibly the shoulder area. I just need to gauge whether or not I’d have to change the fight to fit the plot (the stabbed character wins the fight and is able to carry on their journey – perhaps I need to change the stab to a cut?)

Honestly, if I wanted to stab a character and not incapacitate them? My first thought would actually be the hand. It would restrict their use of it for a while, but it could be quickly bandaged, and it’s probably the “best" place to get stabbed.

Thing is, most places, stab wounds are non-trivial. There’s some places you can get stabbed, like the shoulder blade, where the blade will hit bone before it does anything really nasty.

But, as a guideline; three inches of penetration, nearly anywhere on the body, is a life threatening wound. That deep and the odds are unpleasantly good that you’ll hit an internal organ or an artery.

Depending on the size of the knife that’s either possible or not. But, yeah, I’d say go with the hand. It’s a nice visual injury, and if you want, it can easily become a permanent wound for your character to carry with them. It’s easy to get the hand in the path of the knife without much work. And, it’s one of the few stab wounds you can really walk away from.

-Starke

Realistically, say a character was knocked unconscious for around ten seconds or so, would they be able to get up and get back to whatever they were doing (like: running, fighting, etc.) and also what would they be feeling when they woke up? Basically if my character is knocked out and wakes up, can my other characters pull him along until they’re out of harms way or would he be too fucked up to move?

I’d go with too fucked up to move. Remember, getting knocked out, even for a few seconds, is still a very serious concussion, and by extension a life threatening injury.

Off the top of my head, the symptoms should be: nausea, vertigo, (I think) blurred vision, and difficulty tracking (so, carrying on a conversation is also out).

This is actually what that “how many fingers am I holding up?” cliche is based on, it’s one way to judge if someone’s suffered a concussion, another is looking at pupil dilatation (by shining a light in their eye).

It’s also worth pointing out, because concussions are cumulative over time, these symptoms will actually get worse, and characters can’t learn to power through them. If your character’s getting clocked over the head repeatedly, they’ll end up dying from a blow to the head fairly quickly.

As a quick aside, there isn’t a safe way to render someone unconscious. I’ve been assuming a blow to the head, but tranquilizers require very specific doses (which vary based on weight and metabolism), and if you misjudge it even slightly, you can end up having no real effect, or outright killing the character you’re trying to tranq.

-Starke

kickassfanfic said: You say ‘cumulative over time’ – is that indefinitely? Like if you haven’t been concussed in, say, two years, or TEN years, I dunno, and you get whonked upside the head again, is it just as bad as if your first whonk was the day before?

Not completely. Here’s the thing, when you suffer a concussion, what happens is your brain gets bounced off the inside of your skull. This results in bruising on the brain itself.

Someone who’s suffered a concussion is at substantially greater risk of suffering another, and any concussion they suffer will be more dangerous to them. This diminishes over time, but it never goes away fully. In other words, no, your brain never fully heals.

I’m sorry, I am oversimplifying things here. This is a really complex topic, and I’m not a doctor; but, from a writing standpoint? Yes. If your character is getting knocked unconscious, it will always be worse than the last time, regardless of if it was yesterday, or twenty years ago. If your character is getting clocked on the back of the head more than once or twice, they’re going to die.

-Starke

Hi! I’m trying to write a mecha story, and the mech fights with a lazer scythe. I realise it would be hard to apply real life training to a mecha situation, but is there any advice you can give on how a human would use a scythe-type weapon even semi realistically that I could then apply in larger scale for the mecha? Even if its something that the pilot himself trains in or something. I love this tumblr! Thank you :)

Honestly? Not much. The scythe isn’t, and never has been a weapon. It can be used as an improvised weapon in a pinch, but, to the best of my knowledge there’s never been a formalized combat style involving one. Real scythes were designed around a simple, horizontal swiping motion to, well, scythe down grain. The blade was on the edge facing the user, meaning to use it as a weapon you would have to strike past your foe and pull towards you. When you’re dealing with grain, that’s useful, when you’re dealing with someone wanting to remove your internal organs, it’s a bad thing.

The only thought on the scythe I can think of would be to treat it like an axe or pick. You could look at some forms of axe combat, particularly the bearded axe, which involves building momentum in a crossing figure eight motion.

For writing a mecha story in general, I would suggest taking a look at the GURPS Mecha book by David Pulver. Like most of the GURPS supplements, it spends a lot of time talking about considerations for world building and how to pace a longer story or series. I’m not an expert, but the material it presents looks solid enough at first glance, and should give you some help with your story. A few caveats: it spends almost no time talking about melee combat in Mecha, and it does assume you have the core GURPS book and Compendium I, though, from a writing standpoint, those aren’t actually necessary.

-Starke

wetmattos said: I’ve seen, once, a video of a scythe fighter, and according to him the most difficult thing on wielding it is to maintain balance – but it seems viable (even if really risky) enough. Sending the video! youtube.com/watch?v…

That’s actually a pretty good suggestion, at least on a visual level. What you’re seeing there looks like a form of Wushu staff technique.

It’s not a practical way to fight with a scythe, but, given we’re talking about Mecha fighting, it doesn’t need to be.

-Starke

Some Thoughts on Tension

 Hi there! Your blog is a plethora of helpful information, so thank you. I have a request–do you have any tips on writing tension? I think tension is 100% crucial to every story, but it’s hard to perfect and easy to under- or overdo. Thank you!

-beowulf-is-cooler-than-you

Thanks so much!

My advice for tension is that you always need to have your characters in some kind of real peril. There needs to be a possibility for them that they won’t win or else the tension in the scene and even for the overarching plot of the story will fall flat.

I always tell my characters both hero and antagonist that it’s an open race, whoever works the hardest will win. While I do plan my endings, I tend to get better results out of my villains if I give them the possibility of winning. I also get more worry and fear out of my heroes because they don’t know what’s going to happen next if they haven’t figured it out for themselves. One of the major tension killers in stories that I’ve seen is when a character is cheating through the author or the character isn’t facing resistance from other characters in the story and everything is going their way. A great way to build tension is to tell them ‘no’, slam doors in their face, and don’t have everything negative that happens to them somehow tie back to the villain.

For tension in fights, start building the tension before the actual combat occurs. You can build it in the way you describe the scene, what they notice about their opponent, what they know or don’t know about their opponent going in, letting the reader know that things can go screwy and actually having things go screwy in the scene itself. If they’re doing something stupid or getting into a fight because they’re angry, upset, or acting out, punish them for it. The other characters can get there too late, even if they don’t die, they can be injured. If they’re the best fighter in the group, how will the story change if they’re going into the ending on a broken arm or a broken leg? Who will be there to pick up the slack?

For example:

In The Hunger Games, how would the story have changed if Glimmer had broken Katniss’s bow and her arrows? How would it have changed if she’d broken it in front of Katniss, like when the Careers had Katniss caught up a tree and were planning to kill her? Katniss may have gotten out of the situation, but she would have lost what the novel sets up to be her greatest chance of survival and in a way, it would have been her fault as much as Glimmer’s because she abandoned the bow for safety when the Hunger Games started. Her opponents know that she’s the designated favorite to win because of that bow, again, her chances hinge on it. So, why not destroy it or get rid of it in some way?

One great way to build tension is to show your character’s greatest strength (if they’re super good at anything) and then take that away from them. The skills they’ve built their whole lives and taken pride in are no longer useful, helpful, or they’ve been cut off from the resources that allow them to make use of those skills. Suddenly, the favorite becomes the underdog and even the jaded reader is given a reason to worry.

The more real you make your story’s world, the better the tension you can create will be.

1) Always have some sort of active villain or antagonist in the story (it doesn’t have to be a person) with supporting circumstances that’s working against your character.

2) Make sure you give your character weaknesses and flaws that are useful to furthering the plot. Force the character to somehow be put into situations where they’re forced to deal with those fears and flaws. This will create great tension. Remember, a character can fail themselves.

Example: In Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re introduced early to Indy’s fear of snakes. We know he’s afraid of snakes, so when he’s trying to recover a clue for the Ark and he’s faced with a whole lot of snakes, we the audience worry whether or not he can overcome that and thus we have another source of tension in the story outside of the physical antagonists to worry about.

3) Never be afraid to ratchet up the tension and run your characters ragged if that’s the kind of story you end up telling. Just remember that a story where the tension is constantly high can become boring if the character’s don’t have some kind of stress valve, the valve doesn’t have to be pleasant like most kinds of humor. There’s nothing wrong with ripping your characters apart, so long as the themes, the events, and the plot somehow support that. If it’s not, then a stress valve might be needed. A time for everyone to stop and breathe between the different bouts of action, for the tension to be released, and give the reader a chance to relax.

Think of tension like a roller coaster, you wind up, the brief gasp as you see the plunge before the bottom drops out and then the car races downward. The best rides always leave a few loops where the car has to slow down, the riders pause, laugh, and wind up again on another go before the ride completes.

I hope this has been helpful. I think that’s the best I’ve got at the moment.

-Michi

Hi there! Your blog is a plethora of helpful information, so thank you. I have a request–do you have any tips on writing tension? I think tension is 100% crucial to every story, but it’s hard to perfect and easy to under- or overdo. Thank you!

Thanks so much!

My advice for tension is that you always need to have your characters in some kind of real peril. There needs to be a possibility for them that they won’t win or else the tension in the scene and even for the overarching plot of the story will fall flat.

I always tell my characters both hero and antagonist that it’s an open race, whoever works the hardest will win. While I do plan my endings, I tend to get better results out of my villains if I give them the possibility of winning. I also get more worry and fear out of my heroes because they don’t know what’s going to happen next if they haven’t figured it out for themselves. One of the major tension killers in stories that I’ve seen in stories is when a character is cheating through the author or the character isn’t facing resistance from other characters in the story and everything is going their way. A great way to build tension is to tell them ‘no’, slam doors in their face, and don’t have everything negative that happens to them somehow tie back to the villain.

For tension in fights, start building the tension before the actual combat occurs. You can build it in the way you describe the scene, what they notice about their opponent, what they know or don’t know about their opponent going in, letting the reader know that things can go screwy and actually having things go screwy in the scene itself. If they’re doing something stupid or getting into a fight because they’re angry, upset, or acting out, punish them for it. The other characters can get there too late, even if they don’t die, they can be injured. If they’re the best fighter in the group, how will the story change if they’re going into the ending on a broken arm or a broken leg? Who will be there to pick up the slack?

For example:

In The Hunger Games, how would the story have changed if Glimmer had broken Katniss’s bow and her arrows? How would it have changed if she’d broken it in front of Katniss, like when the Careers had Katniss caught up a tree and were planning to kill her? Katniss may have gotten out of the situation, but she would have lost what the novel sets up to be her greatest chance of survival and in a way, it would have been her fault as much as Glimmer’s because she abandoned the bow for safety when the Hunger Games started. Her opponents know that she’s the designated favorite to win because of that bow, again, her chances hinge on it. So, why not destroy it or get rid of it in some way?

One great way to build tension is to show your character’s greatest strength (if they’re super good at anything) and then take that away from them. The skills they’ve built their whole lives and taken pride in are no longer useful, helpful, or they’ve been cut off from the resources that allow them to make use of those skills. Suddenly, the favorite becomes the underdog and even the jaded reader is given a reason to worry. 

The more real you make your story’s world, the better the tension you can create will be.

1) Always have some sort of active villain or antagonist in the story (it doesn’t have to be a person) with supporting circumstances that’s working against your character.

2) Make sure you give your character weaknesses and flaws that are useful to furthering the plot. Force the character to somehow be put into situations where they’re forced to deal with those fears and flaws. This will create great tension. Remember, a character can fail themselves.

Example: In Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re introduced early to Indy’s fear of snakes. We know he’s afraid of snakes, so when he’s trying to recover a clue for the Ark and he’s faced with a whole lot of snakes, we the audience worry whether or not he can overcome that and thus we have another source of tension in the story outside of the physical antagonists to worry about.

3) Never be afraid to ratchet up the tension and run your characters ragged if that’s the kind of story you end up telling. Just remember that a story where the tension is constantly high can become boring if the character’s don’t have some kind of stress valve, the valve doesn’t have to be pleasant like most kinds of humor. There’s nothing wrong with ripping your characters apart, so long as the themes, the events, and the plot somehow support that. If it’s not, then a stress valve might be needed. A time for everyone to stop and breathe between the different bouts of action, for the tension to be released, and give the reader a chance to relax.

Think of tension like a roller coaster, you wind up, the brief gasp as you see the plunge before the bottom drops out and then the car races downward. The best rides always leave a few loops where the car has to slow down, the riders pause, laugh, and wind up again on another go before the ride completes.

I hope this has been helpful. I think that’s the best I’ve got at the moment.

-Michi