Tag Archives: writing advice

(Tails anon here:) That’s fine, there’s not really anything else to cover. As a followup question, would furry ears (something about this size www(.)otenba-files(.)com/7.0(.)html ) be a similar liabilty to long hair and need similar treatment (such as tying back or covering)?

Basing this on actual animals? Cats will actually fold their ears down and back to protect them in a fight, or when they’re feeling threatened. Theoretically you could probably still grab them, but it wouldn’t be any easier than going after a human’s ears. Also, having your ear grabbed in a fight sucks. Just putting that one out there.

Honestly, if you’re going to write anthropomorphic characters, you should probably spend some time studying the animals you’re using. Fortunately, there’s nothing the internet loves more than posting pictures and videos of cats.

Also, if you want a reading reference for anthropomorphic characters, I’d start with the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. It’s been years since I read them, though, so I honestly can’t remember if there’s any cat characters. (I think so, but… I’m not sure.) Also, it’s worth pointing out; Redwall is about anthropomorphic animals, not humans with some animal features.

-Starke

I am a young writer and it helps me a lot in writing some action scenes. I was wondering about how can someone fight using sound, you know, like, ability to manipulate the soundwaves with own will and create sound from nowhere. I love your blog.

You can’t. I mean, sound based weapons have certainly popped up in sci-fi a few times, Dune comes to mind off hand (at least the David Lynch film). DARPA’s been funding research into sound based weapons for decades with a little success, though, DARPA will fund research into pretty much anything.

Throwing your voice is an old stage trick. It’s not making sound come from someplace else, but tricking people into thinking your voice is there. I don’t really know the details of how this works, so you’re going to need to do some research on that front. But, what I do know is, you’re probably going to be asking a lot more from this than is actually possible.

DARPA’s been trying to get people to design less-than-lethal weapons for years now. Sonic weapons are one of the kinds that’s made the list, but DARPA’s anything but choosy. If you’re not familiar, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is just a funding organization, and they will fund nearly any weapons technology research, no matter how bizarre. If you have an insane technology that might have combat potential, you can poke them with a stick to get funding. This results in some really weird and goofy research, like a vacuum cleaner powered, suction cup wall climber, net guns, glue guns, and of course, sonic weapons.

You can use sound in combat to distract and confuse your opponent. The best example of this is Bruce Lee, and his vocalizations in combat. Most martial artists learn to shout when striking, it help focus their strikes, and time their breathing. But, in it’s era, Lee’s technique was psychologically disruptive to practitioners. Sound can play a key role in psyching out your opponent, though, simply taking Lee’s vocalizations and bringing that into the modern day wouldn’t have the desired effect.

Now, what you’re describing, “using soundwaves to fight” would actually end up in the superpower range. There’s a couple comic book characters with exactly that power set, in fact. If you’re going for the superhero genre, then your fine. (Remembering what I said at the beginning, there’s a pretty solid interpretation of Dune that plants the novels solidly in the superhero genre.) It doesn’t mater that it’s physically impossible, it is their superpower. But it isn’t something normal combatants can do.

-Starke

I’d really appreciate your opinion: Is there anyway to pull a Deux Ex Machina without it being cliche? And if so, how?

Yes; but, only if no one else ever sees it.

Here’s my experience with people (myself included) and deus ex machina. This tends to happen when you’re ending a project, and you get stumped. You need to finish the story, and you have no idea how to end it. So, you pull something out of your ass, and call it a day.

It’s all fine, except for the calling it a day part. See, if you pull something out of nowhere at the end of your story, you need to immediately go back and start building that solution into the rest of your story. You don’t need to be explicit, but the deus ex machina needs to feel like a natural event or consequence, rather than “and then something random happens.”

If you’re doing serialized work, like webcomics, getting stumped is a real issue. The previous parts of your story are already out there, and it’s too late to go back and start blending a new element in. So, you need to toss your solution and work out one that makes sense. This is why planning ahead is vital for serialized writing. You don’t need to know everything that’s going to happen, but you do need a very solid outline to work from, and you need to know how every thread will end before you start them.

The exception is comedy. There’s a certain kind of comedy writing that thrives on closing with absolutely random final acts. Except, no, even then, you’re looking at paying off jokes that came up earlier in a completely unexpected way. It’s a logical deus ex machina, but, that’s because the story doesn’t matter, paying off the old setups is what’s important. (Watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail if you don’t understand what I’m talking about here.)

-Starke

Hey, I know you said you were done with one-armed fighter questions, but I figured I’d provide some info on fencing since you mentioned the sport wasn’t your area. I’ve met and fenced several one-armed fencers, who were all very good. Two arms are not required for the sport – this means that a character who is dueling traditionally (with an epee, for instance), could also be one-armed since use of the off-hand was usually illegal in formal duels. I guess that’s v specific, though.

Cool, thank you.

All I meant with the “finally done with” bit was, I’d cleared all the one armed questions in the inbox, not that I wasn’t willing to talk about it any further.

-Starke

How would an unarmed person fight someone who has a sword?

Running away. Getting stabbed and bleeding to death is also a valid option. I’m being a bit of a smart ass here, but this is not a good situation to be in.

In competent hands, a sword can keep your character from getting close enough to actually harm their foe. Even in incompetent hands, it can easily debilitate your character.

For an unarmed character, they need to be able to stay out of the sword’s reach, or get too close to use the sword effectively. Without weapons, even improvised ones, once the character with the sword is ready, this just isn’t possible.

So, your character needs to close the distance before the other character draws their weapon, or run.

All of those martial artists blocking, parrying, and catching swords with their bare hands? Those are exhibition techniques. They look really cool, but trying to use them in a fight will only result in death and dismemberment.

In the past we’ve said there’s no unarmed technique for dealing with a sword, but this is an exception. If your character is wearing plate gauntlets, with articulated, metal grips, (or, better yet, full heavy armor), there is an option to grab an opponent’s blade. So, your character in full plate might be able to deal with someone armed with a sword.

So, yeah, run away or get creative.

-Starke

For the one armed anon, a good reloading trick would be to use speed loaders. Simply fit the bullets onto the frame, place against the chamber, and it’s quickly reloaded with minimal effort.

The issue with speed loaders is, most modern revolvers reload by rotating the cylinder (the revolving component that holds the rounds) out 90 degrees. This is fine if you have two hands, and are right handed. A speedloader will let you quickly swap in a fresh load of shells.

The problem is, if you shoot left handed, or you don’t have a second hand, revolvers can be a real pain to reload. You need a place to actually brace the revolver safely, while reloading. If the character only lost their right hand, then they can brace the revolver between their torso and arm, and use a speedloader or just load it one round at a time.

But, if they’re left hand is missing, the revolver will open into their torso, if they try the same thing. They could flip the gun over, but that would be awkward as hell, and we’re still at the point of needing the forearm.

I believe you can modify some revolvers to load left handed, but I’ve honestly never really looked into it. I just rotate the revolver 90 degrees to get access to the cylinder with my right hand.

Now, there are revolvers that breach open, but, these fell out of favor for one reason or another. Those could be reloaded in the armpit, using a speedloader or a fresh cylinder. But it’s still a less than ideal situation.

Finally, there are revolvers that can’t use speed loaders at all. I’m thinking of the Peacemaker here, and it’s modern replicas. It’s a weapon that can be fired very easily and comfortably one handed, but reloading it does require two hands, one round at a time. (Actually the Peacemaker is more comfortable when held one handed rather than in a modern Weaver stance.)

Either way, a character can shoot someone else if they only have on hand, and that was the point I was making.

-Starke

I have a character who lost an arm. How much combat could she realistically engage in? What kind of weapons or fighting style would best suit her?

Handguns. No, really. Losing a limb will make using most weapons, and styles in combat impossible. Your character won’t be as accurate with a single hand, but they could remain functional in combat.

Probably a revolver, specifically. They’re harder to reload, especially with one hand, but I’ve found most revolvers are more comfortable in one hand than semi-automatics.

Reloading is going to involve shoving the revolver into the armpit of the missing arm, popping a magazine out with their remaining hand, fishing a fresh magazine out and loading it. They’d need to chamber it using either the holster (rotating 90 degrees and pressing against the holster will do this with most semi-auto pistols), or by using the armpit trick… which I couldn’t really recommend in the real world.

Reloading a revolver is probably possible, but I’m not sure exactly how that would work.

There are other weapons you can wield with one hand, but in combat, especially in close combat, you really need the other hand, simply for the utility factor.

Knives are out because, once your character’s hand is tied up, their foe still has another hand free to attack with. The same is true with swords. Staves, and polearms can’t be wielded single handed. There are flourishes and exhibition techniques that are one handed, but they’re useless in an actual fight. No hand to hand styles will be able to keep up with someone who has more limbs than you, not really. So we’re left with guns, or a prosthetic replacement limb, if that’s something your setting supports.

-Starke

EDIT:

lastgreatpoolparty said: Seems like the trick with the revolver is not needing to reload. Don’t miss, I guess.

That’s always been my takeaway. Revolvers can be frighteningly accurate (especially when manually cocked) in comparison to semi-automatics, so while shot placement is more important, it’s also easier.

so… how would you/burn notice recommend interrogating someone, if not with violence? thanks so much!

This is going to be like any other, adversarial, dialog sequence. You have two characters talking to each other, and they both want different things, and they’re going to try to convince the other character to give them what they want.

Anything with good dialog, and people arguing or trying to manipulate one another can be fodder for this kind of scene.

I would avoid good cop/bad cop. Not because it’s unrealistic, or because it doesn’t work, but because it’s so damned cliche at this point. The fact is, in police interviews, they don’t even need to introduce a bad cop. (They also don’t call them “interrogations”; always “interviews.” It’s 1984 style newspeak, but it also avoids conjuring up the images of telephone books and rubber hoses.)

Making friends is one way for your interrogator to get what they want, tricking them is another. Mixing those you can have your interrogator trying to convince the other character that they’re really on their side, either by being sympathetic (what police will usually do), or by convincing them that they’re a covert member of their organization.

Just remember, it’s just your character trying to persuade someone else, that’s all.

-Starke

On Scars

Scars are the part and parcel to our life experiences. They are the marks left behind that we can point to and say: when that happened, I got this. Every character will have a few scars. However, whether they got those scars on the battlefield or from running into a piano when they were six is anyone’s guess. It’s important to remember that all scars can have meaning and they do not necessarily rate importance based on how traumatic the experience receiving the scar was. Scars are part of your character’s physical history and a memory inhabits each that only they may know.

Scars can be an important physical indicator of a character’s life experiences and whether your character is a casual martial artist or a soldier, it’s likely that they’ll have at least a few. The character who the scar belongs to is the only one that can tell other characters what it means, only they really know the full extent of its history and what it reminds them of. So, when you are writing about scars, it’s important to track what a character will say, what they won’t say, and what the scars they carry can give insight into who they are and where they’ve been.

In fiction, scars are mostly used to indicate that a character has a tragic past. In YA, it’s become common to show that the character is special or different in some way. However, scars can mean a lot of different things and not all of those are stories that indicate a tortured life. Not all scars are obvious and not all scars are ugly, some of them are almost nonexistent and they do fade over time. A character may be proud of their scars. They may pull them out to show when telling a funny story at parties. Depending on the character’s attitude, even the most doom and gloom scar can become one they show off.

It’s important to remember when you’re writing that scars aren’t universal. Each one can depict a different experience and, in that, a different emotion. I have several scars that I will tell stories about and some that I generally keep to myself. I used to have one on my abdomen that I got when pulling a cookie sheet out of the oven at sixteen. It was a long, thin, brownish red stripe that hung out just below my belly button. I still find it embarrassing, and even though it’s been gone for the past four years, I end up checking for it if my pants slip down too far. On my left hand, I have a scar that is a concentric circle on my palm. It’s just below my index and forefinger, and hidden in between the pads. I got it when I was eight and accidentally leaned down on the top of an electric lamp during a family camping trip. Our Head Instructor George used to say that he thought it was cool, but I have to stretch my hand to see it now. Midway up the outside of my right forearm, I’m missing a chunk of flesh. I lost it to a brick during my third degree test when I broke the first with a palm strike, but failed to break the second two. I lost the flesh during an adrenaline rush when we forgot to clear away the broken brick before trying again. The most noticeable of all are the four perfect circles from the external fixator that are located on my left leg, just above my ankle and below my knee. These scars are a milky white and made of smooth, waxy skin that differs from the rest of my pale complexion. I’ll often talk about my broken leg, but I rarely show the scars. One they are difficult to get to and two, the external fixator was a source of fascination among my peers in middle school and I don’t like to be reminded of the way they used to stare.

A character can use their scars to do many things. If they are ashamed of their scars or feel that others find their scars disgusting or off-putting, they may try to hide them. If they are the sort of loner who wants to drive others away, they may show them off and leave them exposed. Scars can be a source of great pain, showing a wound that never properly healed or be the reminder of wound long after it did. Scars can be a source of shame and disgust, but they can also be a source of pride. When other characters look on a character with obvious, visible scars they may shy away or feel afraid. Scars can make someone appear dangerous in ways that tattoos never can.

However, it’s important to remember that what other characters may feel when looking at a character with obviously visible scars is not necessarily a genuine assessment of who that person is. What a character may be trying to achieve by showing off their scars is also not necessarily true to how they got that scar.

It’s okay for your characters to lie about stories they’d rather keep hidden and okay for them to be wrong about each other. No one can ever fully understand the breadth of another’s life experiences.

So, think about your scars. Think about what they mean to you, good or bad. Then take those feelings and try to apply similar ones to your characters. What scars do you have that are funny? What scars do you have that are sad? What scars do you hide? Which ones do you show off? Come up with those and you can add some realistic details into who your character is and their backstory.

-Michi

We need more Mary Sues. We need more unapologetically powerful female characters, on a wish-fulfilment level of awesome. We need them to be gods and superheroes and billionaire playboy philanthropists and science experiments gone wrong and normal kids bitten by spiders who now save the world. Why should female characters have to be realistic, while male characters have all the fun? Why shouldn’t a female hero appear alongside Iron Man and Thor, in a way where she can truly hold her own?

We Need More Mary Sues (via matchgirl42)

Interesting!

(via writingweasels)

I’ve seen a lot of these posts around lately. There’s one talking about Batman as the ultimate Mary Sue but it’s OK because he’s a dude so he can’t be a Mary Sue. There’s another one talking about how men get all the wish fulfillment stories and women get laughed at or accused of Sueism if they do.

I just want to clear up some things that make me angry about this whole movement.

  1. Despite the name, Sueism is not a gender-specific term. Do not hesitate to call male characters out on their freaking Sueism for the love of R’hllor. Male characters can be and are Sues! If you think that male characters are not being called out as Sues, then go do it. If men think their little fantasies are immune to scorn, then let’s call them out on it. 
  2. “There aren’t enough female heroes!” Damn right there aren’t, especially on the big screen. I would love to see a hero as powerful as Thor smashing her way through her foes. I would also like to see her well-developed, much as I would like to see any protagonist well-developed. Muscley idiots spitting out pithy one-liners are just as dull as perfect women. 
  3. “We need more female gods/superheroes/billionaire playboy philanthropists.” Yes, we do. We need more women who aren’t sexy lamps, who aren’t sexy at all, whose characterization has nothing to do with them being attractive (if they are), who don’t spend ¾ of their plot wrapped up in a romantic subplot, and who aren’t sexualized. Now make me a well-rounded god/superhero/billionaire playboy philanthropist instead of stooping to the patriarchy’s levels to win. 
  4. Wish fulfillment characters are boring as hell. This quote discusses the Marvel superheroes. I’ve seen all the movies and liked most of them, but overall the movies were formulaic and predictable: there’s some jokes, stuff blowing up, and the ~evil villain~ but you know at the end of the day the guy will win and get the girl. B-O-R-I-N-G. I yawned so hard my wretched soul escaped out of my body.
  5. Bad does not wash out bad. Your Mary Sues are not going to wash out decades of Gary Sues. We should have all characters of all genders developed as fully-developed people. 
  6. “But empowerment!” Guess what? You can still have female characters who are powerful and well-rounded. You can have male characters who are powerful and not wish fulfillment. It’s not mutually exclusive!
  7. Mary Sues are literally the worst character

tl;dr I don’t care where your character is on the gender spectrum. Don’t write them as Sues.

(via clevergirlhelps)

I think there is a nasty habit going around in the writing community right now that’s equating Mary Sues with powerful characters. Your female characters don’t need to be Mary Sues in order for them to be powerful. You don’t need to create a Mary Sue in order to challenge gender stereotypes. The truth is: when you create a Sue, you aren’t challenging those stereotypes. Characters who are Sues are usually treated as the exception in the narrative, they leave no room for other characters (regardless of gender) to follow their example. When we write an Action Sues, they often become the only one of their gender to ever do the thing and that only serves to uphold the damaging idea that women don’t or can’t handle violence. It says that women can only be good at combat if they are better than the men, that men are the golden standard and the only ones who have ever fought ever.

It doesn’t normalize the behavior, it makes the character the exception to the rule and that hurts all women out there who can and do fight. It upholds the myth, instead of looking at the reality.

We have all written Mary Sues at some point, they are part of the writer learning experience. However, they are not the end all and be all. Don’t be ashamed of them, but learn how to make them real characters and part of engaging stories.

-Michi