Tag Archives: writing reference

Q&A: Gun Disarms and Reasonable Force

How would my character disarm the girl who is aiming a handgun at him? She doesn’t intend to shoot (although he doesn’t know that), and he doesn’t want to hurt her, just get the gun away from her. It’s his way of proving to her who he is (because he has the ability to disarm her). Everything I’ve looked up online for it includes hurting the attacker as some kind of defense mechanism.

It’s not a defense mechanism, it’s necessity. This is a culmination of a couple issues that we haven’t really covered in detail.

The first is reasonable force; basically, this is the absolute minimum amount of harm you need to inflict in a given situation to ensure your safety and the safety of others, including the person trying to kill you. Make no mistake, if someone’s pointing a gun at you, they are trying to kill you. (I’ll come back to this in a minute.)

The more training your character has, then under the law, the less harm they’re allowed to legally inflict. This is because restraining your opponent without hurting them is a lot harder, and requires more skill, than simply killing them.

Reasonable force is a bit of a pain because it is very subjective in the moment. It scales upwards based on a lot of factors, including the nature of the threat. If someone is threatening to “beat the shit out of you,” responding by crippling or killing them is (usually) going to be considered excessive.

Guns take that and toss it all out the window. Pointing one at someone is always a threat of lethal force. It doesn’t matter what the person with the gun intends. It is the weapon not the person that escalates the threat.

The second major issue is that gun disarms are really hard, and really, really dangerous. Most martial artists that attempt to use them in actual situations get shot. It’s a ratio close to 9/10, that’s 9 get shot to every one that 1 succeeds. Often, even if the disarm is successful, they get shot anyway during the attempt. An attacker who is already jittery on adrenaline will take the fast movement of the disarm i.e. the person moving towards them as a threatening gesture. They may fire reflexively, even if they didn’t originally intend to. The response evokes “oh my god, they’re attacking me” and that instinctive response will be even stronger and more immediate in someone who is untrained. This may also force a switch over in the attacker themselves from “I don’t want to hurt you” to “I’m going to shoot you because now you’re threatening my life”. It may not seem logical when they’re already holding the gun, but within their mind it is. An attack/disarm will escalate the situation because it shows them that the person they’re pointing the gun at (whom they may trust) is willing to hurt them or even shoot them. The person who is attempting the disarm is taking their power away from them and that is threatening, especially to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. If the gun is all they have to control the situation then they won’t let it go without a fight.

With most techniques, the consequences for not executing them perfectly are fairly limited, you might take a blow you didn’t want to, or strike with less force than you intended. But, for gun disarms, failing to execute the technique flawlessly can be fatal.

What this means is, when it comes to gun disarms, the priority has been to develop simple techniques that work, and screw everything else. Gun disarms are, as a general rule, easy to learn, but, they also come without any margin for error.

The result is, most gun disarms will wrench joints and break bones. Most disarms can escalate into kills, because they leave the martial artist with the gun in a ready to fire state. The martial artist themselves may accidentally shoot their attacker once they get the gun away from them because they are also jittery with adrenaline and they left their finger on the trigger. Disarms end with the gun pointed at the attacker. Once adrenaline gets factored in, it can be very difficult to not follow through with an execution shot. With the exception of outright shooting the gunman, this is all pretty solidly reasonable force. Many instructors suggest for students who are unused to guns to brace it on their hip, instead of holding it out in a ready to fire state, as this reduces the risk of them accidentally shooting the attacker or their attacker taking it back.

Finally, and this is a general threat assessment issue, but it does affect disarms. Untrained shooters are much more dangerous. Once the shooting starts, a trained shooter is going to be able to kill more efficiently, but an untrained shooter is more likely to shoot someone by accident.

If you have a character pointing a gun at someone they don’t want to hurt (outside of some edge, “I don’t want to hurt you; but, I will kill you,” cases), they’re not going to be trained in firearms safety.

What this means is, and I hate harp on this over and over, but, when you have a character pointing a gun at someone, they’re always threatening to kill the other person. Even if they gun isn’t loaded, even if they don’t want to hurt anyone, even if they just want attention. They’re still threatening to kill someone.

I’d actually argue that a trained shooter is safer to disarm, as well. Proper trigger discipline can work against getting a rapid shot off into the martial artist. Of course a “safer” version of an extremely lethal situation is still quite dangerous.

Now, non-harmful gun disarms do exist. But, they’re not a part of any martial art. Stage fighting includes a lot of techniques that can be practiced safely. The problem is, as a general rule, stage fighting is cooperative choreography between two performers. So the gun disarms you’ll see on TV that leave both combatants with all their fingers in the original sockets aren’t real combat techniques.

If you want to look at getting a gun away from someone safely, I’d recommend watching The Negotiator, it’s not about martial arts, but it is about talking people down.

-Starke

Fight Scene Strategies: The Individual versus Group

In this article, we’ll talk some about structuring and writing combat between an individual and a group. As the title suggests, this article will focus primarily on unarmed/hand to hand strategies for dealing with multiple opponents. We’re going to avoid weapons for the most part in this discussion because the strategies can change dramatically depending on what weapon it is that your character is using and this article is going to have a heavier focus on how different groups behave and the problems you have to watch out for in your story when working with them.

So, let’s start by tearing down a few myths.

The Group is the Most Dangerous Opponent Your Hero will Face

No, really.  A group of mooks together are going to be an all around tougher fight than the antagonist who waits at the end of the tunnel. Due to the rise of comics and Hollywood’s building up of the “One True Badass”, the difficulties an individual faces when fighting a large group are often overlooked. In real life, groups are much more dangerous to the lone combatant than single individuals and even the toughest fighter can be easily taken down by the untrained if he or she fails to control the situation. The reason it’s become commonplace on television for the roving badass to dispatch a group of random mooks with ease is because it is so difficult to do so in the land of reality.

This is important.

The truth is that even when you have years of training, something that seems as simple as a two on one bout can seriously screw someone over. The more people you add, the more difficult it gets. The maximum number a well-trained human being can take on at any one time is eight. The brain cannot handle tracking a number higher than that, but the truth is that even three or four is a difficult challenge.

Why is fighting groups so hard?

There are a higher number of limbs versus the singular defender

The part about there being more limbs is important. A person only has two arms and two legs (unless they are a mutant or an alien) with which to fight. Those two arms and two legs will have a difficult enough time fending off the attacks of one person, much less having to deal with four more coming in on vectors that your character can’t control. It doesn’t matter how many punches your character blocks, one will probably get through and that one can be the deal breaker. This is bad enough when the character’s opponents aren’t communicating. It gets much worse when they start, which they will because it’s a thing.

People work together

Yes, they do. Humans are social animals and they work well together in teams, very well in fact. You know the scenes you see in the movies where the stunt doubles will circle up and wait around the fighter (as seen on Buffy) for their turn to attack in a series of duels? They have a habit of coming in one by one. That doesn’t happen because it doesn’t play to the group’s strengths.  If your character lets them, a group will attack together. If they can, they’ll surround the character, dogpile, and knock them to the ground. Often in more sophisticated groups that are used to working together, one or two will distract the fighter from the front while others close in from behind and either hit them in the vulnerable places like the spine, the hamstrings, and the lower back or seize control of them via the hero’s neck or limbs.

All groups work together on some level, even the uncoordinated ones. The better trained and more used to working together the individual members of the group are such as gangs or professionals like soldiers, cops, and mercenaries, the harder the fight will be.

Yeah, even the untrained will naturally start flanking your hero. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

The Hero expends energy faster

Fighting is high energy exertion, it’s like sprinting and thus, it doesn’t last long. So, the hero must take down all their opponents before they themselves can no longer fight. Thus, they walk a much tighter tightrope of how fast it will be before they’re done.  They have to track more variables, their opponents, their surroundings, potential weapons, escape routes, how much time they have to hold out or finish it up before they or their enemies receive reinforcements, etc. It’s tough, tiring work. They have to know and keep track of where everyone is, actively strategizing, and moving to outpace their internal body clock.

Professionally trained combatants will approach a group, any group with a certain level of caution. For the untrained or untried hero, fighting a group can be where they find themselves in over their heads. It’s common for us to focus overly on the dangers we understand and ignore the ones we’re unaware of. Martial training can breed a certain level of arrogance in the early parts of an individual’s career before the fighter learns that everyone has the potential to be dangerous to them. Yes, even the little kids and old ladies. Disregarding the dangers of a group of lesser fighters or random idiots on the street is in character for most heroes.

Punish them for their mistakes. It’s a good humbling experience.

Well, it is if they survive.

Strategies

So, how can a character deal with groups?

Run away

This sounds like the coward’s way out, but it’s not. There’s no shame in living to fight another day or retreating to find a different approach instead of wading in. Don’t think of running away as giving up, think of it instead as retreating to find a more advantageous position. When faced with superior force and superior numbers, it is important for characters to seek to fight on their terms if they have the option to do so and to try anyway, even when they are pressed for time.

Run Away With Purpose

I call this rabbiting. When dealing with two or more individuals running away is an acceptable option as a means of breaking up the group so that they become easier to manage. You see this happen more commonly in action movies with stars that already know how to fight. (Example: Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx) By chasing the character, the more athletically adept will pull ahead and the less will fall behind. Characters with a firm grasp of their surrounding area can lose members of the group in the terrain. The character can then turn the situation around to their advantage and fight the smaller groups or individuals on their own terms.

This is only an effective strategy for characters that have good stamina, understand their area, and excel at thinking on their feet. It can go wrong for characters up against groups who can communicate over long distances and who are trained to outmaneuver that tactic. This includes the police (Example: Southland), the military, former military professionals, mercenaries, characters who possess some sort of telepathy, and characters who draw from a Pack mindset (werewolves, animalistic characters, etc).

Keep the opponent in front of you and protect the back

If a character cannot run or doesn’t have the option, then they might have to stand and fight. This can be difficult, given the tendency of a group to circle around and dog team (one distracts from the front, while another shoots in from the back or the side to tag the fighter before shooting off again, as the fighter attempts to recover from the blow, another comes in, and then another, and then another until they’re done) their opponents. A character fighting a group needs to keep the group in front of them. It can be difficult to defend from behind and while there are techniques (such as elbows and kicks) that allow characters to defend against individuals coming in behind them but they are limited. Characters fighting groups will want to keep moving, forcing their opponents to stay in front of them to limit their avenues and vectors of attack. By constantly moving, the character forces their opponents into each other as they attempt to attack and attack their enemies one at a time.

You can only attack one opponent at a time, so don’t waste movements

A character may switch between enemies, but they can only attack one enemy at a time. All their enemies may attack them and they don’t have to take turns. At best, they can block two, if they are really, really Jackie Chan fight scene choreography good then maybe three. But it’s best to have them focus on one at a time as they attempt to lock up the others. A fighter only has time for six to eight movements per fight, so they have to be dispatching each of their opponents in two or three blows depending on the numbers. Even the gentlest character may be forced to become ruthless.

All fights end on the ground, the character should make sure they don’t go down first

Suggestions on Writing:

This sort of chase scene or group fight can be tense an exhilarating and is helpful for establishing the nature of the fighter, especially if the audience is aware that they are up against a greater force. It can be a better reveal for who they are and what they’re willing to do when they are forced to be on their A game. However, as the writer, you need to be on the ball. Each of the characters in the group need to be clearly identified to the reader so they can track what is happening. Writing combat against a group is actually very difficult, because it is very messy and confusing. The sequence must be carefully choreographed in order to keep the tension kept high.

Graph out the setting area where the scene takes place, much like mapping an environment, writing and creating becomes easier when we know the pieces and materials that are at our disposal. A fight scene needs it’s the environment to be an active part of the scene because it changes the nature of the fight. A character running into the woods to escape a group hunting them will have different tools available than someone starting a chase in an urban environment. A character fighting in a bar may have nowhere to run but more objects at their disposal to throw and use in their own defense (beer bottles, chairs, tables, glasses, etc).

If you’re writing your character is going up against a group, then their understanding of their environment may be key to their success. Fights with groups are tense and require more than just skill for survival, creativity is also important. So, get your set pieces in place and see what happens.

Clearly identify each member of the group. Give them names based on distinguishing traits that a character observes about them, such as Number One and Number Two, The Brown Haired Guy, Blue Eyes, Buck Teeth, etc.

It’s important not to humanize the group members too much unless you want the audience to feel sorry for them, they shouldn’t be clearly evil, but they need to remain menacing. Knowing a character’s name humanizes them, so it’s not just a question of description, it’s a question of how much. Writing violence requires walking a careful line with the audience between just enough and too much.  Managing the emotions that your story evokes is important; too much makes it difficult to sympathize with the hero.

Examples:

Garvey came at Kel from the right, punching at her head. She slid away from his punch, grabbed his arm, pushed her right foot forward, and twisted to the left. Garey went over her hip into Vinson, who’d attacked on her left. Joren, at the center, came in fast as his friends hit the wall. Kel blocked Joren’s punch to her middle, but his blow was a feint; his left fist caught her right eye squarely. Kel scissored a leg up and out, slamming her right foot into Joren’s knee. Joren hissed and grabbed her hair. Someone else—Vinson—tackled her. Kel let his force throw her into Joren. Down the three of them went in a tumble. Joren let go of her hair, fighting to get out from under her and Vinson. Kel elbowed him in the belly and turned to thrust her other hand into Vinson’s face, encouraging him to get off her by pressing his closed eyes with her fingers.

Page by Tamora Pierce

This sequence by Tamora Pierce is compact, but it shows the sort of attention to detail you need when writing an individual versus a group. It’s not the only way to do it and whatever we suggest here, there are always many more strategies for you to uncover and develop in your own work.

We hope this has been helpful!

-Michi

Advice/Resources: Winged Armor and General Armor

Advice/Resources: Winged Armor and General Armor

do you have any tips on playing a vampire?

thetrolliestcritic:

If you’re in a group, they should have guidelines to playing their vampire species that discuss strengths & weaknesses, abilities, etc. I’d stick to that. But if not, here’s my two cents on playing/creating a Vampire, as a person with intimate and extensive history with this species.

PICK YOUR VAMPIRE TYPE

There are different types of Vampires out there, and even more that you could add on to or change somehow to reinvent them. There are sparkly Vampires, Buffy The Vampire Slayer I-have-a-very-strange-angry-face-effect-when-I-turn-on-my-Vampyric-powers Vampires, categories of Vampires, IRL Vampires, more stuff on IRL Vampires, ‘The Four Types of Vampires’ Vampires, ‘Vampire The Masquerade’ Vampires — literally shit tons of different ones out there to choose from or take inspiration from. 

Dive in and explore your options to figure out what kind of Vampire you want to use or base your Vampire off of. Typing in ‘types of vampires’ into Google is a+ helpful. 

CREATE THE MYTHOLOGY

I do not exactly recommend using outdated, overused, old ideas from other mythology to base your Vampires off of. Instead, I’d suggest you invent them all your own using what you know of Vampires already and building off of that.

Things to consider when creating Vampire mythology

  • Do they use clans? If so, how do clans function? How to Vampires outside of clans work? Are Vampires capable of being happy or fulfilled outside of these clans? Are clans a traditional thing that’s outdated in your society, or are they still present? How do other Vampires join these clans, if they can at all? 
  • Is there more than one kind of Vampire? Is there a hierarchy among different types of Vampires, such as ‘this one is deemed lesser than the others’? If so, what is this hierarchy based off of?
  • What do they eat? Human blood only, or animal blood too? How does blood effect Vampires in general, and how could different bloods effect them individually? Can they drink and eat human food, or will it makes them fall ill? Can they eat other supernatural creatures?
  • Do your Vampires follow any kind of religious views that are strictly of the Vampyric realm itself, or are they allowed to believe whatever? Do they believe in anything at all? Are their beliefs dependent on what clan they belong to?
  • How does turning work? How long does it take? Can Vampires turn humans and other species all they want? Are their progeny(s) seen as sacred children of theirs or just another Vampire? 
  • Can they mate to produce more children? Will their children be Vampires too? What about hybrids?
  • Do they hide from the world, or are out in plain sight? Or, do they reign over a selected piece of land?
  • Are people afraid of them? Are they part of the society’s folk lore?
  • How do they act? Does being a Vampire effect their personality? Does being in a clan effect their personality? Is there anything considered ‘bad Vampire behavior’?
  • What is their history throughout the centuries? Where did they come from / begin? How did they migrate? Do they shape-shift at all?
  • What are their fangs like? Rounded? Straight? Do they extend? Where are they located? 

PICK YOUR VAMPIRE ABILITIES, & MORE

Some Vampires smell as well as dogs, or hear as well as bats. Some Vampires are capable of sensing emotions that help them realize what a person is feeling even if they try to lie about it. Others can see visions while they sleep. Again, I don’t recommend using the same old boring folklore throughout history to rip your Vampires’ abilities off of. Get creative. 

I do, however, suggest you keep the whole ‘can’t be in the sun’ thing, since that’s a distinguishing Vampire-mainly type weakness. Their strengths and weaknesses are ultimately yours to play with, so have a bit of fun and think outside the box. 

Things to consider

  • Does Vampyric age effect how strong or weak a Vampire’s abilities are? 
  • What is your Vampire’s individual abilities? Meaning, out of all their abilities, what is their most honed or least good with?
  • How do Vampires die? 

I normally just play/create my Vampires based off everything above or take these things into consideration when developing my Vampires, and they seem to spring to life rather well. Hope this helps you out a bit, anon!

This is really great. I’d also add, don’t forget about vampire variations beyond the Western. These myths are world wide and you can take a lot of inspiration from the different varieties. Africa and Asia both have very interesting myths dealing with these undead.

Wikipedia: Vampire Folklore by Region is a good jumping off point to see the wide variation (and how old) vampire folklore really is and how far back beyond Dracula it goes. Vampires have been an important part of cultural myths all over the world and there are a bevy of interesting stories to draw inspiration from.

Jiangshi: The Jiangshi are a variant of vampire that feeds directly on a person’s energy or life force.

Kindred of the East was White Wolf’s foray into Asian vampire counterparts that that they called the Queijin (specifically Chinese and Japanese, and more specifically “chi eaters”). It’s a wothwhile starting point for research, but take it with copious amounts of salt. White Wolf can be spotty when dealing with other cultures, though their research is usually good. Either way, it’s a nice starting point and may give a few ideas especially if you’re looking to go in a different direction. The powerlist and descriptions in the sourcebook is very helpful.

Wikipedia: Asanbosam from West Africa.

Wikipedia: The Adze

The Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom: this was a secondary sourcebook dealing with the “Laibon” which were the vampire bloodlines out of Africa and based in the continent’s myriad of mythological traditions in the White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting. Again, some interesting stuff that already gears itself towards character building, storytelling, and society crafting.

White Wolf ran historical versions of Vampire in Vampire: The Dark Ages and Victorian Vampire.

The GURPS Vampire Companion, Blood Types, Creatures of the Night, and Undead are excellent investments for the collection of research material that is easy to flip through and are all a treasure trove of ideas. They’re also pretty cheap to order used from Amazon.

However, always be aware of the perils of Exotification and Orientalism in  the works listed, in any you uncover, and in your own work. Always do research on the societies the myths are based in so you can grasp some of the themes these societies valued and feared.

-Michi

Hello! I’ve got a question: for a character, she’s got some serious claws to use in attack. And a big, heavy tail. But when I try to look up things on how to have her fight, I’m at a loss! Everyone just talks about punching. How on earth does someone with claws attack close-ranged without straight-out punching?

Well, raking is a good choice for a character with long claws. Much like many different wild animals, they’ll come at their opponent open handed and drag their claws down across the face, use them to slash at the exposed throat.

Here’s something to think about when working with a character who uses claws. Punching isn’t  really going to be feasible for characters with non-retractable claws. If they are long and sharp, then when the fingers curl into a fist, the nails may puncture the flesh inside their palms. Depending on how long and sharp the claws are, making a fist may not even be possible because they may not even be able to safely make a fist without harming themselves.

Take a look at styles that focus on open hand attacks instead of fists, joint locking disciplines like aikido, jiujutsu, and the variations of chin na that apply to different kung fu styles (shaolin/tai chi chuan) as a different way the character may fight.

Fight Write: A Basic Upper Body Primer

Michael Janich’s “Junkyard Aikido”

I’d also suggest taking a look at nature documentaries, particularly for lizards and big cats. When looking into lizards, especially large lizards, focus on tail-whipping. Many lizards will use their tail as a weapon when they feel threatened. I’d check that out.

References and Reading:

Highlander (The Series): While I can’t really recommend the sword combat (at least in the early seasons), Adrian Paul has the distinction of being skilled in aikido and his martial arts during the series is very good.

White Wolf’s Changing Breeds, Nagah, and Mokole: These changing breed supplements to Werewolf: The Apocalypse are interesting because they focus on weresnakes and werecrocodiles. They might give you some ideas. They aren’t common, so they may be difficult to find.

Nature Documentaries and books. Pick an animal, or even a few different animals to build the character’s combat style around. Get to know the animal, check out books about them from your local library, study how they hunt and how they behave. It might give you some ideas.

-Michi

I’m writing about a community (actually multiple communities) that have separated themselves from society because they have animalistic traits (sharpened senses, retractible claws–otherwise human). The communities are like military bases, and they train their members to fight from a young age. About what age would a person become an accomplished fighter, and are there any basic moves/styles that you could illustrate for me that someone in this position might practice regularly? Thanks much!

Well, as for the styles that they’d practice regularly, that will heavily depend on what their members knew or were trained in before they wandered off from society at large. So, what styles they’d have and what they’d know, that will be up to you to figure out. But, I can point you in the general direction.

If members of the society had a connection to the military (I’m assuming U.S. Military, if you want another country of origin then you have to look up their standard style) which is going to be some variant of C.Q.B (close quarters battle), this style can range from the Marine variety of M.A.P. to the styles practiced by the C.I.A., special forces, and other government agents. It’s cousin is C.Q.C. (Close Quarters Combat) which is the non-lethal/subdual based hand to hand style practiced by the Police and the FBI. Both styles are designed to be very easy to learn and to pick up in a matter of months, if not weeks. While the style is not designed to produce warriors, it does produce very effective combatants.

The civilian variants of Krav Maga and Muay Thai are both brutal and acceptable alternatives if the characters lack military roots.

You’ll have to modify the style and their variation of combat based on their powers, which will mean coupling it with your animal of choice. I suggest looking taking a look at various pack animals such as wolves and lions to get an idea of how these characters might naturally work together as a unit, this will lend the alien/predatory sense to them that you’re going to need. Otherwise, they’ll just come across as human and there will be some question to the point of the powers relating to animals at all. Any general nature documentary from Animal Planet, National Geographic, or the Discovery Channel (or corresponding channels in your country) will work as a jump off point for your research.

If you’re wondering why I suggest pack animals, the reason is this: they live in a community that is isolated from the outside world and they are highly militarized. Militarized communities breed a certain perspective on how they view the outside world and how they raise the members of their society. The kids will be taught to work together from a young age, their combat and survival training will likely be Pack oriented, with a firm untrustworthy gaze (if not open hostility) directed at the outside world. Communities that just want to be left alone don’t militarize, even if they do maintain a militia force. The society you’re suggesting is one with a very complete martial focus and that doesn’t inspire warm fluffy bunny feelings for strangers. For these guys anything that is not them is Other and because the indoctrination starts when they are infants it will be almost impossible to break and I mean that, a quick jaunt into the outside world or even an extended stay isn’t likely to shake their loyalty to their community and is likely to only really inspire a general disgust.

 Every military force needs an enemy, even if that enemy is just out of reach. Training soldiers for no reason other than to train soldiers, in a culture that is full of soldiers, who have been raised to be soldiers from birth need to fight. They have to, if they don’t have that outlet, they will turn on the community itself and do battle within it. They are going to need to focus that aggression somewhere and on someone, because they have qualities that differentiate them from humans and some elements of their society may even have embraced the concept that they are no longer human, it makes human society at large an easy target to transform into the necessary evil Other. Eventually, they will become an expansionist entity.

Because the society will have limited members and has a military focus, they will trend towards gender equal out of necessity.

They will also need to be focused on the Good of the Whole as opposed to Individual Gain to keep them in the society and from the society having to promise them (like land) to get them to stay. Even when faced with a hostile outside world, there will be those who want to leave unless measures are taken to coerce them into staying. This can be done by starting young and focusing them on the collective’s needs instead of their own.

On Training:

Training for these characters will involve a focus on unit cohesion, team building, and creating a sense of brotherhood within the members of the community. It should also engender (if they are actually skilled combatants that don’t rely on berserking) a sense of discipline. This is why I suggested the military and military training as the basis for your study. Because the society is small, retaining the loyalty of their members will be paramount to their survival. Their training from early childhood on will revolve around building that sense of dedication. The children will probably be taken from their parents early, perhaps as young as four, put into the care of an older mentor figure, and mixed into a unit of their fellows. The collective itself will become their parent figure instead of any one individual caretaker.

The training will begin at five and will remain light. Though they’ll learn techniques, attention will be placed primarily on developing the necessary skill sets that they’ll need to serve the community later in life. This will mostly take place in the form of “games” like Hide and Seek (hunt and stalk your prey), Tag (one player acts as a rabbit while the others hunt them down) and so on. When they get a little older (say nine or ten) they may even be allowed out on “field trips” to practice their skills as a test (though in a controlled environment under the close eye of the adults).

If their training goes as planned, then they’ll be accomplished fighters (though not practical, experienced combatants) by the time they are fifteen. They’ll be ready to release into the regular force by the time they are eighteen. (This will have more to do with their emotional and psychological maturity as opposed to their skill level.)

The kids won’t openly spar with each other (in an uncontrolled, non-padded environment) until they are at the end of their training.

Remember, the goal of the training is going to be to develop unity as opposed to individualism. Rivalries will be tolerated until they affect the training and the unit, then they will be mercilessly quashed by the instructor in charge. The kids will always be under fairly close scrutiny, even when they don’t realize that they are, and rivalries will be something that their instructors and handlers will be specifically on the lookout for either to use or suppress. The two rivals, regardless of their skill level, may be allowed to continue their rivalry by their instructors to show the other students the faults of individualism and the virtues of cohesion.

By the time their training is complete, they will be firmly entrenched in the tenants of their society and the concepts of Not So Different will matter very little to them. It will also be fairly difficult to get one alone and away from their fellows without extreme duress. If any more than one is captured (even if they are or were previously rivals) forget about them turning against each other or their culture. Loyalty to their society will win out over any personal desires.

Good Examples:

The Psi Corps from Babylon 5

The Jem’Hadar from DS9

The Space Marines (and other subsequent groups) from Warhammer 40k

Survivalist Groups/Cults (With a focus on the sociological and psychological aspects if you can stomach researching them.)

The Marines (with subsequent focus on training and instilling the concept of the enemy Other into the soldiers)

Bad Examples:

The Spartans (Their training focused on individualism and is outdated in concept when set against any generation of a trained, standing military force. When the Spartans existed there wasn’t really any such thing as trained military combatants. Times have changed, in today’s world, the results of that training would be subpar.)

Stay away from Special Forces, Special Forces are elite but also limited. They do not an Army or Militarized Society make. Go with the lower tiers of military first before looking at these guys and their training methods. Remember, Special Forces training builds off what the soldier learned in basic and the field, while their training can be extreme, it can’t be done with fresh clay. It’s the finishing glaze to a piece of pottery that’s already been through the kiln. Don’t mistake one for the other. (If you must have them, then for psychology’s sake, these will be characters taken in for extra training in their mid-twenties. If you’re writing a YA novel, they are outside your reach, though they will work for antagonists.)

Stay away from any material that proposes starting training with an uncontrolled bout. Anyone trying to turn out a genuine military force isn’t going to force two people into an arena and say fight unless they are a sadist and don’t care about the development of the fighters. The students are only going to hurt themselves and they won’t actually learn anything from the experience (other than bad habits that will be difficult to break later). Many students train for years before they are allowed to fight with no pads and by then they know they’re doing (usually they’ll have progressed to the point of being ready to be teachers themselves).

Psychological Aspects:

I stuck this in at the end because while it’s important, it’s also sensitive. We do have an article on child soldiers, but this is different. This is covering training in violence and experiencing violence at a young age. There’s a difference in kids and adults who began training young versus  those who begin training when they’re older. The difference isn’t just that they’re better, it produces some interesting psychological and emotional differences that will impact the characters you’re working with.

The Individual is the Violence

For a kid who has been raised in combat, the combat (beyond the violence) becomes an intrinsic part of who they are. This means, ultimately, that fighting will be their natural state and where they feel the most comfortable. Their combat style and training won’t be an aspect tacked on to a ready made individual (like you get with adults), it will be the individual.

It will come to the point that while the individual is able to contemplate and understand the cause and effects of their violent actions outside of the fighting, it’s a disconnect that won’t occur to them when they are in the moment. It works like this: though the character may choose their techniques based on who they are fighting, they may perform those techniques with the same speed and efficiency that they were taught regardless of who they are fighting because the style itself has become a molded extension of themselves.

It’s not a question of right or wrong. It is part of them and will remain part of them long into adulthood. If you’re going to write kids who fight, you’re going to have to start viewing violence (even if you don’t believe or don’t like it) as a normative state.

Lack of Empathy is Key

They don’t empathize with others in the same way, they’ll connect with their group or pack just fine. Strangers, however, are a different story. They will be innately suspicious and wary of strangers. They may understand (but not really) why other people are put off by violence or the injuries they inflict. (Why are you crying? It’s just a gut wound. Get back up.)

And the reason for the lack of empathy?

Violence is Normal

It’s always been this way. Are you telling them that their whole life is wrong? How would you react if someone told you that everything you believed in and everyone you trusted and loved was wrong and evil? (Starke Note: How would you react if someone told you: No, puppies are for eating.)

There’s probably some other stuff in there, but that’s the general gist. To everything, there is a trade off. The younger a kid is and the more skilled they are, the more their personality must be molded around that core skill. To the uninitiated outside observer this blase approach to violence may come off as a wee bit psychopathic, but it’s important to remember that these kids aren’t psychopaths. They come from a society that has a very different standard of normal. Much like the average middle class San Franciscan’s instinctive gut reaction to a picture of a North Dakotan seven year old girl in a princess dress wielding an AK47.

Different strokes.

-Michi

(One important trait that I forgot to add: The Confidence Is Not False. They are that damn good and they know it. Whatever crippling insecurities the characters may have in terms of social interaction or in other aspects of their life, when they’re good at something, they know it and they will look down on others for not knowing and being bad at what is normal to them. See: Altair from the first Assassin’s Creed and his general lack of human empathy. The assassins in the first game and their gleeful poking of Altair while at the same time helping him is a good example of the ways you can play the “family” loyalty. Desmond’s personality, sadly, is not spot on.)

Got any tips for a character whose an assassin and uses underhanded tactics when fighting hand to hand?

othersidhewriting:

howtofightwrite:

I’d start by going through The Only Unfair Fight is the One you Lose posts:

Here, http://howtofightwrite.tumblr.com/post/52349151535/fight-write-the-only-unfair-fight-is-the-one-you-lose and here: http://howtofightwrite.tumblr.com/post/52428049557/fight-write-the-only-unfair-fight-is-the-one-you-lose

Beyond that, keep in mind, that for an assassin, they’re probably going to be killing any opponents as quickly as possible. Frequently, this means dispatching their foes before an actual fight can start.

If they do end up in combat, your character’s probably going to be looking for weapons to end a fight. If that’s a chair, lamp, toaster, or a handgun, then so be it.

I’m going to throw this one out there, since I don’t think we’ve mentioned it before: the head twist and break isn’t really a thing. Theoretically you can kill someone that way, but it takes a lot of force. And, from that position, it’s a lot easier (and quieter) to execute a choke hold and strangle someone to death that way.

Also, strangling someone takes a while. (And, no, this isn’t from personal experience.) Even after the victim goes limp, the character needs to keep choking them until the brain actually shuts down. Otherwise, they’ll just start breathing again, and recover.

I’d say look at Val Kilmer in Spartan and Tom Cruise in Collateral. Cruise is actually playing an assassin, while Kilmer is playing a government operative. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but the Thomas Jane Punisher film might also give you some ideas, there isn’t a lot of hand to hand, but that’s kind of the point.

If you have a lot of spare time, I’d recommend looking at 24. Kieffer Sutherland looks like he’s using a mix of Krav Maga and some miscellaneous CQB training. The problem is, there’s a lot of show (about 18 hours per season), and only a tiny fraction of that is combat.

There’s some good stuff in Burn Notice, so long as you remember that the only real difference between Michael and an assassin is that the latter is getting paid to kill someone. On the whole, the show is a good primer for tradecraft, which is useful for writing an assassin. Also, it’s entirely plausible to have an assassin that’s unwilling to kill people (outside of a contract), simply because it would draw more attention onto them, in which case, Michael is a very good character to look at.

Anyway, hope that helps.

-Starke

Michi wants to add Karl Urban’s character from Red, and Bruce Willis’ character from Lucky # Sleven. Fact is, we have a wall of DVDs featuring hitmen and assassins of all stripes, so this is by no means a comprehensive viewing list.

Hmm I think time period and world setting out have a very big impact on it, like if it’s my mage that’s an assassin… hm… he’d have to go for quick and deadly spells.

While establishing how an assassin kills in their own setting is important, there are underlying principles in how assassins work that are actually much more important to getting a handle on than the surface dressing. Here’s the thing that’s most important to get a handle on when working with an assassin: they are not professional killers, they are professional murderers.

This is where we go: but isn’t all killing murder? Yes, but in the context that we’re talking about, it’s important to remember that an assassin’s kills are always premeditated. Their job description involves stalking their prey, getting to know them, their habits, their favorite foods, their friends, their families, their preferred way of getting to work, what buttons to push, while they look for the best method with which to dispatch their target. They will probably break into their house and their place of work, rummage through their personal effects, their mail, even their target’s trash if necessary, much in the same way a spy would. Except, of course, a spy’s goal is to acquire information and an assassin’s is to acquire knowledge of the target with the express goal of personally murdering them. Depending on who it is that they are being sent after and how easy they are to get to, the assassin may very well know their target better than the target’s own family does by the end of the experience.

An assassin’s kills are personal, even when they seem incredibly impersonal. They get to know their target as a person (whether they think of them that way or not) and that’s what makes them different from other the other professionals including your general SEAL wet-work teams.

Assassins don’t generally have a certain “style” or preferred method of killing someone. A good assassin is one that is capable of working through a variety of different methods and weapons, these will run the gamut from multiple different kinds of weapons/martial styles to a variety of poisons and bombs. Depending on what their client may want or what they assess to be the best route available, an assassin may become anything from the sniper on the clock tower, the terrorist planting the car bomb to send a message, or they may lay their target out in a bathtub with their wrists slit to make it look like a suicide. A good (if extreme) example from Elementary was the assassin in one of the later episodes who worked by killing people via “accidents”, he hacked a pacemaker to give a man a heart attack, he killed a man via pushing an air conditioning unit off an apartment rooftop, and finally (funnily) planned to kill a woman with a crippling bee allergy with her personal variety of kryptonite.

Flexible. Professional. Personal.

The reason why I suggested R.E.D. is for the Karl Urban sequence at the beginning is for the (very obvious) dichotomy present when he’s on the phone with his wife discussing their domestic concerns while he’s in the process of kicking the chair out from under a man he’s hung from the rafters.

The other important aspect of an assassin’s job is not just to kill but to remain anonymous during and after the killing. Assassins trade on their anonymity, people may know that someone killed their target but they won’t be able to pin down who it was or even prove that anyone did it at all. This is why the mage analogy doesn’t make sense, because you’re working under the assumption that a the kill will revolve around what skills the assassins have overall as opposed to the skills they need to get this particular job done. Depending on the setting, directly using magic to kill someone could be akin to setting off a nuclear warhead in their living room (I mean that via the spiritual impression left behind in it’s wake), it’s big, fairly flashy even at it’s most subtle, and easy to detect once you know what your looking for. More importantly, most spells will tie back to their owner in some way and by tracing that link in the energy remnants left behind the caster can become easy to locate. Even in a setting where magic is common, an assassin may choose a physical approach because it’s the best way to bypass the attacks their mage target is expecting.

If you really must couple magic with an assassin, I’d suggest choosing spells that don’t take the direct death approach. In the best scenario, the character will probably use spells that won’t directly effect their target but instead work subtly on the people around them, on random strangers, or lay the spell through inanimate objects that can be easily discarded during cleanup after the kill. This is, of course, still risky because there’s still a chance that even with the triggering object gone, the spell itself could still be recovered and traced. The assassin could use objects that were prepared by someone else, but similar risks apply. Most likely, if they do use magic at all, assassins will use spells that primarily enhance themselves such as nightsight, heightened senses, etc and probably ones delivered into their system via a potion of some sort.

The problem is that magic isn’t like a gun you buy from an arms dealer or with cash using a false identity from a WalMart two states over and dump into the Potomac after plugging some poor bastard in the back of the head. It’s a little more intense than the bullet or fingerprint left at a crime scene.

The best advice I have for writing an assassin is:

Don’t start with the assassin saying: how can my character kill someone? In fact, don’t start with the assassin’s character at all.

Start with and develop their target. Who are they? Where are they located? What under circumstances does the client wish for them to die?

It’s cliche to say that it’s business, but it’s also true. An assassin is a professional and their business is murder. Once you grasp who they are when they work (by planning out a fictional murder for yourself), figuring out who they are in their personal life (and the dichotomy between those two selves) will be much easier.

-Michi

Writing Violence (Part 3): Pacing

Pacing. There’s tons of advice out there about pacing, including pacing for fight scenes. However, I thought it would be important to talk about pacing in the context of how to write violence (including violence beyond just physical fight sequences) because it’s all important to selling your fight scene.

In this article, we won’t be talking about pacing as an overall focus on the whole story. Instead, this will be specifically fight scene oriented.

As a literary term, pacing is essentially the speed and rhythm with which your plot unfolds. Developing that sense of speed, rhythm, and, most importantly, timing is crucial to making an individual fight scene work. For combat, rhythm and timing are crucial. Too much description will get in the way, too much exposition slows down the scene, and too much dialog will reduce the sense of immediacy that a sequence requires to be effective. Ultimately, communicating the actions of violence is about delivering sensation. Tangible, tactile sensation.

Word choice, sentence length, and punctuation are the means of showing and experiencing those sensations. More importantly, a well paced fight scene doubles up beyond the physical. The speed and rhythm of the sequence can tell a reader a great deal about your character’s inner emotional state, how they handle violence and tense situations. Pacing tells the reader how quickly the scene is moving, how immediate it’s becoming, the fact that things are—to put it bluntly—spinning out of control, and that gives us no time to stop and breathe, until finally, at long last, we slam into a wall. Head first!

Okay, that was a joke. What is important to remember about pacing is that there is no one way to do it, in fact, different characters will pace their scenes differently. So, it’s up to you to figure out each of your character’s rhythms if you write from their perspective. Some may like to blend sentences together like I did in the last few sentences of the upper paragraph. Some may need to stop.

They have to think.

They need breaks in paragraphs.

Every few sentences.

Every sentence!

Some may like to punctuate the end of every sentence. It gives them a sense. A feeling. They are in control. They know what they are doing. They want the reader to know. They are thinking. No. Don’t stop them.

Long sentences that consistently get shorter and shorter as they blend together can lend a sense of immediacy. Sentences that start short and are clearly punctuated can slow a scene down but can also serve to ratchet up the tension, much like a roller coaster rising towards the pinnacle before rocketing downward. Alternately, it can show a character who is methodical, thinking through their situation, and in control.

No matter what you choose to do with your scene, remember, violent confrontations are high stress environments. They are periods of extreme emotion coupled with the body’s instinctual reactions that may hurt or benefit the character in play. It’s important to ratchet up that tension, the feeling in the story that things are moving faster, more quickly. You can use many different kinds of pacing as a scene progresses to express and support the actions that are occurring in the story.

I tend to pace my action sequences around strong emotion (or the lack thereof). The idea is that because violence is so directly linked to emotion, everything in my work links back to what I am trying to express in the scene. Who a character is and how they behave when in a violent situation is an important part of who they are and how they handle things. This is obviously not the only way you can do it and I encourage you all to play around with different ideas to find what works best for you and for your story.

So, think about it. Instead of thinking about the right way, think about what you’re trying to present. Think about what your characters are feeling, which can be frustrating when you’re already focusing on what they’re doing. Pacing can be an easy way to communicate those emotions and show the effects without having to exposit. Remember, what makes violence effective is the human component (or alien, or vampire component, or ork component).

Remember, these are just suggestions. You can do what you want, experiment, and most importantly find the path that works best for you.

Extra Credit Writing Exercise:

Pick a strong emotion, any emotion, and write a scene about it. It doesn’t have to be a fight scene. Instead of describing the emotion, talking about the emotion, or even using any words to describe the physical reaction to the emotion, attempt to express and communicate it using only sentence structure and punctuation.

-Michi

I’ve been trying to write a scene involving an angry mob, and while I’ve found some good information from history about what happens when the mobs win, I was wondering if you had any advice about how to structure the scene so that the people the mob is trying to kill survive. Are there any effective methods of fighting against so many people at once? And what kind of non-lethal injuries might a person sustain when fighting an angry mob?

If you want them to survive, then they need to run away. Here’s the thing and this is why you haven’t found any history on it: you don’t fight a mob. You don’t fight a mob unless you have superior force of arms such as multiple flamethrowers, water cannons, and nerve gas. Even then, there’s no guarantee that any of those things will do anything other than make the mob angry (well, angrier). There get’s to be a point when so many people gather together that the control forces be it police or military can really do nothing other than let the mob pass because there really are too many people to kill. Especially not before they kill most of your men and then take to torching the countryside.

Now, you can get a very tense scene going with a fight happening against the mob backdrop, with the mob itself acting as a symbolic reference to the character’s inner turmoil. Then, you have the added tension of the mob breaking in at any second but don’t actually have the characters fighting the mob itself.

A mob works on the basis of group-think. Within the mob there are individuals who act as catalysts, but ultimately once a group of individuals have formed a mob, they’re acting on basic instinct and emotion. Rage is the order of the day, rage at everyone and everything. Morality doesn’t enter the picture. There is no distinction between right and wrong, good or bad, everything and everyone is enemy. If it’s easier, think of a mob like a stampede. Particularly, the stampede from The Lion King. You don’t jump out in front of the stampede and yell “Stop!”. It would be meaningless. Upper brain power is gone. It has to burn out. Fighting the mob only makes your characters enemies of the mob and the mob will destroy them, probably. If given a reason to focus on them, it will kill them.

The reason is: it’s a numbers game. The exceptional fighter can only handle up to eight enemy combatants on their own. (This number decreases when facing groups that have been trained to work together like squads of soldiers.) This is the maximum limit the brain can handle and track, any more than that and it doesn’t matter how skilled they are, they’re going down. Here’s what movies won’t teach you about the individual versus the group in combat: the group doesn’t attack one at a time, often, they come all at once. If they can, they’ll circle up around the individual. It’s difficult to block the attacks coming in from behind you, when you’re worrying about the attacks coming from the front, especially if it’s four or five different sets of limbs attacking at once.

When up against a mob, your character will be faced with at least ten, if not twenty to thirty individuals crowding in to grab and tear at them. If it happens in the realm of the mob proper, then it could attract the attention of even more.

If your characters are lucky, then they’ll only have a small portion of the mob breaking off and coming after them. However, that could still be upwards of thirty people chasing them through the city streets. If injured, they could avoid death by crawling into a back alley or a nearby house and hope that they don’t encounter looters, especially looters still caught up in the mentality who will hand them back over to the mob. Also, there’s a chance the house will get set on fire.

The only way to restore sanity to the mob is to stop it before it becomes one. Once it does, it takes on a life of it’s own and you have to let it burn itself out. Now, there are some things you can do once you’ve grasped the idea that a mob is a force of nature much like a typhoon or a hurricane:

Have your characters fighting individuals who are exploiting the chaos caused by the mob to achieve some agenda, whatever that agenda may be.

The characters are trying to outpace the mob to rescue someone or something before the mob can destroy it. They may be pursued by other characters with a similar objective who are planning on handing over whatever it is to the mob (they could be well meaning) or take it for themselves. Here, the mob acts as a countdown clock to the characters’ potential failure, as the voices grow closer and closer, they become more and more desperate. The tension is ratcheted up higher and higher until the climax of the scene.

During the mob, the characters are penned in by their old nemesis, who is using the chaos to get a shot at them. This is usually a desperate villain, one who has been defeated previously, capitalizing on the chaos to come back for seconds. It’s best if this sort of antagonist has been a major player throughout the story and the characters defeating them symbolizes their overcoming a fear that has haunted them throughout the story.

The characters can run and hide from the mob, saving as many people as they can (and losing quite a few along the way).

The characters having achieved their objective are faced with a mob as their final challenge in the story, it could be that the mob itself is a byproduct of their own actions throughout the plot or one they created intentionally as a means of achieving their goal. But the mob is now out of their control, out of anyone’s, and they are at it’s mercy as much as their enemies are. This is a sequence for characters who need to be confronted with the consequences of their actions with the destruction the mob has caused (as the characters run for their lives) acting as a message about the unintended devastation that can be caused by the single minded pursuit of a goal.

Either way, the mob itself needs to be meticulously set up throughout your story in the events happening in the background. Focus your research on how and why mobs form, including the political circumstances that cause them. This backstory may never be stated in the story proper, but are important to leave clues for in the way you set up your setting. While mobs themselves are often spur of the moment or a protest gone wrong, the events that lead to them can sometimes be decades in the making.

In a thematic context, the mob is symbolic of everything having gone to hell and all the problems, personal and political, at play in the story coming home to roost. The most important one is the sense of events spinning out of control, that change is happening but the ideals that spurred that change have turned dark.

I’m not sure if any of this is helpful. But hopefully, you’ll be able to make some use of it.

-Michi

Apologies if this question or its like has been asked before. What is the most practical martial art for a short, modern-day Average Jane?

For your purposes, any of them. Really. So long as you make sure you pick ones that are geared towards self-defense and or real world combat. But that’s not necessarily the martial art itself, that’s the instructor who teaches it and the variation of the style that they are practicing.

Dux Ryu Ninjutsu and our Michael Janich tag (particularly his variations on Aikido and his variation on Silat (Dammithurtsilat)) are good examples of stylistic variations meant for the modern world. There are, however, plenty of martial arts that are easier to find and instructors who do similar things. The important questions to ask, whether it’s for a character or your personal life is to ask: what’s best for me or my character? Not what’s best for the average woman. There are exceptional female practitioners (middling, mediocre, and just plain bad ones) in every style.

For example, even though shotokan karate is one of the more rigid and traditional variations of karate, our instructor was a cop. He provided a wealth of information during the semester about which techniques would and would not work in a real world context. So, while shotokan itself is not necessarily what I would refer to as a “practical martial art”, I have no doubt that his students were perfectly capable of handling themselves.

Check out this article below, where we talked about some of the different classes of martial styles, aka what the training type gears the trainee towards.

Fight Write: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality

Also, Starke and I got confused over who was answering this question, so there is a second response incoming shortly.

-Michi

And, now it’s up as a separate post.

-Starke