Tag Archives: writing reference

How could a character train their flexibility/strengh if they didn’t regularly have access to a trainer/facilities, and if the resources they had access to were meant for people a good third shorter than them?

Yes, a character can train their flexibility and strength even if they don’t have regular access to facilities or a trainer. Important training like conditioning and flexibility can be done solo, and will be an important part of any serious, athletic character even when they do have access to a trainer and appropriate facilities.

Some thoughts:

Most high schools and colleges have a track, bleachers, and other amenities that are available to the public for use when school is not in session. I’m not talking about the weight lifting gym or anything like that (though if your character is a student, they may be able to take advantage of it by going through the appropriate channels). For liability reasons, the weight lifting gym in a high school, even a public one, will be closed to anyone who isn’t an athlete. But the track? The bleachers? The pullup bars? And other amenities? Those they can use.

If you have any experience doing conditioning training (building stamina, lung capacity, etc) then use that. If you don’t and I’m guessing this is true, we’ll go over some simple training exercises below and talk about the problems with pushing the boundaries of believability.

Now, when working with conditioning, it’s important to not over exaggerate. In many instances when I’ve been reading, I’ve found authors who didn’t have much experience with training pushing themselves either too high or too low. For example, in the scope of full out physical exertion five minutes is a long goddamn time. A usual workout for a character is going to only last between fifteen to thirty minutes, not an hour. They’re going to need to take breaks between one minute to five minutes and if they’re alone then they’ll have to moderate that for themselves. The length of the break will change based on the amount of exertion, say if they’ve been running bleachers, or a mile, or wind sprints, then take five once the repetitions are complete. If they’ve been doing pushups or situps, then a one minute break for some water is applicable.

They will probably feel the desire to cheat, if they do that’s okay just make sure it comes back to bite them later, working out is very hard. Characters who aren’t used to working out will slack off when there’s no one there to watch them. When someone is held accountable only to themselves then things tend to slip. It’s good to have a workout buddy, someone who will push the character forward past their self-perceived limits, but those are also hard to come by.

When doing conditioning, count it out not by time spent but in number of repetitions or reps. Doing pushups for a full minute (fifty/sixty pushups for sixty seconds) is not a beginner sport, serious athletes will do it, but it’s difficult. When working, keep it simple. 5 repetitions of 10 is good for someone who is very experienced whether that’s pushups, situps, leg lifts, or any of the vast number of other exercises out there. When you break the number out, it means they did 50 of each. You can stretch and do reps anywhere, on the bench at school, in front of the television, it doesn’t matter. The place doesn’t need to be special, what is important is that your character is doing them.

Here’s the average layout of the workout we used to do in our Saturday Morning Trainings, these trainings usually lasted between 6:00AM to 7:00AM:

5:30AM to 6:00AM: run a warm up lap before the instructor arrives and stretch.

6:00AM: run a mile (mile will last between 6-14 minutes depending on student and the student’s conditioning, the faster you run, the longer your break)

6:15AM: Practice forms or stances around the track.

6:20AM: Wind sprints/Run a “Korean” Mile (this is what we called it, but line everyone up in a line and send them jogging, last person in line sprints to the front, then over, and over, until the mile (usually for us just a lap or two around the track) is complete. The less teamwork, the harder it is for everyone. The team must slow down to keep pace with their slower members or the line gets really long.)

6:30AM: Practice kicks. (On the chain link fence, we spread out, and practiced our kicks as the instructor counted out the numbers of 1-5. 1: beginning position, 2: chamber, 3: kick, hold kick, 4: chamber, 5: drop the leg. Position changes when he speaks, so you could hold the leg there for a long time.)

6:45AM: Run bleachers. Students younger than twelve or thirteen run the stairs between the bleachers, teens and adults run the actual ones. Count out 5 repetitions, pair the children closer together so that they race.

6:50AM: wind down/cool off. Pushups, situps, and leg lifts. 2-5 repetitions of 10, depending. (2 for pushups and leg lifts, 5 for situps if time allows).

7:00AM: stretch. Everybody goes home.

As for stretching, you don’t need someone else there to help your character stretch. My advice: go to your local bookstore or library and buy or check out a book that’s dedicated to teaching someone how to work out on their own. It will cover all the major pitfalls and missteps a beginner will have, while also helping you add a sense of realism.

You also might want to think about starting to work out for yourself. The actions alone won’t be enough to convey the feelings or mental stress of working out. We can’t really fake remembering the feeling of a runner’s high, personal experience will make you a better writer in the long run.

And please, never ever use second hand training gear that doesn’t fit you. It won’t work and is more dangerous in the long run, it will also hamper your character’s ability to perform and is more likely to get them injured. Now, most workout/weightlifting machines can be adjusted to someone’s personal settings. So, it’s not the end of the world.

Figure out what your character is training to do, then develop a routine that will develop those aspects of their body’s muscular structure. All the training in the world won’t help if they’re developing their body to do the wrong things. All training and all workouts are not created equal.

I hope that helps.


Fear is the Mind Killer: How to Avoid the Bully

Whenever you write a character who deals in violence, there is a threat that they will become a bully. This is a problem that every writer faces because we control the events of a narrative and thus the outcome of every fight. Even an author with the best of intentions can create a bully unintentionally and that’s a problem. In real life, it is all too easy to become a bully, whether that bully is emotional, intellectual, or physical is ultimately irrelevant. Your character doesn’t ever need to throw a punch and they can still end up one.

Remember, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a bully as your setting’s protagonist. When done well, bully characters like Vic Mackie from The Shield are deeply relateable and complex.  The problem comes when an author does not realize that they have created one and with the way Hollywood structures its films these days and the general attitude towards violence, a bully can be created all too easily. So, let’s talk about the ways bully characters are created and how to avoid them.

What is a bully?

A bully is someone who uses violence or the threat of violence to get what they want. This violence can be physical, emotional, or psychological. Emotional and intellectual violence often take the form of shame or shaming, a character who uses their snark or intellect to abuse others or shame them into shutting up is a bully.

How does one create a bully?

On a psychological level, a bully is created through fear. They mask their own fear with anger, so when they are pushed to feel afraid they react violently. The more terrified they are, the harder they lash out.

The problem with a bully is that they are not in control, instead of facing their fears they avoid them, run from them, or try to force reality to conform to a state where they won’t have to deal with them usually through the abuse of others. A bully cannot allow themselves to be vulnerable or the sham of the power they’ve created will be exposed. A bully’s power is consensual. They have power because they are given it, not because they take it. A bully convinces someone to give them their power through fear, it’s just that it’s their own fear that they are projecting onto others and not the fears of the individual in question.

In a written work, the protagonist may become a bully not just because of their own fears but by double jeopardy, they could be representing the author’s. This is how they are easy to create, especially when the character is the “better version” of the author or a wish fulfillment character who has been allowed to run rampant.

A bully can happen when an author cannot handle being the butt of the joke, when they have a fight with or present an idea they believe in inside their book without presenting a counter argument or giving the other characters the opportunity to fight back. We are at risk to creating a bully when we say: “It’s going to be this way because I said so” and never give the other characters a chance at the spotlight. If your characters are winning by means of humiliation then they may be a bully. If they have the attitude of “see how much better I am than you”, again, they may indeed be a bully.

It’s easy to accidentally create bullies in our written worlds because in the end, the author controls everything. Characters cannot respond in ways that the author doesn’t anticipate or allow and when the variables are all too easy to control it becomes easy to win.

A bully can be created when we fail to give voice to our secondary characters. A bully can be created when the author plays favorites. A bully can be created when the writer dictates the state of the setting, if you do not allow for the opportunity of variables and for the unexpected to occur, and plan for that unexpected state, or even allow your characters to believe that they may in fact lose then we double the possibility that a bully has already appeared in your work. They are most likely on the winning side.

How do you avoid the bully?

The answer is simple, but also hard. As authors, we put a great deal of stock in our characters, we feel what they feel and in some ways live their vicariously through our imaginations. The greater the depths of emotion we can pull from ourselves then the more real they are. The trade off, of course, is that when they lose we feel it. If they are mocked, we may feel humiliated. If one of the problems they encounter runs up against the authors fears, then a bully may be created on accident by the virtue of the author not wishing to face their own fears and force the reality they’ve created to conform to what they want.

The problem with that, of course, as much as our writing is a fiction and fantasy, it must also reflect aspects of the real world and real human emotion. We write because we have something to say and a story to tell, a story that does not jive with the reality of it’s setting is one that leaves a reader feeling unfulfilled. We must justify everything our characters do and many of the problems we face in our world are ones that they will also face in theirs.

So, let your character lose. Force them to face the consequences of their actions. Allow other characters to disagree with them without them being evil. It doesn’t matter the reason why your character did what they did, those reasons may not matter to the farmer whose property was destroyed by the rampaging golem or the surviving priest from the church that was burned down to save a town from a pesky demon. The family of the possessed may not be grateful that your protagonist killed their child. Allow characters to judge your protagonist by what they see in front of them and on the merit of what they know of the protagonists’ actions. Actions can have unintended consequences, don’t be afraid to address them and allow your protagonist to shoulder the appropriate blame (or inappropriate, in some cases).

Don’t be afraid to call them out for what they do. Acknowledge their flaws. Let them make mistakes and be wrong, even when it’s critical. Every character must earn their happy ending and in most cases we actually decide their fates when we are putting them together in the pre-planning stages before a story ever gets off the ground.

Remember, violence always has consequences and those consequences are often unpleasant. A character who participates in acts of violence will be changed by them and the reasons why they participate will not necessarily change how other people around them will see them. Those reasons are important for how they live with themselves, other characters will always have their own reasons. Also, allow other characters to make up their own minds.

A character can become a bully, even when they are bullied themselves.

My two cents,


Weapon Primer: Elbows and Knees

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about elbow and knee techniques, especially regarding their combat versatility, power, and general usefulness. In fact, this will probably be a very short article because there’s not actually that much to talk about.

Let’s start by bringing this close to home and talk about the source of your elbow and your knee.

Elbows and Knees are joints:

This is very important to remember, not just because your character is going to be working with half of their arm and half of their leg instead of the whole one, but also because elbow and knee strikes are high risk versus high reward. Your elbow and your knee are joints. This means that unlike breaking a toe or a finger in your punch or kick, you break your elbow or your knee on a hard surface and its goodbye arm and leg movement. A broken joint is major surgery with the possible side of the arm never moving right again.

So, where do you take the elbow or the knee: soft targets.

A soft target is a part of the body that is unprotected by bone like the stomach, the groin, or the front/side/back of the neck.  You don’t really want your character putting their elbow anywhere near the vicinity of someone else’s face, unless they’re doing an elbow strike that comes up under the jaw. This is because the most armored part of the human body is the face.

Remember that feeling you had the last time you banged your elbow against a hard surface like a metal pole or a wall, or a wooden desk? Yeah, that’s what putting your elbow into someone else’s face is going to feel like.  An elbow is not a powerful enough strike to be worth that risk.

Limited range of motion means less power:

When used appropriately in close quarters situations, elbows and knees can be very effective strikes. The problem is that on their own they don’t have much power.  Elbows and knees are joints; this means that unlike a punch you cannot achieve a full rotation of the body. Remember, power comes from extension and from the hips, shoulders, and joints working together to achieve maximum effect. An elbow and knee halves that equation because you can only use your hips and your shoulders, instead of the full arm or full leg. Less momentum equals less inertia which equals less force which equals less power overall. A fair amount of fighting does come down to physics.

Now, you’re probably thinking: but I’ve always been told the best way to take a guy down was by kneeing him in the groin? Yes, but that’s not because the knee is a powerful strike. The groin has more nerve endings than anywhere else on the body, when struck the reaction is painful immediate in either gender. A knee has a better chance of reaching the groin than the foot, this is because the odds are the girl is going to be standing near to the guy already and the pants are a great visual guiding line for someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.

Proper application will overcome a lot of limitations. Unfortunately, an author needs to know what those applications are before they can use the technique in their work.

So, where does your character need to be to the other person for their technique to have a chance in hell of working?

You need to be nose to nose:

There’s a very quick way to double check that: lift your arm and put it out in front of your face, now bend your hand back to your face. See your elbow? That’s pretty much the full length of the rotation. Your character is going to be nose to nose with their attacker, probably in some sort of grappling situation. A front facing choke performed with either one or two hands has more range than an elbow strike. Elbows and knees are for those moments when you don’t have room to punch or kick, when you’re so close you can smell the other person’s deodorant and what they had for breakfast.

So, when should your character be using these strikes?

Elbows and knees are for when you’re trying to gain complete control of the attacker:

Elbows and knees don’t actually do that much damage compared to punches or kicks, but their limited range of motion means that the attacker can get away with quick subsequent repetitions and you don’t want to permanently injure your opponent. This is why they are often taught in self-defense because they are both easier to learn in a short period of time than punches and kicks, but also because there’s not a lot of chance that the student will actually permanently injure their opponent which keeps them mostly out of trouble with the law.

You can actually perform multiple elbow strikes to someone’s windpipe without risk of crushing it, compare to the half-palm strike which has a much greater chance of doing just that. The elbow and knee are good for stun locks, but not for killing.

So, what techniques can you perform with an elbow or a knee?

Let’s talk about it:

The Elbow:

Though the elbow only has a very limited range of motion, there are places where it truly does excel. The elbow is one of the only hand/arm techniques that can be performed in all four directions and the easiest and most natural one to do against an enemy that’s looking to grab your character in a bear hug. (A bear hug is a technique in which the opponent wraps their arms around both of yours and lifts you up off the ground, squeezing and nullifying your motion so that their buddy can come and pound on you.) When a character is coming in from behind but is too close for an effective kick, an elbow to the gut can provide the time they need to turn while opening their attacker up to an effective counter.

The bony tip of the elbow is rarely used in combat, because yes that is indeed exposed bone. Exposed bone against a hard surface is very painful and a person has quite a few bony places on their body. So, that advice Divergent gave about sharp knees and elbows being an advantage? That’s complete bull.

Here are the different directions you can perform with an elbow strike:

Forward: the elbow comes across in a diagonal arc in front of the face. This strike hits with the meaty portion of the forearm and not the bony tip, while it can go to the nose, it’s best to stick with safe places like the neck. This one will only work when your character is driving their body forward.

Up: Too close for an uppercut? Bring that elbow up under the jaw! Again, this hits with the safe, meaty portion of the forearm and not the elbow’s tip.

Sideways: Left or right will depend on which arm your character is using, the elbow drives out sideways into the incoming attacker. Again, usually aiming for the neck or the pressure point in the upper arm, because this strike does use the tip of the elbow your character is going to want to aim for soft places. Also, this strike has very limited range of motion and high is the only place it can really go.

Back: Bring that elbow back and the arm creates a natural triangle right into the opponent’s gut. If your character can time it right, this is an exceptionally useful defense when faced with someone attacking from behind.

Down: So, you’ve exposed the back of your opponent’s neck but you don’t want to risk a massive injury to his or her spinal column, drive that elbow downwards. Unlike the knife hand, this move is legal in MMA.

The Knee:

The knee is a nice stealth strike to the lower portions of the body, the movement of walking up to someone else can mask the character’s intentions and a solid strike to the pressure point midway up the thigh can take a leg out early in the fight. Unfortunately, because of the knees limited range of motion it only has one direction: forward. It also can’t reach the face and, depending on who your character is fighting, even the groin without help.

To use a knee as a finishing movement for a fight, it needs to be combined with a clinch. In boxing, a clinch is when an opponent has their hands around your head and is controlling your range of motion. Remember, where the head goes the body follows. The elbows close in around the face and they grip you tightly, driving their knee up into your body. Because of the clinch, the knee can reach the groin and even the stomach region which can be devastating for the fighter. When in the clinch, the opponent can even pull the head down and drive their knee up into your character’s face.

This is where the knee gets its reputation from and why it is bad news bears for your character or their opponent in that sort of situation.


Do you know if people with bipolarity could have an irrational hatred towards someone? And get too attached to someone?


I’ve looked around a bit and some people say they get too attached to people too quickly or have irrational hatreds and can’t explain it, but I really don’t know anything about it or why it occurs in people with bipolar disorder.

Do any of my followers have an input?

I really suggest starting with the DSM IV Entry For Bipolar before trying to get into the minutiae of behavior. Can they develop an irrational hatred for someone else? Yes, but don’t most people? There are plenty of examples out there of perfectly “normal”, “sane”, and “rational” individuals who develop an irrational hatred for someone else and act on it. They kill people over it and they have done so for centuries without the help of a chemical imbalance in the brain. The same is true for attachment, someone who is lonely may subsequently become too attached to someone else who takes an interest in them during a short period of time. What matters are the circumstances surrounding the character.

Or are you wanting a disorder that will allow your character to hate someone else just because they are there and they exist? In which case, that’s not really bipolar. Are you looking for a character who suffers from having high emotional states that they swing between so fast it makes your head spin? Again, that’s not really bipolar. Bipolar isn’t someone having an excess of emotion and it doesn’t necessarily lead to paranoia. Most people who suffer from or were born with bipolar behave like mostly “normal” people for most of the year, they cycle in and out of their manic states. It’s more seasonal than anything else, though what that season is depends on the person. If an event or action happens within their manic period it may set them off, it could be something small or stupid like accidentally taping over an important event, getting into a fight with their kids, getting a parking ticket, anything really could be a triggering event that will lead to a blow up. But it will only be while in their manic state and a few seconds later, everything may be fine and they’re back to normal. Do they hold onto those feelings for long periods of time? That’s going to depend on the individual and it’s not necessarily a hallmark of the disorder itself.

It’s also worth remembering that bipolar is one of the easier disorders to treat with medication. If you’re working with a character in a modern setting, you’re going to need a reason in the text for why they are not seeing a psychiatrist and why they aren’t taking steps to “deal with” their disorder. A character who knows that they are bipolar will behave differently from a character does have it but refuses to admit it. Bipolar is also one of disorders where you can track its genetic history through a family, if they have it then it’s likely that someone else in their family does also such as their mother or father, grandparents, uncles and aunts, etc.

Like all disorders, how much it affects their behavior will depend on how strong their bipolar is. Not all people with bipolar are created equal, people are individuals, they have different personalities and they handle situations differently.

Much like ADD, Autism, and Schizophrenia, Bipolar is poorly represented in the media and much of the information you’ll find on most television shows, in most movies, and in most books is painfully inaccurate.

Here’s what I think you should do if you’re serious: get a psychology textbook, contact a psychiatrist in your local area who handles disorders and see if they’d be willing to talk to you about it, take a psych class at your local community college or at the college you may be currently attending if you’re a college student, find out if there’s anyone in your own life who lives with the disorder who might be willing to talk to you about it. It’s going to be very difficult for you to write about someone with a mental disorder, any mental disorder, unless you yourself posses it or know someone else in your life who does. The mental thought process and the behavior will be too difficult to manufacture on the page otherwise.

My two cents.


I have a character skilled in hand-to-hand combat, spear use, and swordsman ship. The thing is, does using these weapons change said character’s build? How do I show the reader something realistic without drowning it out by over detailing the fights? And do you know of any good reference for this?

Build as in body type or build as in RPG?

If it’s build as in body type, then that’s going to depend on the kind of armor he’s wearing, not the weapon he’s using. I know, it feels ironic, but it’s true. The armor is the additional weight his body is going to be lugging around and has to get used to moving quickly in, etc. Different kinds of armor create different body types.

For example, your typical martial artist will have a body type that’s similar to that of a marathon runner: long and lean. If you’re trying to identify them out of a crowd, you might accidentally pick someone who does parkour instead. Compare to someone who spends a fair amount of time wandering about in plate mail, they’ll look a little more stocky like a gymnast with a lot of muscles built up in their upper body (shoulders, back, and arms). They’ll also have thicker muscles in the neck. This isn’t because the sword is heavy, most swords were actually light weight, it’s the armor (which also isn’t that heavy, it’s cumulative over time: more weight on the body requires more stamina to keep fighting for a longer period of time and stave off fatigue).

The other thing you need to decide (though the weapon choice may have already decided it for you) is which weapon is your character’s primary? My guess would be the spear, simply because they’d always be carrying it in their hand and it’s a weapon that’s very difficult to store (you can’t put it on your hip and it’s awkward across the back), so it’s what they’d turn to first. Then, to the sword, then to the hands. The hand to hand combat they’d be most used to and use most frequently wouldn’t be punches or kicks but wrestling and grappling. The techniques you need when an opponent has gotten past your weapon’s guard and is threatening to take you to the ground. They’d be supplementary techniques for desperate situations, your character’s first instinct is going to be: always reach for the weapon. He’ll either grab for his spear or move to draw his sword, depending on what’s available. In situations where he’s feeling threatened, he’ll probably move his hand to rest on the pommel of the weapon or grip the shaft of his spear more tightly.

When writing your combat sequences focus on what the techniques are doing, not what they are. You want to craft sensations intertwined with what the characters are feeling, leave the minutiae for when they’re not in combat. The best way to prove your character knows what they’re doing is how they behave when they’re not in combat. This frees you up to keep on point during the fight sequences.

Fight Write: Your Characters Weapon is also a Character

If I were you, I’d start checking out both the Italian School and the German School of Fencing, these are the surviving schools of European sword combat styles. Also: ARMA: Association of Renaissance Martial Arts and Wiktenauer a site run by the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance and contains the worlds largest library of historical training manuals. Both groups have experts who’ve written books on the subject, I’d check those out too.

On the spear, you need to do yourself a favor and pick which style of spear combat your character is using. I’m assuming we’re talking European for sword combat, but it’s worth remembering that almost every culture throughout history across the span of globe with access to enough iron deposits had their own variation on the sword and sword combat. This is also true for the spear. The Chinese version of spear combat is wildly different from, say, the Greek, but both are effective. So, narrow your scope. If you’re doing European forms of sword combat and not say, Chinese, I’d suggest sticking with Europe but unfortunately there aren’t that many visual examples of European spear combat available. So, heh.

The Hidden Fortress by Kurosawa show cases a sequence with spear combat. Hero with Jet Li has a phenomenal combat sequence between sword and spear. 300 uses spears, obviously, I don’t know if it’s accurate to the Greeks but it’s worth throwing on the research pile. Also: the Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce has some of the best fight scenes regarding staff/spear/glaive combat and hand to hand. I’d read her entire Tortall catalog, she’s one of the few authors I feel comfortable recommending. You can tell she’s got some experience with the techniques and this series goes over some jiujutsu holds and grapples in the early books. Those will be helpful to you.

 I also recommend picking up a copy of Wally Jay’s Small Circle Jujitsu and Taiji Chin Na The Seizing Art of Taijiquan by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Min. Dr. Yang, Jwing-Min also has several other books detailing both Tai Chi Chuan and Shaolin with a combat focus that might be worth a look. Both are great because they talk about concept, not just technique.


How does one exploit an opponents inertia, momentum, and body physiology? I thought that was their speed, weight, and power?

Yes, but thinking the other way tends to result in students putting too much stock in size, height, and weight. Most of the common misconceptions about martial combat involve erroneous assumptions about how techniques work and what kind of people have the advantage. For example: the common reasoning behind why women can’t fight is that they’re often shorter on average than most men, their build is naturally more compact than their male counterparts, and they often weigh less. The assumption is that because they weigh less and have a more difficult time developing upper body strength, they generate less force.

Not so.

Strength comes from the way the joints work together, because most women have wider hips than men do they can generate more momentum. The rotation of the hips and shoulders together is what creates the force for a punch. Their naturally lower center of gravity means that they can create a stronger base when dropping their weight into their feet, this means they can easily unbalance a taller fighter.

Terminology changes the way we see the world. Words influence perception, by changing our perceptions we change our approach to a problem. You don’t switch to different techniques to face a bigger fighter, you can use what you know against an opponent of equal to greater size. When I was studying martial arts, our techniques weren’t broken down to: here’s a special set for facing a big guy, here’s the normal set for everyone else. What matters is what you know versus what they know.

If you want to exploit someone’s technique, you have to figure out how the body functions and how the pieces work together. For example: someone swings at me, I lean back, they miss, but their momentum will continue to carry them forward and because of that momentum it will take slightly longer for them to come back around. In the meantime, they’re vulnerable. I hit them in the ribcage they’ve provided for me, or depending on what’s open to me I might go for the shoulder. The shoulder is a joint, stun lock the joint and they can’t use that arm for another swing. Now, they’re in pain and they only have one arm they can use. Pain and fear are distracting, they lock up the mind. I have more openings, depending on what I have I could go to the stomach or since I’m already high, I could go to the throat with an elbow. When they have reached the point where they can no longer fight back, I leave.

This is how you exploit: one technique to the next, to the next, when you have your opening don’t let up until they’re done. Debilitate, incapacitate, and finish them off. So the question is: how does the body work together and what points on the body can I exploit to keep them from attacking me?

Let’s do another: a shin is exposed bone that’s unprotected by the muscles of the body, when hit it hurts. Now, pain has distracted my opponent. He’s facing me, his feet are on an even line between each other. Because I’ve kicked him, I have to put my foot somewhere, I step down between his feet. I’ve now changed the balance equation, I put my hand on his chest and push, he stumbles backwards. Now, he’s far away from me and outside of hand range: front kick to the stomach. Now, his shin is hurting and the wind is knocked out of him, the fight may end here or if he’s not done yet, I may step forwards and since he’s already doubled over wrap my arm around the back of his head putting my forearm against his throat and arc my back into a guillotine choke and hold him there until he either passes out or dies.

Reaction depends on the opponent, the techniques your opponent uses will provide your reaction. Create opportunities from the options they give, know how the body works and what it needs to function, then don’t let up until it’s over. When martial artists talk about combat like it’s a dance, this is what they’re discussing: the give and take in the combat between fighters that begins to look very intricate to an untrained outside observer. It has absolutely nothing to do with actual dancing, but you know artistic license.

The problem is that writers and untrained practitioners only consider the technique and that’s all they see. They’re thinking: how do I exploit the technique? Or how do I exploit their speed? Their weight? Their power? That’s the end result.

How do I exploit their arm? There are lots of options: shoulder, elbow, wrist, the gap between the ulna and radius bone, the place on the upper arm where the biceps and triceps meet, the pressure point midway up the forearm. How do I exploit their leg? There are lots of options: hip, knee, ankle, shin, foot, heel, toes. How do I take their speed from them? Exploit their legs. How do I nullify their weight? Change their balance by moving your feet. How do I negate their power? Take it from them by using all of the above.

There are vulnerable points everywhere on the body. All you need is to know that they’re there and what they lead to.


I’m writing a fantasy novel right now in which one of the characters is a monk who uses martial arts. One of the problems that authors writing different worlds come up against often is that they must make up a lot of the details that others can just research. So my questions are these: is there a good way to make up a fighting style? What are some pitfalls to watch out for? Should authors describe real-world fighting styles instead? Any more tips you have for how to approach this would be great!

I wouldn’t recommend building your own martial art, even in a fictional sense unless you have a few black belts underneath you. The problem is that the innate understanding of how techniques are put together, which techniques are used and taught and how they feed into each other and build off each other as you advance up the tree just isn’t there.

It’s just going to be easier in the long run to find a martial art that fits your purposes and warp it’s history to suit the history of your setting. Preferably, it’ll be one whose history already mirrors the themes and philosophies your story supports. The quickest way to figure that out is by deciding what you want from the martial art, like everything it may require a lot of research into different martial arts and their backgrounds.

You might also want to look where you’re drawing your inspiration from for your story to begin your search. For example: while monks in both Europe and China did go into battle and learn the fighting arts, if you’re pulling primarily from D&D you want to go with Shaolin. The reason is that the basic philosophies of Shaolin, The Tao, and Confucianism are already present in the way D&D structures and puts together the monk class. Your monk may subconsciously end up reflecting those tenets even if you didn’t intend for that to happen.

When you know what went into something and the inspirations it took from , you can extract what you need back out. You can strip away the superfluous elements that are unique to the setting you took inspiration from and keep the idea you wanted to take without the risk of someone pointing to you later and saying: oh, this came from X. Most monks in modern fantasy fiction are drawn from the D&D mold, because of the Tao and the use of Chi (energy). Because of Star Wars chi is often accidentally translated into magic. If you want a Christian monk, you need to use European styles of fighting. Christian monks often carried staffs, cudgels, maces, and even swords (Friar Tuck is an example) because they would often be facing armed and armored opponents even among the peasantry. By the time the Catholic Church had spread across Europe, hand to hand techniques would have been mostly useless to them. This doesn’t mean they were less skilled, different circumstances call for different tactics.

Remember: martial combat is reactionary, what feeds the creation of a style is the challenges the practitioner will face in the world around them. By figuring out what those challenges are, you can then turn to a society that also faced similar challenges and find a martial art with a philosophy that will fit your setting.

Most writers start at the end point, the results are what they see. Don’t start there, back up to the beginning: what are the pieces at work and what sort of world do they build together to create. Know your world and you’ll find your combat style.


I have a question, I’m wondering how to write a fight between two people using their fists. How do they defend themselves what are the right movements? I just wonder what is needed to be taken into account to write such a scene. I’m sorry if this has been answered before.

Don’t be sorry! Writing about fighting when you have no practical experience is a difficult challenge and writing fight sequences when you do is still time consuming. There are a lot pieces working together and figuring out how they function is difficult and something very few writers actually do well.

Here are a list some of our posts that may be helpful to you:

Five Simple Ways to Write Convincing Fight Sequences

Fight Write: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Open Hand)

Fight Write: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists)

Fight Write: The Art of Stepping

Fight Write: The Art of Blocking

Tip: Fights Start for a Reason

ObsidianMichi’s Real World Fight Facts

Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose Part 1

The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose Part 2 (Brutality)

Unusual Martial Art: Street Fighting

Fight Write: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality

Also check anything in our Michael Janich tag, he is a very good instructor who teaches self-defense. I refer people to his videos for the work he does with concepts, where he actively explains what a technique is, what it does, and why it’s used before teaching the technique. As a writer, you need both technique and concept before you can put it on the page.

I plan on doing a write up on both elbows and knees in the near future. There’s a lot of misconceptions about how these techniques work.

Also check out Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series particularly First Test and Page in The Protector of the Small quartet. Tamora Pierce is one of the few authors that write fight scenes I feel comfortable recommending for reference.

Good hunting!


One of my characters is an agile and skilled fighter with a short blade, but needs both her lower legs amputated above the knee. With prosthetics, what difficulties or differences would this cause to her fighting ability?

Hoo boy. We’re not medical professionals and haven’t done a lot of research into prosthetics or their effect on combat. A lot of it is going to rely on the available technology in the setting and how good the prosthetics are. There are paraplegics who train in martial arts, run martial arts dojos, and teach others self defense. So, if it’s something you really want to pursue, I’d suggest doing extensive amounts of research.

But she’d have to learn an entirely new way of fighting. The feet, the ankles, and the lower legs handle our mobility, our weight adjustment for strikes. Fighting relies on footwork, not just for speed and agility, but to be able to perform complex strikes at all. It would take her years of work to be able to recover her fighting ability and she would never really achieve the level of prowess she had before in a competitive sense. There’s a huge difference between being able to defend yourself from an untrained combatant and a fight between two professionals.

This is just on the physical level and doesn’t touch on the psychological struggles that she’d face. Athletes and injuries aren’t a good combination, they have a habit of pushing to hard to fast during recovery and often injure themselves more. Someone that has been used to high levels of physical activity will face significant struggles when they’re suddenly forced to stay in bed for six weeks, when they can’t get up out of bed without help, when an orderly has to help them go to the bathroom, when their wheelchair (which she’ll need while she’s learning to use the prosthetics) won’t fit inside their house because the specifications weren’t built for it, when they can’t climb the stairs, when they’re looking at six or seven months of recovery and have to watch all their friends going off to do the things they used to do without them.

Could she retain enough mobility to continue in her current line of work? Probably not, unless you’re working with a futuristic setting. She’s going to have to figure out what else she can do with her time. I suggest looking up Oracle Year One by John Ostrander, before the New 52 reboot, Oracle was the most well known disabled superhero, you might be able to pull some inspiration from her journey and her transition into a different kind of superhero.

Here’s a personal story that might be helpful to you:

When I was twelve, I broke my left leg. I was training for my first degree black belt test at the time, that day our instructors were teaching us the tornado kick. It’s a jump spin kick where you perform a roundhouse, spin into a turn and perform a followup jump roundhouse. Do it fast enough and you start to turn sideways in midair. Anyway, it was on my third try, I’d finished the first kick and as I went into the spin, I felt my foot get caught on mat. My leg stopped moving but my body kept going, there was pain and then I was on the floor. I tried to get up, but my leg gave out like there was nothing there and I fell down again. I remember saying “I can’t walk”. It took two instructors supporting me on either side to carry me to the bench. My parents weren’t there and my mom didn’t arrive until the end of class, fifteen minutes later. One of the adult students gave me their jacket to use as a pillow, they took it back when they were leaving about five minutes before my mom came.

My master instructor carried me out to the car and my mom took me home, this was before cell phones. I waited in the car outside our house while she talked to my dad. Then, she took me to the emergency room where they put me in a cast and sent me home in a wheel chair because I didn’t know how to use crutches.

Our house isn’t ground level, every walk way into it has stairs. My room was on the back end of the house on the second floor, up a set of very narrow steep steps. The hallway leading back to my room was not wide enough for a wheel chair to fit. So, I slept in the guestroom in the front room for two months before my surgery. The guestroom was the only bathroom in the house with a standing shower that could fit a stool for me to sit on while I bathed. I wouldn’t have been able to take a shower in a tub and even with my leg wrapped in plastic bags to protect the cast (and later the external fixator) it would have been hard to take a bath. The shower didn’t have a handrail, so if I slipped and fell, there was no way for me to get back up. My wheel chair could not fit inside the bathroom, so I had to support myself by gripping the sink and the wall to the towel rack while hopping on one leg to get into the shower. Then, I had to sit on the toilet while my mom wrapped my cast up in a plastic bag. I also had to sleep on my back with my foot elevated on a cushion, I couldn’t roll over, and I couldn’t turn to find a more comfortable position in the bed.

My leg itched constantly.

For the first two weeks or so at school, people were very nice to me. They constantly offered to push my wheelchair from class to class, carry my books, hold the doors open for me, etc. After that, they stopped noticing, stopped doing nice things, mostly forgot about me. I’d always been a bit of an outsider, the weird smart kid with ADD but the difference between a mental disability and a physical disability is that you can’t hide from the physical one. People will see it and they will react to it: pity, disgust, curiosity are common. Mostly they don’t look at you, or when they do, they’re condescending to you, trying to be helpful without really being helpful like holding open one of the double doors instead of both and not really getting out of the way (you’d have to turn the wheelchair on a diagonal to get through and they were standing in the way). If you don’t take their help with gratitude (even when it’s not helpful) they get upset.

Things people say and do when you’re disabled that are really annoying: they use the handicap stall even though they’re not disabled and there are other stalls available, especially when they take the stall right in front of you because they’re ahead in line and didn’t see you, they tell you how lucky you are that you don’t have to participate in PE especially when all you want to do is to participate in PE, they ask to take rides in your wheelchair, often in inconvenient places such as while on the tennis courts, complete strangers ask to see your injury because their friends told them about it and when you show them they go “ewww, that’s gross!”. When someone takes your crutches and hides them outside the classroom because they think it’s “funny”. When people are nice to you because you’re in a wheelchair. When people think you can’t do anything for yourself because you’re in a wheelchair. When people think your mind got broken the same time as your legs because you’re in a wheelchair.

Things that are really annoying about being in a wheelchair: traveling between classes feels like going a few miles, you notice every crack and uneven piece ground, a slight diagonal in the ground feels like Mount Everest, having to roll all the way around a building to find a ramp, when a building doesn’t have wheelchair access, having to sit at the back of the class, having to get a new locker lower to the floor because you can’t reach your old, cherished one, not being able to go get a Christmas tree with the rest of the family and having to sit in the car while they go pick, having to sit in your wheelchair while other people bring you the presents even though that used to be your job. Having to wait for someone to pick you up and drop you off, because you can’t get home by yourself anymore. Not seeing the inside of your own room for two months because you’re in a wheelchair.

It all adds up and it’s a huge change in your life. Everything you once took for granted is gone and you have to find an entirely new way to live. If you’re really serious about having your character be a paraplegic, these are all things that you have to consider seriously for your story. It’s ultimately what the story is going to be about: finding a new way to live against the backdrop of who you used to be and what you used to do but can’t any longer.

I don’t know if that’s helpful, but it’s what I’ve got.


(I should probably point out also this happened when I was twelve, I spent an entire school year in a wheelchair and then on crutches. I’m twenty-six now, but I still double check every building I walk into for wheelchair accessibility.)