Tag Archives: writing reference

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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


And, now it’s up as a separate post.


Writing Violence Part 2: Cause and Effect

This is the second article in our series about Writing Violence. In this post,I thought I’d talk a little bit about Cause and Effect. For me, Cause and Effect are on the level of Show Don’t Tell in their importance both to descriptive writing and to generating a plot. Your plot is based entirely on a cause or an action and the effect of that cause or action on the characters and the world around them, your plot is put together through sequences of scenes that are based around your characters’ actions, their reactions, and the world’s or society’s reactions to those actions. Causes and their effects can be big and small, when working with violence, be that violence intellectual, emotional, or physical, and be those causes and effects big or small, they are all important to developing a realistic feeling in your story as a whole and in your characters individual actions.

Starke and I refer to this sense of realism as weight, as in your story feels grounded in reality. Ultimately, when we discuss realism in writing, it doesn’t matter whether your story is a high flying fantasy adventure, far flung future sci-fi, a historical piece, or a horror novel. So long as it crafts it’s own reality in keeping with the rules of cause and effect, you’ll be able to give your story, and the violence within it, weight.

Below, we’ll discuss how to do that.

Every Action Causes An Equal or Opposite Reaction

To steal one of Newton’s Laws, let’s talk about one of the biggest failures in fight scenes. Often, in many of the stories I read, authors are so focused on getting the fighting or the techniques used in the scene “right” that they neglect consideration of the surrounding details.

Take, for example, the line: “Virginia punched Charles in the gut.”

Now, in other kinds of descriptive writing, I might ask what kind of punch it was, but that’s not the most important question that you should be considering when looking to improve the sentence and the scene. The real question is: what happened to Charles?

Without changing much, we can improve the scene by adding a second line.

Virginia punched Charles in the gut. Body curling forward, Charles stumbled back as his hands rose to grasp his stomach.

Neither of these is, admittedly, very good, but see how much the scene improves? Charles’ body curling in to protect the important bits is a natural reaction to the pain inflicted on it by Virginia.

Now, let’s expand on the concept by adding a bench and another character named Amelia to the scene.

Virgina walked toward Charles. Instead of extending her hand in friendship as he’d expected, her fingers clenched into a fist. She rolled them over, slamming her knuckles up into his gut. Body curling forwards, Charles’ eyes widened as he exhaled sharply. As he should, she thought with a smile, all the air he’d stored up had just been forcibly expelled from his diaphragm.

“Charles!” Amelia, his girlfriend, shouted.

Charles stumbled back, calves knocking into the park bench not a foot behind him. The bench rocked and Charles tipped too far forwards onto the balls of his feet. Head swaying and green faced, he fell. His knees hit the dusty ground. His eyes rolled back. He leaned forward, inches from the toes of Virginia’s calf skin boots and, then, he hurked.

The scent of half-digested turkey and sausage stuffing lingered in Virginia’s nose.

“Charles!” Amelia cried again as she sank down beside him, gripping his shoulders. She glanced up at Virginia, her eyes harsh, flat, and furious. “What have you done?”

Virginia’s action of punching Charles causes the physical reaction of him throwing up on her shoes and Amelia’s emotional response condemning it. Violence is both physical and emotional in the reactions it evokes and should be represented in the destruction it causes on the surrounding environment. Remember, the glasses, chairs, tables, and tankards your characters destroy in a bar brawl are valuable property to the owner of that establishment. Your characters may have to pay the cost or risk never being able to go back there. The characters they beat up in the bar are going to be someone’s husband, sister, or friend. They may be more beloved in the community that they’re part of than your wandering drifters. Also, breaking a bottle will involve your character getting glass a fist full of glass embedded in their hand. A prolonged fight will cause your character to perspire and they run the risk of getting sweat (or blood) in their eyes.

Important details run from big to small, but they all work together to create that ‘weight’, that feeling of realism in your work. X happened so Y was the response. When Beth kicked James through the door, she broke it and had to pay $200 to repair it. When Jenna threw her dishware at a home invader, she had to buy paper plates to eat off of for that evening and she invited her friend John to stay over because she no longer felt safe. Then, Jenna cut her finger cleaning up the ceramic remains and had to repaint the walls where the plates hit.

This is the important push and pull, action and reaction, the consequences of even the most flawless plans yielding unintended catastrophe and unexpected results. This is important to remember when writing scenes involving violence because it is inherently divisive. Characters who engage in violence, even when that violence is justified, face harsher penalties and greater risks both to their physical selves and in their personal life.

Once you begin to think in these terms, the tension and drama inherent in your story will naturally unfold and writing violence will come a little easier.


Would you buy a kick heavy character using armored boots given that: A: The setting is a semi-realistic Superhero world. Superpowers break physics, technology ect. is typically limited normally. B: Char can have aerial control due to an ability and can range from extremely trained human strength and speed to slightly superhuman. C: He has a tendency to kick and punch things that are dangerous. D: Purely aerial I think kicks lack power, so then maybe finesse footblade strikes using the control?

The part I’m going to have to stop you on is Letter D. Aerial kicks don’t lack power, they substantially enhance it.They are more difficult to land and tiring to execute, however the tradeoff is that they are much, much more deadly.

This how kicks work, essentially:

Basic Kicks (front kick, sidekick, roundhouse, back kick): these kicks are your bread and butter kicks, they are the easiest to learn to do and the easiest to land in combat.

These four come with a jumping version. The jumping version of these kicks is more dangerous than the standing because there is more movement involved, the running jump (run and then jump) versions of these kicks is even more deadly than just jumping, because again force = mass x acceleration, the more acceleration you have the more powerful the kick. A general front kick might just knock someone’s teeth out and snap their head back, a running jump front kick with a solid connection could potentially collapse the breast bone.

Spin Kicks: these are kicks like the wheel kick and the spinning crescent kick that aim for the head, essentially any kick that involves spinning to create more momentum to whip around and connect. These kicks are more advanced (more moving pieces), but are more dangerous. They also come with a jump version.

Most of the Taekwondo kicks come with a jump component, actually.

Then, finally, we have the very super flying death kicks like the Tornado Kick, which is a kick that involves two pieces, a beginning roundhouse to gain speed before the fighter launches themselves into the air with a second spinning roundhouse. Go look up the many videos on the internet involving tornado kicks and knockouts (also wheel kicks and knockouts). Also, watch anything Van Damme did ever.

When you see most jump kicks done in movies on even just on television, you’ll notice that the kicks are performed with the other actor or stunt double a good foot or so away. This is because of how dangerous the kick is and how difficult it is to control (on the power side). When these kicks are brought into play, they run the risk of someone (both the stunt double/actor performing the kick and the person they are performing it at) getting hurt. You can’t really control a jump kick in the same way that you can a normal kick because of the amount of force involved. It’s why a jump kick usually comes at the end of a combination because it’s the finishing move. The other attacks make sure that the opponent cannot run, so that the attacker then has the time they need to knock their opponent’s block off.

So, with that in mind, assume for a moment, that the armor your character wears on his feet do not impede his kicking at all (by virtue of some super powered enhancement), this means that his feet will be even more dangerous and prone to bone-breaking than they were already when on the ground. Jump kicks are among the most damaging and advanced weapons in a martial artists arsenal, they are also the most risky because if they miss, there’s not much chance of recovery. So, we have a character who doesn’t mind plowing through an enemy’s chest or dislodging an enemy’s skull, essentially risking (with armor definitely) killing them and doesn’t mind taking chances as they leap and bound through the air.

This isn’t a bad character, in fact, it could be a very interesting one. But, I’m not sure that’s what you were looking for.


Van Damme. You want to write a character who kicks, it’s time to sit down and watch everything Van Damme has been in ever. No, I’m not kidding. His acting may be laughable but his technique is flawless. Really.

Start going through Korean action movies, you can find quite a few of them online (or clips from their fight scenes). The most common martial art featured in South Korea’s action movies is Taekwondo and there are quite a few amazing martial artists (of both genders) featured in them as primary and some great stunts. See where the internet takes you, but it’s a good visual study.

Also, if you can find it watch the Taekwondo episode of Human Weapon to see one of the guys break his knee on a tornado kick and Bill Duff get knocked out by a wheel kick.


My character is cornered and only has an umbrella to protect herself. How would she go about doing this and is it possible? What other last minute makeshift weapons are there? Such as a cane or a chair, etc.

You can indeed use an umbrella as a weapon for self-defense. They even sell metal ones for precisely that purpose.Real Self-Defense: Unbreakable Umbrella Under the video section on the website, you can find some instructional videos that may give you a few ideas. However, it’s important to remember that a normal umbrella will work differently from one that has been specifically designed around combat.

You can use it several different ways (that I am not an expert on) including using the end to poke someone and opening it in an attacker’s face. Most the techniques you can use with an umbrella are similar to the ones you can use with a walking stick, a short stick, or another long implement such as a tire iron or a poker found by a fireplace. The best thing to do, usually as an untrained fighter, is to reinforce yourself, hold it with two hands and stab at someone toward the midsection/chest area to knock them backwards.

Remember, the goal of a character who is protecting themselves isn’t to win the fight, it’s to do enough damage to the other person so that they can escape. This is something that’s commonly forgotten by writers because the sequence where a character stands up for themselves is usually tied to them coming into their own. It is very powerful, but is sometimes used so often (and in ways that make no sense) that it can get a little eye roll worthy. Again, self-defense isn’t about standing over the aggressor so that they know they’ve been defeated, it’s about escaping from a bad situation.

Almost any item can be used as a weapon, from a plate, to a coffee cup, to a can of beans, to a bottle of Jack Daniels (Punisher #Dirty Laundry WARNING GRAPHIC VIOLENCE), and others. Here’s a video from Michael Janich where he goes over some techniques using Improvised Weapons.

Remember, though, a weapon is only useful to your character if she practices with it. As writers, we sometimes have the common failing of assuming that the weapon is the important thing. It’s not, the wielder and what the wielder knows is what’s important. A weapon is just a tool and even the most unlikely items can be great weapons in the hands of a character who knows how to improvise.

Also, the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters showcase a character who uses an umbrella for self-defense. You should definitely check those out.


Some Thoughts: Emotional Blackmail

This isn’t really a post about how to write emotional blackmail or even what it is. This is more my attempt to point some lines that have become common in the writing of relationships that are so insidious in the ways that they present unhealthy relationships as okay and even desirable/romantic.  I’ll be honest and say that emotional violence is among the most difficult forms of violence to recognize because it hits and hurts so deeply but leaves no physical signs of abuse. A character that is experiencing a dysfunctional relationship may be blown off by their friends, family, and others who aren’t receiving the same treatment by the person who is abusing them.

Emotional blackmail is all about guilt and controlling the subject’s behavior by making them feel badly about themselves. They attempt to keep them with them by threatening them, not just with exposure, but through harm to themselves. “It’s your fault I did this. I love you so much.” is common. Emotional blackmailers are commonly jealous and controlling, they want the object of their affections to be with them only and are often insecure when they are with anyone else or behaving in a manner that they do not want them to.

It’s the undercurrent of blame in the discussion and the shifting of responsibility to the object of the blackmail that makes it blackmail. It sounds like they’re talking about you, but the reality is that what they’re saying is “me, me, me, me, me”. (Also, “your fault, your fault, your fault”.) It’s often an obsessive love and it’s worth noting that it can happen between family members and friends, beyond just romantic relationships.

Some common phrases:

“I don’t need anyone but you.”

This might sound really romantic on the surface, but the truth is that it’s actually very insidious because the expectation is the co-dependant response of  “I also don’t need anyone but you” with the expectation that the object of their affections will throw their entire life away to put the person they love first. They aren’t taking the other person’s feelings into account, all that matters is theirs.

“I told you, you have the ability to hurt me more than anyone else in the world.”

This phrase is insidious because it means that if the object of their affections steps out of line and hurts them, then they can blame them and play the victim. The person on the receiving end of that statement will feel that they are the cause of the person’s hurt and will be less likely to leave them.

“Look I am taking a huge chance trusting you and if you screw me over, I’ll probably never try anything like this ever again.”

This places the blame for the relationship failing directly on the shoulders of the object. If they leave or want to call it quits then the suggestion is that they’ll have screwed up the blackmailer’s whole life. They love them so much that they’ll never be all right again and must sacrifice their feelings (and whatever future feelings they may have) so that the blackmailer can feel safe and secure. A statement like this doesn’t take the other person into account at all. It’s about one person and ensures that the object knows that they will be the villain if they leave.

It comes in many different flavors and these are just a few of the possible ways it can assert itself. It’s always worth looking into what makes a relationship dysfunctional when trying to write them.


(Edit: Also the true killer: “I did X for you, why haven’t you given me Y?”)

Starke Edit: “If you really loved me…”

My MC kicks someone in the back of the head. Would the person be stunned, knocked out, or something else? Also, how long would it take to make someone pass out from blocking the flow of blood to their brain (via choke hold with elbow around the throat)?

Any kick to the head runs the risk of a concussion, knockout, or death. There’s always a chance, depending on the kick used, that the force of the blow will knock the skull off the spinal column (this is usually more of a risk with spin kicks like the wheel kick and jump kicks). How much damage your MC does to that person is going to depend on a few things:

1) How used to kicking they are, especially in the head?

There’s a difference in effectiveness between a character who practices three times a week and a character who almost never kicks and is doing it out of desperation. (The chances of them even being able to reach the head from a standing position if they don’t train their flexibility and muscle control is unlikely, but it can happen.) It’s worth remembering that most untrained individuals rarely think with their feet or legs in combat. If they practice a style that doesn’t have at least some focus on kicking, then it’s unlikely that they’ll think with their feet as an opening attack. A lot of whether it’s stun, knockout, even death will rely on how well the character does follow-through and (if they know what they’re doing) if they were holding back.

2) Are they (the attacker) standing or sitting when they perform the kick?

If they are sitting when the kick is performed, then it’s likely it’ll just stun as they generate about half the force. A character who is limber enough can kick fairly effectively off the ground and while they are seated in a chair (so long as they can rock the chair back onto it’s back two legs).

A kick to the back of the head (I’m assuming it’s a front kick as opposed to a sidekick) from a standing position will connect with the ball of the foot, a kick done from a sitting position could use the ball of the foot, the flat of the foot (the whole bottom portion), or the heel.

3) What kind of shoes are they wearing?

This is important, because for a head kick to work on the street, it requires more than just very good muscular control, balance, and flexibility. The clothing and shoes must also be amenable. A character in really tight clothes, especially pants will have a hard time kicking to the head because the clothing doesn’t allow for that level of flexibility. Really tight skinny jeans without any elasticity, for example, make high kicks tough.

Heavy shoes like combat boots or shoes that provide little to no support like flip flops and other kinds of sandals won’t be very effective. The power in the high kick or any kick that goes to the head comes almost entirely from speed. Now, there are certainly people out there who are very effective wearing any kind of shoe they like (forget about high heels), but it’s always worth considering all the factors including the ones that your MC will have no control over.

The choke you’re looking for is called (at least my school called it) The Triangle Choke. It has a few different variations on the holds (hands clasped versus hand behind head), but the basics of it is this: you’re not using the elbow, you’re using the bicep to cut off the blood flow from (I think) the carotid artery when you squeeze. And the answer is not long. If the choke is done correctly, only takes 15 seconds to kill. If the character is distracted, they really could kill someone without meaning to. When we practiced this hold, the minute we felt it working was cause for an immediate tap out.

Things to remember about this choke:

The character who is performing the choke must be higher up than their victim, so it’s a good idea to knock them to their knees or make them stumble first. This can be done easily by simply stepping on the back of the calf to drive the other person to the ground. A taller character has to worry about this less, but it’s going to be a concern for a shorter character and something that they’ll have to work around. The choke itself is fairly difficult to execute if the character has never practiced with it (it has something to do with the alignment of the elbow and the victim’s jaw), they’ll need at least a few sessions of practice in a controlled environment before they get comfortable with it.

Anyway, I hope that helps.


I have a character with long hair (because of cultural reasons), so what hairstyle would you recommend to keep it out of the way in a fight?

We did an article on this! FightWrite: On Hair Pulling

You want a hairstyle that keeps the long hair tightly bound (skin tight) so that no opponent can get a good grip. A loose ponytail isn’t good enough. Modern “conventional” wisdom likes to assume that only girls are wussy enough to pull each others’ hair or that it’s “cheap”. It’s actually not true. Regardless of what is right or fair, both men and women will yank someone else around by their hair in a fight. The reason is that the hair is full of nerve endings, when yanked on their cause pain, and a good solid grip on someone’s head means that you can control where they go in a fight.

A character with long hair is going to need to keep their hair bound up and out of the way, or their opponent will snatch it and yank. The longer and looser the hair, the easier this is.

A ponytail, a loose braid, and even a loose bun will allow another character to simply walk up behind the character and take a hold of them, or grab it during a fight when they get in close enough. There’s no practical reason to ignore the hair, so most don’t.