Tag Archives: writing tips

Q&A: Drafting Edits

To what extent is it applicable to not edit the first draft as one goes along? I started to write Act 1 of my book. I keep going between scenes as I get stuck and have to add to the barebones writing ifvmine that is 90% dialogue.

queen-of-pinkskull

It’s about finding a creative process that works for you. Most of the time, you want to be moving forward, maintain the momentum, and complete the story before going back and reworking things. This also has a benefit of foreknowledge, so when you go back and start cleaning things up, you’ll have a better idea what things are building to. You can trim out details that were abandoned, and play up (or add) details that foreshadow where you’re going.

A lot of, “you must write this way,” advice comes from a good place, but may not be applicable for you, personally. Some writers, I used to be one of them, will start with nothing but dialog, then go back through and start fleshing out the scene. There’s still elements of that in my rough drafts. Lost of dialog, light on description. There’s nothing wrong with this, and no rule that your rough draft must take a specific form. If it’s useful to you as a stepping stone, your rough draft has done its job. If your rough draft becomes an impediment to your writing, it’s not doing its job.

The advice against editing your rough draft is for your benefit. It’s very easy to start redrafting pieces as you go along, get caught cleaning up one segment, and lose the bigger picture. By the same measure, you might work better writing the dialog and then immediately going back and writing the rest of the scene. If it works for you, it’s not wrong. If you find yourself writing scenes in random order, and later sort that out, clean it up, and turn it into a coherent story, you’re not wrong. If you write in segments, go back, redraft them until you’re done with them, and move forward creating a serialized story, you’re not wrong.

If your method works for you, it’s not a problem. No one cares how you got to your final draft if it’s good.

If your method does not work for you, trips you up, causes problems, distracts you, and prevents you from getting to your final draft, that’s a problem. That’s where advice like this can be very helpful.

Personally, from where I’m at today, I’d say, don’t go back unless you need to. There’s nothing wrong with a rough draft that reads like a script.

Sometimes you may need to go back and make notes for future revisions. If that’s the case, keep it short and simple, it’s problem for future-you to deal with. There’s wrong with simply inserting notes into your rough draft, and getting back to the content at hand.

Above all else, I strongly recommend not sacrificing what you’re working on at the moment to go back and build for it. You can do that at your leisure. But, I’m not you. If working on that foundation helps you put the later scenes together, then that’s the right choice for you, and the wrong choice for me.

Remember: you’re not being graded on your rough draft. It can be as messy as you’re willing to tolerate. Getting stuff down, being able to clean up and build on that foundation is critical. No one else has to see your drafts until you’re comfortable with them.

-Starke

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Q&A: Hatchets and Knives

Are axes and hatchets useful for anything? It seems like knives are just better by any measure but I would like one of my characters to use a hatchet/small axe instead

Hatchets are great for clearing brush, and making camp. They’re useful in situations where you need to rapidly sever a line under tension. Switch between a blade and a hammer.

Knives give you more fine control, hatchets give you more force on point of impact. This doesn’t you can’t whittle with a hatchet if you want, people do, but it’s not going to be as easy.

So, why use a hatchet? Because it’s the right tool for the job.

I know we sometimes stress that weapons are tools. This is, usually, a little semantic, when we’re talking about a rifle as a tool, it’s because this is a piece of equipment designed to do a specific job. In this case, that, “tool” distinction is really important because, both knives and hatchets are non-combat tools first, which have combat applications.

“Why would your character use a hatchet?” Because they carry one for utility, and are in a situation where it is available and they need a weapon.

Both the knife and the hatchet occupy a strange space, they’re not improvised weapons, but they are still, primarily, utility tools. I don’t carry a knife to have a weapon, I carry one because sometimes I need a knife.

The knife is a more versatile tool. It’s an eating utensil, medical tool, has precision cutting applications. You can do a lot with a decent knife. In that regard, hatchets are more limited.

Given options, a character in the wilderness would probably carry both in addition to actual weapons. In a modern setting that might a handgun, and a rifle or shotgun. In a fantasy setting, you’re probably looking at a sword or larger axe as a sidearm, and a specialized weapon like the bow, or a primary polearm of some sort.

If a character already has a combat axe, they might not carry a hatchet. They don’t need another axe that will do most of the same things. Similarly, if they carry throwing axes, a separate hatchet will be redundant.

If you’re running with the idea of some kind ranger type character, the axe is a natural fit. It’s a good weapon, because it does double as a tool that will be vital in their environment. They’ll probably also have a knife, because it’s useful.

If you want them using a hand axe or hatchet as their primary weapon, that’s going to be a situation where, “this is what I could get,” probably not, “this is my weapon of choice.”

Also worth remembering, the knife is an excellent ambush weapon. It’s very easy to conceal. If you just need to stab someone without warning and vanish, you want a knife. If you’re getting into an actual fight, the knife will rapidly lose out to anything with a longer reach.

-Starke

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Q&A: One-eyed MMA

How would having one eye affect a trained combatant in what amounts to an MMA match?

ohgodhesloose

It’ll kneecap their depth perception, limit their peripheral vision on that side, and if any harm comes to their remaining eye they’ll be blinded. The loss of peripheral vision is less important in MMA, though not entirely irrelevant. Getting accidentally poked in the good eye could take them out of a fight, but that’d be true if they still had both eyes. Remember, unlike live combat, getting injured in a sports bout means the fight is (probably) over.

The loss of depth perception is brutal. Combat relies on being able to connect with your foe. Being able to connect requires you to know exactly how far away they are. In situations where you’re already in direct contact with your opponent (ex: grappling and wrestling), the loss of an eye is a pretty minor consideration. In most situations, such as boxing, kicks, and other directed strikes, you need your eyes.

We’ve got an example here. UFC fighter, Michael Bisping took a blow to the head during a bout with Vitor Belfort in January 2013. The blow caused a corneal detachment in his right eye, ultimately leaving him blind in that eye.

Without shelling out to review Bisping’s fights, the overall pattern was an increase in defeats after the injury. His win rate was around 85% going into the match with Belfort, and by the time he retired in 2017, it had dropped to around 75%.

Can we attribute this to the eye injury? Well, no. At least, not confidently. Bisping was 34 when he fought Belfort, and was 38 when he retired. His last fight was with someone who was over 10 years his junior, and decided by a KO, 2m30s into the first round. I’m not going to blame him for walking away at that point.

I know we’ve said this before, but fighting takes a serious toll on the body, and Bisping’s record from 2013 to 2017 can easily be attributed to the fact that he was in his late 30s, and his body is wearing down.

I have a lot of respect for anyone who’s willing to keep fighting after suffering an injury like that. And he did keep going in the ring over the next four years.

(I have a lot less respect for the part where he didn’t see a doctor about the injury until after another fight three months later. I understand why he didn’t want to; he was afraid he’d never be allowed to fight again. But, it was a poor decision.)

He is also instructive as an example. Like I said, losing depth perception is a brutal disadvantage. Not an insurmountable one. You’ll have to work much harder to compete, but it is possible.

(Assuming you have two functioning eyes) Michi’s advice on writing one-eyed characters stands: Get an eyepatch. Live with it for a bit. No cheating. Go around with it. If anyone questions your choice in writing accessories, just be weirder than they can handle, and go on with your day. Get a feel for what it’s like to be missing an eye. Get an understanding of how this really limits you. Though, do remember to be careful.

-Starke

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Q&A: Catharsis and Agression

What do you think of putting aggressive kids in dojos to ‘let off steam’? Does this happen? Does it help kids be more aggressive or less, or does it depend on age? I read that the Catharsis thing is actually a myth but do you have any thoughts about it? Does it not actually involve catharsis at all?

That doesn’t happen. At least, not exactly. So two things:

First: Can you stick an aggressive kid in martial arts and see an improvement in their behavior? Yes, that works. It’s not “blowing off steam,” though.

Second: Can you find catharsis in violence? No. “Blowing off steam,” through actual violence isn’t cathartic. It’s not even going to really work out the aggression.

Martial arts training can provide structure to a kid. Again, that’s not something I personally experienced, but I was already in Scouts when I first encountered martial arts. So, discipline and structure were not new concepts to me.

Martial arts training can significantly boost your self-confidence. This I can testify to. If a kid is being aggressive because they feel threatened, and are trying to use violence to create a safe space around themselves, martial arts training can do wonders for tempering those impulses. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re acting out because you’re afraid someone will hurt you, having the ability to actually defend yourself from unwanted aggression is a panacea.

Catharsis is real, at least in some contexts. If you’ve been (figuratively) pounding you head against an obstacle for an extended period, and you finally overcome it, the feeling is amazing. That’s catharsis.

Can you experience catharsis in the dojo? Yeah. I haven’t, but it’s certainly possible. Nail that kata you’ve been working on, finally pull of something particularly difficult that you’ve struggled with, and you could definitely experience some catharsis from that.

Does catharsis purge all your ills? No. It’s the experience of overcoming a challenge. It’s the release of that tension. It can help your overall mental state. It won’t magically dispell psychological issues, but it might help you deal with them.

Where the myth comes in is the belief that you can achieve catharsis through violence. “Blowing off steam.” That doesn’t work. At least not with real violence. You might experience some catharsis from a video game, but that is a game. The challenges are delineated in a concrete way, which doesn’t reflect real violence.

Real violence is numbing. It doesn’t feel good. There’s no cathartic release from it. Indulging in aggressive impulses won’t really sate anything. You’ll get the adrenaline rush in the moment, but that’s not catharsis. That said, violence is addictive. (Or, at least, adrenaline rushes can be.) If you’re trying to work out your issues through aggression, it will create a pattern of escalation. That kind of behavior will not fly in any competently run dojo.

It’s really important to understand, the dojo is not Fight Club. You do not throw kids at one another and let them beat each other senseless. If you’ve got a kid in a dojo with aggression issues who cannot reign it in, they’re not going to be put in situations where they can express that aggression against anyone else. You do not simply let kids “work it out” through violence. It’s a terrible lesson, a liability issue, and simply doesn’t work.

Take this into a larger context, you don’t want kids fighting one another. I don’t care if you’re in the perspective of, “boys will be boys,” encouraging violence as a problem solving tool will teach them that violence can solve problems. It can’t. It can only lead to further escalation.

So, yes, if you have a kid with aggression issues, martial arts classes are a good option for dealing with that, but it’s not about “working out their aggression.” You’re giving them self-confidence so that they do not feel the need to resort to violence to “solve” with their problems.

-Starke

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Q&A: For Fiction, There’s No Superior Fighting Style

slutside-out said to howtofightwrite: Are there any fighting styles that are vastly superior to others? In other words where one person’s very skilled in one form of fighting but would just be completely outclassed by someone who’s skilled in another form. I’m writing a story and there’s a scene where one of the best hand to hand fighters in the group is just completely ruined by an assassin sent after him.

“Superior Fighting Style” questions are one of those which can easily devolve into fanwank. (See: katana fans.) Basically, contextualize this question as any of the loaded questions you would avoid asking about like “who is the show’s best character?” or saying “this couple is perfect and all other pairings are trash” when discussing your favorite television show. Expect heated debate with some (or no) validity, littered with good points and many inaccuracies, that eventually devolve into ALL CAPS yelling on some distant forum board.

There is no vastly superior martial art. The military martial combat forms are kept on the cutting edge for warfare in the modern world. They could (depending on definition) be considered “the best”. (Even so, you’ll still be getting into arguments about various Armed Services divisions about who is the most effective, like SEALS versus Army Rangers versus Force Recon versus Delta versus the Green Berets, etc. That’s before we start comparing different countries.) However, these martial arts are superior because they have been adapted to serve in the current environment and not because they are all the best all the time. There are plenty of other martial arts which will work better as a reference point for the character and their outlook. There are a lot of martial arts and martial combat forms with stellar reputations. There’s no unified consensus.

The superiority answer will change depending on who you talk to, and usually they’re overlooking some crucial detail the other martial art they’re degrading offers. You’ll get a flavor of the month answer like Krav Maga, Silat, Ninjutsu, Muay Thai, which is a disservice to the others like Hapkido, JiuJutsu, Judo, Taekwondo, Sambo, Northern Shaolin, Eskrima, Capoeira, and thousands of others. Taekwondo gets derided a lot by Mixed Martial Arts fans for its popularity, but the truth is that when it works, it really works.

Ultimately, mindset makes the warrior. The answer is never in the secret techniques but in the skill of the individual who wields them and their ability to face the unknown.

I’m pointing this out because I’ve seen a lot of writers fall into the secret or superior martial arts trap. There’s an initial urge to ask for the best fighting style for a specific body type or the best weapon for a character to use that’ll give them some sort of statistical advantage. The practical answer of whatever works best for you is a freeing one, but not usually helpful when you’re in a state of not knowing where to turn. You have to start somewhere.

So, where do you begin?

Start with this: your audience will judge your character based on their ability to act in keeping with their profession.

“There’s no different angle, no clever solution, no trickety-trick that’s going to move that rock. You’ve got to face it head on.” – Avatar: The Last Airbender

The application in the above quote is that only you as the author can prove your character’s bona fides and establish them by their actions. The martial art they’re using doesn’t matter. The martial art and knowledge of it is a reference point for you while you construct your fight sequence. As a writer, you don’t have to worry about visual accuracy. You need to provide enough direction for your audience to imagine the scenario. Understanding practical application and theory will take you far, even if you don’t have the option to take up a martial art yourself.

So, pick what you like. Go on YouTube and follow different martial arts professionals who discuss practical application, there’s a lot of good short videos from professionals in the self-defense field. Lots of martial arts specialists in various fields post videos both of techniques and discussing them in comparison to what’s shown in movies and television. The Black Belt Magazine’s YouTube Channel will introduce you to a lot of professionals in various fields from self-defense experts to martial arts masters.

What you’re doing here is performing a classic narrative beat where you establish the danger presented by a new antagonist through their sound beating of the team’s strongest member.

Here’s a quick list of things to keep in mind:

1) Strategy and Tactics: Plain Clothes Ambush

While the Assassin Archetype fits a wide array of combat backgrounds and ideologies, they are usually portrayed as being underhanded and ruthlessly efficient. The group coordinating and working together is the Assassin’s biggest threat, not the technical skills of a single group member. The best way to impact squad morale is to first remove the one who is perceived as the toughest. The strategy is sound, you take down your biggest single combat threat (especially when supported by the others) and freak the squad out. The best hand to hand fighter might be viewed as their linchpin. Group cohesion fractures, they stop working together, they start panicking, and they scatter. It’s much easier to target or fight individuals one on one, if it becomes necessary.

Remember, assassins aren’t warriors. They don’t prefer fisticuffs. They like weapons. They strive for single strikes in planned ambushes from a previously scouted area where they know their target will be.

For maximum effect, this assassin starts with a walk-up ambush and doesn’t give the “best fighter” the opportunity to even fight back.

2) The Skill Factor: A Killer’s Instinct

For the sake of narrative, you want to establish that his assassin beats the group’s best fighter because they’re better. The assassin beats the group’s best fighter because they’re more experienced, they’ve seen a wider range of fighting styles and can derive better counters as a result.

I’m not going to ask why this Assassin is fighting with fisticuffs or going in hand to hand as opposed to carrying a concealable weapon like a knife or if this best hand to hand fighter survives.

It can be a huge blow to the Assassin’s credibility in their introduction (especially a violent one) if you don’t let them kill. Killing their assigned target is their job, sure, but a dead witness is better than a live one and can muddy the waters of an investigation. Assassins are professional killers and, unlike other combat professionals, their credibility is defined by the bodies.

Film usually introduces an assassin finishing a prior job (effectively killing someone the audience doesn’t care about) to establish their skill and credibility. In your novel, you can’t rely on hearsay.

You might want to consider driving the point home by feeding one of your characters to them. (This “best fighter” character, for example.)

3) Cost & Benefit Analysis: Death is Better

In every engagement, your combat oriented characters will be running a cost versus benefit analysis both before they go in and also during the battle itself. This asks if the risk of engagement is cost-effective for their goals, and if they do engage what they need to do in order to both win and undercut any potential fallout.

Cost = the energy and resources expended to achieve victory.

Benefit = what they get from fighting with or removing this individual.

Risk = the risk of injury, and other immediate dangers the engagement presents.

Fallout = this is the negative results. Alerting law enforcement to their presence, making the achievement of their overall goal more difficult. Fallout can come from the noise of the fight, the number of witnesses, accessible cameras, having nowhere to dump the body, etc.

Death removes the possibility of witnesses, making it more difficult to identify them. Death means they won’t have to deal with the same skilled combatant again, which benefits them. If the skilled combatant is dead, they can’t provide insights into the assassin’s methodology, fighting style, or strategies; keeping any others trying to protect their target in the dark. An assassin doesn’t want their target afraid, they want them complacent. If their target is aware of a threat, they don’t want them to know they are the threat. You can’t build an effective strategy for countering the unknown.

For an assassin, if they are forced into situation where they have to fight at all, killing their opponent is the best outcome. Assassins generally view bystanders as ambulatory obstacles in the way of their target instead of as people, making it easier to kill them.

However, assassins prefer not to kill anyone but their target. That is the path of least resistance and the one which is most beneficial to their future. Their goal is to complete their mission, escape undetected, and leave no evidence that they were the ones who killed the target. They want to retain their anonymity because anonymity is necessary to do their job. Their target is their goal, any cost/benefit analysis be calculated around the death of their target, and adjust based on how their actions impact those chances.

4) The Number of Moves: 1 to 3

In the world of film fight scene choreography (and real life), you signal one fighter is better than the other through the length of the fight. For maximum impact in a complete shut out, the fight part of the scene will last about a few sentences. “Getting wrecked” translates into your group’s best fighter being taken down in one to three moves. The three is part of the opening combination, rather than retaliatory. 1) Destabilizing strike, 2) Follow-up hits somewhere more devastating/sensitive, 3) Last hit (usually with the opening strike’s hand) is the due final diligence to make sure they don’t come back/puts them out of the fight.

For killing blows, this is 1) destabilize on the exterior/hit somewhere vital, 2) finishing kill/an even more vital place, 3) making sure they’re dead/another vital place.

You can do this with a knife in simple combination:

  1. Make a forward approach with the knife hidden by the body’s profile or the arm.
  2. When in range, slash on an upward diagonal across the throat.
  3. Rotate the knife (if the knife is in a forward position, not necessary if the knife is already in an icepick grip), and come back in to puncture the carotid with blade tip.
  4. Knife through the back of the neck as you move past, severing the spinal column.
  5. They collapse, dying. On to the next.

This is a simple combination which makes use of the blade’s position in the hand (the ice pick grip). You distract them with the first injury (slash) which likely landed painful but superficial injuries, to strike the vital point (the artery) ensuring a fast bleed out, and the final blade strike through the spine paralyzes their entire body. Paralyzing them ensures they cannot staunch the blood flow to buy themselves time. They have no choice but to lie there and bleed out. This strategy also benefits the attacker because the more emotional and less experienced members of the group might break to protect their friend.

This is also just one potential option, there’s a wide array of possibilities when ambushing or striking with a variety of hand to hand techniques/weapons.

The only problem with this scenario and approach is that if the assassin’s target isn’t the squad itself but a single member or someone they’re protecting then attacking head on doesn’t really benefit them. A competent group will sacrifice one or two soldiers upfront to stop the assassin, while they hustle the target to safety. Bodyguards always prioritize their protectees over stopping the assassin. Attacking this way, in clear view, the assassin reduces their chances of completing the job.

When setting up this scene, keep the assassin’s goals in mind. It can be easy to try and structure a fight scene around what you want to happen, but always make sure the character motivations are backing that up. If you’re imagining a Byung Hun Lee type assassin from R.E.D. 2. (By the by, that’s Taekwondo.) Or John Wick, both are the typical Hollywood badass assassins. (The first John Wick film is notable for its use of modern shooting techniques like CAR. (Center Axis Relock), it’s worth looking at if you want to write gunfights.) Or like Lucy Lawless in the Burn Notice episode False Flag, you want to watch the full 16 minute clip or the full episode for even more good tradecraft to build off of. This episode centers around what you can expect when dealing with an assassin in the real world, the tactics and techniques they use, along with how to counter them. Another really good example of an assassin hewing closer to what you’d find in the real word is Vincent from Collateral. (Michael Mann’s films are also really good examples of professional shooting.)

I really recommend watching the False Flag episode and Collateral even if you’re planning to go with a Hollywood badass assassin.

Be honest with yourself about the type of narrative you want to write and the violence you’re looking at implementing in your novel. Honesty goes a long way toward narrowing your search. There are a lot of different approaches which are valid, what’s most important is finding the kind which interests you and then learning the applicable practical theories.

Last Note: If you’re interested in learning more about US Armed Services training, all their manuals (including special forces) are available online for free. It may take a few internet searches, but you’ll find the right PDFs.

-Michi

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Q&A: Amnesia

re: concussion types: you mentioned global amnesia being incredibly rare as a side effect of head trauma, so i was wondering, how bad would the trauma have to be to induce “i can’t remember anything” amnesia? most info i found relates to memory loss around the time of the trauma, not on total memory loss which really speaks to uncommon it is, but if you have any insight i would love to know! (also from what i gather, you’d lose not only memories but physical skills as well, reading, walking etc)

So, the correct term for what we’re talking about is Retrograde Amnesia. This is the loss of previously created memories. There’s a lot of potential causes, but as with concussions, it’s not about how hard you’re hit, it’s what your brain is doing.

In a lot of cases, it’s not even about an injury; simply, something in your brain doesn’t work right. Your brain stores and recovers a lot of information on a regular bases, and whenever something goes wrong, whether that’s due injury, illness, chemicals, electroshock “therapy,” or psychological factors, it’s amnesia.

The term itself, is a bit misleading, because it’s describing a wide range of similar symptoms under a single header. The term itself is basically just, “can’t remember.” So, technically, if you forgot where you left your keys, and wanted to be overly dramatic, you could call that amnesia. No one else would be likely to agree, but you wouldn’t be completely wrong.

Complete Retrograde Amnesia is incredibly rare. I don’t have a number for this, the rate of incidence is that low. It’s a bit confused, because things like dementia are forms of retrograde amnesia. So, this can become a question of severity.

The one I do have numbers for is Transient Global Amnesia. I’ve actually had the privilege of watching an entire TGA event from start to finish. The rate of incidence there is about 5:100,000, and events usually last for less than a day.

TGA is complete anterograde amnesia, with mild retrograde amnesia. In this case, the patient was unable to form new long term memories for about six to eight hours, and while the event persisted they were unable to recall events in the previous nine months to a year. This lead to some remarkably repetitive conversations. After the event completed they were unable to recall events from roughly six hours before the event started until after it’s conclusion, and my understanding is they never recovered those memories.

During initial onset, the immediate fear was that the patient was experiencing a stroke. Given the symptoms, that was a reasonable concern.

Lit says that the patient should be able to remember, roughly, the last five minutes during the event. That sounds consistent with what I saw, but I didn’t time it.

So, there’s a term up there, “anterograde.” Let’s describe these. Retrograde simply means, “moving backwards.” Outside of amnesia, you’ll most often encounter this regarding the movement of celestial bodies. Under the geocentric model of the solar system, planets which appeared to reverse course were a serious puzzle, and the phenomena was described as, “retrograde motion.” When you add the fact that planets orbit around the sun, and not the earth, it makes perfect sense. They’re not reversing course, it’s simply a function of the planets’ orbits creating the illusion of reverse motion. Planets are still described as being “in retrograde,” to indicate that their apparent motion has reversed from the perspective of earth, even though we now understand why this happens.

Similarly, anterograde simply means “moving forward.” (Worth knowing that, while retrograde derives from Latin, and has been around since, at least, Middle English, anterograde is a modern word.) When dealing with amnesia, anterograde is the inability to form new memories. IE: “Without memories moving forward.”

As with any other form, anterograde amnesia can be there result of a number of different causes, including some illnesses, chemical reactions, brain tumors, injuries, and stroke.

Anterograde amnesia can also be experienced as a result of being put under general anesthesia. This means, I’ve probably experienced this first hand, but have no recollection of it.

A concussion can result in either anterograde, retrograde, or a combination of both forms of amnesia. Usually associated with damage to the medial temporal lobe. Note: this part of your brain does a bit more than just store memories. It’s also responsible for spacial cognition. If I remember correctly, but I can’d find reference to verify right now, damage to the medial temporal lobe also result in epileptic seizures, and loss (or at least impairment) of emotional control.

Since we’re talking about neural structure, and way out of my depth already, let’s talk a little more about memory. You have at least two distinct types of memories. Episodic memories are things you experience. If you stop and think back to something that happened, that’s an Episodic memory. Semantic memories are skills, and abstract knowledge. While knowledge derives from episodic experiences, you actually store this stuff differently. (I’m not clear on the exact, chemical or biological distinction here.) This is important to understand when talking about amnesia, because what you have seen and what you know are different kinds of memories. So, the idea that someone can’t remember who they are, but still has all their knowledge and skills, isn’t that far fetched. Except for the part where they can’t remember anything about who they are.

I’m going to stick a note in here: You asked about walking, that’s not a memory. Your brain is pretty well hardwired to do that. There’s actually a number of basic actions and functions of fine motor control, that have nothing to do with memory. Some of this stuff will atrophy if you don’t use it, but you’re not going to forget it. One of the more interesting ones is swimming, as infants are born with a reflexive ability to (attempt to) swim. This atrophies pretty quickly, but, it’s interesting.

One form of amnesia we’ve all experienced is infantile amnesia. This just discusses the phenomena where people do not (generally) remember the first three to five years of their lives. (There are exceptions, but those are rare.) This is simply a function of neural development, and may be tied to development of language skills.

There is one last variety you should familiarize yourself with: Dissociative amnesia. This a psychologically derived. It includes things like repressed memories and fugue states. The patient decides (at a sub-conscious level) not to remember something. This can be because the event is so traumatic they refuse to acknowledged it, or any number of other factors. In some extreme cases, the patient rejects themselves. They forget everything. Technically the memories are still intact, it’s not they put their brain on a bulk eraser and nuked it. They simply will not interface with those memories. In some ways can be pretty, “laser guided,” because the patient is trying to protect themselves, and are the best suited to know if something’s going to cause problems.

As a therapist, there a fairly decent argument not to probe someone with dissociative amnesia too deeply, unless they really are asking you to. We don’t talk about this much, but when it comes to psychology and the Hippocratic oath, if the patient is not being harmed by their issues, or harming others, you don’t mess with them. A patient with a dissociative amnesia who is happy with who they are, is not someone who “needs to be dragged back to face themselves.” Chances are, there were really good reasons their mind went, “nope,” duct taped the whole thing in a box, and chucked in the back of a closet. If the patient comes to you distressed because they can’t remember who they were, that’s different. If the patient simply can’t remember who they were, but is fine who they are, do no harm.

Okay, that’s amnesia, let’s talk about why you should never use this stuff in your writing.

The amnesiac point of view character is a very, very, useful trope. It’s too useful. This is why it has become cliche.

When you create a new world, you as the writer, know the rules, you know players, you know all the moving pieces. Your audience knows nothing. At this point, you have to decide how to introduce your audience to your world. What better way than picking a PoV character who remembers nothing and needs to be spoon fed the backstory as they go along? The audience, and the character, will acquire information at the same rate as they progress through the story.

Amnesiac characters can also justify a lot of exposition. If they know nothing, then they’ll have to have all of this explained to them. But, you might have just noticed a problem, that’s not how amnesia works (in most cases.)

Someone might not remember that the person they’re talking to killed their sister, but they are going to remember the factions and other political considerations that govern the other character’s motivations. Some details will be missing, but the abstract knowledge should be intact.

Many amnesiac PoV characters aren’t really amnesiac, they’re simply audience proxies who are unfamiliar with the backstory, blundering around, as the world is gradually filled in.

Now, having just picked at this a bit, it works very well. Especially if you, (as the writer) are not yet comfortable with the setting. The problem, and the reason I said, “don’t use this,” is because it has become cliche, due to overuse. You can’t pick a fantasy novel off the shelf without accidentally knocking over eighteen more about edgy amnesiac heroes wandering around someone’s home brew D&D campaign. It gets worse when you get into other media.

There are some other good uses. One is an amnesiac character investigating themselves. There’s a lot of this in the thriller genre. Much like the case above, this is a bit cliche, but is also a situation with some unique options. Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity comes to mind as an interesting variant of this. Though the amnesiac spy has been done to death since.

Amnesia is a very useful, very potent, tool for a writer. It’s one you do not want to abuse, because, when misused, it will deprive your story of its uniqueness. If you have to chose between an amnesiac PoV, or committing to a PoV character that’s up to speed, pick the latter. It may not seem as easy, but it gives you more control than your realize.

-Starke

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Q&A: Cleaning up the Cleaner

Hi! I really enjoy your blog and it’s always useful for my WIPs! I stumbled upon your assassins posts recently and I’m wondering, what is the way to kill an assassin, realistically? Maybe intentionally, or by accident? Thank you so much for all your helpful posts!

The good news is, your assassin is basically just another person. When it comes to accidental deaths, they’re as vulnerable as anyone else. A previously unknown food allergy, an auto accident, or any number of other things that could kill a random person will also end them.

If you’re talking about engineering an “accident,” then, the same rules apply, but this stuff is a lot harder to pull off in the real world, so it’s less of a consideration. Though, your characters who were hired to kill the assassin could start by engineering a car crash, to soften them up. Then, when they’re recovering from their airbag going off, execute them and leave.

As for the best way to kill an assassin? A rifle at long range. Preferably on a semi-auto with the ability for quick follow up shots, and a shooter who knows how to use it. That’s a lot of options.

Note, I didn’t say “suppressed,” up there. Even a block away, firing from a window, the sniper’s going to have time to vacate before anyone comes looking. So, the suppressor just buys time they don’t need, and messes with the ballistics. A couple clean shots and they’re done. Maybe have a support team on the ground closer to the target to finish them off if the sniper doesn’t get the job done.

I mean, ultimately, assassins aren’t superhuman. Even when we’re talking about the mythical master assassins that may not even exists, they survive because no one knows who they are. If you strip that anonymity, they’re as vulnerable anyone else to being killed.

So, let’s step back from tactics, you need an assassin dead. You have options. First, you need to know who’s hunting your assassin, this sets the ground rules that will determine how effective your assassin’s tradecraft will be. Second, your hunters need to ID your assassin. Finally, once you have those two pieces of information, your hunters need a plan.

There’s a lot of people who could want an assassin dead. Who they are will determine what they can bring to the table.

Private citizens are, probably, the least dangerous over all. If your assassin is no longer in the same zip code, their options are going to be limited.

A cop (corrupt or not) is a little more dangerous. If your assassin is operating in their jurisdiction, they can probably call in a SWAT team, or something similar. They’re also dangerous because they’re specifically trained to investigate crimes. They have the best training and skills to track down your assassin after the kill. They may also have the training to kill your assassin, but if they don’t they can make a phone call and get people who do, and they will. Police don’t operate alone. A stray detective figures out who your assassin is, and next thing you know, every cop in the city will be aware of this, and keeping an eye out.

Finally, while a cop can’t hunt your assassin around the globe, they can share their information with other police agencies. In some cases, they may even be able to travel and explain the situation to others in person. They won’t have enforcement authority, but when it comes to investigating your assassin, they don’t really need that if they can cultivate a good working relationship with the locals.

Also, since we’re talking about globe hopping, it’s worth remembering, INTERPOL agents are not an international version of the FBI, they’re liaisons between national police agencies. They have no arrest or enforcement authority. Their job is simply to alert and inform police about criminal actives that have jumped borders. They’re a recognized organ of the UN, but they are administrative, not enforcement.

Ironically, organized crime figures have similar limitations to the police. If the assassin stays out of areas they have influence over, they’re (basically) out of reach. They’re not as well trained to investigate an assassin, and they don’t have the same resources. The difference is, that organized crime figures may have access to corrupt cops. How much control may vary, but it’s possible they could point the police at your assassin, just to make things messier. They’d benefit from some of that investigation, and might be able to turn that into useful information.

A spy with access to their agency’s intelligence resources is probably one of the most dangerous foes to have hunting your assassin. They will have access to highly trained specialists, their investigative skills are probably on par with the local police. In some cases they may even be able to direct local law enforcement or military responses. Worse, these guys can go (pretty much) wherever they want to pursue your assassin. Your assassin hops a flight out of the country, and for most cops, that’s the end. An intelligence officer has people on the ground there already.

An intelligence agency also has the resources to start putting together the entire picture. If your assassin’s been flying under a dozen assumed identities, given time, and resources, an analysis team can blow your assassin’s covers, and find out where they’re going before they get there.

For an agency to get involved, two things need to happen. The assassin needs to target someone that warrants the agency to look into the killing. (Or attempted killing.) We’re probably outside of the range of simple political hits, or witness cleanup here. The assassin was paid to kill someone who was important, whether they succeeded or not. Also, the assassin needs to be exposed as an assassin. This might sound obvious, but when we’re talking about “master-class assassins” in the real world, there’s significant debate whether they’re even real. So, to get an intelligence agency hunting them, their existence needs to become credible, at least to the spy and the people they report to. (This second part isn’t a particularly high bar to hit, but it’s worth remembering this stuff, “doesn’t happen,” in the real world.)

Once you know who’s hunting them, you can start evaluating how hard it will be to ID them. The reason is because people hunting your assassin will have radically different resources and skill sets at their disposal. Much like the above groups, the kind of assassin we’re dealing with will determine how well protected they are.

I’m using the classifications from that UK article in 2014, (which was paywalled sometime in the last five years.) You can find an article we wrote on the subject here.

A lot of amateurs (both Novice and Dilettantes if you’ve read the link), don’t really hide their identity. You want them dead, you can just find and kill them. This includes most hitters working for organized crime. They’re only interested in hiding from the police, not from their own community. So, if you’ve got someone who was hired to kill a mobster without family approval, finding them is going to be relatively easy if you have mob connections. Ironically, in a case like that, the hard part would be getting to them before the cops.

Because they don’t travel, Journeymen are also pretty easy to track down and eliminate. If someone has a reputation as an assassin, you’re in the know, and recognize their work, you know where to find them and who to kill. These guys are legitimately dangerous, as they likely have a military background, but there’s not much one person can do against an organized squad with similar training, sent to kill them.

And before someone asks, yes, I’m entirely familiar with the cliche where one person picks off an entire squad of assailants. That’s mostly fantasy. A squad that actually behaves and moves like a squad, will be able to outmaneuver and eliminate any a single foe who lacks superpowers.

I’m guessing we’re talking about someone more insulated. If your assassin is one of these master-class types, who’s working through cutout connections, they may be pretty well protected. Your people never meet the assassin, they meet a representative somewhere. That representative passes the contract to the assassin, and there’s never any direct connections between them. IDing them later could be tricky. You can’t take a city like New York or London and scrutinize everyone that came and went on a given day.

You need a plan to find out who this is. There are options here. Luring the assassin into a situation where you might be able to collect evidence on them, leading to their identity. Trying to use them multiple times, in different places, while trying to collect evidence on people who were in all of those places. (Problem here is, like I mentioned, it’s hard to filter individuals out the mass of people moving around the globe at any given moment.

I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be, though. If you’re wanting to burn an assassin, all you need to do is make sure your people are there, and can respond, to take out them out when they strike. Put a hit on your friend, warn their security detail, beef it up, give them the time frame. Assassinating someone who’s well protected is dangerous work to begin with. A trapped contract is an entirely legitimate danger, and one that will be hard to account for before hand. Bonus points if you’re supplying the means to get through the security cordon, because at that point you can rig “silent alarms” to their access, letting security know that the assassin is on the premises, and it’s time to start clearing the place.

Another solution is to pull them out of their comfort zone, sabotage their exit strategy, and hunt them down. With enough corruption or the right incentives, this may be possible in some metro areas around the world. Though, the “standard” answer would be someplace isolated, in the wilderness. Send them out there to kill someone, then hunt them down using advanced technology.

Of course, you could just hire someone that knows them. Though, that could get tricky when you’re evaluating their loyalties. Will they kill for you, or will they just warn their buddy?

So, when I listed intelligence agencies earlier, this is the only kind of assassin they’re likely to be facing. Even journeymen can be dealt with by local law enforcement, someone operating at this level may warrant that kind of attention. This kind of a threat can bypass a lot of basic tradecraft that an assassin may employ. That whole cutout thing might not work if the people hunting them can set up a Stingray without oversight or pull their all of the cutout’s satphone data via a National Security Letter. The kind of security necessary to prepare for this kind of scrutiny would directly interfere with your assassin being able to do their job.

As for a plan to kill the assassin once you know who they are and where they live, that’s the easy part. They’re just human. Find them, put a bullet in them. Maybe put a few more in just “to make sure.” I mean, you can get more creative, but the efficient methods will, usually, be more reliable.

So, goals are to look for places where the assassin will be unprotected (basically outside of their home, and familiar haunts.) Hitting them on the road is a good way to achieve that, as everyone has to go somewhere sometime. You can also exploit this, if you have enforcement authority over a zone that normally prohibits weapons. For example: An airport; you can lock the place down, and hunt them in an environment where they’re not normally able to arm themselves, and they cannot flee.

Like I said, they’re not superheroes, you can gun them down like anyone else. The only hard part is finding the assassin, not the actual killing.

-Starke

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Q&A: Remember, Fiction is a Lie

I read on here before that years of practice is very important and it is no surprise when an 80 year old master beats a 30 year old simply because of that. But how about if a character is able to live for hundreds or thousands of years. Wouldn’t it make such a character an absolute true master that no normal person can beat unaided by magic or tech? I’ve tried to look at fiction with such characters but it never really mentions this and these characters actually do get subdued unaided.

Well, consider this, when you’re reading about immortal characters, you’re reading fiction. Fiction is a lie. It may be a lie you want to believe, it may contain some semblance of veracity, but it is still a carefully crafted lie. It isn’t real and, because it is all in the author’s imagination, you can do whatever the hell you want.

In fiction, the author is not beholden to or have to consider any sort of realism outside of convincing their readership to believe the story they’re telling. More than that, fiction is notoriously inaccurate regarding violence in general. Often, these authors have never been in the room with actual individuals who are considered masters of their craft, experienced that remarkable chasm of awe, or felt the weight of being completely outclassed by presence alone. The end of the story is fiction lies to you. Again, the author crafts their own realism for their narrative and all that matters is whether or not their reader believes.

An immortal who was dueling with small-swords in France during the period when lost eyes and dual suicides were common isn’t going to be threatened by a seventeen year old with three weeks of modern sport fencing experience; especially if that immortal has kept up the practice.

This is a reasonable assumption if you extrapolate from the experiences of real world individuals. Fighting a master in the arena, utilizing their specialty, on an even playing field is asking to have your ass handed to you. In the real world, I’ve met men and women in their late sixties and seventies who are more limber than most teenagers. I once watched my martial arts master bend a solid steel rebar with the hollow of his throat. Crazy as that might sound, I kid you not. It’s a popular exercise shown at martial arts demos.

The irony is the upper limit of what human beings are capable of is, in fact, incredibly high, and most people are completely unaware because they have no exposure to it. Without experience, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the vast differences between individuals at various training stages and is, in part, where the trope “All Violence is Created Equal” comes from.

When an author has no experience with violence in any of its forms, they’re liable to treat all their combat characters as the same. We are all limited by our imaginations, just as our imaginations are limited by our knowledge and understanding of the world. A tiered system of power differences is easier to establish when you have experience. When you lack that experience, it can be more difficult to imagine the concrete ways your protagonist is disadvantaged by their immortal adversary. The author might not even realize how great an advantage experience is all by itself. Especially if they don’t understand predictive strategizing based on prior experience is more valuable than most of the techniques in a warrior’s arsenal. Fiction often treats strategy as separate or distinct character trait, rather than part of the package. This is part of why immortal characters inexplicably fall for obvious traps or ploys they should see coming a mile away, or acting in ways their narrative establishes is out of character for them. It’s all well and good to call your character a master fighter, but describing a master warrior and crafting a convincing character is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Violence is a vast, messy, constantly evolving business with a community that’s difficult to penetrate if you aren’t already a member. Martial combat skills and techniques are generally shrouded in mystery and hidden as a strategy to keep counters from being developed. The more information your opponent has about you, the easier it is for them to craft a solution to stop you. Combine this with media misinformation, urban legends, myths, and power fantasies, the novice faces a lot of difficulty figuring out what is and isn’t bacon. While the internet has given a lot of people more access than they had ten to twenty years ago, it can still be a difficult slog to sift through fact and fiction if you don’t already know what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, on the subject of martial combat, it’s a lot.

Fictional tropes often won’t help you much in unraveling the mystery, they’re far more liable to be even more confusing when sorting out how they relate to reality. The presentation of fictional violence in film or in literature is an art form all by itself. Understanding this art requires admitting that violence crafted for entertainment is its own animal, one which draws from the same source but is only tangentially related to the practical side. Add in the framing of youth versus the experienced elder, which is a central theme in many martial arts narratives and many narratives in general, and you have authors taking cues from stories which have no real relation to the one they’re telling.

An immortal whose body is frozen in their early twenties to early thirties is at their peak, they don’t suffer from the same issues as an the eighty year old human. The danger of the evil martial arts master isn’t their physical prowess, but their experience. Their aging bodies put them at a disadvantage against younger opponents, while their wisdom and skill make them deadly. An immortal doesn’t suffer from this weakness, they have the battlefield experience, the cunning, the skill, the wisdom of all their years, and the physical prowess of someone in peak condition. The scale is weighted even more heavily in favor of the immortal rather than the young protagonist, which is why mythological themes surrounding immortal beings favor ingenuity and cleverness over combat and brute force.

In the cases of the novels you’re reading, the author settled on artistic license to get the scenes and sequences they wanted for their narrative. The fight scenes might be there just to prove the protagonist knows how to fight or to showcase their skills. Usually, in the cases of immortals, that means they take a bath. They have to, if they’re a skilled warrior, in order to bring the protagonist up to par.

As a writer, you’re balancing audience enjoyment and your own desires against, in some cases, cohesive world building and realistic portrayals of violence. For all the smokescreen complaints about realism, people don’t want realistic portrayals. They just don’t want the character’s actions to break their suspension of disbelief. Learning this answer, many people might say, “then, if it doesn’t really matter, then what’s the point of learning about real violence and how it works?” The answer is so you can fake it. The general audience will accept it and claim realism achieved while only a slim segment realizes the truth.

In the end, reality gets in the way of the fantasy. If you look objectively at an immortal being who has survived through the centuries, crossed numerous battlefields, and survived as a soldier in warfare’s constant evolving environments, honing their skills against warriors who were also masters of their craft, you might think that a sixteen year old fighting them with a rapier and six months of sport fencing (consider the problem here, sport fencing doesn’t include the rapier and it won’t actually train you to duel in the old fashioned way either) sounds a little ridiculous. However, fiction is the great con and, like all cons, all about the slight of hand. If you can get your audience invested in the sixteen year old and their defeat of the immortal, you won’t get called out for being unrealistic.

As a writer, you control the perceptions of your audience. You give them the information you want them to retain. You direct the narrative. You can’t control what people take away from the experience of reading your story, but you can control what they read. As a result, you decide what matters.

The vast majority of folklore and myth across many cultures will tell you that fighting an immortal warrior in active conflict without any advantages of your own or just seeking to understand your enemy is a losing proposition. Modern fantasy often doesn’t agree — unless its specifically chasing or introducing folklore elements. The result is two very different narratives where the immortal is either just like everyone else or an immovable wall you need to strategize around. Go try smacking Koschei the Deathless around and see how far brute force gets you.

The answer you’re ultimately looking for is that the media you’re consuming was written by authors who picked a side. They weren’t interested in applying the experience factor, it didn’t fit with the story they were trying to tell, and that’s fine. There are plenty of other authors out there who have explored this experience side of immortals in depth. Highlander, Highlander: The Raven, Hellboy, Hunter: The Reckoning (most of White Wolf’s archives really), Dracula, and Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist immediately come to mind. Hell, even Lord of the Rings is filled with main characters who are technically geriatrics. (I’m looking at you Aragorn and your 87 years. And Legolas? 2900. Gimli is around 102.) There are many more out there, including a number of mythological monsters which require a specific set of circumstances to induce death. Most of the horror genre will drag you kicking and screaming into the dark where understanding the unknown is necessary for even a slim chance at victory.

You just need to expand your horizons.

-Michi

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Q&A: Concussion Types

in my story, for plot reasons, my character is in recovery for three weeks from a concussion. there’s no memory loss, but she passes out for 10 seconds and when she wakes up she’s nauseous and has slurred speech + ringing ears. how hard would she have to get hit in the head to have a concussion that is that severe?

This is going to be a bit nitpicky, and it’s not going to give you the answer you’re looking for, so, before we start, sorry about that.

Being knocked unconscious is a Type 3 Concussion (minimum). Nausea, slurred speech, and ringing in the ears are consistent with a concussion. For a Type 3, a recovery time between a week and a month is reasonable.

The rating for types work as follows:

Type 1 Concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness, and symptoms (or, at least, most symptoms) subside within ~15 minutes of the injury.

Type 2 Concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness, and symptoms persist beyond 15 minutes. Recovery usually occurs within 10 days of the injury.

Before we keep going, the symptom list is a bit longer than what you listed above. It can include: Confusion, impaired fine motor control, headache, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, sensitivity to light and/or sound (I think the other senses too, but I’m not 100% certain), difficulty with concentration and thinking, irritability, amnesia. (Also missing a few. This is brain damage we’re talking about, and it can scramble a lot.) (Also note, Type 1 Concussions usually only have mild symptoms, such as headaches and mild nausea. The more severe symptoms will, usually, push it into a Type 2 because they don’t go away.)

Also, before we keep going, worth singling out amnesia for a second. This one gets seriously misrepresented in pop culture. Realistically we’re talking about someone losing some time around the concussion. They may not remember what lead up to the injury, or missing a couple hours after it, and never will. Global, “I can’t remember anything,” amnesia is incredibly rare.

Type 3 Concussions get to pick off the full symptom list above (it won’t have everything, but it’s not limited the way a Type 1 is.) It also comes with less than 60 seconds of unconsciousness. Full recovery usually takes between 10 and 30 days. This is what you’re describing.

Type 4 Concussions involve being unconscious for more than 60 seconds, and recovery time can range from a couple weeks to more than a month.

With all of that said, what you’re asking is, “how hard does she have to be hit in the head?” The answer is, “hard enough.”

Concussions, and most brain injuries, aren’t about how hard you’re hit, it’s about what happens to your brain after you’re struck. A concussion is a bruise on the brain itself. Usually, the head is jostled, and the brain bounces off the interior of the skull, causing injury. This is just like any other bruise except the tissue being damaged is responsible for regulating the rest of your body. A relatively light hit to the head can cause a Type 4 Concussion and kill you. Conversely, you can take some horrific abuse to the head, and not suffer a concussion at all.

If you’ve been digging through medical write ups on websites and trying to figure out how hard someone needs to be hit, the answer is there’s no concrete rule. From a medical standpoint, concussions are about where you ended up, not how you got there.

Finally, recovery times are directly related to how well someone follows medical advice on recovering. There’s a lot of things that are personal to the individual and their concussion. Ex: you may not have trouble watching TV, but others will, and with a future concussion, you might.

Also, further muddying things, multiple concussions are cumulative, even over a long period of time. So, if you’ve suffered a concussion, you’re at greater risk of suffering future concussions from head trauma. Something to keep in mind if your character’s recovering from one.

Concussions are very serious injuries. If you suffer one, even a Type 1, you really should see a doctor, and follow their advice while your brain heals.

-Starke

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Q&A: Ship to Ship Combat

Hi, I don’t know if you answered this ask already, but how would you write a ship fight? Like a navy and pirate ship are fighting and people are also fighting on the decks? Thank you!

I’d take some time to brush up on the appropriate terminology, and the contemporary strategies. With ship combat, I’d also take some time to familiarize myself with the kinds of damage combat inflicted on ships of that era. I’m guessing you mean golden age of piracy, which runs from 1650 to 1730 (roughly), but pirates have been a factor in sea trade for as long as humans have been transporting goods by sea.

One bit of trivia that’s probably knowing is the difference between a pirate and a privateer.

Pirates are the bandits of the seas. They harass shipping lanes, stealing whatever cargo they can obtain, and commandeering ships. They may kill the crews, or bring them into their service. Worth knowing that during the golden age of piracy, pirate ships were mini-democracies, their captains were voted in, and could be replaced by vote. Additionally, the ship’s quartermaster had the authority to countermand the captain’s orders.

Privateers harassed shipping lanes, stealing cargo and capturing ships. However, they acted as proxies for a government. A privateer would carry a letter of marque from one of the European powers. These letters of marque protected the crew from prosecution (read: execution) by that power, so long as they were not acting against them.

Also worth remembering that, while the majority of pirates were men, many women became pirates, and even rose to command their own ships or fleets. Some disguised their gender, while others did not. There’s nothing anachronistic about a woman commanding a pirate ship. Notably, this includes Cheng I Sao, who, at her height, commanded somewhere around 70k pirates, across 1200 ships.

That should cue you into a major consideration. Is this a pair of lone ships dueling on the seas, or is it a full fleet action?

If it’s a duel, you’re looking at, roughly, Three phases. Encounter, Open Combat and Boarding.

The Encounter phase can shift dramatically depending on circumstances, and what the commanders choose to do. The pirate’s goal is, probably, to close into range without coming under fire. They may use landmasses or other natural phenomena to mask their presence, or they may fly a false flag in order to trick the other ship into believing they’re friendly.

Open combat is going to depend heavily on the classes of the ships. This is something you’re going to familiarize yourself with when you’re writing about naval engagements. There’s a world of difference between a sloop, and a frigate. This can also result in design limitations. For example, some first rate ships could not fire on small ships at point blank range because their cannons were too far above the water line. The trade off was, they could deliver that firepower at superior ranges. Suddenly the reason a pirate might want to get in close, should become apparent.

In the simplest sense, the open combat phase only applies when dealing with armed opponents, and prioritizes firing arcs, and broadside fire. If you’re in line with your foe’s guns, you’re in for a bad time unless your hull can take the hit.

Given the pirate’s goal is to take the ship’s cargo, they’re not going to want to stay in open combat any longer than necessary. They’ll want to close to board. At this point, the pirates will move to engage the hostile ship’s crew. How they get over may vary. Also worth remembering that most sailors in the Golden Age did not know how to swim. It simply wasn’t a skill they learned. So, they’d be going directly from their ship to the enemy. In the case of larger capital ships, they may be doing via smaller launches, or they may be grappling onto the ship and pulling along side it and boarding directly.

Let’s talk about crew for a second. If you’re worried about being boarded, and you have the option, you’ll include a contingent of marines on your ship. In the naval sense, any infantry fighter attached to a ship’s crew is a marine. It doesn’t matter if they’re fighting to defend the ship, fighting to board an enemy vessel, or if they’re being sent from the ship, on a combat mission elsewhere. If they’re part of the crew, they’re a marine. (I don’t usually think of applying this term to pirates, because of how their crews were structured.)

Once you’re talking about pirates getting on deck, it’s going to be a messy close quarters melee.

If you’re talking about a larger fleet action, during the Golden Age of Piracy, the dominant combat doctrine was to line up Ship of the Line class vessels in two columns, and unload on each others broadsides. You wouldn’t usually see Ships of the Line operating independently, because they were too valuable. Though, pirates might deliberately try to subvert that doctrine, or are more likely to avoid these kinds of engagements to being with.

The introduction of powered drive and ironside frigates would completely alter large fleet engagements, and the kinds of ships that nations favored for fleet operations.

Obviously, if you’re deviating off the real world with fantasy elements, some of this stuff might change dramatically. A lot of this might translate to science fiction settings, with adjustments.

Also, worth remembering, piracy is still a thing. Granted, now it’s more about small motorboats and small arms boarding super-freighters with small arms and RPGs. There’s no real ship to ship combat, just straight to the boarding actions.

So, like I said, some more research is probably warranted. This is a fun topic, and there is a lot of literature on the Golden Age of Piracy. It’s an interesting time, with a lot of weird quirks you probably will benefit from investigating.

-Starke

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