Tag Archives: writing tips

What would be the best way to portray a character who uses her smaller size to her advantage when it comes to fights? She is well trained and knows her stuff but she is often underestimated by anyone who doesn’t know her in the world she lives in because she’s small and female.

I think you’re going to want to be very careful when including sexism, even casual sexism into a narrative especially when violence is going to be an important part of that narrative. The attitude that comes from underestimating smaller characters or female ones isn’t one based in physiology, but psychological and, more importantly, societal attitudes.

These attitudes will not necessarily carry over when dealing with professionals. When working with the characters surrounding her, you’re going to need to remember two very important points: men are not stupid and female fighters are not rare, special creatures that will be ignored on basis of gender or size. Her cover will be blown the minute she starts fighting and will probably be given away long before then on the basis of body type, walk, the way she holds herself, and her movement pattern. Once that cover is blown, if the society she exists in is indeed much more hard lined and patriarchal, she’ll be regarded with a great deal more suspicion.

Professional warriors are a completely different animal than a non-professional one, they might overlook her in the beginning but when they turn around it will be with the same hard intensity that they use to treat everyone else. Unless she’s actively killing every man she comes across, her “secret” won’t be a secret for very long and if she is very good, then she will establish a reputation much more quickly than a male simply because she’ll be easier to pick out. Her position will be precarious.

Some really good reference material for this is: The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, Protector of the Small series again by Tamora Pierce, The Soprano Sorceress series by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Below are the materials we wrote up dealing with this issue. You may also want to remember that for female fighters in patriarchal societies the dangers that they face are much higher than their male counterparts and the force they use will usually match that. They are often much harder than the men, and much more willing to take the force further instead of less because more force is often required to be convincing.

Tip:Women Are Not Weaker Than Men

Fight Write: Learn to Fight Like a Woman

Fight Write: Some Thoughts on Height and Weight


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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7:00AM: stretch. Everybody goes home.

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps.


What are some of the physical responses to a sudden combat situation? For example, muscle tightening, heart rate, that kind of thing.

An increase to heart rate is usually a sign of adrenaline, along with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, and in most people, some fine muscle tremors. I think we’ve talked about that before.

As with a lot of things, how someone handles an immediate combat threat is going to be very specific to that individual. A lot of people freeze up, and some can switch over smoothly and rapidly. Specialized training can help with this. But, it’s important to understand; this isn’t covered in most martial arts classes.

Usually training comes in two parts: First is an awareness of dangerous situations, so the combatant will be harder to take by surprise. The second part is rote responses to specific threats. This can vary pretty massively depending on who the person being trained is. It can include drawing a weapon, getting to cover, tensing muscles (which you mentioned), or going into a stance. It won’t always be completely appropriate, but it doesn’t really need to be, either. The entire point is just to get the combatant ready to fight faster. It’s worth pointing out, with military drills; those rote responses can include lethal takedowns.

How well someone handles an adrenaline rush is another matter. As far as I know, this is something that people either learn to deal with through experience or conditioning, rather than traditional training. The more adrenaline rushes someone’s experienced, the less they’ll be impaired by it, relatively speaking. In general, adrenaline rushes work towards your advantage in hand to hand or melee, but work against you when operating firearms.


I have a Japanese character who is exceptionally skilled in martial arts.. lets say he is a modern day legend to some. Now I have it where he is skilled in karate, kung fu, swordsmanship and he was also a assassian/hitman type most of his life though he is very young for his experience but had to mature before normal puberty stages. I want to do a friendly yet intense fighting scene between him and an older family member for him to show how skilled he actually is but I want him to also lose the

Your character has a terminal case of “trying too hard”, best to take him out behind the woodshed right now, and put him out of your misery.

Kung Fu is not a martial art, it’s not even a family of martial arts; it’s a collection of unrelated martial arts that originated in China in a specific historical timeframe. Karate is an Okinawan martial art. Using either of these would be an affront to a Japanese hitman or assassin.

A Japanese Assassin would be a Ninja, full stop. They’d practice their family’s variant of Ninjitsu. Practicing Chinese martial arts like Wushu or Shaolin would be a stain on their honor.

A Japanese hitman would, almost certainly be Yakuza. These guys do not mix with Ninjas. To the Ninjas, and for that matter most of Japanese society, the Yakuza are street rats, it would be a disgrace to associate with them. To the Yakuza, the Ninja would be an uncomfortable reminder that their place in modern Japanese society isn’t earned. Also, like Ninjas, Yakuza aren’t going to be learning non-Japanese martial arts, including Karate.

If you’re scratching your head right now and saying, “but, Okinawa is part of Japan”, you’re absolutely right, today. Historically it wasn’t, and the Japanese still look down their noses at its people, their martial forms and weapons.

Here’s the thing; there’s the classic writing advice, “write what you know.” You can think of this as the training wheels of writing, eventually you’ll be researching new things, and writing about stuff you don’t have any background in, but for today, you probably want to trash this whole project and start over with something much smaller and closer to home.

I’d actually say, ditch the violence as well. I mean, from whatever you end up working on. Violence can be a very difficult thing to get right. Start with characters talking to each other, they don’t have to like one another, or agree on anything, but start with dialog. Build your stories in places you understand. It’s not what you want to write, I get that, but it will give you the tools to write what you want to once you’ve learned more about what you’re doing.

Also, writing characters in any culture you’re not intimately familiar with is very difficult. This is especially true of Japan, which, even today, has a very ridged and stratified society, with very strict rules of behavior that change based on context.


If in the near future, guns were not preferable for some reason, what would a sword made with modern technology and practices look like and what would it be capable of?

I’m sorry, if you really want an answer to this, “for some reason” will have to be a lot more specific. The short version is; I don’t see swords coming back into use anytime in the near future.

The only situation I can think of, in a modern setting, where a sword would be preferable, is if you were dealing with things that could take an inhuman amount of damage without being affected, and where lopping body pieces off is the way to go. I’m thinking classic horror monsters, here. Even then, there are shotgun loads, and anti-materiel rounds for that kind of situation.

If you want a crash course in using firearms to hunt the supernatural, I’d recommend Ultraviolet, (the TV Series, not the film), about modern day vampire hunters, who’ve adapted modern technology to deal with vampires. They strap cameras to the ends of their guns, in order to quickly identify vampires (the whole, no reflections thing), load their weapon with pressed carbon fragmentation rounds (to effect the wooden stake through the heart), use gas grenades designed to respond to the chemical weakness in the old garlic folklore. In short, it’s a very inventive (and at six episodes, very short), look at how one can adapt modern technology to hunt monsters.

If you’re thinking of some kind of apocalyptic event, I’d refer you to Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt. It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a group that sets off from St. Louis into Canada in search of a lost archive of pre-plague books. The main thrust of the setting is that the printing press is lost technology, but firearms remain in frequent use.

The problem being; guns are incredibly easy to manufacture, and basic gunsmithing is common enough, and useful enough, that it’s unlikely to be lost.

On top of that, an apocalyptic event like that would snuff out most of the interesting things we’re seeing in modern forging technology.

If it’s a technology marches on, kind of situation, then there isn’t much that could really negate the bullet without making a sword equally useless.

On what we can actually do right now, the only thing that comes to mind is cryoforging; I suspect that’s a trade name. From what I understand it’s just a tempering process involving liquid nitrogen to quench the blade. It supposedly results in an improbably durable weapon that will keep its edge through almost any abuse you can throw at it. I’d take this with a grain of salt; the only material I’ve seen on it was from a company that was selling cryoforged katanas back around 2002.

On the “in the year 2000” side, it depends on what your setting has, nanotechnology might be an option. Pick your poison on what you want a nanotech blade to do. But it’s worth pointing out that in the real world, nanotech research has gotten mired pretty heavily in patent conflicts, and the entire field is at risk of stalling out.

Carbon Fiber Weave swords are another possibility, basically this is a plastic, but it’s fairly durable stuff. I don’t know if the current iteration of the technology can hold an edge in combat, but edgeless training swords have been around for years.

If you really want to play in that range, I’d say dig up all the William Gibson and Neil Stephenson you can stomach. They’re the architects of modern cyberpunk, and really almost required reading if you want to push the envelope of what can be done with technology. For Stephenson, I’d recommend Snow Crash, and Cryptonomicon. With Gibson, I think Neuromancer is the place to start. If I recall correctly, Snow Crash is the only one of those which really talks about a character using a sword. Still, if you haven’t read them yet, and this is the genre you’re looking at writing in, they’re all worth your time.


Not sure if this has been asked before, but how do you write a scene that involves a gunfight? Obviously engagements happen at beyond point-blank so how does that work?

First off, I’m sorry this took so long to write up, this is a much deeper topic, and there will be some full articles on the subject coming in the near future.

But, to your question, the short answer is; not much, really. Fights at close range are very short, and will involve characters firing as quickly as they can at one another.

Some of the same assumptions also hold true, characters who have training and experience will win out over characters that don’t know what they’re doing.

The biggest difference is with guns, there is no playing nice. Any character that’s injured from getting hit will be seriously injured. Healing from a gunshot wound will probably involve months of recovery.

As with other weapons, guns are unique to one another. A character that’s used to using a USP .45 will be at a serious disadvantage if you hand them an M1911. Some of the basic theory and practice caries over, but the way you operate one is different from the other.

Bullets will penetrate light cover. If you’ve played a lot of recent military themed shooters, this should be a familiar concept, but games tend to undercut how severe this can be. If your character is opening fire with a handgun, there’s a real risk the bullets will blow through walls, cars, and whatever else, and hit someone they didn’t intend to.

In most residential or business settings, you won’t find cover thick enough to stop a handgun round, meaning the whole “take cover behind that couch/upended table/car door/lawn chair” tactic doesn’t actually work. Throwing a conference table on its side may look cool, but it won’t save your characters from getting perforated.

Military combat is a completely different animal. It focuses on long range fire, suppressing a target (keeping them from moving or firing back), while other squad members move in to eliminate them.

This tactic makes its way back into gunfights involving trained characters. In a firefight, their primary goal should be getting out of sight, and moving around to the side or behind their attackers.


Zombies, Zombies, Zombies

ljsalazarofficial asked howtofightwrite:

Hi guys. Thank you for your amazing work! I have a female character who needs to fight zombies. She’s not used to any kind of weapons and I’m thinking abut giving her something with a blade. I thought of a machete, but I’m not sure it’s the right weapon for her. She’s not particularly strong or skilled, but she’s a fast learner. Do you have any advice? Thank you.

The answer to this one got eaten by a grue when we were on vacation, so apologies for taking so long to get back to you. This is a great question! I love zombies, but it’s important to consider the kind of story and the kind of zombies you’re working with before choosing your weapon. In modern popular fiction, there are a couple different kinds of stories to work with. I’m assuming we’re talking Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead (comic)and Resident Evil (movie) type apocalypses and not the singular, got back up from the grave zombies of mythology and folk tales. Both are fun, but infect ya zombies come with their own considerations when choosing a weapon.

First: figure out what kinds of zombies your characters will be facing and the way they transmit the disease. You’ve got a couple of choices, there’s biting, fluid contact, death, and all of the above. You’ve also got your  traditional shamblers, runners, jumpers, and really anything else you want. But it is important to have that nailed down before you pick your weapon, because it limits the available choices.

A melee weapon is no good if it’s fluid contact, there’s too much chance of being infected by the back spray or the ooze that’ll leak down the weapon when it connects. You also don’t want any sharp edged melee weapons like swords or machetes because there’s a chance they’ll get stuck in bone and leave the character helpless to the zombie coming in behind them.

Remember, survival horror and even adventure survival horror isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. You can’t really kill zombies in any sufficient number to ever be free of them, there are just too many. So the kinds of melee weapons you need are good, solid bashing weapons that are long enough (at least initially) to keep the characters out of biting range and give the characters an opening to escape. Because we’re working in a survival horror genre, you want to pick a weapon like a tire iron or crowbar, a weapon that is easy to pick up anywhere but doesn’t seem like a real weapon. Improvised weapons lend a sense of desperation to characters, while traditional weapons make the reader feel safer, like the characters are more in control of the situation. You don’t want that in the beginning, you want weapons that reflect the situation and force the reader to feel their desperation as the world crumbles in around them.

You can upgrade later to something more real as the characters settle into this new way of life, I’d still pick something that’s fairly easy to come by in any sports store or Walmart like a shotgun loaded with deer slug (a good room sweeper) and a police baton, a tactical baton, or a fire axe. Staffs are also pretty good because of their ability to create a solid 360 degree defense against attackers and are very easy to learn to use. You want weapons that are good for handling numbers, not single targets and weapons designed for providing escape routes over victory. A character who stands and fights against the zombie horde is a character who is doomed, survival is key.

It’s also good to remember that zombies aren’t so much an exercise in combat as they are one in problem solving and teamwork, the fact that your character is intelligent and learns quickly is a good thing. She might become the planner on how to get what they need without pulling ten to a few hundred zombies down on them. If the zombies react to sound, setting something like a battery powered alarm clock or timer to go off in another room or house while they raid someone’s kitchen. The survival of the group won’t be based off of a single individual, but in the individuals ability to work together.

This is pretty standard stuff, but I hope that’s helpful. If you’re not already looking at some of the many different mediums surrounding zombies it might be worth it to take a look there. The Zombie Survival Guide, The Walking Dead (comic), Resident Evil (movies), 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Warm Bodies, etc are all useful for figuring out what you can bring to the genre either feels fresh or is just a very solid zombie survival horror story. The more information you pull down and a wider net you spread, the better a story you’ll write.

Hope that helps!


Is there some kind of moves in martial arts that resemble dancing moves? Like a really elegant, swift, and light way of fighting?


Pretty much, any master can make their style look elegant as hell. With practice and dedication, any competent martial artist can polish a kata down to really good performance art.

But, katas aren’t for fighting. They’re a set of moves designed to help students get used to shifting from one strike to the next. In theory, anyone can polish them into one fluid performance; but it’s kind of missing the point.

And, nothing will get you killed faster in a fight, than digging out a kata. It’s a rote set of moves, anyone who recognizes the kata you’re using will instantly know what you’re going to do next, and while they’re not standardized, they are teaching tools, they get around.

Here’s the thing; outside of a fight, as a demonstration or a kata or an exhibition, most mainstream martial arts can be performance art. There are styles like Capoeira that were specifically designed to be disguised as dancing. But, when a fight starts, the styles change.

In combat, martial arts styles are reactive. They key off what your opponent is doing at this moment. As an unarmed combatant, you need to be building momentum, building force, or working with pinpoint precision. You can’t do any of those things while you’re pirouetting around; you have neither the time, nor the energy.

More than that, at a training level, dancers make poor martial artists, and vice versa. To an outside observer, what they do may look similar, but on a technical level, the skills are almost completely incompatible.


Since you mentioned Jack Bauer and I’m a huge 24 fan, could you talk more about his fighting style? Also, what would be a believable background/fighting style for a character like him? Thank you very much!

As I recall, Jack mostly uses Krav Maga, with some other CQC techniques mixed in. I don’t think we’ve actually talked about Krav Maga yet; it’s a modern combat style designed by the Israeli Defense Force, which focuses on very close quarters combat. It’s a little strange that a Federal Agent would be using them, but, it isn’t completely unreasonable. The style was very popular for a few years back in the early 2000s, and you can still find schools for it in the US.

It’s one of the few actual combat styles that you can get training in “off the street,” though the civilian version is probably about ten years out of date.

Now, as much as I love 24 in a minute to minute context, there’s a lot of stuff in its background that just doesn’t work.

CTU is supposed to be a military or CIA operation. Before the Department of Homeland Security, domestic counterterrorism was a bit of a bureaucratic mess. Theoretically the FBI had jurisdiction, and if it was a bombing, they were the ones called in to investigate. After 9/11, the DHS was set up to coordinate intelligence gathering from the CIA, NSA, and FBI, to assist in the prevention of future terrorist attacks. It outright consumed a few agencies, including the Secret Service, ICE, and, I think, the DSS.

In theory, the CIA has never been allowed to operate domestically; the same is also theoretically true of the NSA. Now, that’s never really been the case, domestic actions by the CIA go back at least to the 1950s, and Echelon, an NSA surveillance network, dates back to the mid 60s. Obviously, this stuff goes down the rabbit hole fast, but the critical thing to take away is that, even after the PRISM leaks, the CIA and NSA aren’t allowed to operate openly on US soil. Meaning, at least in the world we live in, CTU would be a legal impossibility.

If you’re writing a counterterrorism agent in the federal government, today, you’re looking at FBI or DHS. DHS’s primary interest is supposed to be sharing intelligence, not acting on it, so really, if you want a Jack Bauer type counterterrorist investigator, you’re probably looking at a Special Agent in the FBI.

If you want the specific requirements for a character to be an FBI Special Agent, I could rattle what I remember off the top of my head, or just link this: https://fbijobs.gov/114.asp

The short version is, no serious physical impairments, including colorblindness, or less than 20/40 vision, no serious criminal record, at least a four year degree, between the ages of 23 and 37 (when they’re recruited). But, that link goes into some interesting details. (Also, question 17 still cracks me up, until I remember that it really was one of the most common questions they were getting for years.)

What it doesn’t cover is that military service, or a background in law enforcement is a plus. It’s not technically necessary, but a character who didn’t serve, and wasn’t a cop, will be somewhat socially isolated. As far as I know, this isn’t malicious; it’s just that the Agent in question won’t have the same shared experiences to help with making friends and networking.

The FBI does their hand to hand training at Quantico. I don’t have any real details on it, but it’s safe to assume it’s a fairly standard police hand to hand variant. Given recent trends in police tactics, it’s entirely possible that it’s started incorporating military hand to hand techniques.

If you want to avoid the FBI for some specific reason, all of this is still a pretty reasonable baseline for any federal agent.

Jack’s background in Special Forces is, let’s call it “difficult to justify”. Ex-Special Forces has become a flashcard for badass, but, as with a lot of things, it tends to get massively misunderstood by people on the outside. I’ll probably come back to this at a later date, but, in general, people who come out of the Special Forces programs aren’t really well suited for jobs in law enforcement. Most often, this is used to designate a character as trained in combat, just like, literally, everyone  that serves in the Armed Services.

My final advice on writing a character like Jack Bauer is; don’t. The only reason Bauer works at all is Kiefer Sutherland’s performance; he’s walking a very fine tightrope to keep the character likable. On paper, without an actor to kludge the character into line, that’s going to be a very difficult mark to hit.