Category Archives: Q&A

Setting Goals for Your Characters

Not sure how to properly ask this but how do I write a fight scene between two characters who are both trained but might have different skill sets, while anyone still might get out alive that it could factor in?

Two things come to mind. First, it’s unlikely that you’re writing from both character’s perspectives simultaneously. Second, not every fight is going to be to the death.

When you’re writing a scene, it’s important to have clear goals for the participants. Violence is a way your characters attempt to exert their will on the world around them, it doesn’t simply occur for its own sake. (This isn’t a moral judgement; just that if your violence lacks motivation, it will come across as hollow. There are ways to leverage this, but, that’s a more complicated topic.) If you have two characters who want each other dead, then chances are someone’s not walking away. However, if you have characters with different goals, then any combat that occurs will be at cross purposes.

You don’t necessarily need to explain those goals to your audience. In fact, by default, your characters are unlikely to know their foe’s goals. That’s the biggest consideration in the other part of this question.

Your characters aren’t part of a psychic gestalt. They don’t automatically know what the other people around them are thinking, feeling, or planning. Even with an omniscient narrator, your characters won’t know their foes thoughts and plans, though the audience may be. With a limited narrator, you’re going to be writing the scene from the perspective of one of your characters, and, again, they won’t know what their foe is planning.

When both of your characters have the same background, it can provide an edge against one another. They’ve had the same training, and they’ll have learned the same strategies, tactics, and techniques. This means they have some ability to predict the other’s actions. They’ll be in a better position to predict their foe’s goals, and how what they’ll do to realize them.

If your characters have different backgrounds and skillsets, they won’t have that advantage; that’s the difference. They’ll have to guess at their foe’s methods, based on the information they have. They’re less likely to know what their foe wants, and they won’t know how their foe will go about achieving their goals.

So, how do you write two characters with different backgrounds in conflict? By remembering that they’re different people, and don’t know what the other person was trained to do.

-Starke

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Q&A: Unarming the Weapon Disarm

self-fulfilling-prophet asked:

What are important factors to consider when using one weapon to disarm another? i.e. using a sword to disarm someone with an axe vs using a lance or another sword

The caveat I’m going to start with is that weapon disarms, armed or unarmed, aren’t the violence “get out of jail free” card for escaping violence’s more unpleasant aspects (such as, you know, murder.) Weapon disarms are extremely difficult, time consuming, finicky, prone to failure, even in the hands of an expert. In fiction, the weapon disarm’s primary use is to demonstrate extreme skill differences between one combatant and another. 

The “extreme skill” differential makes disarms a terrible choice to lean on as an alternative if you’re planning to write a character who fights professionally but refuses to kill. (This is a Saturday Morning Cartoon character. A lot of writers who want the glory of violence but are uncomfortable with the idea of their character killing will try it.) On a literary level, disarms will screw your narrative tension hard. Beyond their use in the real world, weapon disarms are an action movie trope. They’re flashy, they’re visually fun to watch, they’re often used for comedic purpose, and, again, they provide the audience with a solid sense of superiority which connects them to a character. You’ll only see a disarm about one to three times per action movie and in very select circumstances. Disarms are what we call Fucking Around. (Trust me, you don’t want to find out.)

In the real world, attempting a disarm will probably kill you. This is true across the board. Armed or unarmed, skilled or unskilled, they are that dangerous and difficult to pull off. You’re far more likely to be killed in the attempt than you are to succeed. That’s why the real world advice is, “don’t, unless you know you’ll die anyway.” In the self-defense context, unarmed disarms are utilized only in a last ditch attempt to save your own life because it’s better to die fighting.

Now that we’ve covered the depressing reality, let’s move on.

Understanding the real world statistics for weapon disarms is crucial to writing disarms in fiction. Understanding the disarm’s combat role is crucial to correctly applying them in their fictional role and crafting characters who could convincingly use them effectively. They can rather easily destroy your character’s credibility, especially when utilized in the “get out of jail free” aspect. Or, you know, portraying them as easy.

Weapon disarms are among the most technical and tricky martial arts techniques and, realistically, if you’re here on this blog asking how to do it, you probably won’t be able to write your character doing a disarm without at least a few years of martial arts practice. Weapons or no weapons, the functional idea is basically the same. However, even understanding the theory, it’ll be difficult to grasp the mechanics without practicing those mechanics yourself. If you don’t understand how the weapon moves and the applicable techniques, you won’t be able to write a disarm because disarms are all about manipulating those movements and techniques past the point of no return. To put it simply, weapon disarms are joint locks. 

Yeah, you heard me.

The functional goal, theoretically, of a disarm is to get your opponent into a position via angles and pressure that makes it fundamentally impossible (from the perspective of body mechanics) for them to hold onto their weapon. That’s where the whole “extreme skill” differential or demonstrated mastery comes in. Your goal is not to take the weapon. Your goal is to force your opponent to let go of their weapon. The perspective difference here is very important. Disarms can be done by accident, but the chance of lucking into a traditional one is low (outside of numbing out someone’s hand or arm, which also works.) To get there, you have to go in with intent to disarm and control the fight from start to finish. If you can’t control your opponent and the flow of the fight, you can’t disarm them. 

Disarms also require overlooking opportunities which may end the fight more quickly. This extends the fight, meaning you have to fight longer to achieve the same objective. Ultimately, it’s an unsustainable practice outside of specific encounters/contexts. Given your opponent’s objective is not the same as yours i.e. “disarm” vs “end the fight by any means,” you provide them with more opportunities to defeat you using this method. This puts you, the one seeking to disarm, at an extreme disadvantage. This gets worse when discussing different weapon types, especially those of differing lengths, because, depending on which weapon you have, you might already be at an extreme disadvantage due to a combat concept called reach.

The length of your weapon determines how much distance is required for contact. A shorter weapon means you need to go to greater lengths to strike your opponent, while a longer weapon means you can strike sooner. Most swords are longer than the hand ax, for example, and have greater reach. Spears and staves are longer than most swords.

I don’t even want to think about disarming someone who has a spear if you only have a sword, or (worse) an axe. The stabilizing control of hands on the mid-shaft and end shaft is just brutal. Choosing to go for a disarm is consciously deciding to shift the arrow from horrifically screwed to completely fucked. (You’ll have a similar problem with any two handed weapon, so swords where the hilts are long enough for two hands are also an issue. You can’t do the fencing disarm commonly seen in film with any sword other than that specific type: sabre, epee, foil. The rapier can also be done, but the point of contact is different because the weapon is longer.) It is a lot easier to do disarms with weapons of the same type than weapons of different types, unless you’re using a weapon (or set of weapons) specifically designed for disarms, trapping, and breaking such as the deer horn knives from Baguazhang. However, weapons designed for combat in one culture do not seamlessly transition to having the same effectiveness against similar weapon types from other cultures. (Points to Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone for realizing deer horn knives exist, points deducted for trying to unironically use an the earth version in battle against space angels and their swords of unknown origin.)

There is no one size fits all.

This brings us to our next problem.

The types of disarms you can do is heavily dependent on the type of weapon you have, which is me saying: design matters. Historically, weapons weren’t actually standardized and there are many different types within a familial subgroup that extend far beyond the question of, “two hands or one?” There are all kinds of little quirks that could completely screw a warrior attempting a disarm, such as the length and curvature of the axe head and the length of the shaft because these will adjust whether or not you can catch/hold/lock the axe with your blade or spear shaft and the angle necessary to force the weapon from your opponent’s hand. And all this gray area theory is before we get the actual skill of your opponent themselves.

If you’re starting to think this sounds like complex math, you’re right. This is why in the risk vs cost benefit analysis, disarms lose out. They cost significantly more than they’re worth, especially since you can’t even guarantee you’ll have defeated your opponent once you’ve removed their weapon. Even if you succeed, you haven’t won. Why? Violence is not that clean. Once you’ve demonstrated you’re unwilling to kill to protect your own life, you are dead.

So, what can you do instead? Attack the wielder, not the weapon.

Attacking the body makes your life significantly easier and that’s why we’re trained to do it. It is much better to ensure your opponent cannot fight than it is to take their weapon because taking your opponent’s weapon does not ensure your opponent cannot fight. If your immediate knee-jerk reaction to this is, “but I don’t want my character to hurt anyone” then maybe you need to rethink their choice in using combat as their means of problem-solving. There’s no non-violent violence, not even in Aikido.

This is where attacking or disabling the hand or the arm comes in. If you persistently smack the hand or the wrist (rather than jabbing it with the pointy,) you’ll numb the hand. (You could also potentially break the bones, but let’s ignore that for a moment.) Once the hand starts to numb, your opponents grip on their weapon will loosen and, eventually, they’ll be forced to let it go. One of the problems of wielding weapons is that if you’re clashing too much, the vibrations from the force of impact will tire out your hands and arms over time. This is why you’ll occasionally see martial artist characters smacking their opponents (who they don’t want to kill) with the flat of their blade or hitting their extremities with a staff, etc. While it might be played for laughs, they’re actually bruising their opponent’s muscles to make fighting more difficult.

Or, you can just roll with black humor.

“You said you were going to disarm them.”

“Yes, they are now disarmed.”

“They’re dead, Jess.”

“They’ll never hold a weapon again. That’s disarmed.”

Or, lop off the limbs. That joke works too.

-Michi

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How Wearing a Skirt Affects Combat

How would wearing a dress/skirt hinder combat? No, my characters aren’t planning to fight in one, but it’s what they are wearing when being attacked.

That’s a bit defensive.

As general writing advice, you create the setting and scenarios. You have control over that. If you can establish how your characters got to the starting points, where they go from there, that’s all you need to justify. Your work lives or dies based on your faith in it, and if you’re stepping back and trying to preemptively defend it, you know something’s gone wrong. What you want to do is get out ahead of that criticism and shut it down before you’re worried about defending it.

Most people do not dress with combat in mind. Even characters who know what they’re doing will sometimes have to dress for occasions where they’ll have to wear something uncomfortable and restrictive. This goes for both genders.

Beyond that, real people, in the real world, make poor choices with distressing frequency. This is especially true when they’re under stress and dealing with unfamiliar and dangerous situations.

Historically, people fought in skirts. The kilt is still a part of some traditional regalia, and they were worn to war.

The issue is how much any article of clothing restricts your movement. Tight skirts which restrict your movement will continue to do that in combat (unless they tear), looser skirts which don’t restrict your movement won’t, and won’t have much effect on your ability to fight. This is also true for, basically, any article of clothing. A tight jacket or skin tight jeans, which limit your mobility will continue to do that in combat, while looser streetwear won’t.

Long and flowy clothing can get caught, and, depending on how sturdy it is, torn. Somewhat obviously, if you’re wearing something you can’t tear off or discard, and it gets caught, that’s going to effectively hold you in place. Though, in many cases, this is more of a path towards damaging or destroying articles of clothing.

So, how does a skirt effect your ability to fight? It’s like any other article of clothing: If it restricts your movement, it restricts your movement. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

-Starke

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Equipping and Using Armor

How long should armour/costumes take to put on? Also it seems from films, there are so many complaints about such being ill-fit, and taking a long time to wear, movement restricting, too heavy. I get it’s filming but we’re expecting the characters are able to freely fight in them and get in and out at ease. In other words, what we see is too impractical and unrealistic in reality. So what is actually realistic and something you could really see working?

So, there’s a huge difference between armor and costumes. There’s also a wild difference in the amount of time (for either) based on what you’re talking about.

Something like a gambeson or breastplate could be put on fairly quickly. Somewhat similar to putting on any other article of clothing (though, admittedly, the breastplate may be a poor example here depending on the design.)

On the other end of the spectrum, something like full plate would require a second person to strap the wearer in, though I’m not sure on exactly how much time it would take. A modern reenactor can get into plate in ~10 minutes, though that number will vary based on the armor in use, and it’s likely that a professional combatant in the era could have easily shaved a few minutes off that time. So, it’s not an incredibly drawn out process, but it is still something you’d need to do before combat began.

As he demonstrates, getting out of your armor is considerably easier than getting into it, but there are still going to be buckles in hard to reach places that will require assistance. His estimate of it taking about a third as long to get out, is probably a pretty sound guess.

Too heavy is a very subjective criticism; it is entirely dependent on the wearer’s conditioning. Historical armor weights vary wildly depending on the style, and material. The video example above weighs just under 60lbs, which is slightly lighter surviving historical examples from the 14th century.

Ironically, soldiers today tend to have heavier carry loads than someone armored in full plate with their kit.

The reality was that fully articulated armor offered the wearer a lot of mobility, and combined that with protection. While it is, “heavy armor,” that is weight that a professional combatant could condition themselves to, and wouldn’t really interfere with their ability to move and fight. If you have armor that seriously impairs your ability to move, that’s just going to get you killed.

Ironically, the bigger issue wasn’t the weight of the armor, it was the way the armor could trap heat, and exhaust a combatant who didn’t have the conditioning for it.

This is where you’ll get into a specific problem that’s basically impossible to lock down because it’s going to depend on the individual. If you’re putting actors in period appropriate reproduction armor, they might find that very uncomfortable, and may not have the condition (or the desire to build up the conditioning) to be effective in it. They’re not going to need to actually fight in the armor. Additionally, it’s entirely possible that the costume designers created armor that isn’t really functional. This is a weird edge case, because at that point you do have a costume, not armor, and it doesn’t matter if it would be impossible to actually fight in armor designed to those specifications, because the actors are going to do what the script tells them to.

There’s actually a lot of examples of downright terrible armor designs in films, that would be more dangerous to the wearer. Any armor with, “boob plate,” come to mind off hand, but that’s an entirely different topic.

Now, having just dunked on that, there are a lot of films, and TV where the production team takes the time to make functional armor designs, or use historically accurate(-ish) reproductions. (Sometimes you’ll see some anachronisms. Post-gunpowder armor designs in a pre-gunpowder setting is a very common example.) The considerations of filming work better if your actors can move and interact with their environment. If they’re comfortable and mobile, then that’s not problem for the production.

One of the biggest examples of armor that simply doesn’t work which you’ll see frequently in pop culture, isn’t heavy at all, it’s leather. While leather was used as a component of armor (such as the straps in the example above), nobody was making armor out of leather. The image of a stealthy knife fighter in bondage gear has the same historical authenticity as Leonidas’s leather speedo crew. Which is to say: None.

Leather was used in clothing (just like it is today), and if you’re looking at a character like Aragorn (and, I mean, specifically Aragorn, as in the creepy murder hobo wandering around in the forest), then leather clothing makes a lot of sense. But that’s not armor.

When it comes to armor weight, most of it is going to come from the chain. Chainmail is excellent protection. It has its weaknesses, but it’s a very solid starting point. Padded armor gets a bad reputation in modern pop culture, but was also shockingly effective. It’s easy to forget, but that was armor, and it did work. Plate was an effective outer shell, protecting your chain from the worst of the abuse you’d take.

So, in asking, “what works?” Historical armor worked. It worked very well. Even things like full plate (when they’re based on historical examples) were things you could actually move and fight in. Now, you needed training, you needed the conditioning to effectively function in that armor, but real people did that.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Elaborate Fall and Controlling Your Center of Balance

Anonymous asked:

I kinda want to hint at a character’s martial arts skills by having them trip and respond using skills taught in martial arts. Perhaps it may not be martial arts specific, but anything else where keeping steady and taking tumbles well is important, idk skateboard, acrobatic? Perhaps it matters why the trip occurs, like missing a step or stepped on loose tile, small moving obstacle ran into them?

Did you mean, physically adjusting my body to restore my center of balance and counter a fall?

Any form of activity which trains you to maintain your balance/center of gravity and develops control over your core muscles will help you save yourself from falls. This is most forms of physical activity, but not limited to martial arts, dance, skateboarding, acrobatics, yoga, cross-country running, sprinting, most track and field related sports, most sports, etc. It’s an exhaustive list.

They’re probably not going to trip, tip forward, turn the fall into a forward shoulder roll in the middle of the street, and calmly just walk it off like “no biggie.” That’s a lot more effort than the average fall is worth. (The average person’s confused reaction would be hilarious though, and that’s why the elaborate fall is a comedy trope. There’s also nothing subtle about it.)

Honestly, there’d be no overblown response which would force a character to use their “skills” i.e. techniques for falling because losing your balance is really common when you’re training. Techniques for falls are really techniques for how to fall safely when thrown and spreading the force out so you take the impact on a greater area. For example: if you slap the floor on the moment of impact, you reduce the effectiveness of your opponent’s throw and limit the damage done to yourself.

Lost balance is resolved by utilizing your core muscles (your abdominals) to correct your posture in the moment, set your weight if necessary, and bring your body back into balance. That’s it. You don’t think about it, you’ve practiced so often you just do it. The mental process for tripping is, “oh no, I’m falling. There’s the ground. Oh, now I am not falling.”

The best scenarios are, “Oop… Nope. We’re good.”

Taekwondo gives you a lot of practice standing on one leg, so you learn to balance your body at all kinds of weird angles. We learn our central balance point is a fulcrum. I cannot tell you how many times this has occurred on ice and my body just auto adjusts to counter how I am out of balance. Sideways? If your ankle can resolve the problem on it’s own, opposing arm out and lean toward it. Falling forward? Bend your knees and squat. Falling backward? Lean forward. Foot slipping out from under you? Go with it and start a split. In 98% of ice slips, my butt never hits the ground.

The reason why is that when you train in martial arts (and I’m going to discuss martial arts specifically, but this is applicable to other sports) you develop fine motor control, fine motor control and awareness of your body lends itself to a greater internal sense of balance. What does this mean? I will realize when I am out of balance sooner than the average person and my response time is faster, meaning the corrections likely go into place before passing the point of no return. The point of no return is when your body has passed a point where your fall can be stopped in it’s arc. If you pass that point, gravity takes over and nothing you do can save you. The same thing happens with strikes if you want to block them, you have to stop the strike before the extension otherwise the blow will go right through you. It’s dependent on your inner timing.

If you want to hint at a character’s background in martial arts, a better option is going to be their reputation for auto-correction and fixing their falls. “Jack’s got a really good sense of balance. Like, creepy good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jack fall.” I was somewhat notorious among my friends in high school for my ability to stay in balance. People notice when you’re good at things that they are not good at, especially girls who like to complain about being clumsy. Someone being very centered can become very creepy if you spend enough time around them.

It’s like getting asked, “where’d you get that bruise?” And responding, “uh? Dunno.” And you really don’t know because it could’ve been anywhere. You just get so many, you stop noticing.

You’d really need to get a handle on how balance and balance adjustment works if you wanted to try and pull off balance adjustments seen in genres like Wuxia or Xianxia. These scenes are usually there to be comedic or act as a genre specific tell for a specific kind of martial artist. Basically, it’s there to subtly (or, in most cases, unsubtly) tip the audience off to the fact the character is literally superhuman. So, when you see a martial artist do this in a martial arts film, they do this elaborate stunt (often on wires) because it’s a martial arts film or television show and not because people do it in real life. It’s a specific genre convention heavily dependent on Martial Arts Give You Superpowers in conjunction with the specific brand found in East Asian storytelling. You’ll be hard pressed to get the elaborate fall working outside the martial arts genre because, well, outside of East Asian storytelling tradition and other cultures where martial arts hold an enshrined existence, they don’t give you superpowers.

(If you’ve been uncritically consuming Japanese anime, Jackie Chan films, Into the Badlands, martial arts based k-dramas, wuxia and xianxia c-dramas on Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vicki like the Untamed, or even Marvel’s recent outing in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I can understand where the elaborate fall might become confusing.)

– Michi

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Gunshots and Hearing Loss

How do constant sounds from firing guns affect hearing? Do soldiers use some kind of protection?

Yes.

The sound of a modern firearm discharging is loud enough to cause damage to the ear. This will result in hearing loss over time, it can also result in migraines and tinnitus. Hearing loss is the most common disability among US Military veterans. Basically, if you spend a lot of time around discharging firearms, without wearing ear protection, will suffer some degree of hearing loss.

Soldiers should be wearing hearing protection at all times, but, that doesn’t mean they always do. Same thing is true for people at a firing range. They should be wearing eyes and ear protection at all times, but you’ll see idiots who eschew them semi-frequently (at least, at poorly policed ranges. Some ranges will be a lot more careful about this for liability reasons.)

The US military issues dual use earplugs designed to filter out loud battlefield noises, which could cause hearing damage, while simultaneously not filtering lower volume sounds. I’m not sure how effective these are, as there was a major lawsuit back in 2015, regarding the earplugs produced by 3M.

Either way, if you’re using a modern firearm, you should be wearing ear protection of some kind. This isn’t as true historically. The actual problem isn’t the gun, it’s the propellent. Modern firearms use (variations of) “smokeless powder.” Smokeless powder dates back to the late 19th century, and had a lot of implications for firearms engineering. It burns more cleanly than black powder. This means there’s less fouling in the gun. (Fouling is residual unburned powder remaining behind in the firearm.) This means that firearms built to use smokeless powder cartridges can be far more mechanically complex. The downside is that smokeless powder gunshots are significantly louder than black powder ones. Which is why I’ve been stressing, “modern firearms.”

So, in answer to your questions: Yes.

-Starke

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Selecting Firearms for Hunting Monsters

What is the best equip choice for a monster hunter (urban, in modern days)? Such as: shotgun, rifle middle-distance, precision rifle long-distance, handgun?

All of the above, and then some.

Honestly, the distinction between mid-range and long-range rifles is a bit misleading in an urban setting. You’re probably not engaging at ranges where an intermediate cartridge is going to start falling off, but at the same time, you could be dealing with creatures that justify anti-material rounds.

Shotguns are excellent tool for dealing with large creatures (or humans) at ranges up to around 100 meters. These are not the melee range weapons that a lot of pop culture (especially video games) presents them as. They’re also an excellent option for specialized rounds. Shells like Dragon’s Breath (a mix of metals that ignite on contact with air), flares, and FRAG12s all come to mind off hand. Though there’s also things like beanbag rounds and riot slugs, which may be relevant if you’re dealing with something immune to metal bullets.

Shotgun gauge is an archaic measurement system. It’s based on fractions of a pound. If you were to take a 12th of a pound of lead, and form it into a perfect sphere, you’d get the muzzle diameter of a 12 gauge shotgun. A 20th of a pound would get the muzzle diameter of a 20 gauge and so on. There is one hickup, .410 shotgun shells, aren’t 410 Gauge, they’re 11.43mm, and that’s because .410 is actually a caliber, from back before caliber was just fractions of an inch, and was still a ratio.

Assault rifles use intermediate cartridges (usually, 5.56mm NATO, or 5.45mm for Warsaw Pact weapons) and are theoretically effective at up to 300 meters. The two largest families of Assault Rifles are the AR-15 pattern rifles (this includes the American M16 and M4, but also a legion of other rifles by many manufacturers), and the AK family (primarily the AK47, which I’ll come back to in a second, and the AK74, but, again, there are many rifles in this family.)

Assault Rifles are generally the domain of military, police, or similar groups. If your monster hunters are government sanctioned, they may be able to get access to and use assault rifles without issue. However, if they’re not, then these weapons may not be available to them.

There’s another class of Assault Rifles that predate the modern ones. Sometimes referred to as battle rifles, these are high power .30 rifles. They have significantly more recoil, but also have considerably longer ranges. These include the FN FAL, the M14, and the H&K G3. These have experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with rifles such as the FN SCAR.

For extreme situations, there’s the anti-material rifles. These are frequently chambered in .50 (12.7mm) or something similar. They’re intended for neutralizing armored vehicles and can deliver a lot of destructive force at over a kilometer. Worth noting that explosive .50 rounds are a thing (but don’t reliably detonate if they hit a person, as the impact is insufficient to trigger the payload.)

Handguns have a much more narrow application. They’re most useful when dealing with humans, or monsters that aren’t much more durable than a normal human.

As for, “what’s best?” That’s going to heavily depend on the situation at hand and what your characters are fighting.

If your monster hunters are basically supernatural vigilantes, the best things they could get their hands on may just be handguns, hunting rifles, and pump-action shotguns.

If they’re professional monster hunters, they may have access to hardware that isn’t readily available, such as automatic rifles, or winch mounted crossbow bolts.

There’s also solutions that may not relate to weapons at all. In the John Steakley novel Vampire$, the hunters preferred method is to roll up in the middle of the day and demolish the vampire’s nest around them, letting the sun actually finish off the creatures inside. (Honestly, I much prefer John Carpenter’s film adaptation, even if it strips out the logistics of monster hunting.)

When you’re writing monster hunters, you can create a lot of tension between what your characters are facing, and the tools your characters can get their hands on.

A zombie outbreak isn’t going to be very threatening if your characters are well trained, well equipped, and have the authority to quarantine and summarily execute any suspected carriers. If anything, a scenario like that, where infections occasionally pop up and are put down, could lend a very mundane quality to something that sounds fantastical. “Zombie removal,” except it’s like animal control, or sanitation workers. (Ironically, this was a major thematic joke in the original 1984 Ghostbusters.)

Conversely, when your monster hunters are underequipped, lack the resources, and the support, necessary to track or deal with something, even a relatively non-threatening cryptid could pose a significant challenge.

Even if your characters gear up for one threat, they may be poorly equipped if they encounter something they weren’t expecting. For example: a group of vampire hunters could find themselves in a very bad situation if they instead find themselves dealing with a pack of werewolves.

In general, “best,” is always going to be situational. Pick the right tool for the right job, and familiarize yourself with the options. In a lot of cases, the answer may be a tactic or strategy rather than just bringing the right hardware.

-Starke

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On the Challenges of Hearing Impairment in Combat

How would being deaf or other hearing difficulties affect fighting? Could one good ear be worse off than completely deaf? I don’t think it matters with long range weapons, but could it?

The biggest problem is, simply, situational awareness. If you can’t hear, then you can’t hear. So, you have one less sense to track potential threats in your environment.

In a simple one-on-one situation, this isn’t likely to have major ramifications, but in a less controlled environment, with more potential enemies, it means your ranged senses are limited to what you can see.

There’s also a reflex implication. It takes the brain longer to parse visual data than auditory data. We’re talking about fractions of a second, but it is a factor.

In situations where sounds are the first sign that something’s happened you wouldn’t have that information. For example, if someone starts shooting and you’re not looking directly at them, you would need to parse what you’re seeing, and then realize what that meant. That’s a significant delay over someone in a similar mindset who could hear the initial gunshots.

Generally speaking, if you have one functioning ear, you still have a sense of hearing. The only thing you lose is the ability to effectively track direction.

There are situations where not being able to hear is a marginal advantage. Particularly with firearms. If your ears don’t work, you don’t need to worry (as much) about damaging them from loud noises. Modern gunpowder is loud enough to cause hearing damage, and that’s something that you don’t need to worry about if you can’t hear anything to begin with.

This extends to situations where someone with functional ears can end up with crippling headaches, and tinnitus for days after prolonged gun battles. Now, if you are deaf, you can still suffer from tinnitus, and in some ways it’s worse, because you cannot drown out the ringing with ambient sound.

Related to that, because firearms are so loud, communication in combat is primarily non-verbal. You can’t shout, or hear each other, over the gunfire. This has lead to an advanced system of hand gestures. So, you don’t need hearing to be able to function in a gun battle, and you have a marginal advantage in that you don’t need to bring hearing protection, and won’t suffer from its absence.

-Starke

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The Fight Scenes in Ava and the Importance of Tempo

Anonymous asked:

What do u think about the fight in Ava movie (u can find it in YT searching “Ava – Jessica Chastain – [Hotel Fight]”)?

It’s serviceable.

This is me saying, “it’s fine.” Not great, but not terrible either. It’s mostly just, “eh.” If you’re a veteran viewer of these types of action movies, you can tell the director really made an effort for the stylistic realism of similar thrillers like The Bourne Identity, but lacked the practice and familiarity with these sorts of scenes to carry it off. Which, really, shouldn’t surprise anyone looking at his filmography.

I want to make it clear that if there’s any failures here (and there are), it’s on the part of the director and not the actors. I’m also going to ignore Colin Farrell in this scene because I’ve seen him in better action movies, and he’s doing a really good job of moderating his performance. (For the record, this is an actor skill level issue and not a gender one. Farrell is skilled at adjusting his performance to his costar and he largely deserves credit for the equal footing here. Cinematic fight scenes are cooperative, not combative and the best stuntmen make the actors look amazing. Look at this scene with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton from Pride and Glory. Farrell can’t take entire credit for speed here, because the film has actually been sped up.)

It’s not on the level of Bourne’s let me kill you six or seven times in thirty seconds, but the beautiful cinematography that’s reflective in movies like Bourne, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, or Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde isn’t there. If you want hyper realistic gun work, you go to Michael Mann films like Collateral and, more recently, though not a Michael Mann production, John Wick. If you compare to fight scenes from these films, you’ll notice Ava’s fight scene itself is neither hyper-realistic, nor visually interesting. That’s the real kiss of death here, and why it’s serviceable.

The gun sequence was fine, Farrell was doing a sloppy CAR which is why he looks a little wonky compared to Chastain, but it fell apart when they hit the hand to hand section. The hits aren’t in the same zip code as the opponent’s face, there’s a painful lack of force, and it’s very slow even at the very beginning. It’s almost levels of Buffy first season bad, where 90% of the fight scenes is very obviously just the stunt doubles going at it. Compare to this fight sequence from Into the Badlands with Emily Beecham, can you track how many times she’s switched out for her stunt double? (Hint: it’s almost all the long shots with acrobatic stunts, and a few of the back shots.) The way it’s intercut, you’d probably never notice.

And that is where the problem for Ava lies. In terms of pacing, it plods.

Into the Badlands is choreographed by a stunt team out of Hong Kong, it’s all in the wuxia tradition, and doesn’t give two shits realism. Ava is trying for faux Hollywood realism over stylized violence, but doesn’t want to commit to it.

Part of the problem for Ava is there’s a distinctive speed difference in hand to hand combat where the stunt doubles are performing versus when the actors are, which hurts the scene’s pacing. And, there’s always a difference in tempo between stunt doubles and the actors, but when the difference is vast, it hurts believability. Again, the scene is really useful if you’re trying to parse what makes violence interesting and watchable outside of narrative context, because the director hasn’t figured it out. He’s imitating other styles he’s seen but has yet to settle on a distinctive one of his own. The fight scene also lacks visual personality to set it apart from other mediocre action films.

I mean, if all you want is hot women kicking ass then you’ve got Luc Besson’s entire filmography and Chastain is not sexualized any less here than the women in Besson’s films. (And, yes, I’m aware of the allegations against him, and, if you’ve watched his movies, they’d come as no surprise. He’s really on brand for Hollywood’s faux strong female character, pop feminism, kickass sex doll. It’s a lot harder to throw a coin and not hit a sexual predator when trying to learn things, so consume your media wisely.) Compare Ava’s fight scene here to Anna’s, both are technically superhero assassins. You can feel the tempo difference, and it’s not just because one is a group fight scene. (This scene from Anna also has a long cut where it’s just the stunt double, can you find her?)

One of the neat tricks from Anna’s fight scene is the broken plate, because the plate is broken and therefore bladed, the actor doesn’t have to pretend they’re putting in more force in order to be convincing.

So, how can you use film choreography to improve your own fight scenes?

One thing to remember is that film is a visual medium where the written word is mental and, potentially, auditory. You get further with sensation, and your goal is to ultimately be convincing rather than right. The reason to Learn How Things Work is so you get to pick and choose your own rules, you decide what to keep and what to discard in the service of your work rather than being bound by someone else’s choices. If you can define reality, you can create it.

You can learn a lot about staging from film, the usage of environmental props, and start training your mind to consider where your characters are fighting and what they can potentially use.

Choreography is very important. Choreography is a large part of what makes violence engaging outside of emotional involvement via the narrative. (Violence on its own is actually boring.)

Stuntman queuing is remarkably useful when balancing group fights on the page where you sometimes need to drop and pick up minor characters in text.

Lending weight to your character’s hits. One of the major differences between good fight scenes and bad fight scenes on film is the weight of the onscreen hit. If a hit feels heavy i.e. the force appears to have been generated for it, it feels more real. Otherwise, you’re just relying on motion to entertain the eye.

Your audience has a basic understanding of physics, so certain tactics will look more real than others. (Regardless of whether or not they’re factually true.)

The importance of setting goals with your fight scenes for tone and impact, just like all your scenes.

The more you learn, the larger your toolbox is.

-Michi

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Q&A: Let’s Talk About Force

How do I portray injuries and how it affects people during fights correctly? There’s always portrayals of bones cracking, blood spewing from mouth, direct hits to the head and other weak points, etc during fights. Yet they continue on fighting, or if they go down, they’re up soon. But exactly how much can someone take or continue to fight after such injuries? Assuming more or less normal humans, no superpowers, but they might be in very good condition.

Most of what you’re describing is Hollywood’s license, but your teeth aren’t as well secured inside your mouth as most people think. If you don’t lock your jaw when you’re struck, you’re at risk for biting the inside of your cheek or even biting off parts of your tongue. (That’s why we wear mouthguards.) This is where the spitting of the blood comes from. Direct hits to the head are bad, but you can sometimes focus through them depending on the severity of the injury. (Also, what hit you in the head and how hard.)

The practical answer for learning how to portray injuries is to take martial arts classes. Not because you’re going to get hurt, but because you’ll learn how people fight, what martial arts techniques are designed to do, and mind over matter. Write what you know is real advice and it’s good advice, and if you don’t know — learn. (And I mean learn in a safe environment from professionals and not by trying to throw punches in a backyard. YouTube is supplementary.) There’s a physicality to violence, even recreational, sport violence, that has to be experienced before you can replicate it accurately.

Learning the limitations of adrenaline is also useful. When your body’s adrenaline kicks in, you feel significantly less pain from injuries received. (This doesn’t mean the injuries are any less severe because you can’t feel them.) When your mind isn’t aware of pain, you can force your body to do some pretty insane things. Adrenaline is your body’s natural reaction during periods of high activity, danger, or acts as a response to stress. It’s there to help you survive, but doesn’t always work in beneficial ways.

The other way to really understand injuries is to study medicine, particularly the outcomes of shootings, bar fights, and other violent encounters. This one is going to be dependent on how strong your stomach is.

So, how far are you willing to go for your art?

Fortunately, most readers don’t care about accuracy. Most people couldn’t tell you the difference between the use of a spear and the use of a bow when hunting. They couldn’t tell you how long deep bruises last (or any bruises) or the length of time it takes to recover from a sprain, much less a broken bone. They don’t realize muscular conditioning decays over time. They don’t know how deep a knife needs to penetrate in order to hinder the movement of your muscles (not very) or how even your sweat can become deadly. Hell, most people don’t know bullets go through walls, car doors, couches, and chairs.

You have a lot more room to maneuver than you think and that means you get to choose the degree of reality you want. No one is going to care so long as you create a facsimile within your narrative that feels real from the bottom to the top. That is suspension of disbelief’s power.

Let’s get started.

The first truth you must accept is that everything you see from Hollywood is inaccurate unless the work specifically went out of it’s way to be accurate, and even then it’s subject to artistic license. (And, it’s important to grasp this because everything you do as a writer is subject to artistic license. Sometimes the presentation is a failing on the part of the creators and sometimes it’s a choice.)

Everything about Hollywood violence is structured around entertainment, including the injuries.

Every Hollywood action hero, whether we’re told they have super powers or not, is actually a superhero because they can walk off inhuman levels of punishment.

Even Bruce Willis’ John McClain in the original Die Hard, which is an action film devoted cataloguing the kind of injuries one would realistically sustain while engaging in heroic antics and using John’s accumulation of ever more grievous injuries to propel the narrative forward, isn’t entirely realistic. Hollywood most often uses the puffy, swollen, blackened, ugly way someone’s face looks after getting socked multiple times as comedy. If you want an example of the vast gap between semi-reality and the fiction you consume regularly, watch the first Die Hard and then the last Die Hard back to back.

The reality of the levels of punishment which can be endured is for someone to keep fighting? More than you imagine, but not much as you’d think. You’re not going to walk off a broken leg. The average street fight lasts twenty five seconds. That’s twenty five seconds, not twenty five minutes, and that’s people who don’t know what they’re doing. We romanticize violence to the point where we forget that martial combat is the science of injuring and killing other humans. Humans as a species are very good at killing each other, we’ve spent epochs developing the art. (That doesn’t mean you, the individual, would automatically be good at it or have any native instinct for it. The type of violence most people imagine are learned skills.)

The goal of a professional is to end the threat as quickly as possible while reducing the risk to yourself. The shape this goal takes fluctuates based on context and circumstance, but ultimately stays the same. Risk assessment is important for a writer to learn because their character’s ability to assess risk and their ability to create risk creates tension.

The question of injuries is a question of force application. This is me saying that when you’re asking about injuries, you’re looking at the end result rather than the beginning. Writing strong fight scenes relies on understanding the physicality of violence, which translates to — physics.

If I hit you on a straight line, you will go backwards. If I hit you on a diagonal, you will go sideways. The amount you move may depend on how you set your weight (stance) or how much force I used. Force is generated by momentum, momentum is generated by motion, the more momentum you have the greater the force applied. A kick hits harder than a punch, a kick or punch that is spinning will hit harder than standing, and flying (or jumping) hits hardest of all. A combination of running, jumping, and spinning is top tier. And no, you probably won’t get up quickly from somebody delivering a standing jump front kick to your face, much less a running jump front kick. You might not get up at all. 

Note: a standing jump front kick is when you go from zero to jump front kick without any additional movement. This is different from a popup jump front kick, which is also standing but both legs leave the ground at the same time. In the traditional jump front kick, the front knee pumps first to gain height and the jumping leg is the kicking leg. The kicking leg chambers mid air, the kick completes at the height of the jump, and you land. What this means is someone can theoretically take a jump front kick to the face while standing within distance for your average conversation. (Think about that for a second. Now consider, the popup was designed to conserve even more space because you go straight up rather than forward and up.)

However, the greater the momentum, the larger the motion. The larger the motion, the more effort it takes and the more the motion is visible, and that means the greater chance the strike will miss. Wasted energy is costly. Missing leaves you open to retaliation. That’s why small effective movements are valued over larger, more difficult ones, and also why weapons exist.

What hit you and where?

The problem with lack of knowledge is you think you’re asking a question that’s easy to answer, but isn’t because the subject is actually vast. Large bodies of fiction and nonfiction are dedicated to your question. It’s a good metaphor for the complex reality of life. The reality is most of what people can do or can’t do, will do or won’t do, comes down to the individual.

A better approach to writing fight scenes is to break down the individual injuries the character sustained and try to figure out what your character’s reaction is.

Your character just got cracked across the face and spat one of their molars onto the pavement, how does that make them feel?

Your character’s nose is broken. This inhibits their ability to breathe, to seek, to smell, to talk without sounding very strange, and it hurts. Can they focus?

Your character got stabbed in their shoulder joint. They can no longer use their right arm to fight. What do they do?

Most violence is designed to be debilitating to reduce your opponent’s combat effectiveness even if you don’t succeed in your primary goal. The pain you feel is incidental because the full extent may not even be felt until the fight is over, meaning pain isn’t a guaranteed deterrent or even a distraction. Your character can ignore pain, but they can’t ignore the breath that got knocked out of their lungs. They can’t ignore a swelling eye impeding their ability to see. They can’t ignore blood from a split eyebrow bleeding into their eye. They can’t ignore a direct strike to their throat damaging their ability to breathe, even if it’s just in the short term. Maybe they can ignore the strike they took to their shoulder or directly to the joint, but they also can’t because the damage means their arm is moving more slowly. That arm moving more slowly, even if it’s only slightly or isn’t stopped completely, is a victory. A slower arm creates gaps in defense, damages an opponent’s internal sense of timing, allowing a fighter to get closer to a more vital target. Injuries sustained in one fight can result in death during another, even if you win.

Everyone has their limit, but nebulous generalities don’t help setting those limits. The goal for you is to figure out what your character’s limits are and then write within them or the character’s struggles in pushing past those limits. Limits are mental and they’re physical, most often set by what a character believes they can do versus what they can actually do.

So, you know, set two limits. The one that can’t be surpassed and the one made to be broken.

-Michi

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