Category Archives: Followups

Follow-up: Rey is Kinda a Problem

If you wanted to highlight a Mary Sue/Gary Stu style character on your blog, you could have chosen Luke instead, as his instant skill with lightsabers/the force is much less believable than Rey’s. The fact that you went after a rare sci fi female lead and echoed the voices of so many misogynist male fans is just disappointing to me. This is not what I’ve come to expect from this blog.

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Luke is, actually, a pretty good counter example. His, “instant skill with a lightsaber,” consists of pointing it at his own face as soon as it is handed to him.

In A New Hope, the height of his demonstrated ability is to avoid lopping off his own limbs while trying to learn how to parry blasts from the remote. In the first film, Luke’s preferred weapon is an E11 Blaster Rifle. The first time we see him use his lightsaber in combat is a single swipe with it on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. Luke doesn’t use his lightsaber in combat in the first film.

So, in ANH he gets limited training from Obi-Wan. This is enough for him to start learning Force Pull, though he clearly struggles with it. Having been, “learning on his own,” for three years, he still struggles with very basic Jedi powers, and this is as someone who has been told that The Force exists, and received some introductory training. He barely manages to pull the saber to him in time to save his own life from a wampa.

Rey has the ability to override a Sith Lord’s Force Pull. She has the ability to use Affect Mind, and she has lightsaber proficiency on par with, again, a Sith Lord.

So, back to Luke, he goes to Dagobah receives training from Yoda, a Jedi Master, and returns with a slightly stronger grasp of how to use The Force, and operate a lightsaber. Vader immediately hands him his ass.

The duel on Cloud City is a bit of a sham. It fits what I said about balancing your challenges against the strength of your heroes. Vader knows Luke is his son. He spent decades cleaning up the remains of the Jedi Order. He’s able to go toe-to-toe with Obi-Wan without issue. Luke has a couple weeks of training under his belt. The only reason he’s able to survive is because of two conflicting factors. The Emperor wants Luke alive, “as a prize,” and Vader is having conflicting ideas about killing his own son.

Jump ahead to Return of the Jedi, and we see that Luke learned force choke, and has learned affect mind by this point. However, the finale still runs into another duel against Vader that’s a sham. Again, the point isn’t about killing Luke. Vader doesn’t want to kill his own son, he wants to turn Luke to the dark side, turn on The Emperor together, and take control of The Empire. Luke doesn’t want to fight his father, he’s trying to turn him from the dark side. Palpatine wants Luke to kill Vader and take his place, but he’d be fairly happy so long as one of them takes a dirt nap.

Again, this is not about Luke being a godlike fighter, it’s about him working through his incredibly dysfunctional family issues.

Rey’s got none of that. Kylo is a psychopath who has no qualms about waxing his own father. He doesn’t care about her. He’s a weak, and whiny villain on his own merits, but he is still A Dark Lord of the Sith. He has completed force training. He’s gone toe to toe with with trained Jedi and somehow avoided dying. There is nothing to keep Kylo from killing Rey in the first film except her inexplicable use of active Force powers and specific Force related combat skills (like fighting with a lightsaber) at odds with every other screen canon protagonist.

Let me break this down:

Luke: minimal training, struggles against wildlife, captured by possessed teddy bears, loses his hand in domestic argument. Dude never has his shit together.

Anakin: significant training, holds his own against other Jedi and Sith, but can’t beat Sith without a tag team. Loses limbs during academic dispute.

Rey: no training, no prior knowledge of the Force, defeats Sith Lord on first outing.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Rey are the only characters in screen canon who can beat Sith Lords in single combat. I don’t know about you, but something is off with this list.

This is unfortunate because Daisy Ridley is actually really good. So is Adam Driver. There was a lot of excellent casting in those films, but they’re undermined by shoddy writing. There’s roughly two thirds of a decent film there, and then everything derails.

J.J. Abrams and George Lucas have something in common. They’re both extremely fond of emulating material they found elsewhere, repackaging and re-purposing it. This where you’ll find a lot of Kurosawa “homages,” in the original trilogy, and why The Force Awakens is almost a beat for beat retread of A New Hope. In the process, something got seriously scrambled.

The version of Luke that you’re thinking of, the egregious Mary Sue, doesn’t actually exist on screen. It’s pop culture gestalt, conflating the original trilogy into a jumbled clip show bereft of context. Parts, the duels with Vader lose their narrative context. Parts from Anakin in the prequels may get meshed in for good measure. (There is a legitimate argument that Anakin is a Mary Sue in The Phantom Menace, and the only reason I don’t want to delve into that topic is because it involves thinking about TPM for more time than is absolutely necessary.)

The worst part is, those misogynistic shitheads aren’t threatened by Rey. Rey doesn’t have the potency to hold their attention. They’re pissed with Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers drives them into a frenzy, because she is a very powerful character, and their only attack is to accuse her of being a Mary Sue.

The point we’re at now, a small cadre of fans who’ve gone off the deep end have no response to critique of Rey beyond crying about how it’s misogynistic. Which, doesn’t help your case.

You can do better. There are much better female leads in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Off the top of my head, Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens) and Sarah Conner (Terminator 2) set a much higher bar for female protagonists in science fiction who completely own their space. I already mentioned her, but Captain Marvel is easily another example from recent years. Moving beyond that you have characters like Aeryn Sun (Farscape), Ambassador Delenn (Babylon 5), and Captain Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager). And if one second you think Aeryn or Delenn aren’t leads, because they’re not getting top billing in ensemble shows, you really need to sit down and actually watch those.

If you want to see why old guard Star Wars fans are pissed with Rey, grab a copy of Heir to the Empire, and then realize that Disney erased all of that from existence to pave the way for Rey. We lost the version of Leia who became the leader of The New Republic. We lost Jaina Solo and Mara Jade. They destroyed all of that so J. J. Abrams could regurgitate a stale rendition of A New Hope without competition.

So, no. Fans who lost decades worth of characters they loved are going to be a little upset, especially when the replacement is breaking all the rules in a setting they adore and still can’t manage to make the stage. More importantly, if a female character needs to break the rules to appear powerful in their setting that’s not feminism or girl power.

This is an exceptional post, but perhaps consider that Rey raised herself on a desert planet? She probably learned to tap into the force to survive, even if she didn’t know exactly what she was doing. I wouldn’t call her a Mary Sue for that. Unless you’re going to call Luke a Gary Stu for being able to destroy the death star while flying an x-wing for the first time. If a character is believable if you switch the pronouns, the character isn’t the problem.

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The irony here is, there’s elements for both parts. We know from the three untrained Jedi we encounter in the films that force sensitivity manifests with heightened skills. Being force sensitive makes you unusually talented at the things you focus on. Of those three, Luke is the least egregious. If we were to ignore the active force powers and lightsaber proficiency, (and inexplicable piloting skills), Rey would be fine, unfortunately, we can’t.

With Rey, we do see that she has an unnatural aptitude for finding and maintaining scrap on Jakku. That she’s been able to survive as long as she has is a pretty good sign that she’s force sensitive, and that’s consistent with what we’ve seen before. That part is absolutely fine. The problem is the situations where her skill hasn’t been set up.

When we first meet Anakin in TPM, he’s already a supernaturally skilled podracer pilot. I’d like to be able to purge the entirety of the podracers from my memory, but we’re all here together now, and I’m pretty sure Sartre only said what he did about hell because he didn’t know that TPM would exist one day.

All these years later, I still have issues with Anakin piloting a fighter for TPM‘s finale, but, I’d be lying if I said the vast majority of that film isn’t a massive, painful blur for me.

What we see from Luke is reasonable. We’re told he wants to be a pilot, and it’s something that he’s been training for. His initial goal is to leave Tatooine, and enroll at The Imperial Academy. He claims he’s “not such a bad pilot.” We’re later told that he’s been practicing precision shooting at high speed using a sub-orbital fighter. (It was later stated in background material that the T-16’s controls and handling were similar to the X-Wing, though I suspect Lucas was thinking of piloting as a kind of universal skill, and the connection between the T-16 and X-Wing were retrofitted on later.) We see Obi-Wan teaching him to use the force in a way that specifically sets up the trench run. The biggest offender here is, simply, that there’s a lot of telling rather than showing. When you dig into earlier drafts of the script, there were scenes outlined that couldn’t be shot in ’76/’77, so the resulting development was dumped back into exposition. As a writing decision, this is something you’d want to avoid, but when we’re talking about a film, shooting considerations may require less optimal solutions.

Switching the pronouns doesn’t fix anything. There are plenty of male Mary Sues, just like there are plenty of powerful female characters who are not Sues. A female version of Luke wouldn’t be a Mary Sue; a male version of Rey would still be one.

I don’t fault Rey for having an intuitive grasp of The Force. I fault her for having fully developed Force powers, and lightsaber proficiency, without training.

But…Rey does do force training? What the fuck? This is a strange post

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With whom? Han may believe in the existence of The Force, but he’s no Jedi. He can’t teach her how to use the force. She has no one to train with in The Force Awakens. You’re thinking of the second movie, That Which Shall Not Be Named, the rough draft from Rian Johnson where she gets her training with Luke. She fights Kylo in the first film completely unaided. This is where her Mary Sue rep comes from and why she never shakes it.

What she does is spontaneously manifest Force abilities. By that point, we had six films that hammered home the idea this not how you gain force powers. If that was the case, Vader’s crusade to exterminate the Jedi Order would have been fundamentally impossible, as the Order would be reinforced by spontaneous Jedi popping up. This retroactively makes all of Palpatine’s plotting from The Phantom Menace to Return of the Jedi both pointless and incomprehensibly stupid. Makes you wonder why the Jedi need to recruit kids young if Jedi just pop up fully formed like daisies.

This is before we look at the lightsaber. That is an incredibly difficult, and dangerous to use, a weapon, which Rey has no problem operating, in spite of having no formal combat training of any kind. Much less fighting on an even keel with a trained Sith Lord who has been handling one for most of his life.

This is like a character who hears about the existence of martial arts, and then instantly gains advanced combat proficiency… by shadow boxing for a few minutes. Yeah, that’s a Mary Sue. (And, the comparison of Jedi training to martial arts comes Lucas himself.)

My point is: Rey is not the representation you’re looking for. There are a lot of fantastic, well-rounded, and well-acted female characters with a wide variety of personalities and outlooks in the science fiction genre if you’re willing to look for them. Daisy Ridley does her best, but she can’t save Rey. That’s unfortunate, but crying misogyny or trying to rewrite the films doesn’t help your argument stand up to scrutiny.

-Starke & Michi

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Followup: Practical History

Thank you for breaking down the types of martial art schools. My brother and I attended the same school, but our focus made us take different classes with different instructors. I was being bullied and hit every day, so I took a lot of sel-defense and practical applications classes. I still learned katas, but they were secondary to my goal. My brother learned how to do beautiful katas, but he hated getting in a ring. Outlook and preparedness is everything, and something people overlook.

You’re illustrating something that I accidentally skimmed over; almost any martial art can be taught with a practical outlook. This isn’t just things like Muay Thai, where the application is obvious, it includes martial arts you wouldn’t expect, like Tai-Chi.

The key here is having an instructor who can teach you to apply what you’re learning in a real world context.

Karate is an easy example to dogpile on. Almost all practitioners you’ll find today will be recreational ones. You will find a great many who can’t apply what they know outside of the Dojo. Except, Karate wasn’t developed for self-defense, it was developed for guerrilla warfare.

Karate is not a Japanese martial art, it’s Okinawan. It’s easy to conflate these now, but this becomes a very important distinction when you look at Karate’s history. Okinawa was formally annexed by Japan in the Nineteenth Century, and the original Japanese invasion and vassalization of Okinawa dates back to the early Seventeenth Century. (I’m skimming over a lot of the history; if you’re interested, you should read up on this.)

Because of this, the Japanese were seen as an occupying force, and Karate was specifically adapted to kill Samurai. (Okay, I’m being a little reductive here, Karate technically dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom, though, much of what we have today is a result of these adaptations.)

The modern incarnation, dating back to the Japanese vassalization of Okinawa, is designed to interdict and preempt entire segments of a Samurai’s combat training. Not all of this will be relevant today, and I wouldn’t recommend a low strike to prevent your opponent from cross-drawing a gun, but it will directly block an Iaido practitioner’s draw. (Note: I’m extending the definition of, “modern Karate” further back than normal. “Modern Karate,” usually starts with the founding of Shotokan in the mid-twentieth century,)

When we’re talking self-defense, Karate’s probably not going to be the right tool for the job, But, this is a martial art that was originally developed to kill people, and some of that can still be applied to interrupt and disable an assailant. The underlying combat philosophy of preventing your opponent from attacking with preemptive strikes has real applications. If you can understand how to bring this stuff into the real world, it’s viable. However, because it requires staying ahead of your opponent, you really need to know what you’re doing. That’s the weakness, this was designed to deal with foes who would act in very predictable patterns. If you don’t know what your opponent will do before they act, the value suffers.

That’s an example I’m personally familiar with, however, there are a lot stories like this, where a martial art started out as a method to kill or incapacitate your foes, and has gradually transitioned into something else. Again, if this stuff interests you, read up on it. Some martial arts have fascinating histories.

-Starke

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Followup: Recreational Martial Arts is not Combat Training

Starke, as a recreational practitioner whose teacher is ex-police (and another who’s ex-Spec Ops), it may be worth noting that while military does put a premium on martial (in combat roles at least), MANY cops do only the bare minimum hand-to-hand & weapons training, and depending on jurisdiction that minimum can be a VERY low bar. I know plenty of ppl who only practice recreationally but could absolutely kick a beat cop’s ass 1-on-1

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So, if your instructor is ex-police, or a former special forces operator, that’s not a recreational martial artist. They may be teaching recreational martial arts, but their own background started with the idea that they’d be using their training on someone else.

I’ll say this again, in case it’s unclear: Someone who spent eight years in The Corps, mustered out, returned to civilian life, and practices Shotokan in the park once a week, is not a recreational martial artist.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn there are lazy cops out there. In fact, thinking back to what a friend of mine went through trying to find a missing police cruiser, I know full well there are lazy cops.

Could a cop get away with blowing off their training? Yeah. If their superiors don’t care, and let things slide, it’s certainly possible. Here’s the problem with this thought process: Hand-to-hand training isn’t a luxury for a LEO, it is a vital survival skill. A cop who is lazy enough to blow that off makes me worry. Not for their safety, but, that they feel safe without it.

Police have more options than just hand-to-hand. They have tazers, they have firearms, and most importantly, they have more cops at the push of a button. If your goal is to pick a lazy cop from the crowd, you’re going to take a bullet. You don’t want lazy cops, you want responsible ones who take this seriously, because they are less likely to resort to “easier” solutions to their problems.

Recreational martial arts does not prepare you for combat. Full stop. A lot of recreational martial artists think that it does. It’s a lie they tell themselves. It’s a lie that most competent martial arts instructors will try to dispel. The real tragedy is that the world is littered with the corpses of martial artists who thought, “I’ve been training for this, I can take that guy,” and paid for that thought with their life. A fact that any responsible cop would have drilled into your head.

Want to know how to quickly identify a martial artist who cannot take a cop in a fight? It’s the guy who says, “I could beat that cop’s ass.” They haven’t thought it through. They don’t understand how to operate in a real fight. They’re still looking at it like it’s some kind of Hollywood showdown. They don’t understand that this is not a duel. They’re thinking about fighting the cop like it’s a test of skill, where the worst thing that can happen is you get some bruises, a chipped tooth, and a night in lockup.

The guy the cop should worry about is the person who looks at them, sees them as a problem that needs to be removed, and looks for a way to achieve that goal. That is not a recreational martial artist. It doesn’t matter if their hand to hand background is recreational, because their methods won’t be.

Here’s your problem: In the moment you attack, the cop can’t tell these two apart. They don’t know you’re expecting to engage in an honorable, pugilistic duel. They just know you’re trying to kill them, you suck at it, and you need to be dealt with immediately.

If your training was gearing you towards practical applications of force, that ex-operator of yours would tell you that there’s no upside to letting the other guy fight back. You ex-cop instructor would be telling you that, “what you’re doing right now won’t help you in a fight.”

If you do get into self-defense, the priorities will be on creating an exit and getting out before you get seriously hurt. There is no benefit to continuing a fight. The is no legitimate reason to let a fight go on for a moment longer than necessary. In the real world, fights are dangerous, and the longer you stay in them, the more dangerous they become.

Every martial arts instructor I’ve had has been a cop. When I say this, “I could take them in a fight,” attitude sets me on edge, because this gets people killed. Not cops. Recreational martial artists who thought that good in the dojo meant good on the street.

I know this guy. He’s a fourth degree black belt in Taekwondo, has at least a year’s worth of Ninjitsu under his belt. Dude goes to college, signs up for boxing. He’s a fourth degree black belt, in his mind, he’s that damn good. According to one of the judges, his technique was beautiful. First round smeared by a USN cadet. Thing is, it’s boxing, the rules are set. He lived. By normal logic, he should have triumphed. Dude’s been practicing martial arts since before he could read. Recreational doesn’t prepare you for a fight, in the ring or out, no matter how bad ass you feel. It’s a different mindset. Dude came to kick someone’s ass, the cadet came to neutralize a problem.

I meant what I said, a recreational martial artist will be at a significant disadvantage when they go up against someone with a practical background. The recreational martial artist wants to win a fight, that impulse will get you killed. If this is new information, you might want to take a long look at your instructors.

-Starke

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Pain, Pain, and a German Existentialist

I mostly agree. Here’s the part I think needs to be emphasized, pain from working out is different from injury pain. My pain however is not making me stronger. My lupus makes things hurt for no reason while my body is trying to destroy itself. I have a limit to how strong I can be and that limit goes down as time goes on and there’s nothing I can do about that. I love the pain from working out, it makes me feel good. The pain from my intestines not working? Not so much.

So as much as I agree with most of your response, I also agree with the person asking. It romanticizes pain and I hate it. It is the absolute worse thing to say when I feel like my bones are breaking every other night. You can recover from a broken leg. You can’t recover from lupus

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There’s two things here, first pain, and second is Friedrich Nietzsche.

Usually we say there’s to kinds of pain: Discomfort, and actual pain, the kind of pain that tells you something’s gone seriously wrong. However, you’re illustrating a third kind; chronic pain.

Discomfort is the kind of pain you should, probably, learn to push through. It’s your body saying, “something’s wrong,” But, it’s not being honest with you. There are valid reasons for it to do this. It’s trying to stop you from engaging in behavior that endangers you. However, it is an artificial barrier. I dislike calling this, “pain,” because it’s not. Your body is telling you, “this hurts,” but it’s not really pain. However, that’s the term that people understand, and it’s where we get meat-headed axioms like, “no pain, no gain.”

Actual pain is not something that should be ignored. If you’ve been injured, “rub some dirt in it and push on,” is not valid advice. Ignoring actual injuries can aggravate them, and can cause further harm. Sometimes you may find yourself in situations where you must push on; where the risk of increased injury is the least dangerous option. However, leaving wounds untreated, or trying to, “walk it off,” is rarely a viable option.

Learning to differentiate between these two experiences is important. Especially if you’re engaging in strenuous, physical activity. This is the line between discomfort, which you may want to ignore, and pain that you should not ignore.

Chronic pain is an entirely separate beast. It is a sign that something has gone seriously wrong, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s simply there. It’s also corrosive over time. It is difficult for people who’ve never experienced chronic pain to understand how it wears on you over time. There is nothing to do about chronic pain except endure it. It sucks.

There’s nothing romantic about pain. A lot of the romanticism seems to stem from discomfort, and people who don’t understand that discomfort is distinct from pain. I also blame the English language for conflating both together as, simply, “pain.” The reality is that sometimes, “it hurts,” is not the same as, “it hurts.”

Conflating things brings us around to the Nietzsche axiom that started all of this. “Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.” Generally, the accepted English translation is, “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Nietzche wasn’t writing a universal truth about human nature. This isn’t Descartes trying to prove the existence of God by running out of things he can be suspicious of. This is a declaration.

Facing adversity requires strength. Sometimes, that strength is physical, but far more often it’s not. Facing challenges requires a strength of spirit. It requires a force of will. It requires you to look within and find the power to say, “not today, motherfucker.”

This may sound hollow, but I commend you. As you said, there is no cure for Lupus. Your body is, quite literally, tearing itself apart. And based on your comments, you have refused to let that break you. That is strength. That is the kind of strength that Nietzsche was describing. It doesn’t mean that every day will be a good one. It doesn’t mean that you’re somehow immune to pain. Pulling yourself through hell doesn’t grant you superpowers. This is, in no way, a fair trade. However, you are still here. You are still alive.

You’re living, day to day, with a serious medical condition, which will be there for the rest of your life. You’ve done that without letting it destroy who you are. Which leads me to believe, you are far stronger than you give yourself credit for.

-Starke

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Q&A: Platform

Fanfiction is good for creativity and can lead to great works. Which is good, I believe it (I’ve seen it). But how did 50 Shades get published?

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In the specific case of E. L. James, she got there because of the enormous traffic that Fifty Shades of Grey generated over the years. Both as a Twilight fanfiction, and later after it was rewritten and published as e-books and in PoD variants. It spent roughly a year in that format before a publisher looked at the sales numbers and picked up the license for the trilogy. (For what it’s worth, I don’t know whether E. L. James approached Vintage Books, or if Vintage pursued the license based on buzz and PoD sales.)

So, how did this happen? A couple of things worked together. The original fan fiction was very popular. Popular enough to get readers to migrate onto a private site to read it. That’s a big deal. It’s relatively easy to cultivate a following on a social media site, but most people won’t jump to a separate site (even if they’re following a link.)

Fifty Shades hit a market niche that wasn’t being served. For our purposes now, it’s enough to understand that E. L. James’s specific take offered something that was absent in the mainstream romance genre. It is also important to understand that the romance genre is incredibly popular; so while Fifty Shades isn’t to my taste or (apparently) yours, a lot of people were willing to pay for it.

The short version is that Fifty Shades is a little bit of an anomaly. However, not as much as you might think.

The traditional publishing model was: You’d write your book, take it to agents, find one who’d shop it around to publishers and get it in print. With the growth of the internet, it’s become increasingly common to see new authors publishing their first works on their website. Authors such as David Wong and Dmitry Glukhovsky took similar approaches, publishing (what would become) their first novels online, with print releases coming much later, after their success was demonstrated.

One way to tilt the original model in your favor is by being able to show agents and publishers that there’s already a market for your work. If you can approach an agent and say, “I’m popular over here, and it will lead to sales,” it will make you more attractive. (If you’ve ever wondered how people like William Shatner or Snooki got published, here’s your answer.) This is a new way to demonstrate that. If fifty-thousand people will read your novel online, that tells an agent that there is a market for your work.

Self-publishing to your website isn’t a sure thing. Using the example of David Wong above, he was able to accrue around 70k unique hits during the time that John Dies at the End was on his website. That wasn’t enough to immediately convince publishers that the book was worth their time. (I can’t find full citations for those numbers at the moment, so treat the statistics with a grain of salt.)

Platform building can be a very important part of selling your book. Being able to say, “these are my fans,” can go a long way towards convincing an agent, or publisher, to take you seriously. The shape your platform takes is less important than the people on it. This can include fanfiction. A good example of that is Cassandra Clare, who got her start writing Harry Potter fanfics. She built her platform off that, and was able to bring in numbers that, when she was ready to jump over to original content, got the attention of publishers.

I’m focusing on the success stories here because we started with a discussion about E. L. James. For most people, the traditional model offers you best odds. An experienced literary agent is better equipped to advocate for your interests when negotiating with a publisher. A publisher who stands behind your work is better able to promote and distribute your novel.

E. L. James succeeded without that support, which is an extraordinary feat. Whatever your feelings on Fifty Shades, it was already success before it got in the door.

-Starke

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Q&A: Throwing Knives Versus Throwing Knives, and Other Projectile Weapons

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite: First of all, your explanation upon the dagger vs. sword battle is TRULY HELPFUL in my writing as I have no idea what to do about that kind of situation when one of my characters is in that scene. However, as you have stated, one shouldnt just carry a single dagger or a sword or a bow, and you must carry at least a bunch of weapons— So, what about someone who carries a handful of knives and is skilled in throwing them against someone with a sword? No matter the distance?

Are we talking about throwing knives or actually throwing knives, because one of those is a specific weapon type designed for projectile throwing and the other one is someone who likes to give their knives away. As a great Marine once said, “when you’ve thrown your knife, you’ve given your opponent your knife.”

Distance always matters. The type of projectile you have, its weight, is relative to understanding it’s effective range. I know you brought up throwing knives to get away from the range discussion, but, you know, different projectile weapons have effective ranges too. This is a question of force and momentum versus inertia and wind resistance. The weapon needs enough force behind it to not only reach its target but also impact at high velocity, otherwise it doesn’t do much.

A thrown weapon has a shorter effective range than a bow or a crossbow. The throwing knife has the additional problem of being much lighter than other throwing weapons like the throwing axe and the javelin, meaning it can’t travel as far. They’d still have to be decently close to the sword guy for their knives to maintain effect. A standard knife is even less aerodynamic than a throwing knife, meaning you need to be even closer. That’s not the only issue with throwing a knife though.

The combat problem with throwing knives as a weapon is they fit a specific niche and are, basically, trick weapons. They can be dangerous but only under specific circumstances. You can use them against someone who is unarmored, but you’ll just annoy an armored opponent. This will include the city guards, local knights, and anyone with a dense wool coat. If padded armor can stop an arrow, a throwing knife has no chance in hell. They’re among the weakest of the projectiles, both in speed and force. A swordsman who has experience dealing with projectiles could parry them without much cost. For reference, they lose out to the throwing axe and the javelin.

Throwing axes can be parried in flight, but due to the weapon’s weight combined with its momentum it has a higher cost to stop. Martial combat is all about physics, which is a discussion about weight, inertia, momentum. Even when you successfully block, parry, or clash with an opponent, you take a portion of that force into your body. This is to say, vibration. A little like what you feel after hitting a large metal bell with a hammer. So, “ouch!”

In case of the javelin, the Northern Germanic Tribes used to catch those in flight and throw them back at the Romans. They played a game as children where they would throw sticks back and forth, and that translated into catching and throwing Roman javelins. Turned out to be an ugly surprise for the Romans.

You’ll run into a similar problem with knives, especially if you’re just throwing regular knives. Knife throwing is a common parlor trick. The further back into history we go, the more common it becomes. People used to (and still do) play knife throwing games similar to darts. Bored soldiers and sailors liked to throw their knives at things. The knife is a small weapon, doubling as a utilitarian tool, and less vital than some others so soldiers would play with them. They shouldn’t, but they did. Modern soldiers still do. So, the chance your character would run into people completely unfamiliar with knives and the throwing of knives is unlikely. Given how weak the knife is as a projectile (especially one not designed for throwing), the worst thing that can happen isn’t that another character catches the knife and throws it back, but they take the knife and keep it. Now, your main character is down a knife and that knife may be used against them next. Besides, knives aren’t exactly cheap to replace. This is doubly true when talking about specialized projectiles that aren’t regularly requested from the local blacksmith.

They’re going to need money to support their hobby. Throwing knives aren’t like arrows which can be produced easily, cheaply, and are more in demand. You’re more likely to find a local fletcher who can make good arrows than a blacksmith who’ll reproduce a carefully crafted throwing knife from a set of throwing knives. The less common the gear, the harder it is to replace.

Crossbows and bows have the reputations they do for a reason, they were warfare mainstays. The longbow, in particular, served as the artillery of their day. Eventually, generals replaced bowmen in the back lines with cannons. I understand the resistance to utilizing the bows or crossbows, especially if culturally stereotyped Archer doesn’t fit the archetype you have in mind for your character. However, it’s worth remembering that there’s often a vast gap between media and real life. In fiction, dangers presented by archery is often downplayed. The upper body strength question is also usually ignored. Bows are given to lithe, skinny people like Legolas (who is an elf and supernaturally strong), our cultural ideal of Robin Hood, or female characters like Katniss. In a lot of fiction, the bow (even more than the crossbow) is treated like the equivalent of a gun. Which, no. The bow isn’t at all like a gun.

For one thing, the bow requires a lot of conditioning for upper body strength. Different bows have different draw weights, so you should always investigate the type of historical bow you envision a character using. Unlike swords and other melee weapons, the draw happens in the shoulders with the most strain placed on a single arm. With medieval longbows, you’d be looking at a draw weight between 90 to 160 pounds. They require a lot of upper body strength in the shoulders to draw and wield effectively. They also require a lot of care on the part of the archer to maintain combat readiness. The English and Welsh archers of their day could draw and fire roughly eight to ten arrows per minute. The crossbow was slower with one to two bolts per minute. Modern bows, comparatively, you’re looking at 30 to 60 pound draw weight. A lot of advancements in technology make the drawing easier while applying greater force.

The strength of the bow is you can fire a single shaft, carrying a lot of force that impacts on a single point. The end result for the weapon’s effectiveness is the amazing power of physics. The bow still sees occasional use in modern warfare today because, unlike a gun, it’s a truly silent killer.

Despite what anime and some fantasy narratives will tell you, bolts and arrows cannot be parried by a sword mid flight. They are too fast and have too much force behind them, especially arrows. Arrows and bolts, depending on type, can go through armor. It isn’t guaranteed, but they can. Arrows and bolts never completely invalidated armor, including plate armor, the way firearms eventually did. Bolts from crossbows have a shorter effective range from arrows. While crossbows fired more slowly, but they were easier to use.

Both Lindybeige and Scholagladiotoria have some great videos about arrow ballistics, bows (longbows specifically), and (English) warbows. Which I recommend watching, if you’re interested in historical archery either for writing or just in general. I really recommend watching the Lindybeige video for an in depth discussion on the additional gear your archer would wear to avoid the injuries they might get, along with proper posture, and Hollywood cliches.

You might assume, due to common assumptions that body types are static rather than changeable, if you weren’t born with the ability to easily build muscle in your upper body (like a man, unlike women who build muscle more easily in their legs) or aren’t a big, brawny sort of person that you can’t wield a weapon that requires a lot of strength.

This is wrong.

Very few people have all the correct muscles preconditioned for success and seamlessly learn to perform any sort of martial arts without effort. Training is what you need, specifically conditioning, to build specific muscles you’ll be regularly using. Outside your bone structure, which isn’t as malleable, athletics change your body. In fact, some health and fitness gurus have developed programs and exercise regimens which will help you achieve a specific type of body rather than just the healthiest version of you. Fiction will tell you that the type of body have will decide what sort of heroic profession or martial type you’re best suited for. That’s crap, straight up.

Some women and men might face more difficulty learning to use a bow in the beginning, or take longer to build up muscle for bows with heavier draw weights, but a slow start never negates a strong finish.

What separates the skilled from the unskilled is enthusiasm, being unwilling to give up in the face of difficulty or challenge, and lost, and lots, and lots of practice. They might have natural talent, but skill is the product of hard work. Conditioning is the part of your training which builds up your wind, your muscles, and your flexibility. These are your runs up with the hill, your wind sprints, your jumping jacks, your push ups, your pull ups, and other exercises.

I do recommend watching Lindybeige’s Three General Principles of Combat as he does a good job of going over the basic principles. Though, one thing he neglects to mention when discussing ideal ranges is that the size differences between two children are actually greater than the size differences between adults. So, it is much easier to get to your ideal range in a fist fight. Hand to hand ideal ranges are defined less by size, and more by the type of discipline you practice.

Different martial arts have their ideal ranges for where specific techniques are most effective, translating loosely to kicks, fisticuffs, standing grappling, and ground fighting. While most martial disciplines cover all four, they often specialize in only one or two. A Taekwondo specialist will prefer to start further away from their opponent so they can make good use of their legs versus a boxer or a wrestler who’d rather be up close. There are outliers like Muay Thai, where the kicks and stances have been adjusted to be effective in the hand range, but we’re discussing general principles.

That said, however, there are historical examples of individuals unscrewing the pommels of their swords and chucking them at their opponents to win duels at tournaments.

So, you know, anything’s possible.

(If you’re questioning the validity of pommel throwing, understand they did it as a method of distraction rather than immediate victory. It’s a specialized dueling tactic where you’re technically not cheating by bringing a second weapon, but you’re cheating. Throw pommel. Distract opponent. Gain the initiative. Hit first. Win.)

-Michi

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Q&A: More Bronze

I saw that recent ask about materials and it made me wonder… how much of a difference does the material of equipment make? Bronze versus steel, for example. Would having better materials convey any measurable advantage in a fight?

It’s significant.

There are a couple big things that happen when you’re switching materials, and jumping from bronze to steel is probably the best way to illustrate them.

First: Steel will hold an edge. You can sharpen bronze. Hell, you can sharpen silver, and some do still use silver cutlery. However, when you sharpen steel, that edge will stay much longer.

Second: Steel allows for much more mechanically demanding designs. The big thing here is armor, but this is also true with weapons as well. (Even if this isn’t what you’re thinking of when someone calls a weapon, “mechanically demanding.”)

Creating a structurally stable blade out of bronze is limited to a fairly short blade. I forget the exact length, but it’s somewhere around 24-36 inches. In modern terms, this is a shortsword. While the Celts tried to make bronze swords much longer, the result was not ideal, and the weapons would, “collapse.” in combat. A lot of this comes down to, bronze is a much softer metal. In contrast, early modern steel swords, like the Zweihander could exceed seven feet.

We’ve talked about combat range before, and how having a longer melee weapon is a significant advantage. In comparing bronze blades to steel ones, we have a return to the daggers vs longswords scenario. Someone with a bronze weapon can’t get close enough to stab someone defending themselves with a steel blade.

There is a major element here I’m skimming over. The predominant infantry weapon of the bronze age was the spear. So this isn’t quite as one sided as it looks. But, the advantage still stays with steel, as the sheer variety of polearms would explode with evolving smithing techniques.

Armor is a, mostly similar story. Bronze armor cannot replicate the mechanical complexity of articulated steel plate, and then take it into combat. Bronze being softer, the armor will wear and deform faster, and suddenly those articulated joints will jam. I’m making an assumption here, but I suspect the sophistication of armor designs advanced in step with the advancement of armor materials. This was true with weapons, and just looking at what you can do with bronze vs with steel, you can’t engineer that down to lower quality materials in most cases.

So, the end result is, you can make significantly better weapons and armor out of steel. Even when you’re replicating bronze weapons in steel, the result will be a more durable and effective.

The bronze to steel thing is a bit of an extreme example. You can see this more granularity when you’re looking armor and weapon advancement as the quality of the steel alloys improved.

To be clear, would a copper or bronze weapon BREAK from a single strike of a steel weapon? Or would the copper and bronze weapons/armor just need to be replaced more often than steel ones?

Probably not in a single strike, but there’s a few things I should address here:

First: You never want to parry blade to blade. Doesn’t matter what your weapons are, you’re going to risk damaging, or breaking, your own weapon.

Similarly, you don’t just hack away at someone’s armor; that’s also destructive to your weapon. Instead you’re looking for ways you can get your blade into vulnerable parts of their armor. So, joints for example. (There’s an exception here: If you have a hammer, just pound on them.)

Second: Weapons aren’t really disposable. You don’t travel around with a golf bag of blades and just swap to new ones as the old ones shatter. Historically, soldiers would carry a few backup weapons. A sidearm (usually a sword, or a handaxe), and a dagger, in addition to their primary weapon (usually a polearm), but people didn’t walk around with five or six swords strapped to them.

Most combatants would maintain their weapons, so it’s not like you’d just take a sword and keep using it until it broke. (At least, not if you knew what you were doing.) You’d be careful with its use to minimize the damage it suffered. You’d want to make sure that any minor damage was repaired to the best of your ability. That blade was kept clean and sharp. You never want to run a weapon until it’s destroyed.

Third: Bronze will not hold up in combat against steel weapons. That goes for both the armor and the weapons. I’m not sure a single strike would mangle a bronze weapon to uselessness, but it would not be in a good state, and a few solid hits would probably destroy it. (I’m a little fuzzy on exactly how much abuse it can take, because I don’t have a lot of experience working with bronze.

Ironically, that first point isn’t completely true if you’ve got steel weapons and going up against someone with copper (and possibly bronze), you might get some minor nicking along the blade, but it’s going to hold up far better than your experience would suggest.

Now, as I said, I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with bronze, so I’m not 100% sure how durable it is, beyond, “not very.” I’m familiar with the history, but this specific match up never happened, which is part of why I’m shying away from saying, “yeah, it’ll take X number of hits.”

The thing to remember is that there’s a huge technological advantage in the materials your smiths can work with. This is at least as significant as the kinds of weapons you have access to. Also, the kinds of weapons and armor you can produces are, functionally, “gated,” by the materials available. The reason no one in 5AD had a greatsword isn’t because they couldn’t imagine the weapon, they couldn’t make with the materials available.

-Starke

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Q&A: Similar, But not the same (Improvised Weapon Follow-up)

rainbowfoxes said to howtofightwrite: Would someone who’s been trained in a particular weapon be able to adapt to a makeshift one? For example, if someone was trained in the chain whip, would they be able to use a bike chain to similar effect?

A bike chain not so much, but only because it moves on a single plane and isn’t flexible. A regular chain? Sure. You put a heavy steel lock on the end of a regular chain and you’ve got a makeshift flail/meteor hammer.

However, improvised weapons are not the same as the real weapon and they are more limited in capacity. So, you could probably use a length of chain with movements derived from the whip chain but only the basics (single hand with the other holding the rest of the chain, no redirecting off your upper arm/elbow) and most likely without the same range. This doesn’t mean a simple length of chain cannot be used to devastating effect because it can be, but it won’t be exactly the same with the same techniques. They don’t transition fluidly, and you have to be very specific about the weapons and every day objects you pick out for to combine for improvisation

A tire iron is not designed to beat someone about the head even when that’s what it’s being used for. The benefits of the tire iron lie in the fact its a length of solid steel with a handle and hitting someone with it will hurt a whole hell of a lot. However, given the choice, you’d rather be using a tactical baton. The tactical baton will transition much better to a skill set learned on, say, eskrima with fewer limitations than a tire iron. If you took your tire iron up against someone wielding a tactical baton, you’d be at a disadvantage with subpar weapon.

Add to this the fact you are used to wielding a whip chain and not used to wielding a regular length of chain, you’re going to run up against some problems. The chain is going to be heavier, it will be less fluid, more difficult to spin, your tempo will be slowed, and you’re going to be heavily reliant on the most basic of techniques. The ones you might normally transition into will be out, and there’ll be specific patterns (like the ones where you’d catch on your ribs and stomach) that you will need to avoid for your own safety. Your reflexes will be trained to transition smoothly from one technique to another, which can lead to costly mistakes with a heavier weapon you’re not used to wielding. Those fractions of seconds in delay, the parts where you actually need to stop and think about control rather than react and let your body act, where you’re splitting your attention between your environment and the techniques you’re trying to carry out, can cost you the fight.

This is the advantage of the trained combatant over the untrained combatant. The trained combatant has their techniques ingrained into their reflexes, their reaction times are ten times faster, and this frees their conscious mind up to focus on what’s happening around them rather than on what their body is doing. This is the result of practice, practice for hundreds and, on occasion, thousands of hours retraining their body’s reflexive reactions. Training their muscles to respond, cutting those reaction times down, slimming down the time it takes for their brain to send orders to their limbs. All of this will give them an advantage over someone who does not have similar preparation.

However, weapons are not interchangeable and they are not the same. You hand someone a meteor hammer when they’re used to using a whip chain or rope dart and it will still take time for them to learn how to use the meteor hammer effectively. They’ll learn more quickly than a raw beginner, but they still have to learn. The same truth follows for improvised weapons. This is not the weapon your character is used to using. Similar, yes, but not the same.

This distinction is important to grasp because it can be an excellent source of tension in your scene. In fact, it is one of the hallmark handicaps for experienced fighters handed off by fight scene coordinators. Experienced fighters being forced to rely on weapons they’re not used to can provide uncertainty, and part of stacking the odds against them. Others are numbers, unfamiliar terrain, unexpected combat, without weapons, and forced improvisation. These can all be used to great effect to transform even the most experienced and talented of fighters into underdogs.

And you want them to be underdogs, you want your hero in situations where they’re out of their depth, you want them in situations where they need to get a little creative, you want them in situations where they’re forced to run. You want to establish their limits because once they have limits you can create scenarios where they start to shine, where your audience has a chance to bond with them, and you build up your antagonists in the bargain. It is not very fun to read a fight scene where we know the outcome, even when we already know the outcome. If your hero is not under pressure, if they’re not facing difficulties, if they’re not uncomfortable, if they’re not just a little out of their depth (but not so far that they drown) then the scene has no tension.

Improvised weapons are one means of turning the experienced into the underdog, especially when the enemy has actual weapons. If you can beat the idea into your brain that actual weapons trump improvised weapons no matter who is wielding them (hero, villain, or mook), then you’ll have a better chance of establishing your tension. A character can be unconcerned due to their own ego if they’re outnumbered and outgunned, but you, the author, should be giving your audience reason to be concerned. That starts with establishing limitations.

No two weapons are the same, even those of the same type. Each weapon has its quirks, its flaws, and imperfections that the character who wields it has learned to account for. A character may be able to wield someone else’s longsword, but they won’t wield it as well as their own. Two different weapons of two different types, even those from the same family, are not interchangeable. Improvised weapons suffer from severe limitations because they are not, really, weapons.

Understanding limitations works to your advantage because limitations, external, internal, physical, mental, and moral are key to building tension. Tension is what keeps your narrative interesting.

Your character has her whip chain but she is used to wielding it in open areas with room to swing it and is forced to fight in a crowded street filled with parked cars against five or six enemies who are hunting for her.

This could be a great scene if you’re able to make the most of the presented limitations: numbers, populated area, unfamiliar terrain. You can use the whip chain in close quarters, but the advantages of the whip chain against numbers are out. So, the character must fight in a way the audience was not primed to expect given the weapon choice.

See? Similar to what might’ve been, but not the same.

There’s your wrench. Throw as many as you can.

-Michi

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Follow Up: Antagonists

Technically wouldnt the character still be the protagonist not the antagonist? The protagonist is the character you are witing for and the antagonist is their opposition. Its not the same as a hero/villain. The good guys could still be the antagonists of the person you are writing for.

No. Not even technically. The antagonist is the acting force that opposes the narrative, while the protagonist is the acting force that supports it. In almost all circumstances, the protagonist will be the point of view character. This is because it’s their story. Even in stories where the PoV changes from scene to scene, the current PoV is telling their story, this may conflict with other characters, but they will almost always be their own protagonist.

However, the antagonist can be anyone or anything, including that same character. This is why I said, it’s a very different kind of story from what the original query was interested in.

Usually, the acting forces are characters, but that’s not necessary. Personal issues such as addiction or psychological factors can easily be a story’s antagonist. Similarly, amorphous hostile forces, like, “the wild,” or “bureaucracy,” can be a story’s antagonist. You can’t really delve into an approaching winter storm’s motivations or it’s troubled childhood, but it will kill your character if they don’t find shelter and a source of warmth. It’s the antagonist (or, “an antagonistic force,” if you prefer.)

It is easy to come up with situations where the antagonist isn’t a character at all, and there numerous genres that build off that idea as standard. There also numerous sub-genres that play with the idea of the protagonist pulling double-duty as the antagonist.

Again, if your character is struggling with themselves. If they’re fighting addiction, dealing with mental illness, or just trying to find a way forward when their will has been broken, they are their own antagonist. They may not be their only antagonist, but they’re a factor. It really is possible to be your own worst enemy; when that happens in a story, that’s the antagonist.

Having someone other than the PoV as a protagonist is unusual. You can write a story where your PoV character is observing and recording the actions of another party. An example of this would be the Sherlock Holmes novels. Holmes is the protagonist, but the books and short stories are “written” by Watson.

Can you have your PoV character as the antagonist? Yeah, it’s possible, but unusual. The first example that comes to mind is A Christmas Carol, (and the endless riffs on it.) Ebeneezer Scrooge is the antagonist at the beginning of the piece. Now, the entire character arc is his transformation from miser to someone with some actual human empathy, so in the long term this might not be the perfect example. There’s also some room for discussion on self-destructive PoV characters.

One, inverted scenario, for protagonist/antagonist, would be a situation where someone was the subject of an intervention. The point of view character would be the antagonist in their own story, while their friends or family, trying to bring them back out, would be the protagonists. Though, this is a strange situation.

Ultimately, the thing about labels like protagonist and antagonist is, “they’re labels.” These are a tool used to analyze a story after the fact. It’s not something you need to worry about when you’re writing. When you are writing, worry about things like character motivation, and action. What they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Think about the opposition they’ll face, and how they will, or won’t, be able to deal with it. Asking, “who’s the antagonist?” comes after you’ve finished the work and handed it off to someone else.

-Starke

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Q&A: Relationship Advice

I’m going to break this “question” into two pieces. They’re related, but they really need to be addressed separately.

Wow if someone expected me to automatically know their triggers without telling them and then threw me without making sure I was okay after, I’d leave them. You can’t expect your non-combat s/o to do all the work and for the combat s/o to none. I have several triggers but I make sure to tell my s/o what they are.

In broad strokes, I agree with completely.

If someone expects you to automatically know who they are; that’s a problem. It happens, but it’s a problem, and it’s not the kind you should dismiss. Relationships require communication. They require work. They require mutual respect. There’s the romantic ideal of an effortless relationship, but that is just a fantasy; kinda like being a superhero.

It’s very easy to fall in love with someone that does not exist. People do it all the time. They think they know the object of their attraction, but they never really take the time to pay attention and find out who that person is. To some extent, this is human nature. You meet someone, start a crush, fill in the blanks, and then expect them to still be the same person in daylight.

It doesn’t work that way.

Like I said, honest communication is vital. You need to talk to someone to start to get an idea of who they are. Watching them is also important, but if you don’t communicate, you don’t have a baseline. You can’t expect everyone to be able to explain everything about themselves; most people aren’t that introspective. However, it will go a long way. So, yes, talk to them. Learn who they really are. Be honest, because if you’re not, you’ve only yourself to blame if they believe you.

What’s worse are the people who expect someone else to magically conform to their ideal version of them. This is abusive, and depressingly common. Many people, when presented with the reality of their significant other, expect them to cede their identity in favor of the illusory version.

It sucks, but you can’t have a relationship with a dream. Sooner or later, someone’s going to get hurt.

With only one exception, every single incident I can point to, where someone tripped another’s reflexes, it’s come out of a lack of respect, so let’s talk about that.

Relationships require mutual respect. Not, one way. Not, “you must respect them,” because the inverse is also true. If you’re not respecting one another, it’s not really a relationship of equals, or even healthy.

Ambushing someone, regardless of what you think their feelings on the subject will be, is disrespectful. You’re saying that what you intend to do is more important than them consenting to your action. Then you’re taking the extra step to deprive them of the opportunity to consent. You can’t say, “I’m going to do what I want without permission,” and say you respect that person. These are mutually exclusive.

Context is important, and there are plenty of situations where people will engage in behavior with each other that you wouldn’t. There’s also plenty of behavior you might participate in that someone else wouldn’t.

How do you know this context? Get to know your partner. Seriously. If you don’t know them, you don’t have a relationship with them, you’re involved with an illusion, and cannot respect the actual person you’re using as a proxy.

If your friend says, “hey, I do martial arts.” You might express interest in trying to figure out what that means. The same goes for your crush, regardless of their sex or gender.

If your friend says, “hey, I don’t like it when you startle me like that.”

Don’t do it.

The signs are there long before you ever trigger someone’s reflexes, and that starts with paying attention to what they tell you a long time before anything drastic occurs. If you respect another person, you respect their boundaries. You want to get to know them, learn the situations where they’re comfortable. You’ll pay attention to their body language. These reactions don’t come from nowhere, and, in general, the extreme examples are when the other person ignored every other sign leading up to the moment where the combat response happens.

Like I said, this experience happened once with a significant other in my teens. It has never happened with strangers, or other kids in High School, or in college. The only other person who has ever triggered my reflexes is my brother, who is a fourth degree black belt. These stories are always about an intentional act taken by another person when they disregard stated boundaries and comfort zones.

Tripping the fight reflexes are not common occurrences. They’re extreme examples that happen with a specific trigger action and are a result of ignoring the other person’s boundaries. You’ll figure it out if you respect the other person enough to pay attention to them.

If someone engages in unprovoked violent towards you, leave. There’s no room for debate here. It’s over. Time to move on.

However, conflating physical abuse with these specific instances is also a problem.  But… I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, you did. If this happens, then you ignored the warning signs to the point where a response that occurs once in a decade (and only with provocation) happened to you.

You’ve learned a concept exists and, like a kid in a candy store, think the natural occurrence of combat reflexes unintentionally damaging a significant other because they stepped wrong is far more common than it actually is — which is next to never.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you don’t know anyone who actually has these reflexes, or been in a community where they’re common. So, trust me, when I say I know more about this situation and what triggers it than you do.

You know what this behavior gets used for, don’t you?

Bullying.

Kids without combat training, just like you, will use this on kids with combat training or just sensitive reflexes because they A) don’t believe the other child when they say stop, and B) because they know they’ll get sympathy when/if the other child goes off. They get away with bullying and look like a victim when the inevitable occurs. They want the emotional response you had to protect them from the big bad child over there, even though they were the instigators.

If you think this doesn’t happen in relationships, think again. Abuse goes both ways, and having a capacity for violence doesn’t necessarily protect you from it. You do get a lot less belief and sympathy when the abuse, be it emotional or physical occurs, because of uninformed attitudes which buy into the idea violence equals strength.

I have more stories about these kinds of people than I do the other.

 I think, in a romantic situation in fiction, the non-combat s/o shouldn’t be ‘punished’ in the narrative and trauma-related responses shouldn’t be ‘weaker’.

As with the above statement, I agree fundamentally, but it’s a little more complicated. If you’re writing a couple, it’s important that they have some kind of equilibrium between each other. The advice above still applies: they need to be able to communicate with one another, there needs to be a baseline of trust and respect, but they also need to both bring something to the table. I in the real world, that’s work, but in fiction it can easily be their skill set.

It’s easy to become fixated on violence as an overly useful skill set. This isn’t true to life, and it can be very important to remember that non-combatant characters have lives beyond violence.

The simple thing is to remember that all of your characters, whether they’re in a relationship with one another or not, need to be characters in their own right. You need some balance to show them as functional people, or they become trophies and McGuffins; which brings us to your complaint.

At a certain level, combat is like any other skill your characters may have. A character who doesn’t have any combat skills can’t fight effectively, a character who can’t pick locks, can’t sneak into places, a character who is unskilled with computers can’t diagnose their own technical issues, a character who isn’t trained in criminal investigation isn’t going to know how to investigate a murder. A character who’s basically honest will have an extremely hard time lying convincingly.

You can have battle couples, where both of them are trained and proficient in combat. They may be in the thick of it together with similar skills, or they may have different focuses that they can work together. By the same measure, you can have couples with similar skillsets, such as hacking, or subterfuge, with similar considerations. Or, you can have characters that have very little overlap in their skills, but can still work together in differing capacities.

The problem comes in when you say, “this skill set” is more valid than that one. In some occasions that may be true, but it’s something you want to be careful about.

On a related issue, it is worth pulling characters out of their comfort zone regularly. A character who never encounters a problem they need to get creative with can easily become monotonous, in a, “when all you have is a hammer,” kind of way. This is one of the times where having a couple with mismatched skills can become incredibly useful. Especially if your combat capable character is just as out of place when they’re in their partner’s area of expertise.

If you have a character that’s permanently out of their depth, especially pairing them with someone who’s hyper-competent, that’s flirting with bad writing. I can think of a few counter-examples, but this is something you should be very cautious about.

There’s a real trend in the real world of people not believing people when they say, “don’t do this. I don’t like it.” This is the basis of the trope we were discussing. If you triggered someone’s fight reflexes, chances are very good that it wasn’t an accident. The person who did it just didn’t believe the other person when they said, “don’t do that.” You made a bad assumption that the non-combat S/O is going to be the one with the trauma responses or even that the combat triggers are trauma related at all. Or that they’d cause trauma to the non-combat S/O. If you interpreted one as “weaker” than the other because they don’t have the same skills as their combat S/O, then that one is on you.

Relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on communication and mutual respect. These mishaps happen specifically when boundaries are not respected, when the other person is not believed because these aspects of who they are doesn’t fit the image their S/O has of them. While these are ingrained reflexes, it does actually take work to get someone to reflexively lash out.

Modifying your behavior for the person you love is not a big deal when they’re doing the same for you. If someone you like says, “I don’t like you tickling me.” Then, don’t tickle them. If they say, “Please, don’t flash your hand in my face.” Don’t flash your hand in their face.

If you feel adjusting your behavior is unfair, don’t date.

-Michi

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