Q&A: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild has been on my mind and I’m wondering something. According to the game he’s been beating adults in combat (I assume it’s sword play) since the age of 4. Of course in universe there are many reasons and theories for his prowess, but from a real world standpoint exactly how ridiculous is this? And more importantly, how have you guys been doing? All the chaos right now is really concerning, and I hope you stay safe. Much love <3

bakahimesama

From a human perspective, it’s not even remotely plausible. Even with children who start training at very young ages, they’re not going to be anywhere near ready to fight adults.

Things are a little muddy, because Link isn’t human. Okay, so, this is a little more complicated than it sounds. As far as I know, the official statement is that the Hylians are “human.” Though, the race has a long history of magic users, to the point that it’s resulted in physiological changes. Nothing I know about them suggests that their physiological development should be that different from real humans, but it is an easy way to justify the game mechanics.

It’s also possible (though implausible) that the Hyrule calendar has much longer annual cycles. If you had a 1500 day year, for example, someone who was, “four years old,” would be roughly 16 years old by our calendar. Again, not something that’s relevant to the Zelda franchise, but it can result in something like a four year old who’s able to fight and win against adults. Granted, those adults might be “five to seven years old.”

So, that’s the fun part of the question. We’re hanging in here. Things have been pretty stable so far. We’re in the Seattle metro area, so things have been calm. That said, there’s a lot of ash in the air. Going outside right now can’t be healthy. I’m not just speculating there, we’ve both been fighting with brutal headaches since the smoke moved in. A couple days ago, there was a visible yellow/brown tinge to all of the sunlight. The sunlight has been mostly gray today, though, one of the cats found a patch of red sunlight this afternoon. So things aren’t great, but they could certainly be a lot worse.

If we’re lucky, we should be seeing rainfall in the next couple days, so hopefully that’ll clear the air, but until then, we’ll keep going through pain meds at an accelerated rate.

All of that said, things have been pretty stressful here over the last couple weeks. I’m hoping things will start to die down again, but we’ll try to keep you guys in the loop.

-Starke

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Q&A: Honey Badger

I have a character who is concealing a aac honey badger under a trench coat. What type of sling would be best in allowing them to quickly bring it up on target when needed?

bobbyboson

Given they’re trying to conceal the Honey Badger, a single mount quick sling is probably the best option. This has a mounting point just above the pistol grip or on the stock itself. So you loop it over your shoulder, and the rifle hangs down under your arm. Effectively, the sling is simply tethering the rifle’s butt to your shoulder, so you can simply bring it up and be ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Because the rifle hangs under the arm, it will be more concealed than with any other common sling type.

The one downside to trying to conceal it is, if you’ve got a full size mag, that’s going to result in an odd bulge under your coat. There’s not much you can do about this. It does mean that there’s a marginal advantage for carrying a shotgun, but hiding an assault rifle or SMG under your coat can get tricky. The Honey Badger can still be concealed, but there will be signs that your character has a rifle under their coat if someone looks closely.

If you’re asking for a brand recommendation, I can’t help you there. Slings are not something I deal with.

I have reservations, but that’s about the Honey Badger itself. For those unfamiliar with it, the Honey Badger is a PDW patterned off the AR-15. (So, think the M4 or M16.) The major differences are that the Honey Badger is chambered in .300 AAC Blackout, has an integrated suppressor, and is much smaller.

Like all AR 15 pattern rifles, the buffer protrudes out the back of the receiver, and is shielded by the stock. This means, if you have AR-15 pattern design, you cannot go without a stock, nor can you fully collapse it.

PDWs, or Personal Defense Weapons, are a family of compact rifles that don’t comfortably fit into either the assault rifle or SMG families. Some other examples would be the H&K MP7, and the FN P90.

Finally, .300 Blackout is a proprietary cartridge. This is pretty common among the PDWs. Both of the examples I listed above also use their own ammo types.

So, here’s my problem. If a characters is operating covertly, firing a rare and distinctive ammo type is going to make it easier to source. If your character is using a KRISS Vector, they’re probably firing .45ACP. That is a very common ammo type, and if you started to pull ammo sales for a major metropolitan area, you’d have the phonebook. You can’t tell who bought it. If someone opens up with a Honey Badger, they’re leaving brass behind that says, “this is an unusual gun. This is an unusual shooter.” Add that the gunshots were suppressed, and sourcing that gun will become much easier.

Actually, the suppressor is a larger problem than it might seem initially. US laws regarding suppressors are (arguably) excessive. The laws were driven by fears based on seeing silenced guns in films. there are real applications for suppressors, and they’re nowhere near as effective as their Hollywood counterparts. This leads back to the Honey Badger because there is a mountain of paperwork if you want to buy one. This is an automatic weapon, it has an integrated suppressor, that means an extended background check, and a hefty NFA tax stamp. Short version, unless your character has a very specific background, they probably wouldn’t have access to this gun. Figure the sticker price will be over three grand.

If the response is, “but my character is a spy/part of a paramilitary operations group,” the ammo problem stays. For the spy, it’s the problem above; a distinctive ammo type will help tie multiple killings together, and give law enforcement (or hostile agencies) an easy link to tie their shootings together. Again, they’re better off bringing ubiquitous ammo to the fight. Even if the guns themselves are exotic. (There’s the KRISS Vector example above, though the War Sport LVOA-C also comes to mind.)

For the paramilitary operator, the problem is about logistics. For an organization that runs an armory, it’s far more convenient to minimize the number of ammunition types the armorer needs to manage. You could have an organization with a whole array of specialized weapons, but would lead to situations where, “you can’t take the Five-Seven, we don’t have any ammo for it.” If you’re limiting yourself to five or six ammunition types, this is less of a problem, but when we’re talking about the Honey Badger, there isn’t much that fires .300 AAC Blackout. (At least, not in comparison to the standard NATO rifle rounds.)

The irony is, if keeping the gun quiet isn’t absolutely critical, and you were looking at .300 Blackout because you wanted more firepower than 5.56, I’d actually look at the carbine variants of the FN SCAR. It’s bulkier, but it’s also a full on battle rifle. That 7.62 NATO will blend in with the commercial ammo sales. (Ironically, there is a SCAR-SC variant chambered in .300 Blackout.)

Having said that, .300 Blackout does have a wider range of firearms than the last time I checked, and it is used by the UK’s military. (Though, it’s not clear what they’re doing with it.) However, it’s still an unusual round, and it will stand out at a crime scene.

Also worth knowing that there is a 5.56 variant of the Honey Badger. So, if that’s what you were thinking of using, it’s like any other AR-15 platform at that point, with the same consideration that it’s going to be tricky to conceal.

If your character needs the weapon to be visually hidden, and isn’t concerned about keeping it quiet, a semi-auto shotgun (like a Benelli M4) might be a better option. Unlike the Honey Badger, it will hang directly down from the arm, without the magazine protruding. You might even be able to get away with optics. Buckshot does not leave usable ballistics, 12 Gauge is an incredibly common ammo type, and (if you’re lucky) comparing wear patterns on shell casings might tell you the model of firearm, but it’s basically impossible to match it to a specific gun.

Now, it’s worth remembering, if your character has what they have, and they didn’t pick their weapons, it’s entirely reasonable for them to be using something that’s not ideal for the task at hand. The Honey Badger was designed to be a replacement for the MP5SD. If your character is trying to use that for anything else, it’s not going to be the best option.

On the other hand, if your character is SAS, operating in a hostile city, then the Honey Badger makes a lot more sense. (I’m singling out the SAS here because we know the UK is using the round.) From what I know, it’s an excellent weapon for that kind of wet work. Concealing it is a little tricky, (though it’s easier than hiding an MP5SD under your coat.)

It is important to think about the guns you want to use in your story, and how that relates to what your characters are trying to do with them. I’ve just said all the reasons why this isn’t a good choice, but I’m approaching this from an optimal perspective. If your character thinks that the Honey Badger is the right tool for the job, that’s what will drive their behavior. As a writer, the forensics matter because it can tension your character, and additional threats.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Chosen One

If I have a character who is a very special chosen one, and it’s also a sci-fi story, how quickly could they master fighting from zero ability and not be too implausibly quick?

I have no clue.

We’re talking about science fiction. So, that suggests there’s technology available to characters that exceeds the real world.

It’s entirely possible to imagine technologies that would allow you to implant advanced training into someone in a matter of minutes. That’s not just martial arts, that’s any skill.

The first example of this that comes to mind is The Matrix (1999), though We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, by Phillip K. Dick, and Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan, both play with the idea of implanting memories into new bodies.

The problem you’d run into with any skill which required muscle memory is implanting the muscle memory itself. That’s a consideration, but it is solvable. Rental sleeves (bodies) in Altered Carbon are prewired with reflex packages. The Matrix is a computer simulation, so issues with muscle memory are ignored there. It’s an issue, but it can be accounted for. Either through more invasive skill implantation, or possibly even some kind of further augmentations.

So, how long would your character need? I don’t know. It could be as simple as, “take this pill and count back from 100.” That’s the joy, and difficulty of science fiction.

If you’re going to this route, you need to consider how it would affect your world. If your characters live in a world where developing an entire new skill is easier than treating a headache, that’s going to seriously affect culture and society. It’s also worth considering that, “off the shelf skills,” may be somewhat uniform. So, if two people had both gained strategic skills from the same processes, they’re more likely to have similar strategic doctrines. Someone from a different background might be able to account for and exploit that. This also applies to distilled hand-to-hand packages, where someone familiar with the package could probably anticipate how users would behave, and get ahead of them.

So, let’s rip the guts out of the chosen one. I realize my perspective is a little ironic given I just cited The Matrix, but I’m not a fan of, “the chosen one has superpowers.” Or at least, I’m not a fan of, “the chosen one has superpowers because they’re the chosen one.”

Chosen ones aren’t automatically cliche, however, that is a real risk. The more inherently special and unique they are, the greater that risk becomes. Through no fault of your own, the phrase, “very special chosen one,” sets me on edge. It’s not the wording, it’s the concept.

One of my favorite, examples of a “chosen one,” is the player character from Fallout 2. The Chosen One was picked by a village elder to go out and save their village. That’s it. While the game allows the player to announce themselves as “The Chosen One,” like it’s their name, and the rest of the world basically laughs that off. Outside of their village, they’re just another wandering tribal.

I’m bringing this up, because if your character is designated as, “the chosen one,” by someone without any real power, that’s just a title. A sheltered, or egocentric, character may not even realize that being designated The Chosen One is basically meaningless. Much like Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers, just because you think you’re “on a mission from God,” doesn’t mean that anyone else cares.

When the character is designated as the chosen one by a higher power, things can get tricky. The idea of a divine champion has been done to death. It’s become cliche through overuse.

These kinds of empowered chosen ones present a real problem to their writer. If you’ve said, “this character is The Chosen One,” and even worse, “they’re destined do this thing,” it strips a lot of tension from your work. Your audience knows your chosen one will survive, and succeed, because they’re necessary to fulfill the prophecy, or whatever they were tasked with. There’s a lot of variations to keep this interesting, but it is a plot element that needs to be handled carefully, with consideration towards how it will functions in relation to the mountains of fiction that went before you.

I’m going to step back for a second and just say this: It’s impossible to be 100% original. The problem with chosen ones is that they’re going to derivative of other chosen ones from other stories. That’s fine. That’s not the problem. Creativity comes from how you use this plot concept. Being labeled as cliche (in this case) only means that you failed to come up with something that felt fresh. You took the same plot components that many others have handled, but didn’t managed to assemble it into something that felt compelling. When I’m talking about cliches, and saying, “this needs to be handled carefully,” that’s what I mean. You need to take the parts of a chosen one, and assemble it into something that fits into your story in a new or interesting way.

In the narrow example of this question, we have two parts. We have the chosen one, and we have rapid training in science fiction. Both of these have been covered before. However, there have been many more works dealing with chosen ones, while the list of works where characters gain advanced skills through unusual means is much shorter. Between the two, it will be easier to come up with an original work using the latter.

Mixing different pieces together to get a different perspective, or reworking how those pieces function, is how you get original and creative works. It’s just that’s going to be a lot harder with plot elements that have been done to death.

With that in mind, I have no idea how long it would take. I don’t know what rules apply to your chosen one. I don’t know what technology your setting has. Either one of these can set the answer for your story. That’s under your control. Ideally you want to follow those answers through. Even if it’s just that your protagonist can quickly gain skills, that’s going to have a massive, long term, effect on them.

It’s your story. Do something creative with it. Just because something’s at risk of being cliche doesn’t mean you can’t use it, it only means you need to be more creative.

-Starke

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Q&A: Talent and Training

How much talent one needs to be a good fighter? Will talent always beat training? I read some article were the best athletes are just naturally “gifted” at it

You don’t need to be talented to learn how to fight. It helps, but it’s not necessary. Talent never beats training. That isn’t just in the context of fighting, raw talent can help you get started faster, and can help reach a higher peak, but that’s only through training and practice.

You will see people confuse the value of talent and training. A lot of writers use talent as a justification for their characters operating at level which would require training without having to incorporate that into their background. That’s not what talent is; that’s not how it works.

When it comes to simply using a skill, talent is meaningless. Now, that probably flies in the face of how you’re used to thinking, so let me explain. Talent doesn’t make you a better at a thing, it simply means that you learn faster.

A talented martial artist still needs to practice. They still need to train. You aren’t getting around that. They may not need to train as much to reach the same level of proficiency as another person. However, it is in their best interest that they continue to put in the time and effort, further refining their skill. The irony is those who are worst at their chosen field in the beginning often turn out to be the best. Why? They started slower, but put in more time and more effort to become great. Effort, not talent, has value. The lie about needing talent has led plenty of people to quit what they enjoy when they didn’t receive immediate gratification. More than martial arts or martial combat, this includes art, writing, acting, gymnastics, and more. Nobody starts out a master.

Any talented individual should put in the same amount of time towards their pursuit that a non-talented individual would need to. Note, “should.” There are plenty of individuals who were talented in a field, put in the bare minimum amount of time and ended up mediocre.

It’s easy to look at the exceptional individuals, realize they’re talented, and believe that correlation equals causation. The problem is: it doesn’t. If you’re talented, and dedicated, you can put in the time and effort to exceed expectations. It does not mean you are destined for greatness.

Let’s talk about your final line, “the best athletes are naturally gifted.” This is untrue; or at least extremely deceptive. The best athletes put in a lot of work. They may also be “naturally gifted,” but they got there through staggering amounts of effort, and dedication. They weren’t simply blessed with good genetics or given some kind of destiny. They created themselves.

Those athletes did get lucky. There are lot of things that can go wrong with the human body, and those athletes managed to avoid detrimental flaws. If you want to call that, “naturally gifted,” you’re not wrong, but that makes it sound more deterministic than it is.

We’ve written a lot about the work athletes put into their chosen field, about how much they sacrifice, and, often, how overlooked their dedication is in comparison to their “natural talent.” At the highest levels, you are looking at individuals who have given their whole lives in pursuit of a dream. Individuals who’ve reached the same point competing against others who have put in similar amounts of time and energy. If you want to be an Olympic athlete, it’s not about being, “naturally gifted,” it’s about being willing to dedicate your entire life to training. All for an event that will play out over a few weeks.

Being the best is not about being, “naturally gifted.” It’s about work.

Being talented isn’t about being naturally skilled. It’s about work. The practice and time you put in will take you further. Over time it will look like you got a head start. You didn’t; you just learn faster, and used that time to refine your skills.

You don’t need talent to be a good fighter; you need training. Fighting tests your training against your foe’s training. Talent can give you an edge, but you need training.

Talent never beats training. Talent and training is an extremely potent combination, but talent alone is unrealized and meaningless.

So, two things to take with you:

First, if you have a talent, and you want to use it, you need to practice. You need an education. (There are some rare exceptions, so if you can’t get an education in that field, there may be other options.) To really bring your talent out, you need to refine it. It will help you get better, but it doesn’t mean you’re automatically, “good enough.” Strive to be more.

Second: if you have a talent, and you don’t want to use it. You shouldn’t feel guilty about setting it aside and ignoring it. Like I said, talents aren’t deterministic. This isn’t some divine mandate which you must fulfill.

It’s possible to engineer abstract situations where a character ignoring their mystically given powers is selfish, but that’s from the fictional perspective of characters who simply have inexplicable skill labeled as “talent.”

In the real world, if you’re talented at something, you’d still need to commit the time and energy to fully develop that skill set. If it’s something you detest, and you would rather commit to something else, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not that you can only have a single talent.

Further, “you’re so talented,” can be used to push you into a field. Ultimately, no one else knows how easily a topic comes to you, or how much you struggle with it. Another person, regardless of their authority, not in a position to determine if you’re talented, they can only make an educated guess. A guess that can be easily distorted by their own biases. Don’t let someone else pick your life for you.

-Starke

Q&A: Realism

Is it is possible to write a book you DON’T want to be realistic? I like cartoons and comics and I want to write something where fighting styles and powers are not realistic, but the psychology and relationships are. Like Durarara or something. No one dismisses Shizuo (superhuman strength) or Celty (a Dulahan) as unrealistic b/c they aren’t supposed to be. The real fun is in their daily lives and relationships. What is the secret for books like this? Advice from you or your followers would help!

Yes and no.

For your story to work, there needs to be some internal consistency. In that sense; yes, your work needs to be realistic, however the reality your characters live in doesn’t need to conform to the real world.

You can write a world with violence and characters straight out of Saturday morning cartoons, or superhero comics.

I struggle to call a character like Superman realistic, but that has more to do with 80 years of inconsistent writing. The basic pitch for the character, as a superpowered alien is fine. It’s realistic within the context of a world where you have hundreds of, “last of their kind,” alien refugees descending on earth and intermixing with an equally diverse array of other superheroes and villains. It’s realistic for its world, just not for ours.

The difficult part in this is juggling the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The more, “implausible,” your world is, the harder you’ll have to work to establish what, “realistic,” means for your characters.

The best advice I can offer on the subject is remembering to make the world, “real,” for your characters. They need to plausibly live in that world. What your readers see as novel would be mundane for them. It’s also important to follow the logic of your world to flesh it out further. For example: “What does it mean to live in a world where superheroes are making the evening news?”

One danger to keep in mind is that you want to be consistent with your world, and your characters. Even if the world doesn’t reflect the real one, you want it to be a compelling and believable. Similarly, you need believable characters, as they’re what your audience is most likely to connect to.

I suspect this question came from the idea that all stories need to adhere to the real world. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Using the real world as your template can make your life easier. You already have some understanding of how the real world functions, and you share that with your audience. It gives you a shared context which you can populate with your characters and events. The more you deviate from the real world, the more work you have to do. You’ll transition from having a world your audience already knows, to one that’s similar, but you need to point out the discrepancies, to one that is almost unrecognizable. It’s more work, but that shouldn’t put you off the idea.

Prose, more than any other medium, is not constrained by the real world. You can write whatever you want. You can write things that are fundamentally impossible. The question is, can you make interesting for your readers?

Try. Even if your first efforts don’t succeed, the lessons you learn along the way will help you when you try again.

-Starke

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Q&A: Critical Veracity

I apologize if this seems too blunt, but this is a blog about writing. I would have hoped to see you address criticism in a way that is less reactive and more open. Your last post in particular seems rather angry when I felt there were better ways to deal with the topic that invited understanding and education.

If it makes you feel better, I can assure you, I’m not angry. In fact, posting while angry is a bad idea, and something you should want to avoid.

The author of that torture question annoys me. She comes back a couple times a year, and more often than not we simply deep six her posts without comment. We’ve gotten pretty familiar with her writing, and can usually recognize it on sight. In particular, any asks where she tells us to direct our followers to her blog will not see publication.

It’s important to understand that, not all critique is valid. Not all opinions have merit. In this particular case, this is a very significant factor. As I’ve said, my degree is in political science. When you get into international politics and the use of coercive force, torture comes up a lot. In contrast, the ask author’s background did not prepare them to address torture.

I made an off-hand comment comparing them to an anti-vaxer, and that analogy is more solid than it initially appears. They are, literally, telling an expert that he’s wrong because they prefer their cherry picked, and intentionally misrepresented source.

They are an amateur telling an expert to sit down, shut up, and let them do the talking because they feel morally superior.

To which, I said, “no.”

Similarly, when someone accuses you of something you didn’t do, that critique is invalid. They’re not criticizing you, they’re inventing a version of you that they can attack. This is a dishonest debate tactic called a “straw man fallacy.” They cannot win in an actual argument, so they create an artificial, and untenable position, and attempt to force their opponent to defend it.

To be fair, they’re not very good at setting up straw man arguments. Most of their fabricated positions fail to appear legitimate if you have a functional memory. Several of them can leave you scratching your head going, “where did you get that idea?” More often than not, it leaves the impression that they have very poor reading comprehension, rather than that they’re intentionally dishonest.

For example, their accusation of, “you’re a torture apologist!” as a response to, “torture is evil.”

The expectation is that you won’t realize you’ve been maneuvered into defending a different argument, and won’t be able to evaluate the weaknesses of that new argument.

Except, they’re not that subtle, and as a result, their attempts to manipulate the discussion tend to be more baffling than effective.

Remember, there were a lot of accusations in that ask regarding behavior that never happened. That’s pretty solid tip off that the author is coming to the discussion with unclean hands. They didn’t want an open and honest discussion.

Their entire goal is to get us to shrink back into corner, and allow them to speak for us because we’d be too afraid to offend someone, or too busy pleading, “please don’t hit me anymore.” If you’ve spent any time reading our work, you can understand that their goal wasn’t realistic.

There’s merit in saying that there are better ways to address asks like that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to believe the best in people. However, in this case, that ask was not what it appeared to be. If you wanted to say that I simply should have nuked the ask without comment, that’s valid. Michi almost did until I stopped her.

In an environment like Tumblr, you are under no obligation to give someone a platform to attack you through misrepresentation. If you get someone in your inbox who is accusing you of something you didn’t do, you can simply block them.

I chose to respond, because I felt there were meaningful comments to be made along the way. Not because I was upset.

Personally, I really enjoyed writing that post. In your defense, I don’t often go for the throat on this blog, so there’s no fault in being surprised by that response.

-Starke

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Q&A: “Show, Don’t Tell,” and Drafting

How do I get around overthinking the rule “show, don’t tell” in that even when show and have enough detail in my stories, part of me worries people will mistake it for telling. Sometimes, when I edit, the story becomes overly dense or indirect and the reader needs to do too much work to understand it, which is a bad thing. However, every article online is about the virtue of details, which is the opposite of my problem. I sometimes feel like my first drafts are cleaner and more emotional.

It sounds like the overthinking is leading to a misunderstanding. “Show don’t tell,” is a warning about unnecessary exposition. It will also steer you away from some generic writing habits, towards specificity.

It’s important to remember there are no universal rules about how to write. You’ll develop methods that work for you. The rules, and guides are just there to help you find your method. The vast majority of people produce better results through multiple drafts. If you really are best suited to one and done writing, that’s not wrong, but most people who attempt that produce substandard results.

That said, always save copies of your old drafts. If a revision is inferior to previous draft, don’t use it. You may need to write another draft to address problems that came up, but if a draft is a step down, save a copy, and go back.

The value of a second draft is learning what you need, and what you don’t. It lets you properly set up future events, and eliminate the threads you didn’t use. Chances are, you didn’t fully understand what the story would be when you started, and redrafting is the opportunity to go back and tell the finished story from the beginning.

None of this has anything to do with, “show don’t tell.” Like I said, that has more to do with exposition. For example, don’t tell me about a character’s personality, show it in action. Don’t tell me about their habits, show them. Don’t tell me about character traits, show how they shape their behavior.

It’s easy to get hung up on “show don’t tell,” when you’re working in prose; everything is text, it can feel like everything is, “telling,” and nothing is, “showing.” The critical thing to remember when you’re writing is, simply saying the thing is, “telling.” You, “show,” when it’s presented as part of the world, events, or character behavior.

For example: With a character’s emotional state, simply saying they’re happy would be “telling.” Writing about their body language, tone of voice, and other cues can “show” their mood without having to, “tell.”

Traits are an important concept for writers to internalize. It’s not that it’s a difficult concept. The idea that someone would “smart,” “beautiful,” “creative,” whatever, is natural. The, “show don’t tell,” failure is when traits are identified through exposition, but never actually come into play during the story.

A personal pet peeve on this subject are characters described as strategic or tactical geniuses, but when the fighting starts, they do little more than frontal assaults.

Compare that to a character like Grand Admiral Thrawn, where his strange art obsession is part of a larger practice of studying how his foes think to identify and exploit strategic and tactical blind spots. (In fairness, I think Thrawn is also described as a strategic genius in exposition, but he certainly earns that distinction through his actions.)

That example illustrates something else. If it’s important enough, sometimes it is worth showing and telling. You may detail something in exposition, and then later show it. This something that should be done very sparingly. Only when that detail vitally important for understanding the story or world, and your readers are having difficulty picking up on it.

The magic number for repetition is three. Usually as setup, reinforcement, and payoff. So, if you have something critical for your story, you establish it, come back later to remind the readers, “oh, yeah, this is a thing,” and then use it when the time comes. As with everything else, this isn’t universal. You don’t need to follow this rule, however it can be helpful. It assists your readers identify and remember important details.

Just like the rest, “show don’t tell,” is not an absolute prohibition. Sometimes you need exposition. It’s something that you probably want to minimize, but it can be right tool for the job.

The strength of exposition is that it is extremely efficient about providing information to the reader. This is a way to directly tell the reader about your world, you plot, or your characters, without any unwanted ambiguity.

The weakness of exposition is that it can be extremely dull, to the point that your readers may tune out if you overuse it. At it’s worst, it can leach the spirit out of your work, turning the drama and emotion into a dry recitation of trivia.

The advice of, “show don’t tell,” is attempting to push you away from overusing exposition. Exposition is a very useful tool to have and understand, but it’s one that should be used very carefully.

Ultimately, your goal in rewriting should be to improve the clarity. Find the things that matter, find the material that improves the work, and eject anything that drags it down.

-Starke

Q&A: Effective Use of Torture

I am disappointed by how often you excuse and promote misinformation about torture just because “experts” use it. You have stated it doesn’t harm torturers much (not true) and it can convince people not to oppose your organization (not true). You also have many posts against police brutality and many about the price of violence and I wish you would apply that to your torture apology. You can start by believing victims and prioritizing their accounts instead of un-critically believing torturers.

I don’t do this often, but this deserves to be broken down into individual pieces and examined in depth.

However, it’s been a little over a year, so I guess we were due to get another one of these tantrums from someone with poor reading comprehension. So, let’s take this shit show apart… again.

I am disappointed by how often you excuse and promote misinformation about torture just because “experts” use it.

Even if we ignore the leading tone, we don’t talk about torture very often. From a writing perspective, it’s a somewhat dull subject, and there’s not really that much to say about it. I checked, the last post on torture was in 2019, and the one before that was in 2018. Yeah, I wasn’t joking about this gradually turning into an annual thing.

From an ethical perspective, it’s not much more nuanced. We could spend six paragraphs going over how it’s bad and wrong, but anyone with three functioning brain cells could have told you that, and dedicating 2k words to the subject would be a waste of everyone’s time.

Well, I thought it would be, but every year someone wanders through who doesn’t understand that, and throws a tantrum. So, here we are.

However, I do love this attack on experts. No, wait, that’s the wrong word, I actively hate this kind of willful ignorance. It’s the same thought process that fuels anti-vaxers and flat earthers. “I read it on the internet, I’m an expert now,” used to be a joke, however we live in a world where someone believes they are better suited to discuss torture than people who have actually studied the subject in a professional capacity.

Now, in fairness, I’m coming from reading primary and secondary sources, not from actually torturing people. But, I’ve also got an academic background in history and politics. Short version? This really is my field.

This kind of anti-intellectualism can be harmless in some situations, however when it comes to torture, this simple surface read allows people to sign off on torture. It’s not enough to understand that torture is a bad thing, it’s important to understand what it can and cannot do, because real people in the real world employ torture to further their goals. If you believe torture serves no purpose, you will poorly equipped to understand what they’re doing, and the results they achieve.

You have stated it doesn’t harm torturers much (not true)…

First, I don’t remember saying that. We’ve cited Tony Lagouranis in the past, including his his book Fear Up Harsh. So, if we didn’t talk about the psychological consequences to the torturer, that would be somewhat surprising.

Torturers do suffer some psychological damage. I’m sure we’ve mentioned that before. If it seems like I don’t put a lot of emphasis on it, it’s because, frankly, I don’t really have much sympathy for them.

Second, it’s important to understand that concepts like morality and ethics are heavily based on our cultural backgrounds. The idea that these are universal is an excellent route into xenophobia. However, one thing, I hope most of us can get behind is the idea that torturing someone is evil.

So, the only reason you’d want to really dwell on the psychological damage is because you’re trying to woobify the torturer. Which is fucking repugnant.

You want us to feel sorry for them? You want us to empathize with them? Go fuck yourself.

And before you drag out the, “I was only following orders,” excuse, no. A soldier has a legal obligation to disobey any illegal orders they receive. If someone tells you to break the law and you do it, that was your decision as much as theirs. You are a part of that crime now. The argument wasn’t convincing at the Nuremberg trials, and it’s not convincing now.

…and it can convince people not to oppose your organization (not true).

This one is entirely true. Ultimately, it’s one of the two things that torture does very well. Obviously, if you’re getting tied down to a chair, and having your hands amputated a bone at a time, it’s not going to convince you that you made a mistake. However, it will convince others that, maybe getting involved is a bad idea.

Now, it’s not 100% effective. Not much in life is. But arguing, “torture isn’t effective because it doesn’t convince everyone,” is a bit like arguing that “because seat belts don’t have a 100% survival rate, we shouldn’t wear them.”

The systematic use of torture has severe chilling effects on political activity in a nation. There are significant diminishing returns. As torture becomes more widespread the unrest it causes will eventually start to outweigh the chilling effects.

This dynamic isn’t unique to torture, and most forms of political suppression will foment varying degrees of unrest. This is a problem that most totalitarian regimes face. The more coercive force they exercise, the more the population will become restless. Also worth knowing that this does scale based on the population’s size, so, a massive nation can apply significantly more coercive influence to it’s population without things boiling over.

However, it does suppress politic activity. Which was the entire point of this exercise. Torture as a tool of political oppression is not about the torturer or the victim, it’s about how that threat affects the population’s activities at large. So, yes, being told that if you express your political beliefs you and your family will be disappeared by the state is a huge disincentive to political activity. It works.

In case this is somehow confusing to you, yes, suppressing political speech is a bad thing. It may shock you to realize, some people don’t give a shit. They really do not care about being seen as a good person, and are willing to do things you would find unpalatable. Explaining what they’re doing is not the same as endorsing their actions.

It may be comforting to shove your head in the sand, insist that none of this is real, and angrily lash out at anyone who threatens that fantasy; but this is real, and trying to ignore it empowers those who would use these methods.

You also have many posts against police brutality and many about the price of violence and I wish you would apply that to your torture apology.

So, this might confuse you, but police brutality is torture. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cop repeatedly tazing a victim, sodomizing them with a broom handle in a Manhattan precinct house, choking them, or just beating the ever living shit out of them. It’s torture.

But, according to you, we should feel sorry for the cops and the emotional trauma that they suffer, because they got to live out their deranged, fascist fantasies, and it wasn’t as much fun as they expected? No, fuck that.

Ironically, you can actually see the efficacy and limitations of torture as a political deterrent through police brutality. When you see people standing at the sidelines as the cops choke someone to death, that’s the deterrent in full swing. They won’t get involved, they won’t express their opposition, because they know that if they do, they’re next.

So, bystanders pull out their cameras, and the police threaten them with violence. Hell, in some cases, the police outright shoot them, claiming they mistook the camera was a weapon. Camera phones are the line they can’t fully cross. The political activity of witnessing the event and sharing it with the internet allows spreading the unrest generated in the moment to the population at large. It is the point where the use of torture is causing more unrest than the torture is suppressing. As torturers, the police understand that this undermines what they’re doing, but those videos escape beyond their grasp.

You can start by believing victims and prioritizing their accounts instead of un-critically believing torturers.

Ironically, uncritically believing torture victims is one of the amateur mistakes that helps perpetuate the practice. The average person is far too willing to trust statements extracted under duress.

I’ve seen actual academics who willingly accepted confessions extracted under torture by the goddamn Spanish Inquisition at face value. Far too many people are willing to accept statements from torture victims without question.

So, what do you expect to learn from a torture victim? That torture is bad? No shit. You don’t need a living torture victim to realize the practice is vile.

Accepting the statements of a torture victim perpetuate one of the greatest lies about torture: That torture can be used to collect intelligence. It’s a lie told by regimes that that torture serves an intelligence gathering role. It cannot.

However, if you believe that torture serves no purpose, that it has no effect, and that you should accept the statements of torture victims at face value, you have primed yourself to accept false confessions. After all, if torture doesn’t work, “why would they lie about those things they did?”

Transparent lies, like, the ones associated with torture are truly insidious. If you accept the lie that you can collect accurate information from torture, then you will accept information collected via torture. If you believe that torture does nothing, then confessions extracted under torture are still accepted because the torture, “did nothing.”

When someone is torturing you, you will do anything in your power to get them to stop. Torturers, torture victims, and the experts all agree on this. When someone is torturing you, you will say what they tell you to in order to make it stop. This happens without regard for what will come next.

The real apologists here are the ones who say, “torture gets usable intelligence,” and (ironically), the ones who say, “torture does nothing.” The former perpetuate the lie, the latter legitimize the results.

Torture isn’t about getting information, it’s about using force to put words in the victim’s mouth. Saying that it doesn’t achieve that is denying those victims, and ignoring the real evil.

-Starke

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Q&A: D&D by Gaslight

Not 100% writing related, but my friend – who’s very knowledgeable about military history – wants our D&D campaign to be as realistically medieval as possible while also maintaining the fantasy elements. This is explanation as to why there aren’t many female warriors/soldiers/etc, and the ones we DO encounter will be magic users, because if someone can do magic you’re going to put them on the front line. He’s a great friend and a brilliant DM, but am I wrong for having an issue with this?

No. Intentionally or not, you’re seeing someone try to justify their misogyny using logic that is internally inconsistent. The problem is really fundamental, fantasy elements, especially D&D’s, preclude medieval power structures and military strategy. It also, very transparently, exposes their misogyny, without them even realizing it.

So let’s start with that last one. The argument for excluding women from front line combat roles is that they’re unsuited to combat. This is an argument made in the real world where the list of sapient species capable of fulfilling a combat role is somewhat short. It’s also bullshit. It has no historical basis. Women have operated as frontline fighters throughout human history. Not everywhere. There have been mysogynistic cultures. But, the idea that women cannot fight, and never fought is shockingly unsupportable. I can’t remember the last time we linked, We Have Always Fought, by Kameron Hurley, so, here it is, read up, enjoy.

But, when we’re talking about your game of D&D, we’re not talking about the real world. We’re talking about a world with Orcs, Minotaurs, and other races, all of which have innate attribute bonuses to their strength and constitution. They are, quite literally, stronger and more durable than human fighters.

The inverse is also true, (while 4th and 5th edition changed this), used to be Elves had a penalty to constitution, making them less suited to frontline combat roles. Again, if someone’s trying to say, “women aren’t suitable for combat,” while gleefully signing off on male elves, that’s misogyny.

It is reasonable to have basic stat prereq stats a character would need in order serve in a military. For example, they might not be allowed to enlist if their STR, or CON scores were below 10 or 12, there’s even some realism in that, most militaries don’t want recruits who are physically or mentally infirm. If you think every stat should be at least 10, cool, easy. However, female characters would have no difficulty hitting those thresholds.

Short version: If you’re saying that women can’t serve in your D&D military, you’re also saying that humans are unfit to serve, across the board. There’s some potential worldbuiling to be had there. For example, in Dragonlance, Minotaurs are frequently employed as sailors. Their physical stat bonuses make them ideal for a rough life on the seas, and many take to it happily.

And, to be clear, those physically beefier races are pretty well distributed through the population in Forgotten Realm’s Faerun. You don’t see a lot of half-orc infantry units, in general, because of social stigmas against them, and their numbers aren’t that high, but that doesn’t play well with the idea of a medieval power structure, or really the way power tends to work in general. In any plausible, medieval, world, those half-orcs would be conscripted into military service in some capacity. This highlights something about D&D, and high fantasy in general, that is easy to overlook: this is not medieval.

Medieval Europe was shaped by a lot of factors. For our purposes, the utter lack of individuals with godlike powers is a fairly significant factor to look at.

Let’s start with a specific phrase: “if someone can do magic you’re going to put them on the front line.” This is very questionable thinking. How, exactly, are you going to convince someone who can cast Cloudkill, that you want them in an infantry role?

Warfare is not fun. It’s not an enjoyable activity. When you’re talking about a medieval conflict, a lot of your forces are going to be conscripted. So, how, exactly, do you conscript a wizard? Even at level 1, they have access to a host of dangerous abilities that makes forcing to do you want incredibly risky. This before you consider that not all magic users are wizards, and some are decidedly more dangerous to harass.

Wizards in D&D draw their magic from an education in the arcane arts. This means, many wizards actually come from academies or larger organizations. Organizations that would not appreciate having their members poached by a local despot. A local despot who would be hard pressed to survive the ire of higher level wizards and basically 5th or higher level spell.

Clerics, Paladins, Druids, and Rangers draw their spellcasting abilities from their gods. (In the case Druids and Rangers, it’s technically nature itself, but the distinction is more about the spell lists and fluff.) Ironically, if you wanted to see front line magic users, Clerics, Paladins, and Rangers are high on the list. Rangers often serve as scouts, while Clerics often serve as combat medics and Paladins are, literally, holy crusaders.

There is one more spell caster that draws power from an outside source: The Warlock. Warlocks get their power from bargaining with Demons, Dark Gods, Edlrich Horrors, or even more terrifying powers. Yeah, trying to force one of these guys fight for you sounds like a horrible idea.

There are two more magic casters in standard D&D. The Sorcerer and Bard both draw magic from within. Where the Wizard learns spells through study, or the Cleric prays to their god, the Sorcerer just kinda throws a fireball. They don’t really understand the intricacies of arcane magic, they simply “know” how to cast intuitively, much in the same way dragons do. Unironically, one common origin for a Sorcerer’s powers is a dragon somewhere in their family tree. Their magic tends to be chaotic and unpredictable, meaning they’re not a particularly good fit for any regulated military.

Personal builds aside, Bards are very similar to Sorcerers. As a player, you can make some pretty beefy builds, but as a part of the world, they don’t fit well with military campaigning. Though, a chaotic good kingdom could, plausibly, recruit and send bards to war to boost morale of their troops, that’s not really part of any campaign settings. (Incidentally, said chaotic good kingdom probably wouldn’t engage in conscription to begin with. That’s more of a lawful activity. They’d also be less likely to care about the gender of their recruits, because, again, chaotic good.)

I’m also skipping over some of the weirder classes that haven’t, necessarily, made it into 5th Edition, like the Spellsword, Favored Soul, Spirit Shaman, Archivist, or Warmage. There’s a lot of variation here. The important thing to understand moving forward is that, you can’t force a mage to fight for you, and you can’t have a fantasy version of Medieval Europe if it includes a single level 20 Wizard.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. You can’t have a fantasy version of Europe if you have any characters over ~ level 10.

Something a lot of people miss about D&D is how far up the power scale goes. Figure that your average military will never have characters above level 5. Elite forces and singular champions might get to 10 (though 8 is also a pretty reasonable ceiling for them.) The kings and warlords may get into the elite range, but they could easily be on par with the rank and file soldiers, ~level 3 – 5. And, you expect a level 12 warlock, who got their powers from bargaining with the forces of hell to just bend knee and go die for a petty little mortal?

When you start looking at character progression, after level 10, your character is, pretty much, a fantasy superhero. Your challenge rating table starts rolling over from bandits, druids, mages, and assassins, into mythical creatures, and other “big ticket” enemies. Your level 13 party shouldn’t be encountering mercenaries, they’re up to the task of going after adult dragons.

In case you thought that was just your character having the stats, the abilities that your classes unlock in the 11-20 range starts getting out of hand as well. For example, a level 11 Barbarian can, literally, be too angry to die. A level 13 monk gains the ability to speak and understand any language. They can also be understood by anyone. And then at level 15, they no longer need to eat or drink anything. I’m cherry picking, a little, but these abilities transcend the humanly possible.

This loops back to a fundamental element of D&D: The game is a power fantasy, and it’s built around that. You could not drop a level 11 character into 11th century Europe without them fundamentally altering the course of human history. They are that powerful.

When you’re creating wars in that kind of setting, saying, “I’m going to stick to medieval warfare,” doesn’t track. The short version is that you can’t have a medieval era in a conventional D&D campaign setting. The diversity of conflicting religions, backed by their own gods, mean you (probably) would not see a unified religion (or any other single body) taking control over a massive territory and forcing the society into a technological stasis.

Magic, frequently, replaces far more advanced technologies. I’ve written about this at length before, but if you have battlefield spellcasters, you now have mobile artillery, advanced communications, remote reconnaissance, and a host of other, “modern tools of warfare.” As a ruler, you now have political problem, because you need to secure the loyalty of those mages. It may be enough to secure personal loyalty from the individuals, but in larger scale warfare, you’d need the loyalty of the organization training and overseeing them. You cannot simply force to serve you, the way you could round up another batch of peasants for use as shock troops.

The, “problem,” with Forgotten Realms as a medieval setting is, it’s way too cosmopolitan. There’s a lot of physical mobility. There’s a lot of cross-racial interaction. Granted, not all interactions are positive, but you have a world that far better understood than what medieval Europe had. It’s also more technologically advanced.

Remember how I said that mages mean you have access to a bunch of modern technologies on the battlefield? Magic has also seriously impacted technological development. Firearms exist, but are vanishingly rare. This isn’t because they’re new, it’s because they’re kind of irrelevant. Magic can already do the things that made firearms revolutionary in the real world, and have been able to do that for quite some time.

While medical technology is less advanced, clerics and druids gain access to spells which will outright cure diseases at low enough levels for that to be a fairly accessible service. Even bringing someone back from the dead isn’t difficult, (though that is expensive.)

The power structures of the world tend to center around higher level characters (usually in the borderline-superhero range.) With that world in place, it’s basically impossible to recreate the real Medieval Europe with any kind of logical consistency.

There is one last part here, your friend is subverting the intended spirit of D&D. Wizards of the Coast recently published an article on diversity:

One of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D is to depict humanity in all its beautiful diversity by depicting characters who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs. We want everyone to feel at home around the game table and to see positive reflections of themselves within our products. “Human” in D&D means everyone, not just fantasy versions of northern Europeans, and the D&D community is now more diverse than it’s ever been.

The entire article is worth reading, and I encourage you to do so. However, this a takeaway, if anyone your roleplaying group is engaging behavior that makes you feel excluded, or marginalized, it’s something that needs to be addressed.

If your friend is an, “expert,” on medieval warfare, and thinks that women never fought, it seriously undercuts his research.

One of the ironies with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla‘s release were the idiots who threw a fit over the option to play a female viking. It almost feels like a straw man example, because Ubisoft preemptively released comments on the subject:

But the fact is, and I think what’s really important, is that it was part of their conception of the world. Sagas and myths from Norse society are full of tough female characters and warriors. It was part of their idea of the world, that women and men are equally formidable in battle…

Thierry Noel

The archaeological problem with vikings is that earlier archaeologists were determine gender based on whether the individual was buried with militant goods without checking if the skeleton was actually male. Meaning, they assumed that all raiders were male, therefore, all raiders they found were male, without checking to see if that assumption was true.

The debate, now, is that quite a few women were buried with militant goods. If we take the original assumption, that means viking raids were coed. Or burying them with a sword meant something different. However, Noel is right, looking at their culture, their myths, and then saying, viking women placidly stayed at home while the men, and only the men raided, is dubious at best.

Throughout history, women have fought in warfare. Not in every nation. Not in every time. But they have fought. Saying, “but it’s not historically accurate,” has no place in the real world. To say nothing of a world of elves, dragons, wizards, and bards seducing the goddamn spiders.

-Starke

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Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.