Q&A: Calling Your Shots

Question. How do you write fight scenes with magical girls / knights where they have specific magical attacks (that they announce the names of) without making the whole fight painfully telegraphed? I always think that if you’re faster then you can hit them while they’re announcing what they’re about to do, so I’m stuck on how best to make sure that it’s logically sound while also keeping the genre’s conventions of magical attacks with names. How would you guys do it? :c


Calling out your attacks is a very specific motif, but there’s a lot of stuff baked in here, so we should probably pull this apart.

If you’re writing a comic, and you want to express exactly what your character is doing, your options are limited. You can only show movement up to a point, and if the idea is that your character is performing some special technique, it’s very easy to simply have them announce that. Your character isn’t simply punching, they’re using their signature move.

In prose, you can simply say that. You don’t need to cross into dialog. In film, or animation, you can simply show it. However, in panel to panel art, it is more difficult. Injecting captions is another option, but unless your narrator is an established character, that tends to feel disconnected.

There’s also a piece of real world truth in this. A real martial artist won’t belt out that they’re about execute a tornado kick, or a chudan punch, however, they may chi shout. The name makes it sound mystical, but it is a practical exercise. Stepping past the discussion of energy, whether you believe in that, the exhalation of air can help you focus the force of your strike. Yelling at your opponent has psychological value. It can startle, distract, or unsettle them. The key here is speed. Probably a single syllable you yell as you strike.

This is not universal to all martial arts. Many martial arts do not include shouting at all, and among those that do, it’s not a critical component. You can still attack, even if you cannot perform a shout.

Worth knowing, chi shouts can be a detriment. If your opponent is acclimated to them, you’ve given them an aural cue to defend themselves. Even if they’re not used to them, it can cause them to defensively flinch.

Of course, if you’re trying to be stealthy, this is not something you want to do. In cases like that, practitioners who do shout, may revert to a sharp, non-vocal, exhalation, or do away with it entirely.

There’s also a mystical possibility with some real history. There’s a lot of real world mysticism built around the idea that words, names, and phrases have intrinsic power. In some cases, this power is believed to be so potent that certain names cannot be uttered or even written without invoking some portion of that power. This would mean your character is actually shouting out spells. This isn’t an optional activity, it’s not a flourish, they must complete the incantation or their attack fizzles.

Unless the invocation protects your magical girl, they would be vulnerable to attack while, “winding up.” It’s possible interrupting certain phrases could have horrific consequences, leading to situations where a knowledgeable foe wouldn’t even think of stopping them, because the alternative would be worse than taking a beam of weaponized friendship to the face. It also opens the door to a less educated foe accidentally turning one of the magical girls into a mystical nuclear detonation at arms length.

The short version on how to avoid telegraphing with called attacks is, “you can’t avoid telegraphing the attack.” Calling out attacks is a form of telegraphing. There is no escaping this. However, once you have committed to that, the real freedom comes from the consequences. You’ve said this is what they will do, but what happens next may not be exactly what they intended. Your character has committed, they spoke the words, and now they have to live with that choice. They’re forced to telegraph, which means, their foe knows what they’re about to do, and has a moment to defend themselves.

The other side of this is that, just because you have been telegraphing, doesn’t mean that you cannot break expectations.

Take the example above: If you establish the callouts are dangerous to interrupt, and present a series antagonists who understand not to mess with them in mid-incantation, having someone kill one of the girls mid-spell, and the resulting fallout would be shocking and horrifying. Not because of the death, but because your villain just broke a major rule in your world, and your audience is about to see why previous, ruthless antagonists weren’t willing to cross that line.

Looping back to the basic answer, we’d do this is by locking down rules, and using that framework to dictate how the characters can operate. Those rules need to serve the intended story, so it’s not just system building. However, once that system is in place, it offers a lot of tools for unexpected interactions. That’s a large part of my approach to world building. However, that’s not the only legitimate answer, and not necessarily the right answer for you.

It is worth remembering these callouts are part of the genre, and you do not need to justify them. “Why do the characters announce their attacks?” “Because they’re Magical Girls, and that’s what they do.” If you wanted to jettison this entirely, that’s another valid answer. You’re not bound to the way others have interpreted the genre. They are a reference point, but if you decide, “what if this wasn’t here?” no one can tell you to stop.

What if calling their attacks wasn’t necessary at all? Maybe they were told it was, but eventually learn they don’t need to. Maybe the callouts only empower their attack, meaning they could save it until they needed that extra oomph. Or, hide their discovery from friends and foes alike, until they needed to strike without warning.

Maybe the callouts protect them. What can you do in a fight with a power that grants you temporary immunity to enemy attacks?

Callouts are also useful for characterizing your magical girls. Examining the nature of their power, or even offering you new ways to explore who they are. The callouts could even become reference points for their character arcs.

What happens if your character’s callouts stop working without warning?

What happens when a character’s callouts start to change in ways other characters are not comfortable with.

There’s a lot of possibilities here. The only limit is how creative you can be. If you’re not happy with them, find a way to make your callouts work for you.


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