Tag Archives: description

Weapons: Helping Descriptions Feel Natural

The biggest challenge when working with description isn’t the act of describing itself. It’s knowing the when or where. Sometimes, describing weapons can get awkward. This happens a lot for me in fiction, especially when an author plunks all the description down in a place where it doesn’t belong. It’s important to remember even when writing Third Person Omniscient that when a character thinks about their weapon or talks about their weapon, they need to do so in a manner which feels natural to how the character thinks and acts.

Think about this, which sounds more natural.

Gerald’s hand shifted back and pulled his Glock 17 9mm off his Sam Browne belt.


Gerald’s hand shifted back and he pulled his sidearm off his Sam Browne belt. His fingers locked easily around the silver grip. It was a Smith & Wesson 5906. No longer standard issue in the LA Department, they’d moved on with the times to other, newer, models. Still, Gerald thought, can’t beat a classic.

The thing about description is you need to find reasons why you’re characters are describing the object to begin with. The Glock 17 is standard issue in most police departments around the country, while the reader might not know that a cop like Gerald certainly would. If his gun isn’t important or special to him in some way, then dropping description of it randomly into a sentence feels out of place. It’s just his sidearm, standard issue, nothing special. Comparatively, in the second example Gerald uses his weapon as a stand in to tell the reader that he’s out of date. It was standard at one point but we’ve moved on with the times, Gerald has a reason to tell us about his gun and we get some character development out of it too.

This transitions into working with a sci-fi or fantasy setting, even if the weapon the character wields is like nothing we’ve ever seen on this earth they still need to treat it like it’s normal (unless it isn’t). There’s a time and a place for extensive navel gazing about what the weapon can do, but if it’s slowing down the scene then chuck it.

Sam swung her XLJ452 lasgun around and pointed it at the dreaded bug monster. She fired, reducing the beast to a smear of chunky, blue salsa.

Let’s change the scene and compare:

“And this one?” Drill Sergeant Martez’s finger dropped, pointing to a long silver cylinder with a bulky handle. The full collection of standard issue lasguns and pistols sat on the wide table.

Sam straightened. “The XLJ452! Marine issue! Fires a beam of light straight down the bug humpers gullet and reduces them to a blue smear.”

“A blue smear?” Martez lifted an eyebrow.

To be honest next to the XIL321 and the XLJ456, the XLJ452 looked a little like an oversized penis. “Chunky salsa?” Sam asked.

“Chunky salsa, Private?”

“Yes, ma’am. Chunky salsa, ma’am!”

The idea is to give your characters a reason to talk about details in your setting and not just drop them in at random. Make them a natural extension of how your character feels, thinks, and talks about their weapons. The explanations need to feel natural and support who your character is supposed to be and what they are supposed to know. If your character works with their weapon often, they may not have a reason to share exactly what it is and the story behind it unless they are pressed. Or they are nerds. Or it’s their job to know.



I made these as a way to compile all the geographical vocabulary that I thought was useful and interesting for writers. Some descriptors share categories, and some are simplified, but for the most part everything is in its proper place. Not all the words are as useable as others, and some might take tricky wording to pull off, but I hope these prove useful to all you writers out there!

(save the images to zoom in on the pics)

Writing Examples: Sizing Up Opponents (Assassins)

Description is important. It’s important for all the reasons we usually think of when we’re writing, from making our settings come alive to fleshing out other characters. However, observations made by a character are also important to telling the audience about that character. It’s an insight into how they think and what they notice in the world around them. However – while this works as a basis for most characters – when working with a trained combatant, or even a fighter, we need to take it a step further. What a trained combatant sees and relays to the reader can be an important tip off, not just to who they are, but what they’ve been trained to do and what kind of combatant they are. It’s also a good indication that they are actively participating and this can lend a sense of danger to an environment. If you’re good at it, it may help the reader come to view the world in a way that they hadn’t considered before.

All these things are important to selling a professional operative, but they are necessary when working with an assassin.  Well, they are if you want the assassin taken seriously. Below, we’ll talk about how to do that.

If you have a character who is supposed to be an excellent assassin then they should probably be thinking about killing people. You know the line: “be professional, be polite, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet”? Well, your assassin should literally be in the middle of planning or beginning to plot to kill everyone they meet, even if they aren’t intending to murder them. The more adept your assassin is then the more obvious disconnect between the way they behave towards others and what they are thinking about doing to them should be to the reader.

Assassins plot to kill people in the same way that spies constantly tell lies. It’s as easy as breathing and they do it to stay in practice. A well executed assassination is all about the prep work: getting to know the target’s habits, observing them in their native or non-native environment, finding the weaknesses in their protection, determining what they love, and where they are going to be most vulnerable. This can actually be very helpful to writing an assassin because the assassin must be constantly on the move, constantly out in tense situations, and working hard manipulating key assets to get what they need to do their job.

They do not want people to know who they are. The more people who know and the more they broadcast their nature then the more likely it is that someone will track them down or recognize them when they are on a job. Assassins work covertly, if your assassin is famous then it’s likely that people on the street, the criminal element, and other assassins will prioritize eliminating them. When an assassin reveals their nature or has their nature revealed then they lose their advantage.

Personality Traits:

Good assassins are patient, skilled at social manipulation (including seduction), are excellent actors, have great social and situational awareness, and they are very observant. They are also meticulous and methodical.

What an assassin is looking for:

Use and abuse is an assassin’s mantra. They are looking for assets who can provide information on their target, they may manipulate these assets for information about their target or even convince them to follow or find their target for them. So, when an assassin is assessing a person or an environment they are looking for traits and quirks that will provide them with an advantage or be potentially dangerous to them. That assessment may come from what the character is wearing, their looks, how they stand, and thousands of other things


In this setup, I’m going to borrow a situation from Sarah J. Mass’ Throne of Glass with a twist: eight assassins are called to the King’s palace to compete in a competition for the cushiest and most boring job of all time. The winner will become the King’s Assassin, a warrior of such renown that all they can do is distract the King’s political enemies while the real work gets done and provide the Ladies of the Court with more reasons to swoon. In this example, our brave heroine Kayla will be sizing up her first target, the effervescent playboy that, for the sake of this exercise, we’ll call Number Five (also Pretty Boy).

It was easy to see why Number Five had been picked. He was very pretty and stood with a courtier’s grace. He had an aquiline nose, a tall forehead that disappeared into his chestnut hairline, wide set hazel eyes that languidly surveyed the room, and, of course, pouty lips. It was the sort of visage any girl or boy in court might swoon for and the kind that could be considered aesthetically pleasing to those who did not find him attractive. In his face, he had cultivated the appearance of likeability. Under his clothes, it was probably another story.  His finery stretched the length of his body, soft calf-skin boots, tight cream pants, and a decorated over shirt with wide sleeves that ran the length of his arm. When he moved, she caught the vague impression of wrist sheathes just behind the tapered cuffs embroidered in gold thread.

There were no knives in those sheathes –like her poison ring, Pretty Boy could not have gotten knives, enchanted or otherwise, past the King’s Guard or the Magical Alarm – he simply wore them to make an impression. Perhaps his intent was to lend the appropriate air of danger? Yes, Kayla thought as she lifted a glass off a passing tray, this was a man who would seduce the servants first and that could be a problem for her. She lifted the glass to her lips, fluttering her eyelashes coquettishly at no one in particular. Tilting the amber liquid toward her mouth, she held her breath and pretended to sip. Her lips did not touch the rim. If she had to guess from the way his eyes followed the bustles of passing females, he would choose the women first. It could make him useful. If he proved to be a cad, then he would drive potential sources among the servants to her. Shared hatred was a wonderful access point when looking to make new friends. If he’s not…

Then, she had found her first target. Kayla lifted the thin stem of her glass to Pretty Boy and the corners of his tightened in return.

Game on.

You can do a lot of things with your assassins and, as always, this is just an example.



European Parrying Daggers

Photo #1

  • Dated: mid 16th century
  • Culture: German
  • Medium: steel; elk horn grip
  • Measurements: overall – l:37.80 cm (l:14 7/8 inches) Wt: .22 kg. Blade – l:27.70 cm (l:10 7/8 inches). Quillions – w:6.50 cm (w:2 1/2 inches)

Photo #2

  • Dated: 16th century
  • Culture: Italian
  • Medium: steel; russetted and damascened guard and pommel; wood and wire grip
  • Measurements: overall – l:50.70 cm (l:19 15/16 inches) Wt: .60 kg. Blade – l:36.50 cm (l:14 5/16 inches). Quillions – w:16.50 cm (w:6 7/16 inches). Grip – l:13.30 cm (l:5 3/16 inches)

Photo #3

  • Dated: 17th century
  • Culture: Dutch
  • Medium: steel, wire grip, perforated blade
  • Measurements: overall – l:46.00 cm (l:18 1/16 inches) Wt: .44. Blade – l:30.90 cm (l:12 1/8 inches). Quillions – w:9.80 cm (w:3 13/16 inches). Grip – l:12.00 cm (l:4 11/16 inches)

Photo #4

  • Dated: early 17th century
  • Culture: Italian
  • Medium: steel, perforated blade; openwork grip
  • Measurements: overall – l:46.00 cm (l:18 1/16 inches) Wt: .34 kg. Blade – l:32.10 cm (l:12 5/8 inches). Quillions – w:8.80 cm (w:3 7/16 inches). Grip – l:11.00 cm (l:4 5/16 inches)

Source: Copyright © 2013 Cleveland Museum of Art

This is an awesome website that’s totally worth following for you sword oriented, weapon minded people. It’ll give you some useful ideas for the artistic component of historical swords and describing it in your own writing.

Also, history is neat.


what would be the best way to describe being beaten? not exactly torture, but during the fight, and getting hit without just saying a punch to the stomach, and what would be the best reaction of that? i know some, like to your stomach can knock the breath out of you, but among other things?

How a character reacts to a hit to the stomach will depend on whether or not they had the presence of mind to tighten their abdominal muscles before the impact occurs. This is where the concept of the breath being knocked out of the body comes from, it’s a natural reaction to being hit. If you exhale all the air from your lungs, you’ll notice that your abdominal muscles automatically tighen and the body, particularly the shoulders, curl inwards pulling back. This is the concept behind the kihap, or the loud shout, that occurs in most martial arts when hitting the target. The kihap forces all the air from the lungs, making the muscles of the attackers body tighten at the key moments before impact with their victims body. The problem, of course, with the reaction is that it won’t really help to mitigate the effects of punch to the stomach if the exhalation occurs after the punch is thrown.

As with almost everything to do with combat, timing is key.

Basically, the character is going to feel like they want to throw up. They may actually throw up. A hit to the stomach will force it back into an unnatural position, one that is very uncomfortable. Dizziness, dropping the head as the body comes forward to protect the stomach, arms automatically moving to protect (i.e. wrap their arms around) the injured area. You can also expect a sudden flood of adrenaline if the victim is taken by surprise and sometimes even if they’re not as the body kicks over into fight or flight mode.

So, there could be a sudden increase in heart rate, a loss of fine motor control, a bitter taste in the mouth, etc. And of course, because all the air has suddenly left the body, they’ll be attempting to suck it down like there’s no tomorrow. The effects will be more immediate if the attack is unexpected, so: shock, surprise, anger, fear, panic, all these mental reactions can be used to stun lock the mind and leave the victim incapable of fighting back. If the person in question is unused to experiencing that kind of pain, the effects will be greater and the recovery much more slow. The more used to this particular variety of pain they are, the more hardened they will be to it.

Don’t think of it as an immunity, but rather something more easily ignored. It’s similar in concept to the idea of working out. In the beginning, your muscles are screaming and you feel like you’re going to die. But, as time passes and you keep working at it, it gets easier and the pain of your muscles doing things they don’t want to do becomes more familiar and more easily ignored. Taking a hit is relatively similar, though much more immediate and difficult to overcome.

When getting hit in the face, such as the nose, expect rapid swelling and possibly blood. So, a warm, wet feeling on the face, a taste of copper in the mouth, a sharp stinging pain right between the eyes, it will interfere with vision. Tasting your own blood is a rather surreal experience. People, for the most part, do not react well to it. The head snaps back and will again, drop forward right into the next hit if the victim isn’t careful. Any hit to the face (or really at all) invites the possibility of biting the tongue, especially if the victim isn’t wearing a mouth guard. If that happens, there will be more blood in the mouth, pain, panic, and gagging. For a hit below the eye expect rapid swelling, stinging pain, and loss of vision. There will be visible bruises that will last for, oh, a good week or more afterward.

Bruises are common in all parts of the body when they get hit and they last a long time. If your character fights constantly, they will show that wear and tear in all it’s glory on their body. It can last for a month, depending on how deep the bruises go. When I was training it wasn’t uncommon for me to find small welts all over my body, so much so that when I see a bruise now I just shrug it off.

During my third degree test, I took a roundhouse to my forearm and it became one, big mass of a bruise. I had a matched set for about two weeks, because I’d used the other arm for brick breaking.

The hand of the attacker will also bruise and possibly cut the skin, both on the victim’s body and the attacker’s knuckles. It’s worth remembering that a proper punch is necessary to keep the hand from breaking many of the small bones on impact. But hitting someone else is going to sting. Attacking better protected places on the body, like the rib cage, or the face, will be more obvious as opposed to hitting in the soft places like the throat or the stomach, still the hands will show signs of being in a fight regardless.

This is why the concept of “I don’t want to hurt anyone” is a nice sentiment, but complete bull. Want has nothing to do with it. Combat is a choice. If you fight or fight back, you’re going to hurt someone even if that person is just yourself. The question is not really “do I hurt them at all” but how far do you go and can you live with the consequences.

In specific instances, there’s the possibility of friction burns from the clothes rubbing against the body.

And of course, the most important and long lasting effect on the mind: shame. Also, guilt.

There’s more to it, but at that point it’s a good idea to start looking through medical and forensics textbooks on the subject. This is a little morbid, but in order to generate the right kind of feeling, you may want to stop and look at images of people who have been battered. Hollywood is very clean and combat is ugly. If you want to know how to describe something, you need to know what it actually looks like and decide whether or not it’s something you want to bring into your story.


(Edit: I should also point out that there is no “best” way to do anything, just the best that you’re capable of while working with the scene and how the themes there fit within the overall narrative. Violence is an excellent way to evoke emotion, but readers do have a threshold. How realistic you are is going to depend a lot on what you want them to be seeing and feeling when they read that scene. A sequence that is too vicious and too raw without properly being set up by the narrative runs the risk of knocking the reader out of the moment. This isn’t me saying don’t do it, just make sure you’re balancing realism with the needs of your story. A brutal beating is a key moment for a character, but it shouldn’t happen on the page more than once in a book that’s not dealing with abuse and brutal beatings (and even sometimes when it is). Work with what you’re capable of writing and marry that to what your comfortable with, after you’ve assessed what those limits are, feel free to push away at them as needed.

In the end, you’re the only one who can really figure out what your story needs to function.)