Tag Archives: fight scenes

What are the pros and cons of “street fighting”? Like no formal training, somewhat self taught, and for surviving. Can this apply to sword fighting? I’m writing about a character who has formal training but also learned street fighting because they saw some value in it and they find it unpredictable

Since these questions come up a lot, we have tags for #street fighting and #untrained fighter.

It’s worth pointing out that street fighting is just fighting, there’s nothing special associated with it and the idea that it’s unpredictable is… untrue. The true moral of Fight Club is that Fight Club is a stupid expression of toxic masculinity that is worth nothing. Getting beat up a lot doesn’t make you a better fighter. It will give you an endorphin high and sell you on the illusion of your own toughness.

Street fighting is extremely predictable, especially from self-taught fighters. This is because self-taught fighters have a limited move set. A move set that is limited to what they’ve seen in practice by someone else. Today, this means what you see on on television. Whether that’s professional boxing, UFC, WWE, or someone trying to ape the moves of a Hollywood action star like Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, etc.

An untrained swordfighter is even more screwed than untrained hand to hand because sword combat on the street is called dueling and they practice that in the salle.

Your character would actually be more unpredictable via seeking out secondary instruction from “practical” aka practical application or more street minded sources. This can be police self-defense, training in forms like Krav Maga, and others that focus on teaching your character to use what they’ve learned in their studio out in the real world.

The techniques don’t change, but the mentality does.

For a character who has formal training, they’re going to re-learn to use what they already know in a new environment where the stakes are higher. The difference between a recreational martial art and a practical one is what you’re training for rather than the techniques themselves. Changing from one to the other involves changing how your perspective on your environment and learning to evaluate threats as opposed to simply focusing on technique and training for sport or spiritual enlightenment.

All martial arts training revolves around survival on some level.

For a character to “train” in “street fighting”, they’d have to go out and fight on the street. This would involve taking their life in their hands and risking it for… what, exactly? They saw value in going out to beat up/get beat up by random strangers at a bar, in a Fight Club style set up, or something similar to backyard wrestling rings.

This character isn’t actually learning a new fighting style. They’re taking what they know out into the real world to test it. (An act which will get you evicted from most martial arts studios if they catch you, especially if you’re a minor.)

The “unpredictability” of street fighters comes from the fact that most people can’t predict when a fight is about to break out. They don’t see it. They don’t get in the frame of mind for it. They see the aftermath, after the first punch is thrown, and are stuck mentally playing catch up as they’re getting pounded.

The average street fight lasts less than thirty seconds.

Those first few milliseconds at the beginning of a fight are crucial, as is your frame of mind before the first punch is thrown. Getting yourself into the right mindset, ready to defend, and ready to fight means that you’re not going to be blindsided when the time comes to go.

That is the unpredictability of street fighters, though. They’ve learned that the first one to the punch usually wins, they’ve learned that the most aggressive fighter is the successful one. So, they to take the initiative, blindside, and pound. By the time the other person mentally catches up, the fight’s over and they’re either broken on the ground or dead.

“Unpredictable” is just code for “I didn’t expect that”. It isn’t a mystical state that is forever surprising. Through time and experience, the unpredictable becomes predictable for the individual. For the same technique to continue being unpredictable, you need to consistently perform it on those who’ve never seen it before. The street fighter illusion will fall apart fairly quickly because, when you’re working from the basis of the self-taught, street fighting isn’t that complex.

Those with formal training benefit from not only their own experiences, but the experience of their instructors, their instructors’ instructors, and everything else that comes with a martial that has survived for multiple generations. It’s a battle against a multitude of experiences, against a co-operative effort.

I will point out again that combat is a science and utilizes science as a means to kill people. It isn’t part of human nature and natural instinct, it is specifically designed to exploit them.

Street fighting is fighting in an uncontrolled environment, where the risks are higher due to the lack of protections and harm is assured.


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I’ve seen a lot here about improvised weapons, but not much about improvised armour. Like, if a character just strapped on whatever they could find around the house, like a lifejacket and gardening gloves and safety goggles and winter coats, would they stand a better chance of coming out alive and uninjured from a riot/barfight/collateral damage of people not trying to kill them?

We’ve talked about improvised armor, though it’s been in the past. Like with weapons, armor is not universal. You wear armor to protect against specific threats and circumstances, rather than all the threats. Nothing will ever cover all the threats. Police riot gear, for example, is designed to protect them from the rioters. So, it’s protection from physical harm such as fists, thrown rocks, and bottles. It won’t protect from bullets.

From a writing standpoint, always dress your characters for the threats they expect face rather than the ones that may actually exist. Always dress them from a basis of what they know and are aware of rather than what you do. They may guess right, they may guess wrong, but those choices are honest to who they are.

So, while none of the ideas you floated in the questions are good ones, they are what someone with no experience in improvising armor might pick as opposed to dressing in multiple layers that can be easily shed, wearing leather, sports pads over or under the clothes, and choosing clothing that’s been designed to take a pounding.

The life vest will make it difficult to move, the goggles will cut off your peripheral vision, and, unless you’re in winter, winter coats will cause you to rapidly overheat.

Ironically, when you’re talking about improvised armor, the bog-standard male Hollywood action hero has the right of it. Thick denim jeans, leather jacket, motorcycle gauntlets, and biker boots. You might end up looking like the Terminator, but you can take a beating.

Likewise, if you don’t have boots, soccer shinguards can be helpful for protecting your shins when in hand to hand. The shins are one of the weak target points and even children know a kick to the shins hurts like hell, due to the lack of muscle, exposed bone, and nerves.

If you have the time, are desperate, creative, and have access, you can probably rig up some form of armor from various sports equipment.

It’ll be the difference between a few cuts, bruises, and the general scraping which come with hand to hand brawls. You want gear that’s designed to take impact, deflect force, and soften blows. In terms of sports equipment, though, most people don’t wander into bars wearing that unless they have some excuse. So, they will look very out of place as opposed to a jeans and a leather jacket.

However, this won’t help if someone’s coming after you with a weapon. It won’t necessarily save you, but it’ll make a difference.

Armor is, unfortunately, much harder to improvise than weaponry. Even good armor when ill-fitting can be detrimental. You need to be able to move and move freely with nothing inhibiting. So just pulling a guard’s riot armor off and throwing it on can ultimately be more harmful than helpful, due to the way it will disrupt and impede movement. You don’t want to wear anything poorly fitting or uncomfortable because the seconds you lose trying to account for it will be the difference between life and death. If you aren’t used to fighting in it, you will be bad at fighting in it, and it’s harder to learn how to fight in an outfit than it is to figure out a crowbar.

Instead, learn to assess a character’s limits. There will always be situations where our characters will find themselves outmatched. You can’t single-handedly defeat a riot, though they can work with and organize the participants. If the entire bar devolves into a fight, or they’re faced with one drunken angry man/woman plus a gaggle of friends and your character has no friends to stand behind them, the best course will be to extract themselves.

Retreat in the face of overwhelming odds is just good sense.

A single character is not going to be able to fight off an entire riot, but they can use it to cover their exit. By utilizing their surrounding environment in the bar, chairs, tables, bar stools, a character can create a path that blocks or causes difficulty when their enemies try to reach them.

Remember, improvised armor takes planning and should be based on the
threats your character expects to face. Defense always requires a basic
understanding of offense.

If you don’t know what you’ll be facing, then it’s difficult to defend against it and you can’t prepare for everything. If you’re characters aren’t in a situation where they have the time to craft and create their armor, consider the surrounding environment and use it. Terrain will always impact a fight and what characters have available to them to use.

And always have the world around them react to what they’re doing. If your character walks into a bar in mix matched football and soccer gear wearing biker boots and a helmet have the other characters behave accordingly.

Confusion and laughter are expected.

References and Resources:

This WikiHow has a lot of helpful information on how to make your own riot gear. One of the things you’ll notice and should take note of when improvising your fictional situations is the amount of preparation it takes.

This article on RideApart.com discusses how to adapt motorcycle gear into riot protection.


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First of all, awesome blog. Anyway my character was attacked by two men at the same time. she doesnt have any weapon with her while the men use a machine gun. there are few hiding spots for her to take cover, but i dont know the best way to disarm them

I don’t say this often, but she’s fucked. If you’re wanting to take the
aggressive way out, and she will die in the attempt. There are ways to get a
character out of a situation like this, but with the scenario you’re
presenting, violence is not one of them.

Training is not the power to overcome all fights through superlative skill;
it’s the ability to know there are some fights you cannot win, and assess the
best way to avoid those in the first place, or escape, if it comes to that. 2v1
is already horrifically difficult. Giving them guns makes this (basically)

You’re not specifying what kind of weapons they’re using, and this is
probably kind of important to know for your own purposes.

Machine gun can refer to (nearly) any automatic firearm. You pull the
trigger, and it will continue firing until you release it, the ammunition is
spent, or the weapon malfunctions (which is fairly rare in most cases).

This can range from fully automatic pistols, up through heavy weapons you’d
mount on a vehicle. You’re probably thinking of assault rifles or submachine
guns, since they’re easily portable. SMGs are chambered to fire pistol rounds,
while assault rifles are simply, fully automatic rifles (using lighter rifle

Usually the term is used to refer to heavier automatic weapons, designed to
suppress enemy movement and make returning fire more difficult. The entire idea
is you put a lot of flying lead, and the threat of more following it, in the
general vicinity of your foes, and they cannot move or return fire without
being reduced to goulash.

Thing is, that basic strategy does apply to nearly all fully automatic
weapons. The only difference is how much ammunition they can draw on, how far
it can fire, and how gleefully it can tear apart concealment (we’ll come back
to this in a second).

Put another way, the entire point of this weapon is to force enemies to stay
in cover and not move, while the rest of your forces to better positions, so
they can take them out.

If they stick anything out of cover, your machine gunner is waiting to blow
it off. To a lesser extent, this is how all gunfights work. If you’re not
shooting someone directly, you’re trying to keep their head down, so you, or
your allies, can get into a better position to kill them.

Getting caught outside of cover against a competent gunner is a death
sentence. They’re in position, they’re waiting, out you come, down you go.

For an unarmed character, there is no counter. Keep to cover, keep moving
and get away, are the only real options, but with almost nowhere to take cover,
that option’s gone.

It gets worse. Concealment is not cover. Cover is something that will
protect you from incoming fire. Concealment is something that will hide you
from the enemy. What this means is, TV, movies, and video games have lied to
you. Bullets will easily punch through many objects. Including furniture, walls,
ceilings, floors, cars, self-sacrificial idiots leaping into the path of the
bullet. Taking cover behind a wooden shipping crate will only protect you if
the stuff inside that crate is solid enough to stop a bullet. Ducking behind a
wall, unless that wall is made out of concrete, won’t do much.

And, that’s not even an answer to your question. Gun disarms will get you shot. I’m going to keep saying this. Under
the best circumstances, with excellent training, gun disarms are incredibly dangerous to the
practitioner. You use them because they were going to kill you anyway, and you
didn’t have another option.

Even when you’re dealing with handgun disarms, it’s incredibly easy to take
a bullet mid-disarm, particularly if the shooter is using a stance the martial
artist isn’t prepared for. Rifle disarms are a nightmare to pull off.

Stuntmen can make them look really cool, and when you’ve got two people
cooperating disarms can be very fun to watch. But, that’s entertainment,
actually trying to execute disarms in the field is for the supremely
foolish and those who were already two seconds away from death.

So, back to the beginning, how does your character get out of a situation
like this? Not getting into it in the first place is a good option. Making sure
they have an escape plan is a second.

If your character gets a phone call to take them out to some abandoned
warehouse, or construction site, or farm in upstate New York… maybe they
shouldn’t go. Or at least not alone. There are rare situations where a
character would have a legitimate reason to walk into a trap like that, but
under normal circumstances, situations like that demand your characters come up
with ways that mitigate the risk.

There’s a real habit of having characters doing stupid things because the
power of plot compels them. At some point, the justifications like, “if you bring
anyone with you; the kid dies,” got lost, and we’re left with characters
walking into very bad situations.

Even if, “the kid dies,” that doesn’t mean your character should be
following instructions, or plunging into dangerous situations without setting
up contingencies.

At this point it’s worth considering, with hostages, if the villain is
planning to kill your character, then that’s all they need the hostage for, and
once you’re character’s down they’re going to be next. On reflection, that’s
not a really great reason to be following the rules, is it?

Having a contingency plan doesn’t mean bringing buddies or gearing up. Sometimes
it means finding ways to exploit the restrictions placed on your character.
Armed attackers planning to murder you? Find a crowd. A couple mooks might be
willing to take their chances gunning you down in an alley, but are they really
going to risk opening up in a crowded bar?

Even if your character does need to go into someplace they really shouldn’t.
They need to have an escape plan, if things go wrong. That could be as simple
as making sure they have a way out of the building they’re in, or it could be
more complex, such as having allies who will come in if the situation goes
wrong. In a situation like this, it might be as simple as remaining undetected
until she can escape.

Regardless, saving a character from a situation like this, usually means not
getting into it in the first place. I understand it, you have characters that
need to go someplace for the story to progress. That’s fine. But, your
characters do need to plan ahead, and assess their situation to the best of
their ability.

Someone or something told those guys to drop by. Maybe there were there
ahead of time, in which case she needed to know where they were, and keep track
of them before going in. Maybe she tripped an alarm, and they got called in
behind her, so now she needs to find a way out, without them actually spotting
and killing her. Maybe someone called them in to kill her, in which case,
again, she needs to avoid detection and get away.

Ideally you need a way for them to overcome their foes. Note, “overcome,”
not, “defeat.” In a situation like this, the best solution to overcome a hit
squad sent after your character is going to be to escape, not to fight them
head on and die. Find an opening, make an escape. Don’t get tied up in hand to
hand with someone using an automatic rifle, only for his buddy to drill your


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Hi, just saw your amazing post on Daredevil. Could you comment on the choreography in Batman v Superman as well?

We haven’t seen Batman v Superman and we don’t really have any intention to. However, I can do the general Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman breakdown using Bruce Timm’s DCAU/Timmverse which is actually just as useful when it comes to studying superhero combat. There’s some good stuff there, especially in Justice League Unlimited where we get a lot of heroes who fight in a variety of different ways.

One of the really cool things about DC’s heroes in comparison to Marvel’s is that the archetypes build to a lot of really interesting combinations which compliment each other well. It’s my personal opinion that Marvel does “Versus” stories better because Stan Lee loved the concept of superheroes beating each other up and because they’re much more neurotic. They’re more likely to get into spats over ideological differences when it comes to the right way to fight crime. Most of the Marvel heroes are very human, they’re more likely to squabble, and those squabble’s are more likely to result in fights which either threaten half the Eastern Seaboard or involve the Punisher trapping Daredevil on a rooftop full of sonic mines.

It might be weird to say that the DC heroes are more than human, but they are. They’re much more mythological, more ideals we aspire to reach. They’re the best of humanity and while they don’t have the same neurosis of Marvel, they’re stories have the potential to be incredibly uplifting when they embrace their origins. It’s a different kind of human, better than human, in some ways transhuman. They’re much better at overcoming the basic ideological pettiness which leave the Marvel heroes squabbling in a ditch.

If the next question is “who do you prefer, Marvel or DC?”

The answer is Dark Horse.

I’m kidding. Well, I’m not. Ghost is bae.

The truth is I actually like them both and I think they both tell very different kinds of stories, but those stories are very interesting in different ways. They both occasionally have identity issues, but when they’re on point then they’re fantastic.

Okay, fighting styles:

Superman: Superman doesn’t actually know how to fight. Unlike Wonder Woman and Batman, he isn’t a trained fighter. Combat isn’t his specialty and this is, in large part, because he’s never needed to learn. He’s Superman. 9/10 he’s invulnerable to most ancillary damage. He’s willing to sit there with criminals and talk it out, mostly because they can’t really do much to him. His powers mean he has an opportunity for empathy in the heat of combat which Batman can’t afford. This is why he generally gets his ass handed to him by the likes of Zodd or other surviving members of the Kryptonian military, or Darkseid. He doesn’t fight so much as flail and again, it’s fine. It makes sense. Superman is also the most emotionally driven of the Golden Trio. While he keeps himself under very strict control most of the time due to the massive collateral damage his powers can cause, he’s the one most easily goaded. There are a number of villains who prey on this flaw including Darkseid and Lex, who both goad him into taking action that have terrible backlash. His powers can be as much as curse as a blessing.

His lack of training and combat knowledge is the main reason why Batman stands a chance against him and why Batman can knock him down a peg. Wonder Woman doesn’t really have the same issues, but it helps anyway.

Batman: Batman is a very clinical fighter, he’s a tactician and a strategist. He’s trained with and been trained by some of the best warriors and hand to hand combatants the DC universe has to offer. Batman’s brain is what lets him keep up though. Of the three, he’s the most likely to see a situation’s hidden trap door or figure out an enemy’s weakness on the fly then determine a solution. He’s the voice of reason to Superman’s emotion, willing to do what’s necessary to make it through but also coming to the battle prepared. Whether that’s carrying a Kryptonite ring in a lead box every time he goes into Metropolis or just having it on standby for twenty years, Batman will always assess the situation before diving in. It’s a good question of how much Batman knows, but really the answer will generally be more than you think.

Batman is the problem solver. He’s the one who most often gets to the heart of what is really going on, sees through the machinations, and figures out why the fight is happening in the first place. The man with the plan is what he is and the best writers like Bruce Timm will recognize that the detective skills actually trump the combat skills. Batman is the Great Detective for a reason. He studies his opponents, attacks their weaknesses, and that’s the path which leads to victory.

Wonder Woman: Unlike the other two, Wonder Woman is actually a soldier. She is a warrior. She understands battle layouts, strategy, and trains with a wide variety of weapons. She can punch properly, she can grapple, and, really, she can fight. I don’t just mean that in the sense she’s classically trained or one of the best combatants in the DCU, but in so much as that’s a part of her outlook more so than Batman or Superman. They aren’t warriors in the same way and Diana can whup both their asses. When in the trio, Wonder Woman is basically the midpoint between Superman and Batman. Unlike Superman, she can actually fight rather than flail. Also unlike Superman, she has existed without all the powers that have essentially been his birthright. While Wonder Woman is physically enhanced via training and magic depending on who is writing the Amazons this week, it’s her enchanted armor forged by Hephaestus that imbues her with her defining superpowers. This gives her the context to human combat and humanity which Superman often struggles with and she has a leg up on Batman in that she’s… well… an emotionally stable adult.

Essentially, she serves as a great balance point between the two extremes of brains and heart. She fights with both without either controlling her actions. Like Superman, she has the luxury of being compassionate toward her enemies and more so than him the ability to control the fight better. Superman is often so strong he can’t really afford to fight at all if he wants to talk someone down, rather he disables them by destroying their weapons or letting him shoot at him until they run out of bullets. Batman, meanwhile, is much more fragile. While, when written right, he’s a very compassionate individual he also has to use his head to stay ahead of the curve in order to get his enemies into a situation where he can talk to them safely. Wonder Woman is the middle ground between the two. She’s a very good tactician and her skill is such that she’s taken on the entirety of the Justice League.

However, her compassion is the balancing strength. For this reason, she has an excellent track record for turning adversaries into allies.

It may not answer the question you wanted, but that’s the best I’ve got.


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Got any tips for a character whose an assassin and uses underhanded tactics when fighting hand to hand?



I’d start by going through The Only Unfair Fight is the One you Lose posts:

Here, http://howtofightwrite.tumblr.com/post/52349151535/fight-write-the-only-unfair-fight-is-the-one-you-lose and here: http://howtofightwrite.tumblr.com/post/52428049557/fight-write-the-only-unfair-fight-is-the-one-you-lose

Beyond that, keep in mind, that for an assassin, they’re probably going to be killing any opponents as quickly as possible. Frequently, this means dispatching their foes before an actual fight can start.

If they do end up in combat, your character’s probably going to be looking for weapons to end a fight. If that’s a chair, lamp, toaster, or a handgun, then so be it.

I’m going to throw this one out there, since I don’t think we’ve mentioned it before: the head twist and break isn’t really a thing. Theoretically you can kill someone that way, but it takes a lot of force. And, from that position, it’s a lot easier (and quieter) to execute a choke hold and strangle someone to death that way.

Also, strangling someone takes a while. (And, no, this isn’t from personal experience.) Even after the victim goes limp, the character needs to keep choking them until the brain actually shuts down. Otherwise, they’ll just start breathing again, and recover.

I’d say look at Val Kilmer in Spartan and Tom Cruise in Collateral. Cruise is actually playing an assassin, while Kilmer is playing a government operative. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but the Thomas Jane Punisher film might also give you some ideas, there isn’t a lot of hand to hand, but that’s kind of the point.

If you have a lot of spare time, I’d recommend looking at 24. Kieffer Sutherland looks like he’s using a mix of Krav Maga and some miscellaneous CQB training. The problem is, there’s a lot of show (about 18 hours per season), and only a tiny fraction of that is combat.

There’s some good stuff in Burn Notice, so long as you remember that the only real difference between Michael and an assassin is that the latter is getting paid to kill someone. On the whole, the show is a good primer for tradecraft, which is useful for writing an assassin. Also, it’s entirely plausible to have an assassin that’s unwilling to kill people (outside of a contract), simply because it would draw more attention onto them, in which case, Michael is a very good character to look at.

Anyway, hope that helps.


Michi wants to add Karl Urban’s character from Red, and Bruce Willis’ character from Lucky # Sleven. Fact is, we have a wall of DVDs featuring hitmen and assassins of all stripes, so this is by no means a comprehensive viewing list.

Hmm I think time period and world setting out have a very big impact on it, like if it’s my mage that’s an assassin… hm… he’d have to go for quick and deadly spells.

While establishing how an assassin kills in their own setting is important, there are underlying principles in how assassins work that are actually much more important to getting a handle on than the surface dressing. Here’s the thing that’s most important to get a handle on when working with an assassin: they are not professional killers, they are professional murderers.

This is where we go: but isn’t all killing murder? Yes, but in the context that we’re talking about, it’s important to remember that an assassin’s kills are always premeditated. Their job description involves stalking their prey, getting to know them, their habits, their favorite foods, their friends, their families, their preferred way of getting to work, what buttons to push, while they look for the best method with which to dispatch their target. They will probably break into their house and their place of work, rummage through their personal effects, their mail, even their target’s trash if necessary, much in the same way a spy would. Except, of course, a spy’s goal is to acquire information and an assassin’s is to acquire knowledge of the target with the express goal of personally murdering them. Depending on who it is that they are being sent after and how easy they are to get to, the assassin may very well know their target better than the target’s own family does by the end of the experience.

An assassin’s kills are personal, even when they seem incredibly impersonal. They get to know their target as a person (whether they think of them that way or not) and that’s what makes them different from other the other professionals including your general SEAL wet-work teams.

Assassins don’t generally have a certain “style” or preferred method of killing someone. A good assassin is one that is capable of working through a variety of different methods and weapons, these will run the gamut from multiple different kinds of weapons/martial styles to a variety of poisons and bombs. Depending on what their client may want or what they assess to be the best route available, an assassin may become anything from the sniper on the clock tower, the terrorist planting the car bomb to send a message, or they may lay their target out in a bathtub with their wrists slit to make it look like a suicide. A good (if extreme) example from Elementary was the assassin in one of the later episodes who worked by killing people via “accidents”, he hacked a pacemaker to give a man a heart attack, he killed a man via pushing an air conditioning unit off an apartment rooftop, and finally (funnily) planned to kill a woman with a crippling bee allergy with her personal variety of kryptonite.

Flexible. Professional. Personal.

The reason why I suggested R.E.D. is for the Karl Urban sequence at the beginning is for the (very obvious) dichotomy present when he’s on the phone with his wife discussing their domestic concerns while he’s in the process of kicking the chair out from under a man he’s hung from the rafters.

The other important aspect of an assassin’s job is not just to kill but to remain anonymous during and after the killing. Assassins trade on their anonymity, people may know that someone killed their target but they won’t be able to pin down who it was or even prove that anyone did it at all. This is why the mage analogy doesn’t make sense, because you’re working under the assumption that a the kill will revolve around what skills the assassins have overall as opposed to the skills they need to get this particular job done. Depending on the setting, directly using magic to kill someone could be akin to setting off a nuclear warhead in their living room (I mean that via the spiritual impression left behind in it’s wake), it’s big, fairly flashy even at it’s most subtle, and easy to detect once you know what your looking for. More importantly, most spells will tie back to their owner in some way and by tracing that link in the energy remnants left behind the caster can become easy to locate. Even in a setting where magic is common, an assassin may choose a physical approach because it’s the best way to bypass the attacks their mage target is expecting.

If you really must couple magic with an assassin, I’d suggest choosing spells that don’t take the direct death approach. In the best scenario, the character will probably use spells that won’t directly effect their target but instead work subtly on the people around them, on random strangers, or lay the spell through inanimate objects that can be easily discarded during cleanup after the kill. This is, of course, still risky because there’s still a chance that even with the triggering object gone, the spell itself could still be recovered and traced. The assassin could use objects that were prepared by someone else, but similar risks apply. Most likely, if they do use magic at all, assassins will use spells that primarily enhance themselves such as nightsight, heightened senses, etc and probably ones delivered into their system via a potion of some sort.

The problem is that magic isn’t like a gun you buy from an arms dealer or with cash using a false identity from a WalMart two states over and dump into the Potomac after plugging some poor bastard in the back of the head. It’s a little more intense than the bullet or fingerprint left at a crime scene.

The best advice I have for writing an assassin is:

Don’t start with the assassin saying: how can my character kill someone? In fact, don’t start with the assassin’s character at all.

Start with and develop their target. Who are they? Where are they located? What under circumstances does the client wish for them to die?

It’s cliche to say that it’s business, but it’s also true. An assassin is a professional and their business is murder. Once you grasp who they are when they work (by planning out a fictional murder for yourself), figuring out who they are in their personal life (and the dichotomy between those two selves) will be much easier.


Realistically, say a character was knocked unconscious for around ten seconds or so, would they be able to get up and get back to whatever they were doing (like: running, fighting, etc.) and also what would they be feeling when they woke up? Basically if my character is knocked out and wakes up, can my other characters pull him along until they’re out of harms way or would he be too fucked up to move?

I’d go with too fucked up to move. Remember, getting knocked out, even for a few seconds, is still a very serious concussion, and by extension a life threatening injury.

Off the top of my head, the symptoms should be: nausea, vertigo, (I think) blurred vision, and difficulty tracking (so, carrying on a conversation is also out).

This is actually what that “how many fingers am I holding up?” cliche is based on, it’s one way to judge if someone’s suffered a concussion, another is looking at pupil dilatation (by shining a light in their eye).

It’s also worth pointing out, because concussions are cumulative over time, these symptoms will actually get worse, and characters can’t learn to power through them. If your character’s getting clocked over the head repeatedly, they’ll end up dying from a blow to the head fairly quickly.

As a quick aside, there isn’t a safe way to render someone unconscious. I’ve been assuming a blow to the head, but tranquilizers require very specific doses (which vary based on weight and metabolism), and if you misjudge it even slightly, you can end up having no real effect, or outright killing the character you’re trying to tranq.


kickassfanfic said: You say ‘cumulative over time’ – is that indefinitely? Like if you haven’t been concussed in, say, two years, or TEN years, I dunno, and you get whonked upside the head again, is it just as bad as if your first whonk was the day before?

Not completely. Here’s the thing, when you suffer a concussion, what happens is your brain gets bounced off the inside of your skull. This results in bruising on the brain itself.

Someone who’s suffered a concussion is at substantially greater risk of suffering another, and any concussion they suffer will be more dangerous to them. This diminishes over time, but it never goes away fully. In other words, no, your brain never fully heals.

I’m sorry, I am oversimplifying things here. This is a really complex topic, and I’m not a doctor; but, from a writing standpoint? Yes. If your character is getting knocked unconscious, it will always be worse than the last time, regardless of if it was yesterday, or twenty years ago. If your character is getting clocked on the back of the head more than once or twice, they’re going to die.


Illusion versus Reality: Some Thoughts on Media Fight Sequences

It’s important to remember that most of the conventional wisdom about force application we have in popular culture comes from observations made about various sport styles and exhibition fighting, such as in movies and staged fights at martial arts tournaments. The assumption becomes that those moves were chosen to be allowed because they are more effective, not less. The problem though with that assumption is that while goal of fighting is to win, it’s also to do so with relative safety and not kill the opponent. Injure, wound, and maim perhaps, but again not kill.

The same is true for both tournament demonstration and media in general. When it comes to evaluating whether a television show, a video on the internet, or what they see at a tournament demonstration will be useful for imagining and creating fight scenes, a creator is required to keep three things in mind:

1) The decision on what techniques to use is primarily governed by what will look good on screen or on the floor and not practicality.

2) The action is safe for the performer to demonstrate without injury to themselves under extremely controlled circumstances. In media, this works double for the actor, the stunt double, and their work with the stunt coordinator.

3) The goal is to create something convincing for the audience, not something that is actually reflective of reality.

It’s important to remember that in demonstration performances and movies that there’s a lot of work, sometimes days, weeks, and even months that goes into crafting those scenes, preparing the actors, and putting together the performance. The other important thing to remember is that because movies and demonstrations are primarily an illusion, they can get away with a great deal more than the human body actually can in their action sequences. These fights are designed around the audience being able to follow the action, but even the best of them are often horribly impractical by design. Many authors when they try to write fight scenes look to movies, comics, and video games for easily accessible action that they can translate into their stories and that’s fine. The only problem is that often, because they are unfamiliar with physical action they end up including the same flaws from the movies into their books.

In a movie, the fight scenes are actually long exhibition fights that have been cut together into a single sequence. This means that on film, even after the editing of the fight, you get unnatural pauses where the stuntmen/women are resetting their positions and essentially taking a breather before they move on to the next action sequence. The reason for this, of course, is that if you just forced the stuntmen to continuously run, they’d keel over from exhaustion about half-way through. If an author does not step back and examine the action from an external perspective, they run a real risk of including these same flaws into their novel. There are plenty of examples in already published works where this happens and they are easy to find, once you know what to look for.

Divergent for example, is a major offender. So is City of Bones, for obvious reasons. The combat in Marie Brennan’s Warrior is essentially a Turn Based RPG. YA in general has a great many authors chasing after Joss Whedon and thus invoking the Whedon/Comic Book problem where they stand around talking and then they fight, then they stop and talk, and then they fight, and then they circle, and then again, they fight. Tamora Pierce is one of the few authors in the YA genre I can point to that escapes this trap, but then she knows what she’s talking about and it shows.

I (Michi) will also cop to having the Whedon problem, I watched (and loved) a great many Whedon shows when I was younger and the internalization of a lot of his flaws as well as his successes is something I struggle regularly against even when I should know better.

Remember, all media feeds into each other and into the culture at large. When looking at media for reference, it’s important to not only look at the internal consistencies, plot, and characters but also the outside motivations of what, why, and reality’s constrictions. Written work reflects, not just into other novels, but also into movies, television, video games, and comic books. So, it’s important to evaluate the constraints of the media you’re working with and its flaws while transferring some of the actions and ideas into your work.

What will work well in a visually medium for action doesn’t weather well on the page, nor will it pass the scratch and sniff test when it passes before someone who knows what to look for when dealing with fighters and fighting. So, the goal is to work toward generating the emotions in your audience that we experience when watching a well put together action sequence through a different avenue than what the director and stunt choreographer created for the movie itself.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule and there are a great many movies and television shows that work excellently as reference material. These are just some basic things to think about when looking at media for reference and some of the dangers that are associated with taking stuff wholesale without examining it from all aspects.

On the subject of RPGs and writing, Starke and I are putting together a reference article dealing with the merits and flaws of Pencil and Paper RPGs when working with characters and fight sequences. So heads up Brennan fans, we’ll be talking more about Warrior in that article.

This was supposed to be the Open Hand Primer but I ended up getting sidetracked with a tangent, it’s coming soon, I promise.

As always, happy writing!