Tag Archives: fightwrite answers

I’m trying to write battle scenes for a piece set in a medieval war, and I’m nervous about portraying it accurately. The main character fights with a longsword that’s seen several generations of battle, and while war is in his blood, he’s still a bit unsure of what to think about it. Any advice for how to stage/describe the battles, or where to look for good visual or historical representations?

Okay, this has been sitting in our inbox since the trip; it, and a few other questions got lost under a bunch of questions, sorry about that. We’ll get those out shortly.

The first thing I’d say is; read Robert E. Howard. Conan has a reputation in pop culture as being simpleminded, but Howard’s work is actually excellent. As a bonus, Conan actually uses a longsword most of the time, so it should give you a lot of ideas for your work.

If you can dig the books up, White Wolf’s Exalted setting has some relatively coherent advice on fantasy warfare. It also has a fixation with superheroes, so you’ll need to filter that out, but there’s some serious consideration to how to maintain an empire, and how to engage in warfare.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Mount and Blade is a game that’s worth looking at, when you’re trying to get a feel for medieval combat. In your case, I’d recommend Warband.

I’m not completely sure about the viability of actually using the same sword over multiple generations. Most of the surviving blades I’m aware of, either didn’t see much combat, or were buried with their original owner.

Okay, so, random etymology lesson; “in the blood” as a way to talk about heredity dates back to around the thirteenth or fourteenth century. I’m not sure where we ended up with the idea that skills and personality were hereditary, though the modern phrase certainly carries that baggage. This leaves you with a potentially anachronistic situation. The whole idea that you did what your father did because it was somehow passed on to you went by the wayside in Europe someplace during the enlightenment. To a modern reader, the idea that you are destined to do something because it’s what your parents did is a little odd. But, in the timeframe you’re probably talking about, it was perceived as completely reasonable.

Thing is, hereditary careers tend to be perfectly acceptable in post-Tolkien fantasy. I’m not saying all modern fantasy is all crap, just most of it. If you want to go the route of “war is in his blood,” then you’ll be best served by seriously evaluating what that means, and what the implications are, philosophically, before you dig into the story.

-Starke

Well the thing you wrote about women fighting was a good read. Now my experience with female fighters weren’t that they were stronger, but have more control. My experience has been boxing so might be wrong. In that control I’ve seen female fighters be powerful in a different way then male. That female fighters may not have the same strength as male fighters because their strength is different then theirs. Would that be wrong?

Yeah, boxing is a bad test example. The “problem” with boxing is that because the strikes are, for the most part, upper body only, men do posses a much greater advantage when it comes to physical strength. Men can develop their upper body much more quickly and much more fully than women can. Whereas female strength develops more quickly in the core muscles and the lower body. They also have a much harder time building up “weightlifter muscles” and an easier time with “runners muscles”. That’s not a medical definition, but I can’t remember the terms right now.

When we look at boxing, even with the wider hips, the natural advantages that females possess just don’t come into play. This is just the way boxing works, for the most part. Add full rotation of the legs like in kickboxing and the field shifts dramatically. Add in joint locking techniques and free standing grappling, it’ll look different again.

The second problem that women face, and this one is much more important, are the psychological blocks they have developed from living in a patriarchal society. The beliefs a woman has about herself  will be her biggest barrier to learning how to fight effectively. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I can’t do that, I’m not a bad person, I’ll get in trouble” etc are all part of mental barriers that come into play when faced with a male (and sometimes even female) opponent.

The differences between men and women on a purely physical level aren’t really that substantial. When we compare their fighting ability on a cultural and psychological one, the difference is enormous.

We see this one come into play a lot with writing, especially with the latest influx of “badass” female heroines. In most of those cases, the character themselves isn’t the reason for their success. The success is based on X, be that their superpowers, their base fighting ability (which is treated as separate from their personality), the way that other characters around them underestimate them on the basis of their size and gender. But none of that actually has anything to do with who they are as a person or how they see the world around them. There’s some extra reason why these girls and women can win that has nothing to do with them, but instead their victories are based in outside forces at work around them and how those forces fuck up.

The expectation is the same in the beginning for many of the female students I’ve taught and it’s something that they have to get over if they’re going to succeed in their training. Mental willingness to go the extra mile and push past the self-imposed mental limits will actually make the difference over base physical strength.

In the article, I wasn’t just talking about perceived physical differences, though they are important, because success in combat is learning how to play to your strengths. But, I was also talking about mental strength and what we believe about ourselves, how we see ourselves, and our capability for success.

When someone goes into a fight against someone else on the belief that they are going to lose merely based on their gender, they will. Now, across the board women aren’t necessarily stronger than men either. That one is going to come down to the individuals in question. The important thing to remember is that they’re just not weaker and that, at least in the mind, begins to level the playing field.

-Michi

How would one portray a fantasy fight. Like something one would see in a comic book but still keep it believable?

The trick with realism in fantasy lies in the rules you set up for that setting. This is why world building is incredibly important and why someone saying “I can do what I want because it’s just fantasy!” is both true and ultimately false. A character who exists in a world that’s very similar to our own will function under similar rules to our own world, a character who exists in a fantasy setting will fall under the rules that have been set up for that world. Fictional worlds require rules because they create tension. In a lot of ways, regardless of whether your character is handling a firearm or a fireball, what makes or breaks a story are those rules, how well you as the author set them up, and how well you adhere to them.

What a character can and can’t get away with will be defined by those rules. Now, superpowers whether they are magical or natural add an extra challenge because they ultimately raise the stakes. Magic will get away from you very quickly if it’s not balanced by cost in a fictional world. A character who can do anything, but has no restrictions, ultimately ends up boring because we as the audience has no reason to care about them or worry about whether or not they’ll succeed, whether they’ll survive the next ten minutes.

Realism begins in the restrictions you place on your setting, in the cultures you craft, and how your character reacts as a product of that culture. It’s in how well your plot and character actions sync up in the world you’ve created. After that, the realism of the fight scenes is like icing on top of a very well-made cake. If you don’t have that, then it’s just icing and while great icing is delicious on it’s own, it pales when it compliments a great cake.

I’m actually really hungry right now, I don’t know if you can tell.

Anyway, you have to make sure you don’t let your imagination run away with you and because it’s fantasy, it is ridiculously easy to have that happen. Now, the easiest way I’ve managed to start setting rules (and it’s hard) is to take an RPG system I’m familiar with like GURPS, World of Darkness, or Exalted, pick powers, and just start plugging in numbers. The White Wolf ones are good over D&D because they spear head character development in conjunction with the superpowers. Now, you know what your character can and can’t get away with. Stick to that and follow those rules, track their trajectory and always craft antagonists who are their equal or better. The antagonists will require their own character sheets, even the throw away mooks your character is fighting.

Why? Because every character in the story is there for a reason and a fight is between two or more people. So long as the fight stays within the setting established rules and the character stays within the themes the story has set up, then it’ll be fine. It’ll feel real to the reader. Upgrade your understanding as needed. Be careful. And you’ll be fine.

-Michi

What would be the best way to portray a character who uses her smaller size to her advantage when it comes to fights? She is well trained and knows her stuff but she is often underestimated by anyone who doesn’t know her in the world she lives in because she’s small and female.

I think you’re going to want to be very careful when including sexism, even casual sexism into a narrative especially when violence is going to be an important part of that narrative. The attitude that comes from underestimating smaller characters or female ones isn’t one based in physiology, but psychological and, more importantly, societal attitudes.

These attitudes will not necessarily carry over when dealing with professionals. When working with the characters surrounding her, you’re going to need to remember two very important points: men are not stupid and female fighters are not rare, special creatures that will be ignored on basis of gender or size. Her cover will be blown the minute she starts fighting and will probably be given away long before then on the basis of body type, walk, the way she holds herself, and her movement pattern. Once that cover is blown, if the society she exists in is indeed much more hard lined and patriarchal, she’ll be regarded with a great deal more suspicion.

Professional warriors are a completely different animal than a non-professional one, they might overlook her in the beginning but when they turn around it will be with the same hard intensity that they use to treat everyone else. Unless she’s actively killing every man she comes across, her “secret” won’t be a secret for very long and if she is very good, then she will establish a reputation much more quickly than a male simply because she’ll be easier to pick out. Her position will be precarious.

Some really good reference material for this is: The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, Protector of the Small series again by Tamora Pierce, The Soprano Sorceress series by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Below are the materials we wrote up dealing with this issue. You may also want to remember that for female fighters in patriarchal societies the dangers that they face are much higher than their male counterparts and the force they use will usually match that. They are often much harder than the men, and much more willing to take the force further instead of less because more force is often required to be convincing.

Tip:Women Are Not Weaker Than Men

Fight Write: Learn to Fight Like a Woman

Fight Write: Some Thoughts on Height and Weight

-Michi

How could a character train their flexibility/strengh if they didn’t regularly have access to a trainer/facilities, and if the resources they had access to were meant for people a good third shorter than them?

Yes, a character can train their flexibility and strength even if they don’t have regular access to facilities or a trainer. Important training like conditioning and flexibility can be done solo, and will be an important part of any serious, athletic character even when they do have access to a trainer and appropriate facilities.

Some thoughts:

Most high schools and colleges have a track, bleachers, and other amenities that are available to the public for use when school is not in session. I’m not talking about the weight lifting gym or anything like that (though if your character is a student, they may be able to take advantage of it by going through the appropriate channels). For liability reasons, the weight lifting gym in a high school, even a public one, will be closed to anyone who isn’t an athlete. But the track? The bleachers? The pullup bars? And other amenities? Those they can use.

If you have any experience doing conditioning training (building stamina, lung capacity, etc) then use that. If you don’t and I’m guessing this is true, we’ll go over some simple training exercises below and talk about the problems with pushing the boundaries of believability.

Now, when working with conditioning, it’s important to not over exaggerate. In many instances when I’ve been reading, I’ve found authors who didn’t have much experience with training pushing themselves either too high or too low. For example, in the scope of full out physical exertion five minutes is a long goddamn time. A usual workout for a character is going to only last between fifteen to thirty minutes, not an hour. They’re going to need to take breaks between one minute to five minutes and if they’re alone then they’ll have to moderate that for themselves. The length of the break will change based on the amount of exertion, say if they’ve been running bleachers, or a mile, or wind sprints, then take five once the repetitions are complete. If they’ve been doing pushups or situps, then a one minute break for some water is applicable.

They will probably feel the desire to cheat, if they do that’s okay just make sure it comes back to bite them later, working out is very hard. Characters who aren’t used to working out will slack off when there’s no one there to watch them. When someone is held accountable only to themselves then things tend to slip. It’s good to have a workout buddy, someone who will push the character forward past their self-perceived limits, but those are also hard to come by.

When doing conditioning, count it out not by time spent but in number of repetitions or reps. Doing pushups for a full minute (fifty/sixty pushups for sixty seconds) is not a beginner sport, serious athletes will do it, but it’s difficult. When working, keep it simple. 5 repetitions of 10 is good for someone who is very experienced whether that’s pushups, situps, leg lifts, or any of the vast number of other exercises out there. When you break the number out, it means they did 50 of each. You can stretch and do reps anywhere, on the bench at school, in front of the television, it doesn’t matter. The place doesn’t need to be special, what is important is that your character is doing them.

Here’s the average layout of the workout we used to do in our Saturday Morning Trainings, these trainings usually lasted between 6:00AM to 7:00AM:

5:30AM to 6:00AM: run a warm up lap before the instructor arrives and stretch.

6:00AM: run a mile (mile will last between 6-14 minutes depending on student and the student’s conditioning, the faster you run, the longer your break)

6:15AM: Practice forms or stances around the track.

6:20AM: Wind sprints/Run a “Korean” Mile (this is what we called it, but line everyone up in a line and send them jogging, last person in line sprints to the front, then over, and over, until the mile (usually for us just a lap or two around the track) is complete. The less teamwork, the harder it is for everyone. The team must slow down to keep pace with their slower members or the line gets really long.)

6:30AM: Practice kicks. (On the chain link fence, we spread out, and practiced our kicks as the instructor counted out the numbers of 1-5. 1: beginning position, 2: chamber, 3: kick, hold kick, 4: chamber, 5: drop the leg. Position changes when he speaks, so you could hold the leg there for a long time.)

6:45AM: Run bleachers. Students younger than twelve or thirteen run the stairs between the bleachers, teens and adults run the actual ones. Count out 5 repetitions, pair the children closer together so that they race.

6:50AM: wind down/cool off. Pushups, situps, and leg lifts. 2-5 repetitions of 10, depending. (2 for pushups and leg lifts, 5 for situps if time allows).

7:00AM: stretch. Everybody goes home.

As for stretching, you don’t need someone else there to help your character stretch. My advice: go to your local bookstore or library and buy or check out a book that’s dedicated to teaching someone how to work out on their own. It will cover all the major pitfalls and missteps a beginner will have, while also helping you add a sense of realism.

You also might want to think about starting to work out for yourself. The actions alone won’t be enough to convey the feelings or mental stress of working out. We can’t really fake remembering the feeling of a runner’s high, personal experience will make you a better writer in the long run.

And please, never ever use second hand training gear that doesn’t fit you. It won’t work and is more dangerous in the long run, it will also hamper your character’s ability to perform and is more likely to get them injured. Now, most workout/weightlifting machines can be adjusted to someone’s personal settings. So, it’s not the end of the world.

Figure out what your character is training to do, then develop a routine that will develop those aspects of their body’s muscular structure. All the training in the world won’t help if they’re developing their body to do the wrong things. All training and all workouts are not created equal.

I hope that helps.

-Michi

I know this is “fight write”, but would you have any basic first aid procedures or advice for someone who’s been in a fight. Basically after you’d get beaten up, how did you tend to your wounds? Also, do you know anything about treating gun wounds, or how a hospital would do so?

For most fights, you’re looking at bruises and minor cuts.

With bruises you want to wrap some ice in a towel and apply it to the injury, and let it heal on its own. Strictly speaking, bruises are minor, sub-dermal hemorrhages. There are rare cases where someone loses enough blood from bruising to die, but this is usually accompanied with massive amounts of trauma.

Also, it’s worth noting, it usually takes about five minutes for a bruise to start to show, if someone is killed within that timeframe, the bruise will not develop.

Minor cuts can be treated with peroxide or alcohol (usually rubbing alcohol, but anything over about 40 – 60 proof s work) to disinfect the wound, and then bandaged. Applying a petroleum jelly like Vaseline or Neosporin can help keep the wound clean. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t actually do anything, the stuff’s completely biologically inert (and as I recall, technically edible) but it will prevent new bacteria from getting into the injury.

More serious cuts, like knife wounds, can require surgery, as far as I know, this is just another round of disinfect the wound, and then stitched closed. If there’s internal damage, that will need to be dealt with, based on the injury sustained.

Gunshot wounds are an entirely different and very unpredictable animal. Again, I’m going to over simply here, so, apologies in advance to any doctors out there. The primary threat from any gunshot wound is bleeding to death. If the gunshot damaged an artery, then first aid involves compressing the artery to staunch the blood loss, this is a very basic, and limited stopgap. Otherwise “first aid” is getting the victim to a doctor (or veterinarian). The basic surgical techniques to deal with gunshot wounds is to repair whatever damage the doctor can, and closing up the wound. But, this can be a lot more difficult than it sounds.

I’m going to split gunshot wounds into three general categories, these aren’t official classifications, and shouldn’t be held up as holy writ; this is just an attempt to get everything out in a readable fashion: blowthroughs, ricochets, and fragmentation.

Blowthroughs, are the “best”, and most common kind of gunshot wound. These are gunshots that enter the victim, pass through them, and leave for parts unknown. If it’s a headshot, the victim is probably already dead, though, there are a few medical cases where people survived a shot to the head. Blowthroughs to the torso usually mean punctured internal organs, regardless what organ was hit; the injury will require major surgery to deal with. If it’s a hit to the limbs, and it missed the arteries, the wound will need to be sewn up, and cared for. The limb can’t be used for a couple weeks. If the bullet nicked or severed the artery, the surgeon will need to repair it, assuming they get the chance. A damaged artery can result in the victim bleeding to death in minutes. This, by the way, is what the whole “apply pressure here” cliché is referring to; first aid for an arterial hit is to apply pressure and staunch the flow of blood, so the victim can live long enough to reach a doctor.

Ricochets are cases where the bullet connects with a bone and reflects off in a new direction. This is highly dependent on the specific physics involved, but the result can be very messy. The best case scenario, a bullet will ricochet off a bone, and have a clean exit wound. This is slightly more problematic than it sounds; usually, you track the path of a bullet by checking the entrance and exit wounds, with ricochets, it can be very difficult to identify which internal organs have been injured. Worse, it’s not unheard of for bullets to start bouncing around inside the rib cage, tearing someone’s internal organs to pieces. It’s rare, but can result in irreparable internal damage.

Fragmentation refers to where the bullet breaks apart into multiple pieces. Usually this is associated with fragmentation rounds, also called dumdums, but a bullet that impacts a hard object, either bone, or something outside the body, can shatter; sending shrapnel into the victim. The shrapnel is slightly more prone to further ricochets and lodging in the body. As with ricochets, this can result in massive internal injuries that will require extensive, rapid surgery to survive.

One last note: In modern contexts, it is fairly common to get hit by multiple bullets in rapid succession, called a multiple gunshot wound (or MGW in police and paramedic reports), multiple bullets effectively multiply the damage. Because the victim is bleeding out faster, a doctor won’t have time to treat the victim before they expire, assuming they’re able to hold on long enough to get to a doctor.

If you’re writing about first aid for hand to hand, I’d actually recommend you look into first aid techniques first hand. It’s a useful skill to have, and it should be fairly easy to find a reputable group that’s teaching the basics.

You can learn far more than you want to about gunshot wounds in most forensic texts. I’m not sure where you’d find more detail on the specifics of surgery. Generally speaking finding information on specific surgical procedures, which are also accessible to a layman, is tricky.

-Starke

How does it feel to be tased, and is it possible to fight through it?

Neither of us have ever been tazed, nor do we have any plans to be tazed. If you need to know how it feels, ask a cop. Not, to taze you, but, in the US, most police need to be on the receiving end of any less than lethal device they carry, including pepper spray and tazers. So, they’d know what it feels like.

Before you ask, pepper spray burns like crazy and gets lodged in your hair, so you’ll get another blast of it every time you shower for the next week, according to a cop I used to know.

Anyway, you can’t fight through a tazing. Your nervous system works by sending electrical signals from your brain to your body and back. Tazing works by administering a massive electrical shock to your body. When you’re being tazed, it’s literally impossible to get your body to do anything beyond convulsing. That’s what the nerves are telling your muscles to do, and your brain can’t interfere.

-Starke

What are some of the physical responses to a sudden combat situation? For example, muscle tightening, heart rate, that kind of thing.

An increase to heart rate is usually a sign of adrenaline, along with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, and in most people, some fine muscle tremors. I think we’ve talked about that before.

As with a lot of things, how someone handles an immediate combat threat is going to be very specific to that individual. A lot of people freeze up, and some can switch over smoothly and rapidly. Specialized training can help with this. But, it’s important to understand; this isn’t covered in most martial arts classes.

Usually training comes in two parts: First is an awareness of dangerous situations, so the combatant will be harder to take by surprise. The second part is rote responses to specific threats. This can vary pretty massively depending on who the person being trained is. It can include drawing a weapon, getting to cover, tensing muscles (which you mentioned), or going into a stance. It won’t always be completely appropriate, but it doesn’t really need to be, either. The entire point is just to get the combatant ready to fight faster. It’s worth pointing out, with military drills; those rote responses can include lethal takedowns.

How well someone handles an adrenaline rush is another matter. As far as I know, this is something that people either learn to deal with through experience or conditioning, rather than traditional training. The more adrenaline rushes someone’s experienced, the less they’ll be impaired by it, relatively speaking. In general, adrenaline rushes work towards your advantage in hand to hand or melee, but work against you when operating firearms.

-Starke

How do I effectively describe a fight between two birds?(In the perspective of one of the birds.)

I’m not an ornothologist, so take that under advisement.

I’d assume you could describe it like you would describe anything. A fight is a time of high emotion, high stress, etc, I would focus on those feelings instead of trying to be technical. It’s important that the reader feel those feelings of fear, worry, stress, anger and whatever else your character is feeling.

Second, I’d spend a lot of time watching nature documentaries dealing with your subject and reading books specific to the kinds of birds you’re writing. There are probably a host of YA, Middle Grade, and possibly even adult books that have written stories from the perspective of birds and other animals (though I can’t remember what they are), you might also gain inspiration from reading what others have written. Ask your local librarian to see if he or she can give you a good place to start. Remember, you want technical books as well as fiction.

I know this advice is general, but the best answers are the ones you will come up with for yourself. The best way to accurately represent a fight between to birds is to watch birds. If you don’t have cats, set up a few bird feeders in your backyard that are close to a window that will provide easy viewing. Watch and take notes on how they interact with each other, gestures of affection in family groups, and even the fights that sometimes break out between different species. If you’re lucky, you’ll live in a place where you can attract all manner of birds.

It may take some time, but if you feed them, they will come. By watching, reading, and studying up on birds you will better come to understand their perspectives. When you understand their perspective, you can write them in all manner of different situations.

-Michi

Can you guys write an article on training exercises and techniques to learn how to fight BACK?

No.

This is a writing advice blog, sometimes we get our personal pronouns a little confused and we do discuss the realities of combat. But, no. It’s not that I wouldn’t be qualified to teach you, I am, but the lessons I could impart would require you to be in the same room as me. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. This is also why, for the most part, I don’t really recommend articles or videos for actual self-defense instruction. There is no video or article in the world (though the Michael Janich ones are very good) that can make up for the presence of a flesh and blood instructor.

For a raw beginner, their fighting style will simply generate too many flaws and when those flaws go uncorrected, they can be damaging to the student’s fighting ability in the long run. It’s not enough to know what to do, you need to know how to do it and how to do it properly so that you don’t hurt yourself.

If you are serious about learning how to fight back, then there are steps you can take:

1) Check out your local police precinct to see what they offer for self-defense courses, I know that may be asking a lot depending on who you are, but the truth is that the police do have some of the best self-defense programs available at the best costs and some of them are even offered for free.

2) Look into the different martial arts programs in your area, if your worried about your personal safety, find instructors who put their primary focus on real world application and self-defense training. Many of these sorts of instructors won’t take students under the age of 18 because of the seriousness of the knowledge they are imparting, but that’s the way it goes. Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Jiujutsu are all solid choices in that arena. But, find an instructor who teaches what you want to learn. It will be time consuming and hard work, but the hardest path is often the most rewarding one.

The added bonus of learning an actual style is that it will make you less of a target. For most predators, the risk has to be worth the reward and picking a style with an established reputation in popular culture can go a long way towards driving people off before the first punch is ever thrown. Ask yourself, which sounds more scary: “Back off, I learned how to fight from a blog on Tumblr!” or “Back off! I skilled in Krav Maga, the style of choice of the Israeli Defense Force!”.

3) Your local college or community college will probably have a martial arts class in the school catalog (or several if you’re lucky). Even if you’re still in high school, it wouldn’t be too hard to talk to a guidance counselor and sign up for classes. Many martial arts professionals also run classes at the YMCA and other similar places (transfer this advice to what’s applicable in your own home country as needed). If you are a minor, this approach may go a long way towards convincing your parents to sign the consent form. I’ve known some great martial artists who got their start running classes at the Y, sometimes you can find a real diamond in the rough there.

Finding a real place to train and practice with an “in the flesh” instructor to learn from will also have a greater benefit of: building your self confidence through praise, give you other students to train with thus the ability to practice with different partners of varying shape, background, and size. Real world experience will make the difference in a tense situation, whereas just spending your time thinking about it or shadowboxing won’t really help when the time comes to hit someone.

We focus on fiction on this blog and post references for writers. This is because concept work is the limit of our ability to assist you. Bad advice can be just as harmful, if not more devastating, than no advice at all. If “fighting back” is something you are dedicated to pursuing, feel free to come off anon and we can discuss your situation in private and perhaps get you started on locating a school that’s right for you.

Until then, this is the limit of our ability. I’m sorry.

-Michi