Tag Archives: Starke answers

How would my girl character be able to defeat my male character in hand to hand combat? Clearly, it won’t be easy to do so through physical means, but are they any clever moves or tricks she could pull to win?

With respect, you’re approaching this the wrong way. Unless your intent is to take your character out at the kneecaps.

She doesn’t need clever moves or tricks to win. If she actually knows how to fight, she can win.

There is no real strength gap between the sexes. There’s a social expectation. There’s culturally acceptable activities. But, there isn’t a real strength difference. This is one of those societal illusions that doesn’t relate to reality. You don’t need to write your female characters as superheroes or trick fighters to come out on top against normal male opponents. They just need to know how to fight.

It actually devalues your character to say they need special means to win in a fight. You’re saying, “I need to make my character special so they can compete.” You don’t. You will make stronger, better, more compelling characters, when you avoid cheating them past adversity.

What you need to change isn’t in your story, it’s your perspective, as a human being looking at the world.

(Also, you might want to read Women are not Weaker than Men.)


I have heard that women who believe themselves to be “naturally” weaker can end up going 110% in a fight (especially joke-roughhousing or just being new to sparring) and accidentally hurt someone because they didn’t realize they’re not limp noodles. Is that a common thing or “anecdata” that my friend told me? I want to use it for my character but I don’t know if her (experienced) partner should be surprised or just disgruntled.

I’d go with disgruntled, but not for the reasons you’re thinking of.

First, not knowing your own strength is an issue, for both men and women. But, without training or experience, most combatants have a hard time generating force. Which outright cripples their damage, regardless of gender.

Second, your character isn’t going to be able to surprise their partner, at least not by hitting harder than they’d expect. If they’ve been training in contact sparring (of any kind), they’ll be used to taking hits. And your character isn’t going to be able to best them. They have training and experience on their side, and that will win them the fight.

Third, and this isn’t what you were directly asking about, you don’t train someone in martial arts by having them spar with anyone.

Sparring is something reserved for advanced martial artists because, if you let beginners spar, they’ll just end up seriously hurting each other. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but getting caught “sparring” will get you kicked out of most martial arts classes. Usually, you won’t see anyone below black belt, involved in unsupervised sparring.

There are a couple, very specific exceptions, that aren’t technically sparring, but could be mistaken for it:

Some katas require a training partner. It’s not actually sparring, they both have a script they’re following. Usually this is either because the kata contains material that requires another human sized object to throw or because the practitioner is having their skills evaluated. If it’s the latter, then this is probably, strictly, no contact. Meaning, the martial artists never touch one another.

When practicing a specific technique that requires a partner, including throws, blocks, holds, hold counters and joint locks. The issue here is, these techniques really can’t be drilled without a living partner.

When a technique can be drilled by shadowboxing, most of the time, that’s what the instructor will have their class practice. Remember, they’re there to teach their students, not kill them.

As a martial artist advances through the ranks, they will be allowed to participate in supervised sparring. This will be with a master observing their techniques and responses, but it won’t happen before they’ve been trained to have a solid grasp of the basics.

This is a little different with the Military’s eight week training programs. But, again sparring is something that’s only introduced after the basics of hand to hand are established.

There is nothing you can learn from having your ass handed to you by a more experienced fighter, before you know what you’re doing. The same is true for your character.

If your character is a master of one form, and is seeking admission to another school, then you might have the classic evaluation duel. Where the point is to prove that your character has the requisite skill. It’s a little cliche, but at least it makes some sense there.

Extracting that cliche and applying it to a new recruit isn’t something a credible martial arts school would do, unless they’re card carrying Saturday morning cartoon supervillians.


I’ve started writing a sci-fi novel where a female soldier, after being critically injured, is “volunteered” to become a host for a colony of nano machines as part of a super-soldier project and AWOL’s afterward. How do you think a woman who wakes up with abilities comparable to Captain America and a “utility fog” would fight hand to hand? Is there anything you think the nanites should or shouldn’t be able to do, i.e. disintegration?

Disintegration is a fantastic suggestion. It ensures that the weapons platform that you just spent billions of dollars building can’t be reverse engineered or interrogated if it’s captured. Also, it makes a pretty solid failsafe, should it go rogue and turn against you… wait, you meant disintegrating other things, didn’t you? Well, this is awkward.

Let’s just get the combat training out of the way, your character will be trained in whatever they knew from the military. That can be whichever hand to hand set is most appropriate. Just remember, their combat training will have them using firearms, and this isn’t something they’ll just ignore.

So, here’s the thing. You, as the military, spend fifty billion dollars building a better soldier. Obviously, that kind of cost is not going to fly on a mass rollout, and the modern military is all about mass production, but, for the moment, your prototype cost a lot of money to research and build. You do not want to lose that money. You don’t want another faction simply scooping your prototype up off the street, hauling them off to the dark side of the moon, and taking them apart to figure out how they work. So, you’re going to need failsafe systems.

One of the easiest ones is GPS tracking, along with a communications package. This means, wherever your prototype goes, you can always call it up, and know exactly where it is and what it’s doing. For something like this to actually work it cannot be something the character can just switch off whenever they want. They’ve got a radio in their skeletal structure now, and like it or not, they can’t do anything about that.

More aggressive failsafes will probably be prudent. No matter how good your psychological screenings are, there’s always a chance you’re giving someone limitless power, and they’re just going to take off and start murdering their way through the government. That means you (still, as the military) need to be able to, at least, shut down their enhancements, if not outright kill them remotely.

This brings us back to the disintegration option. If your prototype is captured by some organization that wants to reverse engineer your technology, you need a way to stop them remotely. Also, if you’re doing clandestine things with your prototype, it’s always nice to have an “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re evidence melted? That’s preposterous!” out, if they’re captured.

I say “melt,” rather than “evaporated”, because, for the most part, setting nanites to break everything in their general vicinity, is believed to result in a grayish sludge, though they could be set to incinerate anything around them, so it’s all up to your preferences.

Okay, now, what else can they do? Nanotech is fairly fluid, at least in science fiction, so there isn’t really a shortage of options. The Crysis and Deus Ex (except Human Revolution) games both feature nanotech augmented player characters, so those might be worth looking at. Crysis 2 in particular does spend some time poking at the plausible applications for the technology, so if you have the time and aptitude for first person shooters, it’s probably worth looking at. Also, it will get you thinking about (relatively) realistic firefights with superpowers.

What superpowers your character gets are ultimately up to you. I’d actually recommend against areal dispersion, though. Nanites are just tiny robots, so they need a medium to traverse, that can be a human body, water, solid surfaces. But, throwing them in the air is more weapon-of-mass-destruction territory than a superpower.

Some fun possible superpowers are cloaking, limited shapeshifting (can’t change size, or gender), rapid healing, improved resistance to damage (armor or improved pain resistance), heightened reflexes, improved strength. You know, the usual super power set. Your character might be able to interact with nearby electronics if they infest them with their own nanocolony first. Though, that would mean they’re depleting their own reserve of nanites.

On the supervillian side of things, nanites could be used to control individuals, Star Trek’s Borg Collective and the 2009 GI Joe film both have examples of that. This isn’t a good option for a military with loyal disciplined soldiers, but, for a supervillian who needs stormtroopers for their volcanic fortress, it’s a possibility.

I mentioned psychological screening earlier, here’s the thing, unless the entire point of the experiment is only for rapid healing, then picking a critically injured soldier is probably a poor choice. The reason is fairly simple. You need to run extensive psychological screening for any kind of prototype technology, before integrating it. So you don’t stick it in someone that will immediately pull a Robocop 2. Any traumatic injury runs the risk of psychologically destabilizing the patient. I don’t mean they go insane, but things like depression, anger, obsessive tendencies, hell, even PTSD are all things you DO NOT WANT, when you’re trying to test out some new high end cybernetics. If these do emerge, you’re going to be left asking if it was the result of the injury or if it was the result of the implants.

The major exception is if her nanotech infusion was only to speed her healing. Obviously, this is wandering off the entire super soldier concept, but, then the only thing she’d gain would be the ability to heal from egregious injuries (possibly including death) quickly. In a situation like that, you might not need anything beyond the infusion. Including failsafes. To be honest, if that’s your character’s only superpower, that’s probably enough, provided they’re creative. Also, I find it stresses credibility a little that the military would pick someone for this treatment, if there was the slightest risk of them just taking off after treatment.


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.

What are some things to keep in mind when it comes to a man defending himself from a violent woman? Almost everything is written with the reverse in mind.

Basically, what we’ve said before: there isn’t a huge difference between male and female combatants. The stuff you’re finding that explains how to deal with a larger foe will work on a smaller one.

Here’s the thing, ignoring a few moments when one of my self defense instructors went a little off the rails, our self defense classes were almost identical; the same throws, the same strikes, the same counters. There are some small discrepancies, but nothing based on gender.

Normally the size difference just isn’t large enough to fundamentally change combat.


Any good advice on how to write a fight between the forces of Heaven (potentially using swords and shields and other medieval weapons) and the forces of Hell (using more modern weapons like guns and stuff)? This is probably a stupid question, but I’ve never actually written a good fight scene before, and this has to span several chapters and potentially 20,000-30,000 words. I just really need some advice, please.

Well, given that your average November novel is 50k words, 20k to 30k is a little excessive. You can’t keep a single fight going for that long, without the reader wearing out, though you could comfortably stuff an entire war in that word count.

Unless the weapons are magical, the guns will win out every time. I keep saying this, but there’s a reason we no longer take longswords into battle. If these are enchanted armaments of heaven and hell, then you’re the one setting the ground rules for what they’re actually capable of.

If you’re willing to go back to the drawing board, I’d recommend digging up used copies of In Nomine. It was an RPG setting in the 90s, with angels and demons engaged in a shadow war for the universe. If you can find it, White Wolf’s Demon: The Fallen might also be a good, if bleak, source of inspiration.

If you want to look at a setting with mass warfare, particularly where guns and melee weapons do mix, I’d recommend Warhammer 40k. I usually recommend the Ciaphas Cain novels as the best 40k entry point, but in your case, one of the Grey Knights novels might be closer to what you’re trying to do.


Hi! Could you please share any information on self-defense? Are there any basic rules that you should keep in mind (Like I heard its good to be confident–attackers can sense fear, etc)? And how many classes/how much time would you have to spend in self-defense classes to be sufficiently proficient? Are there any fighting styles that are basic (easier to learn for an everyday person) and more defensive than offensive? Thank you!

Actually, the advice is “don’t look like a victim,” and “be aware of your surroundings.” Self Defense training places a priority on avoiding situations. What this means is, when you’re writing, and your character is doing something stupid to put themselves in a situation where a fight scene is going to happen; don’t. That’s the precise opposite of self defense training.

At a more advanced level this evolves into keeping track of where everyone is in relation to you at all times. In most urban environments, the other people on the street with you are going to do things that will let you know they’re there.

All that said, attackers aren’t The Shadow, they can’t sense fear. All they can do is make an on the spot threat assessment, and go after the people who look the least likely to fight back. This isn’t specialized training, you can play along at home. Go someplace with a lot of people (a parking lot, bus station, mall, a mall parking lot, wherever) and look around. Ask yourself, “if punched that one in the face, how would they respond?” (Just, not aloud, that would get strange.) Odds are, the people you don’t think will fight back are probably the same ones an attacker will single out as potential victims.

Depending on your skill for self-analysis, you also be able to step back and sort out why one person looks like a victim and someone else doesn’t. But, boiling it down to showing “confidence”, isn’t really instructive. With some practice you’ll be able to sort the people faking confidence from people who don’t “look like victims.”

Now that I’ve made that suggestion; this is something, as a writer, you should be doing whenever you’re around people. Watch them, and listen. Just pick up a library of people’s behaviors and speech patterns. What they say isn’t important, how they say it, is.

Also, and I know I’ve said this before, but, seriously, if you’re reading these articles about self defense and it is not for your writing. Stop, go find a self defense class right now. From what I remember, a lot of gyms offer self defense classes. If you’re going to college, your school probably offers self defense, if it doesn’t it will offer a martial arts class of some sort, and you can talk to the instructor about getting pointed towards a good self defense class.

How long you’ll need to be in it will vary pretty wildly. But, if it’s a personal safety issue, my advice is don’t stop going. When you stop training your skills will degrade.

Also, we tend to be a little general when talking about self defense, but it really is its own combat form, that focuses on getting out of combat and to safety. It really is the basic defensive martial art.


Regarding visibility and hiding at night, would you say that it’s better to wear dark blues, browns, and greens rather than a straight black? The reasoning I came across was that shadows and other dark patches are never really pitch black. Also, these dark colors can be easily mistaken as black, which makes characters less identifiable in the daytime if they happen to wear the same clothes (can’t change for some reason?).

Fair warning, this one’s a little out of our normal range of expertise. This is what I’ve been told, and read, over the years, but I’m not an expert, so you’ll probably want to supplement this with some of your own research.

I’ve always been told that dark blues are the best option. Pure blacks create a clear profile, even in very dark conditions, while dark blues will start to blend in with the background. From what I remember, in low light, the eye starts to have issues distinguishing between specific colors. Dark blues are, apparently, the hardest range of colors to properly distinguish in low light.

The general idea with camouflage isn’t (exactly) to blend into the background. It’s to fake out the brain into ignoring an object by denying it a clean border. Basically, your brain processes the objects around it by seeing the edge or outline of something and then figuring out what it is off of that. When camouflage disrupts the outline, your brain has a much harder time figuring out that something’s there, even if you can actually see it.

Greens and browns can be really useful for camouflage, depending on the environment. In an urban one, however, green is probably going to work against you. In some ways, green is the exact opposite of blue, your eyes are unusually sensitive to variations. So, while a dark blue is hard to separate from that concrete wall, a dark green one should be really easy to identify, even in the same light.

Now, as to those colors being harder to identify in daylight, in an urban environment? Maybe. But, ultimately, if someone’s going to misidentify a color as black, it stands to reason that most people will. Dark clothing tends to stand out during the day, and there isn’t much your character can do about that.

The time when color misidentification becomes significant is when there’s nothing else to go on. Like the grey suited villains in Michael Mann’s films. “It was a guy in a grey suit with a beard,” is a lot less useful than “it was a guy in a black shirt”, even when that shirt turns out to be very dark blue.

I used to have a tie that had iridescent strands, in bright light they’d look electric blue, but in dim light they’d look black. On first thought, it sounds like a good option, but, I wouldn’t recommend it, because you don’t want your shirt lighting up like a signal flare any time you get near a light source. Additionally, while iridescent fabrics aren’t exclusively in the realm of bad 60’s sci-fi movies, they’re still uncommon, so your character would be painfully memorable on the street.

If you’re working with a sci-fi setting, there’s already been some serious work on paper that can self print. The way this works is you have tiny beads that are white on one side and black on the other, by running an electrical current through them, you can cause them to rotate, instantly displaying a message. The tech’s probably about five to ten years away from anything practical, and as far as I know, no one’s suggested using it in textiles, but if your story is twenty (or more) years from now, that might be an option.


The might be a stupid question, but other than out of aggression why do people fight? Other than the need for self-defense too? I realize it’s a sport and competitive too but can you enjoy getting hurt and beating other people up? As someone who know’s little self defense I’m unsure who to give someone a reason for wanting to fight.

Yeah, this is not, at all, a stupid question. It’s not an easy one, though.

Yes, some people do enjoy hurting others, but there are a lot of other possible reasons.

People will resort to violence if they feel that’s the best way to achieve their goals. Sometimes their goals require violence, sometimes they don’t see any alternative, and sometimes they have genuinely exhausted their other options. Also, some will abandon their goals rather than use violence to achieve them.

When you’re writing a character, you need to know what they want, and how far they’ll go to achieve it. Once you have that, you can then decide if it’s appropriate for them to use violence.

Actually, let’s step back and look at this as a character clinic. You need to know who each of your characters are before you write a scene with them. There’s a lot of ways you can go about this, but ask yourself, “what does your character believe?” or “how do they view the world?” and “what do they want?” Once you have a vague idea of those answers, you should have a much easier time deciding what they should do in a given scene.

Also, when you’re asking questions like that, don’t be afraid to add more questions. Each answer will give you a better grasp of who your characters are, and open up more options in your writing.

Okay, so, when will a character resort to violence? When they feel it’s necessary, or when they want to. Someone who views themselves as the most important thing might not see anything wrong with harming others. Someone who enjoys control might enjoy inflicting pain. Someone who sees an imminent threat to something or someone they’re protecting. Someone who feels they’ve been marginalized and disregarded might resort to violence to “prove themselves”. Someone who’s afraid, and wants to hide it might resort to violence or aggression to mask their own fear. An adrenaline junkie who gets off on the rush might use violence to get their fix.

And, this isn’t an even remotely exhaustive list. There are a lot more possible reasons. Also, most of these aren’t mutually exclusive. A character could be both an adrenaline junkie and have sworn to protect someone else, for example. A character could see their cause as the most important thing, and anyone who dies along the way is just a necessary sacrifice.


If you sedate someone, how long would it take for them to pass out? Also, what are the side effects?

The short answer is; we can’t actually answer that. Partially because we’re not medical experts, and partially because there isn’t a single answer to either of those questions.

Speed of onset will vary wildly based on how the sedative was administered and what the dosage was.

Side effects will be determined by the sedative and the sedated. Honestly, there are a lot of different sedatives, and every single one has a list of side effects that pop up with some patients and not with others. Hell, what the sedative even does will vary.

If you’d given me a specific drug, I might know off the top of my head, but, again, we’re not medical experts, for this you’ll actually need to talk to a doctor or a pharmacologist. An anesthesiologist might work in a pinch if you know one.