Tag Archives: writing advice

The Challenge of Writing in Slow Motion

Hi, this is my first time coming to your blog and ask a fighting question so… How to write a slow-mo scene where character B caught a bullet that is heading towards them (especially their face) with their own bare hands?

I got inspired by this one scene from an anime I’ve watched. Honestly, I don’t know how to approach that cause this is my first time as well writing a combat scene and I don’t want to make it sound lame. So, I figured that you would know…

I’m really sorry, I know I shouldn’t asked that kind of question but seriously I’m drawing a blank here. And I really hope you could help.

So, this is going to be a difficult place for you to get your start. It’s not truly possible to convey time compression in prose (or in sequential art.) This is really easy with films because you can just ramp the footage.

You can flatly state that there’s time compression, that things are happening in slow motion, but I’m willing to bet you already tried that and it didn’t work.

So, when you’re writing a fight scene, you generally want to keep the language as simple and fluid as possible. There’s a lot of skill to making this the best it can be, but a simple blow by blow is a safe starting point.

The more efficient you are with the prose, the faster the audience will read it, and by extension, the faster they will perceive it as occurring. More detailed prose, and larger blocks of text will slow the reader, and slow their perception of the passage of time. This creates a false answer for you, “clearly the solution is to just pad out the fight scene with additional detailed descriptions to slow down the reader, so they are perceiving the fight in slow motion.” The problem with that approach is, it doesn’t actually convey slow motion, it makes the fight feel slow.

There is a delicate balance when you have characters with heightened reflexes, where you can inject slightly more detail into the character’s perceptions mid-fight, to convey the idea that they are processing information faster than a normal person.

This is also someplace where character knowledge can become a huge factor. A character with extensive knowledge of firearms may be able to identify the exact make and model of a weapon when it’s drawn, while a less knowledgeable character might just identify it as, “a gun.” If your character is not particularly knowledgeable, but has heightened reflexes you might be able to convey that by slapping a couple adjectives onto the gun when it’s drawn or fired.

The other problem you, probably, encountered is that anime doesn’t easily translate to non-visual media. Anime is an art style, and that informs the entire work. Not just, parts of it. Writing anime inspired works in prose can be challenging. You lose the visual cues that the art style informs, and as a result you’re left trying to reconstruct without the art style that actually sells it.

It gets worse; Anime relies heavily on spectacle to sell its action. Simply trying to copy that without the visual component, can easily result in disappointing scenes. You’re providing an excellent example of this. The visual spectacle of a character seeing a bullet coming towards them in slow motion and snatching it out of the air can be compelling. However, the text description undermines the character and the scene. They’re no longer fighting to survive, and instead showing off. If you’re trying to establish an anime superhero, that’s fine, but if you’re trying to maintain any tension to the fight, that will kill it.

It is possible to write anime style narratives in prose, however, this is not an easy starting point. It requires a fairly comprehensive understanding of the genre, including a lot of the subtleties in the way it is written, and the reasoning behind that.

So, while you can absolutely write that scene, pulling it off well will some pretty sophisticated work, a lot of skill, and a lot of homework. I would not recommend this for your first fight scene. I would instead suggest starting with something more contained violence.

-Starke

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What to Give the Hero Who Has it All

How unrealistic is to have a hero who is politically savvy/uses guile but also uses brawn? I heard is bad to have a hero (especially a female one) to “have it all”

“Realistic,” is a bit of a loaded term, but, on it’s own, this is not a problem.

An, “overpowered character,” is only measured in relation to the adversity they face. If there was an objective measure of how powerful a character could be, the superhero genre couldn’t exist.

So, “adversity,” is a little bit of a weird way to phrase it. I’m collecting multiple antagonistic factors together here; including the actual villains, the protagonist’s own flaws, and other incidental factors that are working against them. A story starts to suffer when the protagonist grossly outclasses their adversity.

So, let’s look at a simple(-ish) example of this: On the surface Superman is an utterly boring character. He is absurdly powerful and his greatest foe is a dude with cancer. Here’s the thing about that, Superman has a host of internal flaws. Some of these are the simple vulnerabilities, (like kryptonite and magic), while others are his difficulty with human civilization, his desire to fit in (and the entire Clarke Kent persona), his own moral code (this is a double edged sword, as it’s critical to his identity as a person, but it also seriously limits how he’s willing to solve his problems.) Depending on the writer, Superman can either be an utterly uninteresting brick, or an incredibly compelling character, and this hinges on the author’s ability to balance his inherent limitations to bring out an interesting narrative.

it’s difficult to manage a hero who has it all. This is because, if you miss the balance on their foes, the whole story will fall flat. This leads to two easy solutions, low power heroes with limited options, or extraordinarily powerful villains. However, if you feel up to the task, it’s entirely possible to have powerful heroes who are hamstrung by factors unrelated to the foes they’re facing.

A character who is in a politically important position can’t go digging through dive bars hunting for leads. They may be able to send an agent, but, politically, they may not be able to directly intervene. Conversely, a spy may have the political savvy, and even be willing to get into the occasional brawl to maintain their cover, but they come with the distinct disadvantage that if they’re exposed, they’ll be hunted down and killed. That, by the nature of their job, they are incredibly vulnerable.

The, “trick,” such as there is one, is in understanding the limitations of your character when you’re creating them.

And then there’s Doc Savage. Okay, that’s a little unfair of me, there is an entire host of pulp protagonists from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, that would eventually evolve into the early superhero genre, though Savage is one of the most famous examples. It’s an important stepping stone to understand in the creation of the modern superhero. These were characters who were (generally speaking) without flaws, and (at least in the case of Savage), were thrown into adversity that bordered on parody. The rule of adversity above still applies, however, the entire structure is about applying ever greater degrees of external adversity for the character to overcome. So, while I said it can be difficult to manage a powerful character, Lester Dent was pumping out Doc Savage novels in less than 40 days. (Seriously, he wrote 159 novels in 16 years.)

So, when you’re creating a powerful character, you want to keep in mind the foes they’ll face and their own limitations. If your character can breeze through whatever you put in front of them, you may have a problem. However, if you’ve created foes who can legitimately challenge your protagonist, it doesn’t particularly matter how powerful your character is, only how powerful they are in relation to their opponents and the adversity they’ll face along the way.

-Starke

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Gut Wounds and Bleeding to Death

Hello! Thanks for running this (very helpful) blog! So, if a character was to loose a decent ammount of blood (enough to make them loose conciousness, etc, but not actually die.) what would the recovery process for that look like? How long would they be unconcious? How soon would they be able to stand/move? The character in quesion is very physically fit, and the blood loss was due to a wound in the side/abdomen area via a sword, if that is relavent. Thanks for answering!

Probably never, barring necromancy.

So, loss of consciousness from blood loss usually means you’ve lost over two liters of blood. That’s about 40% of the blood in your body. If you’re loosing blood fast enough to pass out, chances are, without immediate medical attention, you’re going to die.

Getting stabbed in the abdomen in a really bad wound. There’s a lot of organs in there that are simultaneously vital for keeping you alive and healthy, but also exceptionally adept at killing you when abused. Your kidneys and liver are basically large repositories of blood waiting to end your life from internal hemorrhaging. Your intestines are just waiting to put you into septic shock and kill you if they’re nicked by a blade. Your stomach is something you really don’t want to see ruptured.

Lower abdominal wounds aren’t just really dangerous, they’re actually pretty nasty and graphic. This is a lot of stuff you do not want to damage. And will require some pretty advanced surgery to survive and recover.

So, stepping away from that for a moment, if a character suffers a wound, and is bleeding severely enough for them to lose consciousness at a relatively rapid pace, it will kill them. As mentioned earlier, losing more than about 2 liters will cause you to lose consciousness, but fatal bloodloss ranges from 2.5L to 4L lost (depending on the individual.) At best, they lost consciousness half-way to dying, and they will bleed out in roughly the same amount of time.

There’s some potential situations, where the victim is able to seal off a wound in the field before passing out. For example, if they stabbed through the arm and had been losing blood, but had the presence of mind to cauterize the wound before losing consciousness, they might recover. (Though, this wouldn’t apply to an abdominal wound.)

Multiple (relatively) minor wounds might be able clot, saving their life, even if the cumulative bloodloss would have been fatal eventually. This is especially true if they lose consciousness some time after the injuries. However, this is a somewhat artificial situation, because the character would need to lose enough blood to go into hypovolemic shock, while also managing the rate of bloodloss carefully enough as to avoid killing them. It could happen, I’m almost positive that it has happened, but engineering that situation is tricky.

Beyond that, it’s worth remembering that hypovolemic shock is actually pretty debilitating long before you lose consciousness, slip into a coma and die.

(Keep in mind, these are modern medical terms and wouldn’t apply in a fantasy setting.) Hypovolemia is grouped into 4 stages.

Stage 1 is up to 750mL lost. The victim will appear pale, but otherwise they’re fin. They may feel terrible, and drained, but this is the stage where they’re still functional.

Stage 2 is 750-1500mL, at this point the victim will start to experience anxiety, and they will start to experience mild tachycardia, and their respiration will increase.

Stage 3 is from 1500mL to 2L, and at this point the victim will start suffering serious cognitive impairment, they’ll be confused, their heart rate will be roughly double what it should be, their respiration rate will be significantly increased.

With Stage 4, loss of consciousness, coma, death. Technically, you can be in stage 4 without losing consciousness. Though the mental state is not great. There’s also more severe tachycardia, their skin may appear mottled (with some patches appearing completely drained of blood), breathing will be very rapid and shallow. This is someone who is dying and you can see it.

If you are losing a lot of blood, and you lose consciousness, it’s over, you’re dead. As a result, your body does everything it can to delay that from happening. Even by Stage 2, you’re not going to be in fighting shape. You can’t just keep fighting through that much bloodloss.

When it comes to recovery, there is a trick. Your body can produce plasma pretty quickly. You can recover the loss of 2L of blood in 24 to 48 hours, sort of. The problem is that your body is only producing plasma to bring the volume back up. Actually replacing the lost blood will take a lot longer. Probably 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the individual.

I’m not 100% sure what the symptoms would be for someone having that much plasma in their circulatory system. It wouldn’t be life threatening, but would be unpleasant. I’m pretty sure fatigue, headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations are on the table, but I’d need to do a lot more digging into this specific situation to be completely certain. Regardless, symptoms would drop off pretty quickly over the weeks as their blood plasma levels evened out.

-Starke

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The Strategic Value of Insight

How much benefit does someone fighting get if advised by someone who knows their opponents tactics or weak spots? As in could that bit of info really mean the difference betweeen win/loss or life/death? Would it help when battling an opponent much stronger than themself? Not all encounters are hostile but friendly sparring as well.

That depends on the information they’re given. The way these kinds of insights are used in fiction can be a bit artificial, but, potentially, there is some real value here.

A lot of the time, this is going to be a kind of deus ex machina plot device. Instead of it being an item (or, a literal god), it’s someone wandering in and saying, “oh, yeah, this is how you beat the villain.” This tends to get less flak than other forms of deus ex machina; probably because the protagonist, at least in theory, retains more agency, and the premise is broadly believable. However, when you start digging into it, problems become apparent.

You identified two different forms these insights can take; vulnerabilities and strategies.

In the real world, exploiting vulnerabilities is effective. Understanding someone’s weaknesses can confer enormous advantages. This can be as simple as knowing about an old wound, meaning a specific strike will have have significantly more effect than you would expect, it can be a design defect in a vehicle or weapon, it can be detailed psychological information that you can use to shut them down and get them to give up.

These insights can be given by another character, or they can be collected by the protagonists directly.

For an example: The Death Star Plans in Star Wars, are an inanimate MacGuffin, but that’s just obfuscating that they’re effectively an insight saying, “shoot here to blow up the incomprehensibly massive superweapon.”

These kinds of insights can also be time sensitive. Another example, from the same source, would be that in Return of the Jedi, the timing of the attack on the Second Death Star coincides with Emperor Palpatine’s tour of the station. And, of course, as that example shows, these kinds of time-sensitive vulnerabilities are excellent bait for traps.

If the villain was injured during a recent battle, and is currently in a vulnerable state, of course your protagonists would jump at the opportunity to strike.

In more sophisticated situations, the villains actions may have alienated former allies who approach your protagonists with an offer to work together to unseat them, only for that entire scheme to be a trap.

Vulnerabilities can go either way. When played straight, they can be a very kludgly, “shoot here to win,” solution. When they’re subverted, it can be an effective plot twist (though, it will be on you to sell the deception, and the machinations that went into it.) At the same time, there’s a very realistic element of having someone running surveillance on an enemy and then reporting to your characters.

So, reconnaissance reports are in the same category of, “reporting a vulnerability.” The way these scenes are put together is a little different. Usually, they’ll get the report, and then plan accordingly. This will often include the protagonists having to identify the vulnerability for themselves. From a character agency perspective, this is a huge difference, and it will further sell the idea that your characters found the solution for themselves. (Note that Star Wars isn’t an example of this, as the Death Star Plans are handed over, and an unnamed character, played by an uncredited extra, who identifies the design flaw, off screen.)

Understanding an individual’s preferred strategies can be useful, and in some situations it can allow you to develop an effective counter-strategy. However, in a lot of fiction, this is exaggerated, almost to parody.

Talking about a character’s preferred strategies can be a useful opportunity for worldbuilding. Especially if their strategies intersect with novel elements of the setting.

However, it’s important to be careful with this approach. Two things to keep in mind, first that the strategy must novel or unusual in some way, and second that if it has a transparent weakness, it only raises questions about how the character got to the point of being a legitimate participant in the current events.

On the former, I’ve literally seen cases where a villain’s, “secret,” strategy was to hold some units in reserve. I wish I was making this up. To some extent, my inability to remember exactly where I’ve run across this, gives me some hope that my memory is messing with me, and no one actually blundered into this. The problem with this strategy is that, ever semi-competent strategist will keep some forces in reserve to reinforce struggling troops.

Actually a specific example I can name from memory is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Remembering that it’s been 25 years since I read the novel, and it is intended for a YA audience, most of Ender’s “strategic genius” is understanding basic concepts like pickets. (It is a good example of worldbuilding through strategic analysis, but, the actual strategies employed by Ender are remedial at best. Also, as it turned out, Card is an ambulatory dumpster fire masquerading as a person.)

Unfortunately, if you want to avoid this, you’re going to need to do some research on your own. There’s an entire scholarly field (military history) that is deeply interested in analyzing strategies and tactics employed on the battlefield. This is a mandatory field of study for military officers, and if you’re wanting to stage out large battles, this is something you’re going to need to look into.

My best recommendations for the use of strategy remains the series Babylon 5. This has the distinct disadvantage of being a serialized TV series, and you’re looking at over 80 hours of material, with the vast majority of that being unrelated to combat and warfare. However, it’s one of the exceptionally rare cases where I can point to a fictional character who lives up to their reputation as a strategic genius. (And, no, linking to the second season was not an error.)

Another example of a strategic genius would be Grand Admiral Thrawn from Star Wars. This also comes with a caveat, the original version of the character has some very interesting (and plausible) rationale behind his methods. As other writers worked with Thrawn, his strategic insight degenerated into a superpower. There is a valuable lesson here though, writing this kind of a character is not easy, and will require a lot of work from you.

The old aphorism, “write what you know,” is in full effect. If you want to write a strategist, you’ll need to learn how to be one as well. You don’t need to be as good as they are, but you will need to learn how to become one.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

P.S. As a quick aside, there is a reason I’m so focused on Sci-fi at the moment, there’s a much larger post in the works, and I’ve been pushing pieces of it live on the Patreon Discord over the last few days. I haven’t intentionally gone silent. So, keep an eye out for that.

The Vigilante and the Seeing Eye Accomplice

I was wondering if it’d be realistic for a Blind Vigilante to be told what to do during a fight (with knowledge the Blind Person had the skills and training to fight) in order to be successful? Kinda like someone over on a building watching the fight go down, and the person giving directions on what to do. Is that something possible? Or are/is there other approaches to what can be done?

Nope.

The problem with hand to hand combat is that it occurs at speeds where it’s difficult to visually process what is happening. Being slow to process that information will likely result in serious injury or death.

So. Your vigilante’s support needs to be able to see something, process that visual information, send the results of that around the brain until they find the words, then vocalize those words. Your vigilante needs to hear the information clearly. They need to process that information, and operationalize it. Then they need to react, and all of this has to happen faster than the crowbar that just shattered their arm was moving.

This is assuming the support can even see something in the first place. It’s very easy for character to pull a knife with minimal noise and shank your vigilante with the support never even seeing it, because the angle was bad, or the blade simply didn’t catch the light. This is before we get into the subject of firearms.

There’s a real problem with this setup, where your character is waiting for spoken commands. Even under the best circumstances, no language is built, primarily, around combat, and the time it takes to speak the words to communicate the information, is enough to end the fight.

It’s one thing when you have a vigilante superhero who can fake their way around their blindness. However, having someone talk your character through a fight, even under the best of circumstances, is not realistic.

-Starke

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A Brief Primer on Dueling Weapons and Rituals

Hi I have just stumbled upon your blog and it is amazing 😀 Thank you for all the effort you put in every question it is really helpful as a writer having a guide in things some may not know about 🙂 Hoping to not bother you Could I ask you which kind of swords were generally used in medieval and later on in 1800 ; which kind of reason there could be for a duel in medieval times and how it will be executed? All of of my questions concern particularly France for a WIP I am working on thank you for keeping up such an interesting blog Have a nice day : )

Starting with the question of, “which kinds of swords? That’s a huge swath of weapons, and these weapons changed significantly over time. The Oakeshott typology identifies 13 distinct categories of medieval sword (numbered X through XXII), which saw use between the 11th and 16th centuries, with additional subtypes that are similar to the main 13, but show significant variations.

(Incidentally, if you’re looking at older posts, and wondering why the number went from 12 to 13… it’s because I screwed up. I subtracted 10 from 22, and said, “ah, there are 12,” without considering that Type X is one of Oakeshott’s.)

Oakeshott was expanding Jan Petersen’s classification of Viking swords, Petersen defined nine types from, roughly, ninth to eleventh century. (Though, without checking, I think some Knightly Swords or Arming Swords do fit into the Petersen typology.)

The important takeaway here is that there were a lot of variations in swords. Ranging from the one-handed arming swords up through the greatswords.

By 1800 France, you’re looking at two distinct varieties of swords. You had lightweight dueling weapons, like the epee or rapier, and you had military sabers. (Along with a lot of older swords that still existed, and may have been in circulation or on display.)

The Saber came to popularity in military circles in the 17th century (originating with the Polish Hussars), so by the 1800s it had become the primary military sidearm across most of Europe. (It wouldn’t surprise me if there were nations that hadn’t adopted sabers at that point.) So, if you’re looking at early 19th Century France, students from military academies, and military officers would have been using sabers.

The Rapier was a product of continuing development of the longsword. However, unlike the Saber, the Rapier (and other lightweight dueling blades), found a home with civilian users. Specifically, the rapier was an evolution of the side sword, a kind of straight blade intended for use as a sidearm. The earliest rapiers were French blades in the fifteenth century. Lightweight dueling blades were extremely popular among the rising merchant middle class, and they would remain a popular status symbol and self-defense tool into the 19th century. (There’s a technical distinction here, the rapier would be replaced by the small sword, dress sword, and epee, over time, however, these are extremely similar weapons, to the point that distinguishing between them requires knowing what you’re looking at. In the case of the dress sword, it was sometimes used as a pejorative term for these kinds of dueling blades, rather than an actual type of sword.)

Also, “épée” is the French word for, “sword.” It is a specific, lightweight dueling blade, but the name itself is a simple French word.

By the early 19th century, pistols were already becoming a popular dueling weapon. So, it’s quite possible that a duel in the 1800s would have used dueling pistols rather than blades.

As for the cause of a duel? That could be nearly any dispute. If one party was believed to have caused offense to the other, that was enough. In theory there was a complicated ritual, with both duelists designating a trusted friend to function as their Second. The Seconds had an obligation to attempt to avoid bloodshed (at least in theory), and they would handle communication between the duelists. In more formal situations, a lot of these messages would be transmitted in writing, so there’s a fair amount of surviving primary sources if you want to dig up the exact language.

Dueling persisted to some degree up into the 19th century, and there are still cultural remnants of it in some subcultures today. If you’re asking specifically about 18th Century French dueling, I would assume that would be the aggrieved duelist would challenge their foe, probably verbally, with a statement of cause, and then throw down the gauntlet. (In this case, literally taking their glove and throwing it in the path of the individual they were challenging.) At that point, seconds would be designated, and it would be the seconds’ responsibility to schedule the duel, select the weapons (usually we think of swords or pistols, but this could be anything; in one 1843 French duel, the duelists fought using billiard balls), and attempt to prevent the duel entirely if possible (remember, these are the friends of the duelist who they’re representing, and probably not acquainted with one another, so their loyalty is to keeping their friend alive, meaning it’s quite possible they wouldn’t be able to avert the duel.) On the day of the duel, they would need to be present, and oversee the execution of the duel, they would inspect the weapons to ensure there was no foul play by the other party. Then, two people would try to kill each other. My understanding is that the defeated duelist’s second would be responsible for any arrangements related to a corpse, but I’m not sure, and it’s not a topic I’ve seen come up very often.

By the 19th century, duels were falling out of favor among the general population. French royal decree had outlawed dueling in 1626, but this hadn’t ended the practice. While it was illegal in the 1800s, the legal penalties were slight.

Dueling in the Medieval era was a little different. Depending on exactly when you’re talking about, it was a legally recognized, judicial practice. You can think of this like a modern court case, except the method of dispute resolution was violence. The last judicial duel in France was in 1386, though there were legally sanctioned duels into the sixteenth century. I’m not familiar with the specific legal procedures for a fourteenth century French judicial dual. I know there was a degree of very specific ceremony involved, but anything beyond that is a little outside my area of expertise. The Last Duel by Eric Jager covers this in more detail, if you really want to get into the historical context.

One thing that makes this a little tricky is that the medieval era is roughly 5th to 15th century. Early modern is 15th to 18th. Modern is 18th to present. I’m not completely certain what you’re asking for in medieval dueling. Depending on your definition, this could include things like Viking Holmgangs, and while I’m not aware of any that occurred in France, I’d be genuinely shocked if there were no Holmgangs in tenth and eleventh century Normandy.

So, this is a question about roughly a thousand years of history, and it leaks forward into the modern era. This does make it a little difficult to pin down exactly what you’re looking for. These processes and rituals changed dramatically over time.

-Starke

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Materials Used for Knife Grips

What’s the handle of a combat knife made out of? I Googled it and it said polymer. Would it be more plastic or steel?

Polymer.

All plastics are polymers; not all polymers are plastics. While there are a lot of variations, modern combat knives will (usually) have a polymer grip. In most cases, that will be a rubberized polymer, meaning it has some give and traction when held. (Worth knowing, rubber, including natural rubber, is a polymer. Rubber is not a plastic. Most synthetic rubber is not a plastic.)

With higher end modern knives, you can probably replace the grips, meaning you can choose between a harder, ridged, “plastic-like,” grip, or a softer, rubberized grip. (You can also get rubberized grip attachments for some firearms.

Older combat knives from the last century were more likely to feature wooden grips. Some modern knives may support a wooden grip, if you’re so inclined. Wooden grips will still pop up as luxury options, or on some hunting knives.

While it’s more of a luxury item, Ivory grips are quite popular in some circles. Real ivory is expensive, and regulated, but synthetic ivory is much cheaper. In this case, the grip may be hand carved.

Certainly not common, but there is still application for shagreen (shark and ray skin) and leather grips. In particular, you can obtain ray shagreen fairly easily. This isn’t likely to be the standard grip, but certainly could be something that an individual may want to use. Shagreen is noteworthy because it remains easy to grip in adverse weather (such as in heavy rain.) Shagreen used to be the norm for naval sword grips (in the 19th century.)

A lot of these latter examples would be non-standard modifications, but you may encounter them.

Metal grips are far less attractive, but you will frequently find them on collapsible blades. Also, a lot of the above examples will have a metal core, with the grips above attached to it. The biggest flaw for a metal grip is that it will become slick when wet. Understandably, when you start poking holes in someone, your blade and grip are prone to becoming a bit wet.

But, yeah, the answer you found was correct, polymer grips are going to be the most common.

-Starke

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Signature Techniques and Understanding the Basics

there is a character by the name of Saito Hajime in Rurouni Kenshin (or Samurai X) (also the author is terrible person) who is notable for having a single move with minor variation depending on the situation, that being a highly exaggerated charging sword thrust, and supposedly based on a technique practiced by the actual Saito Hajime in real life where you take an extra step and let go of the right hand to extend your reach during a stab. This got me wondering, when and how should one blur the line between realistic and stylistic? And is there a merit to “master one technique to perfection” ala “I fear the man who trained one kick a thousand times”?

Bruce Lee’s line, “I fear the man who trained one kick a thousand times” isn’t actually related to one trick ponies or people who practice and master one technique. What it actually means is, “I fear the person who has mastered the basics more than the person who went out and learned all the flashy, superficial shit.” People who come from a martial arts backgrounds and have been in martial arts schools all know the kind of person Lee is referring to. In the real world, you can’t create a workable fighting style off one single technique, no matter how good that technique is. Lee’s quote doesn’t exist to validate Shounen anime’s obsession with the one trick pony. (There’s a reason why One Punch Man is brilliant and hilarious satire.)

That said, the Signature Technique has it’s place, every martial arts practitioner is going to have techniques they gravitate towards, like better, and, as a result, practice more than others. This becomes the best technique in their arsenal because they put the most effort into it, and, in the end, they can become over reliant on it. They might even neglect other, crucial techniques they need to be successful.

You see this one all the time in real life with martial artists from different schools. A good example is Taekwondo practitioners who spar regularly, most of them can’t guard their face for the life of them because TKD sparring is almost totally kick based. (This is because you get 2 points if you land with a kick to the body versus one with hands. Hands to the head is 2, but with a kick is 3.) Instead, their hands will gravitate down or they’ll grab their pant legs and hike them up to lift the hem out of the way of their feet. This is bad, they know its bad, and they do it anyway.

As for when to blur the line between reality and fiction, you answered your own question when you were looking into the real Saito Hajime and a technique he was said to practice. It’s right here, from your question, of what made Saito’s technique unique, “an extra step and let go of the right hand to extend your reach during a stab.

This, right here, is the reality that justifies the fiction. The justification isn’t actually that this technique was real. The detail alone justifies every artistic decision built off of it. Realism is in the ability to explain what is happening and why in detail.

Part of what makes Saito Hajime feel so real as a character is his ability to explain his technique, his methodology, and his beliefs to the audience. The details of Saito’s technique elevate it and these details resonate with our understanding of reality. As we, the audience, gain understanding, the technique feels more plausible. More importantly, we, the audience, see Saito’s singularly focused, unrelenting, determined personality reflected in his technique and this helps us understand his character better. Our newly formed understanding further cements the character as a “real” person in the context of the narrative.

Saito is a master class in how to marry a character’s identity to their martial combat style and an excellent example of how to manifest that philosophy through the techniques they practice.

Saito is the only character in Rurouni Kenshin who singularly practices one simple technique. The other characters have specialties and preferences, but they all practice a range of different attacks or use different body parts to execute variations on a technique. Not Saito, Saito has one technique with extremely minor variation and he would not be believable at all if his character did not support this decision 110%. Saito’s technique represents his black and white worldview, his religious adherence to the Shinsengumi code, “Aku Soku Zan” or “Slay Evil Immediately.” The thrust itself is beautiful poetry for Saito because the thrust requires total, unflinching commitment without reservation or hesitation. By putting his whole life on the line for one brilliant strike, Saito slays evil immediately.

Saito’s extreme specialization is the artistic rendition of “show, don’t tell” or “exposit, don’t explain.”

You can’t get to where Saito is without understanding the risks involved with certain techniques and building a character’s personality around their decision to take those risks. This is why reality is important because real world applications for techniques inform their meaning and that meaning travels into fiction. You don’t need a background in iaijutsu or kenjutsu to grasp the risks involved in Saito’s thrust. However, understanding can be helpful to recognize the way he commits his whole body into the strike means any mistake or miscalculation will get him fucked. This plays into the high risk, high reward nature of his combat style. That high risk approach is where the narrative builds tension into his fights. Rurouni Kenshin’s narrative never forgets extremes have their costs.

You can go a long way with detail and a functional martial philosophy to justify a character’s actions/beliefs within the story. You need reality to provide the little technical details to make your stylistic desires functional and believable. Saito’s technique enhances his believability but only because the technique itself can be drawn so realistically from the historical record. This is to say, you need to understand violence to effectively write violence, or, at the very least, be able to draw from the experiences of others in your own research to effectively create the simulacra.

TLDR: A detailed lie is better than incoherent gibberish.

Remember, though, One Trick Ponies aren’t believable alone. They can be made believable by a narrative that supports them. Kenshin’s Saito can get away with a lot because he isn’t the narrative’s main character, he doesn’t have to bear the burden of consistently facing new challenges, coming up with new approaches, or revealing new techniques to keep audience engagement. He can show up, do his thing, fight a couple of enemies, make a few small changes, and leave. This gives Saito more freedom to have a singular focus than a character who has to shoulder multiple story arcs across two hundred or three hundred chapters.

While it’s not a discussion I want to get into right now, there’s a larger conversation to be had about marrying a character’s martial combat style, techniques, and perspective to the culture within the narrative. (If you’re looking for inspiration to snarf, Saito is not a character who is going to travel well outside of Japan because the details supporting his approach to violence are uniquely Japanese, including his “one holy technique” approach. The Japanese have a very ceremonial, very formalized, almost religious approach to combat that you don’t see outside of Japan.)

The real Saito’s technique had actual practical applications within the sphere of the Japanese sword arts. The goal of his technique was to gain greater reach over his opponent. Saito sacrificed power by losing the second hand but gained reach, meaning that in a head to head he could hit his opponent sooner while his opponent came up short or he’d have more mobility in his upper body to turn sideways and avoid taking their sword strike to his upper body. Basically, he sacrificed power for reach and upper body flexibility/mobility much like a rapier duelist. He likely utilized the second step as a way to gain momentum and minimize the power lost by giving up the second hand. Sacrificing the second hand also freed it up for maintaining balance, meaning he could move more quickly. A body on a 45 degree angle maintains balance better than a body that’s forward facing. (He also didn’t have to puncture or punch through armor, so that’s there too.)

This strike demonstrates a mentality of someone looking to gain an extreme advantage over their opponent and, given his reputation, probably did exactly that. It’s a battlefield mentality, a survival calculus, “how can I do the most damage to my enemy while taking the least amount of damage possible (preferably no damage.)” This is the mindset of a real person who wants to live. As you can see, that’s a very different application than the fictional Saito but the real world usually requires more cunning and flexibility. You’re also seeing the reasoning for why the rapier overtook the longsword. The stronger attack doesn’t equal the more effective one. What matters is what your power does to your opponent rather than the simple factor of power you possess.

If you want to see a Japanese creator whose characters do get approximated and successfully adapted into Western media (in part because they were adapted from Western media), I’d suggest looking at the Hollywood adaptations of Kurosawa’s work.

Everyone blends style and reality from formalism to realism. You find the place between the two lines that fits your narrative and works for you and you live there. The only way to figure out where you fall on the spectrum is through trial and error. Failure is part of learning.

-Michi

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Whip Swords

How viable are whip swords in actual combat? I know things like the Urumi existed in real life, but would something like the Sword of the Creator from Fire Emblem 3 Houses be feasible? I feel like that’s probably a fantasy-only weapon, but they sure do look cool.

The difference here is that the urumi exists, and, as far as I know, that’s as close as reality has ever gotten to a whip sword. The other real examples would be multi-section staves (usually, three section), and various flails.

Fire Emblem’s Sword of the Creator isn’t possible. Meaning, from an engineering standpoint, it would be impossible to build the weapon using modern technology. It might be possible at some point in the future, but even then it would be more of a novelty.

The issue with the Sword of the Creator is that it’s a segmented blade which snaps apart into multiple segments. These segments need to be able to separate enough for there to be play between them when the sword is in whip mode, but latch together securely enough that it will function as a sword in combat. That’s not possible with non-magical means. So, you have a weapon where, “if it was real,” it would snap apart, unpredictably, in combat. To put this in technical terms, “that’s a very bad thing.”

This isn’t a problem with the in-setting item, because it’s a magical (or, at least pseudo-magical) artifact. So, being able to instantly fuse or shatter the blade, and convert it into different modes is plausible enough.

This biggest issue for viability with weapons like this, and this includes the Urumi, is the danger the weapon poses to its user. There’s a real risk of the sword bouncing off an object, and whipping back on the user. With enough skill and experience, you can mitigate this, but it creates a significant skill floor, that makes the weapon impractical for general use.

Obviously, the Urumi does exist, and weapons that pose a significant danger to an untrained user are defensible worldbuilding. (Lightsabers come to mind.) It’s also possible that the Sword of the Creator is actually intelligent, or at the very least, guided by its user, to the point that it isn’t really a whip, and more of a, serpentine weapon. Again, this plausible for magic (or technology from the other side of Clarke’s Law.)

Are weapons like this viable in the real world? Not really. There’s no way to engineer a sword that can break into pieces, and then reassemble itself with anything even approaching the needed level of stability. You may be able to make a display piece, that exhibits the behavior, and that would be a piece of visually interesting art, but it wouldn’t be a usable sword.

Incidentally, these are the same issues with Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane. Visually, it’s an amazing weapon, but, completely impossible to produce, and actively dangerous to the user.

In fiction, weapons like this are pretty easy to excuse if they offer enough entertainment value to the audience. It’s not a coincidence that both of these examples are from video games, and so you’re presenting the audience with a visual spectacle. Like you said, they look cool, and I fully agree. You’re also presenting the audience with a play experience (which unique to games), and that can also help to sell the audience on a weapon, even when it’s not particularly plausible. However, it does make translating weapons like this from a visual media into written prose particularly tricky, and outside of games (whether that’s tabletop or video games), being able to simply provide a power fantasy to the audience isn’t, necessarily, going to be enough to sell them on a cool new sword, no matter how awesome it is in your mind.

-Starke

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The UCMJ and Unfriendly Fire

So, imagine if one soldier got into a fight with enemy, the fist to fist kind and he’s loosing. If the soldiers team mates come, would there be any law to prevent them from shooting? Would they be charged with anything if their bullets accidently harmed or killed the soldier?

So, this is a little vague, but the answer is, almost certainly, yes.

I’m not an expert on military law, and the exact circumstances you’re presenting are somewhat unclear.

The US Military operates under the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UMCJ), and you can search the text of this online, if you’d like.

A couple of highlights, dueling is illegal (Article 114.) This is assuming that the fight between the soldier and the enemy was not warfare related, and was previously arranged. Normally, Article 114 assumes that the parties will be fighting using lethal weapons, so not a fist fight.

Article 134 covers negligent and willful discharge of firearms. Either one of these could certainly apply, depending on the specific circumstances. Article 134, Paragraph 100a, covers reckless engagement, and firing into a melee between two individuals, when one is friendly, could certainly apply, especially if they hit the friendly.

It’s worth noting that, while there are a lot of potential legal issues, if this is part of a military operation, it’s unlikely criminal charges would be filed, unless things went seriously off the rails. However, if this was part of a planned, coherent, operation, it’s unlikely that a squad would let itself scatter to the point where one of the members would be in a literal fist fight with an enemy combatant.

On the other hand, if the, “enemy,” is a civilian, and this occurred while soldiers were on leave. For example, a soldier gets drunk, mouths off at a local (this could be a violation of Article 117, if both are subject to the UCMJ), provokes a brawl (this could be a 116 violation), one of his squaddies pulls a gun (which he shouldn’t have while on leave, and is an Article 121 violation), and opens fire on the “enemy” (this is probably a 134 violation, probably a 124 violation if they survive, and either a 117 or 118 if they didn’t. (Murder and Manslaughter.)) Yeah, some Military laws were broken.

The short version is, if the soldiers are doing their job, even if the situation got a little out of hand, it probably wouldn’t result in criminal charges, unless something went seriously off the rails. (For example, if the perceived hostile was in fact part of a diplomatic security detail, or another neutral, third party.)

If the soldiers are off, “doing their own thing,” and weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, then this is a legal minefield.

-Starke

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