Tag Archives: writing advice

You mentioned in a previous answer that getting shot in the head is “surprisingly survivable”. Could you talk a bit more about that?

I run across the statistic occasionally, but I don’t usually try to keep track of it. My recollection is that head shots are only fatal about 98% of the time. The rest of the time the bullet either deflects off the skull or doesn’t actually do lethal damage to the brain on the way through. I’d assume this includes cases where there is serious brain damage, but the victim survives anyway.

Either way, there’s a mountain of medical cases where someone gets shot in the head and survives in some condition for any number of reasons.


Q&A: Shot in the Leg

what would happen if a character were shot in the thigh? would they die of blood loss or would it depend on where on the thigh the bullet went? also if the character somehow survived, would they be left with a scar or possibly a limp? eventually how long would they be limp (forever)? sorry for my english, and thank you!

If the bullet severs the femoral artery, death would occur within… I want to say two minutes, but it could be as much as five. If the bullet blows through cleanly, and the blood loss is managed, it shouldn’t result in anything more severe than scar tissue at the entrance and exit wounds. If it damages the bone and that’s not treated, or treated incorrectly, it would permanently impair movement (barring corrective surgery).

If the bullet tears up the muscle tissue, and it doesn’t heal properly, I think that would result in permanent mobility issues, but I’m not 100% certain how that would manifest.

Again, I’m not a medical professional; my familiarity with gunshot wounds is academic. So, I could be wrong here.


EDIT: I’m going to attach this reblog to the main post because it’s actually really useful, and I did drop the ball a bit last night after tumblr ate my first draft of the entry and exit wounds answer. So, with thanks to Disasterintow.


Gunshot wounds vary depending on the type of round used, special attributes to the round (hollow point, armor piercing, etc), the distance from the shooter. A normal sized male (6’ 180lb) shot at close range to the thigh with a simple 9mm round would be in a lot of pain, but risks only moderate damage to bone, and supposing the femoral isn’t stuck, the most you would to be dealing is a hopeful through-and-through. That way, as mentioned before the most to be dealt with is stopping the blood flow and stitching up entry and exit wounds (the latter of which will be significantly larger).

Do. Not. Dig. A. Fragmented. Bullet. Out. Unless you are a skilled surgeon, though even these days, a majority of those professionals choose to leave non-life threatening shards inside. Removing the bullet damages muscle tissue, connective tissue, and tears nerves, all of which are needed to counteract the trauma of the initial wound. And you run the risk of more blood loss.

Now, when it comes to larger caliber bullets and shotgun shells, there is a problem with distance. Up close and personal, a .45 caliber handgun round could shatter bone and leave an exit wound the size of a Granny Smith apple. broken bones (shattered ones, at that) have a very high risk of sepsis, and if not dealt with quickly, could spread to the rest of the body.

AP rounds – Armor Piercing – go straight through flesh and have very little sign of slowing. There is risk to bones, however, as the amount of power (force) they carry with them hits full on if it meets a hard structure. The kinetic energy alone can fracture shoulder blades.

As for buck shot and slug for shotguns, those are trickier. They do need to be a certain distance to be effective, but make no mistake: these rounds will break bones and most certainly leave holes in you. Buckshot is pelleted, but deadly in a closer range.

A safe bet would be to say the person was shot by a .40 caliber or lower handgun, or anything around or lower than a .308 rifle round, and that the meat of the thigh took the bullet. If at a decently close range, that person should survive and most likely walk with a little hitch for most of their lives. Nothing too noticeable, however. There would certainly be scarring, and if nothing happened to bone, and no nerves were injured, there should be no loss in range of motion or use.

Hi. Do you know anything about 18th century firearms? I’m wondering how much damage pistol shot would cause to the face at close range. Would there be just a single entry wound or would the face be unrecognisable, and at what range would that kind of damage occur? Many thanks for your help.

It wouldn’t. At least not from a pistol. Handguns usually lack the ability to completely shatter the skull, they’ll still pierce the skull, but it will be a (figuratively) clean entry wound.

Gunshot wounds vary based on how far away the gun is from the victim. Bullet velocity, and caliber also affect the wound, but it’s not a huge consideration most of the time. Now, keep in mind, this is all from modern forensics. But, the basic idea of how a gun works hasn’t really changed in the last 800 years. That is to say: boom = splat.

Gunshots over two feet from the firearm will result in a small circular wound in the victim. This will usually be slightly smaller than the bullet. This is because the skin stretches to accommodate the bullet before it penetrates. It also bunches, creating something called an abrasion collar, which is an inflamed ring around the entry wound. The collar is usually black or blue as it picks up grime and oil from the bullet as it passes into the deeper tissue.

Between two inches and two feet (roughly) there will be a pattern of burning and unburned powder that gets forced into the skin. This is called stippling. It creates tiny pinpoint hemorrhages under the skin. The closer to the victim, the smaller the ring.

It’s worth pointing out, this will occur if you shoot someone with a blank at very close range, and you can kill someone with blanks because of stippling.

Shooting someone with the gun pressed against them will result in a contact wound. In these cases the expanding gasses from the gunshot will vent into the victim, resulting in a star shaped eruption under the skin. These are big messy wounds… but they still won’t cause someone’s skull to cave in, or even for their face to be completely unrecognizable.

As an aside: These are the same gasses you’re trying to reduce when suppressing a firearm. I’m not sure what kind of a contact wound you’d get off a suppressed firearm.

Now, a shotgun loaded with buckshot, at medium range, can turn someone’s face into hamburger. The 18th century equivalent would be a blunderbuss. These were loaded with whatever shrapnel came to hand, and were really nasty weapons. So, if you haven’t looked into them, that’s probably what you want, even if they weren’t one handed.

If your character hot loaded their pistol and forgot (or chose not) to load a ball, the resulting spray at close range might be enough to sear their opponent’s face. This should kill them, but it is theoretically possible for a character could survive that. Though, getting shot in the head is surprisingly survivable, in general.

Now, that’s if we’re talking about the entry wound. Exit wounds are usually larger and ragged, particularly if we’re talking about 18th century firearms (there’s some modern exceptions). If your character was executed by a gunshot to the back of the head, it’s possible, if the angle was right, for the bullet to take most of their face off on the way out. Obviously, this isn’t a survivable wound, but it is possible.

In a modern context, jacketed and high velocity rounds tend to produce exit wounds that are very similar to entry wounds. When the shooter was more than a couple feet from the victim, and using one of these rounds, it can sometimes be difficult for an ME to differentiate between a victim’s entrance and exit wound.

Incidentally, Teflon coated rounds would actually fall into the high velocity group there. These gained a reputation for armor penetration, but the actual cause is the Teflon reduces drag on the bullet, improving its flatness. Either way, if these miss bone on the way through, they’re going to leave a similar entrance and exit wound.

Soft rounds can leave really messy exit wounds. If they impact a bone straight on, they can shear apart, it can even leave multiple wounds, or they can flatten out and wedge against the bone, leaving no exit wound whatsoever. If they flatten out, continue moving and start to tumble they can leave tiny exit wounds that look like minor lacerations.

As I’ve said before: bullets are kinda random.

Oh, and a reminder, when it comes to gunshot wounds, Google Image Search hates you, but it is useful if you really, really, want to see what this stuff looks like. Just remember to bring a strong stomach.


archieandkobi said: Apparently, the pistols back then were really weak. I’ve heard of cases where people tried to shoot themselves and failed because the balls didn’t even get through their skulls. Most seemed to suffer concussion.

That would actually depend on how much powder the loaded. One of the quirks with pre-19th century firearms was, you were responsible for the amount of powder you loaded into the weapon for each round. This was partially dealt with by using premeasured paper cartridges that you would tear open and dump down the barrel. But, those weren’t universal, much like modern speedloaders aren’t something everyone uses. If you don’t put enough powder down the barrel, it’s not going to clear it with enough force.

I’m guessing the cases you’re looking at were the result of under loading a pistol, but, I am guessing there.


Is it possible to make a functional firearm from some material that a metal detector can’t find?

Sort of.

So, used to be the answer was no, or at least, not really. The whole thing about Glocks being able to pass through metal detectors was a myth. The slide and frame are high impact polymers, but barrel and most of the internals are still metal.

But, now we have the Defense Distributed Liberator. This was the 3d printed pistol that made a lot of headlines a couple years ago. Technically the pistol itself should be able to pass through a metal detector without setting it off, and that was one of the major concerns regarding the Liberator.

The problems are, it still needs bullets which will set off a detector, and, well, it’s crap. The Liberator is highly inaccurate and lacks actual sights, meaning you kind of have to guess where the bullet’s going to go. It’s a single shot weapon. Meaning, you have to reload after every shot. So, you either get extremely lucky with the first round or you go scrambling for a replacement assuming the gun survived. Finally, durability is still a huge issue for the Liberator. Defense Distributed got the weapon so it could reliably fire a couple times, but it will still explode after prolonged usage.

It’s worth pointing out, even by their own admission, the Liberator is more of a political statement than a practical weapon. It was supposed to illustrate the futility of gun control laws in an era when firearms could easily be printed on demand. I’m not convinced it has any more value than your run of the mill zip gun, but, anyway, moving on.

Another company, Solid Concepts does actual industrial grade 3d printing, and made a 3d printed M1911 .45 as a proof of concept piece, but that was mostly printed from stainless steel. (The springs weren’t printed, and the grips were, I think, produced by a polymer printer.) Regardless, they’re aiming at producing custom replacement components for rare firearms rather than full firearms.

As a single shot weapon, it’s certainly possible to design a firearm today that won’t set off detectors, but it wouldn’t be much use beyond a very close range assassination tool. At that point, a high impact polymer knife would probably serve your character better.

That said, hiding a gun when you’re being frisked, especially by someone who’s actually been properly trained, is a lot harder than just shoving it down your pants.

That’s today. Polymers have advanced a long way, even from the stuff used in the H&K VP70. It’s entirely possible that we’ll see polymers that you can feed through a commercial printer and will hold up under multiple gunshots by the time the 3d printer technology becomes commonplace. So, if you’re setting your story in the future, it’s distinctly possible you’re looking at firearms that could slip through a modern metal detector. It’s also more likely that whatever detector system they’re using then will pick up heavy chunks of plastics, like a 3d printed gun. That’s sci-fi… but, we’re already living in a cyberpunk novel from the late 70s… so… what the hell, right?


about having one eye and shooting – would using an automatic weapon work better for them than something like a hunting rifle or a revolver? my character is in a world with superpowers, and lost one eye but he can see the future, so his military organization doesn’t want to let him go because he gives them a huge advantage, but i still feel like losing an eye would put him at more-than-serious risk even so.

No, because automatic weapons aren’t (usually) about putting a lot of ammo in the general vicinity of someone, they’re still about aiming and putting rounds into the target.

Put another way with a deceptive statistic, the average modern US soldier carries about 20 seconds worth of ammunition for their rifle. That doesn’t mean they can only fight for 20 seconds, but it does mean, in spite of their rifle being fully automatic, they can’t simply spray ammo wherever they feel like.

Suppression is the idea of putting rounds in the general vicinity of someone to keep them from firing back. And, that is one of the tactics employed using automatic weapons. This is what light machine guns (LMGs) and their absurd ammo capacities are primarily used for.

Thing is, suppression is used to keep the target from shooting back so other members of the squad can get into a better position and kill the target. It’s not supposed to be used as a substitute for aiming.

That said, depending on how common his superpower is, the military might be entirely willing to keep your character around in a non-combat role, if he’s still valuable. If the limited prescience he has is a common ability, he’s probably out of luck. If it’s rare or unique, they might stick him someplace away from the front lines and use him in a more strategic role. It depends on the setting. Actually, if the prescience is a unique ability, they’d probably pull him off the front lines the instant they learned about it, and try to find a way to maximize his value. Again, that probably would mean sticking him in a more strategic role.

Anyway, happy let’s play with explosives day everyone.


Do you have any recommendations for where to look up how the military/armies work, (I don’t know of any difference aside from the name, so at this point I’m assuming they’re the same thing) or worked? I haven’t got a time period pinned down yet.

Well, an army would be ground/land forces, as opposed to a navy, while military is usually a catch all term for both. But, “when” is critically important here. The history of armed conflict in human history is so varied and scattered that without knowing when or where, you’re really not asking a question that can be answered. I’m sorry.

You can start with a world history text, or Wikipedia if you want a time frame to start with. For that matter, Wikipedia is a pretty decent research primer these days. Just, remember to actually check other sources before you accept something as fact.

If it’s a fantasy setting, then asking yourself what setting (or settings) inspired you, and researching what pieces of history they used could be helpful. Also, role playing games with well fleshed out settings, like D&D’s Forgotten Realms (or Dragonlance, or Dark Sun, or Planescape, or…) and White Wolf’s Exalted can provide an absolute ton of world building to work with. Even just trolling a wiki for games like The Elder Scrolls or Kingdoms of Amalur can offer you some insights into world building. And of course, if you’re writing fantasy, read some of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, no, seriously, read them.

Also, once you’ve got a time frame in mind, the military history section of any convenient bookstore should have some good resources to work with, even if it’s not 100% applicable, you’ll learn a lot from there.


My laptop glitched or something so I’m not exactly sure if my unfinished ask sent or not, but I had said that this question doesn’t really apply to your fight advice, so I understand if you don’t answer! I’ve started the beginning of a story I’ve written multiple times, but I can’t seem to find a great way to start it. I always have this problem with writing, and I don’t know if it’s just cuz I’m not confident enough, or if I have a writers block. Do have any tips on moving on from the start?

Beginnings are always hard. That’s just one of those truths about writing. It’s not a failure as a writer, whenever you’re starting a project, the beginning will almost always be the hardest, and require the most revisions later.

When I was younger, I used to deal with beginnings by not writing them first. I’d start about 1/3 of the way through the piece, and then go back and actually rough draft the beginning after the fact.

There’s actually some decent arguments for this approach. Minor mistakes are more likely to be discarded by the reader without coloring the entire story, for them. You’re writing the part of the piece that needs to be strongest once you’re deeply invested in the work. But, you’re also drafting fragments of your story in isolation from the whole, and then trying to get everything to line up, which is a lot harder than it seems. It also creates a situation where, if you’ve screwed yourself, you won’t know until you’ve already invested a lot of time in the project. Finally, I’m not convinced it actually is easier.

You start with a little less pressure, but, in the end, you’re still going to have to suffer through the first portion you write, regardless. Just because it’s not chronologically first, won’t really save you.

The only reason this ever worked for me was because I always make sure I’ve got a fairly solid outline in my head before I start writing. And, back then, if I came up with a better idea once I was working on the early pieces, I was usually stuck with the original plan.

These days, I always write with one eye firmly on “what’s next.” When I’m writing an opening, I’m thinking about the followup, and in parts, what follows that. It takes a lot of pain out of writing the opening, but it’s also more time consuming.

Either way, starting on a piece is always going to be difficult, because you’re setting the tone for the story. The best advice, whatever your approach is; “everyone’s rough drafts suck.” It’s just a fact of life. Know where you’re going, set out, then clean it up in revisions once you’re working on your second pass. Also, be ready to revise the hell out of your opening, because it is the hardest thing to write, and it will take the most work, long after everything else is done.


Two questions, actually. 1) Am I allowed to submit my own writing for critique, and 2) do you have any tips for one-sided fights (i.e., one character submits but the other does not stop fighting)?

On the first question: we can’t actually stop you, so it’s not a question of being allowed, but we also won’t respond. First, because we’ve just got a little too much on our plates to start editing people’s work gratis, and second because we’re actually pretty brutal perfectionists when it comes to editing.

Writing comes down to an element of self confidence. If you don’t have it, your work will suffer. Not even “suffer,” without a degree of self confidence, you can’t write. You can try, but you’ll end up staring at a blinking cursor for hours, it’s like writer’s block but much more insidious and frustrating.

We usually have a pretty solid grasp of each other’s state of mind, when it comes to editing. However, interacting with someone else on the internet, without being able to gauge what they can actually take, and without knowing how much their work actually means to them? It’s really easy to do more harm than good. The alternative would be to lie to you, and that doesn’t do anyone any good.

So, again, you can send it, but we’ll just ignore it, sorry.

On the second question, it’s just an issue of damage. We’ve talked about what someone can do to another person on a number of occasions, and that’s all that will happen if one person submits or tries to. That said, someone who tries to surrender and keeps getting attacked is likely to start fighting back, if they’re still capable. So, if someone isn’t doing enough damage to incapacitate, cripple or outright kill them, the situation isn’t going to last.



5 Books on Writing That Every Writer Should Read

To be a better writer, there are really only things that you need to do: Read, and write. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t read about being a writer, and that having a well-rounded understanding of how writing “works” isn’t beneficial.

These 5 books were all assigned to me as a creative writing undergrad, and all have pieces of wisdom in them that have etched themselves so thoroughly into my consciousness that I feel like they’re all floating over my head while I’m writing.

While there are loads of other great books on writing, I specifically chose these because they aren’t all just saying “here’s how I write, you should do it too”the topics of these books are very diverse!

1. Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose: Like I said, the best thing you can do to be a better writer is read. But what does that mean? What should you read? Francine Prose (yes, that is her real last name, if you can even believe it!) helps you answer those questions, and shows how looking for certain things while you read and reread can strengthen your own writing. Check it!

2. On Writing by Stephen King: This is the one book on my list that is saying “here’s how I write, you should too”. But Stephen King is basically the most prolific writer ever, so I was happy to listen to his advice. Two points of his really stuck with me: 1. Adverbs are lazy and 2. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a story is put it down for a long timelike, 6 months or a yearand come back to it with eyes so fresh that it’s like you’re editing someone else’s story. I’d be interested to know what points of his sticks with you guys!

3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: I posted about this the other day, but this book is like my writing Bible. In fact, a friend of mine who doesn’t even write got to reading it, and he loved it, too. Basically if you’re a human with a goal, this book will help you. And Anne Lamott writes kinda like this wise, kind mother who isn’t afraid to also tell you what’s up. Whereas a lot of other books on writing are about the actual storytelling, I like this book because it’s more about the writer’s “lifestyle”. Go get it now so that we can gush together!

4. The Philosophy of Composition by Edgar Allan Poe: This is actually just an essay, but considering that Poe is often credited with being the inventor of the modern short story, I had to include it on this list. It’s in this essay that Poe famously defined a short story as one that can be told in one sitting. Whereas King’s On Writing is really “zoomed in” on topics like word choice, this essay is a high level, theoretical piece on what a story actually is. You can get it for 99 cents on Kindle, or, even better, read it as part of a collection of all of his stories… ugh, they’re SO good!!!

5. Elements of Style by Strunk & White: I cannot tell you how often I’ve received this little book as a giftfor high school graduation, for college graduation, and for many Christmases and birthdays. But it’s all good because it is kinda essential for a writer to have. Elements of Style is all aboutgasp!grammar. (I should probably give it a read-through again so that I can re-center and remember my grammatical skillz, actually!) Also, there are some cute versions out now that make it seem less snore-fest-yI really want this illustrated copy!

If you read any of these books and post quotes from them on your Tumblr, tag them #yeahwritingbooks and I’ll reblog you!