Tag Archives: writing reference

My MC kicks someone in the back of the head. Would the person be stunned, knocked out, or something else? Also, how long would it take to make someone pass out from blocking the flow of blood to their brain (via choke hold with elbow around the throat)?

Any kick to the head runs the risk of a concussion, knockout, or death. There’s always a chance, depending on the kick used, that the force of the blow will knock the skull off the spinal column (this is usually more of a risk with spin kicks like the wheel kick and jump kicks). How much damage your MC does to that person is going to depend on a few things:

1) How used to kicking they are, especially in the head?

There’s a difference in effectiveness between a character who practices three times a week and a character who almost never kicks and is doing it out of desperation. (The chances of them even being able to reach the head from a standing position if they don’t train their flexibility and muscle control is unlikely, but it can happen.) It’s worth remembering that most untrained individuals rarely think with their feet or legs in combat. If they practice a style that doesn’t have at least some focus on kicking, then it’s unlikely that they’ll think with their feet as an opening attack. A lot of whether it’s stun, knockout, even death will rely on how well the character does follow-through and (if they know what they’re doing) if they were holding back.

2) Are they (the attacker) standing or sitting when they perform the kick?

If they are sitting when the kick is performed, then it’s likely it’ll just stun as they generate about half the force. A character who is limber enough can kick fairly effectively off the ground and while they are seated in a chair (so long as they can rock the chair back onto it’s back two legs).

A kick to the back of the head (I’m assuming it’s a front kick as opposed to a sidekick) from a standing position will connect with the ball of the foot, a kick done from a sitting position could use the ball of the foot, the flat of the foot (the whole bottom portion), or the heel.

3) What kind of shoes are they wearing?

This is important, because for a head kick to work on the street, it requires more than just very good muscular control, balance, and flexibility. The clothing and shoes must also be amenable. A character in really tight clothes, especially pants will have a hard time kicking to the head because the clothing doesn’t allow for that level of flexibility. Really tight skinny jeans without any elasticity, for example, make high kicks tough.

Heavy shoes like combat boots or shoes that provide little to no support like flip flops and other kinds of sandals won’t be very effective. The power in the high kick or any kick that goes to the head comes almost entirely from speed. Now, there are certainly people out there who are very effective wearing any kind of shoe they like (forget about high heels), but it’s always worth considering all the factors including the ones that your MC will have no control over.

The choke you’re looking for is called (at least my school called it) The Triangle Choke. It has a few different variations on the holds (hands clasped versus hand behind head), but the basics of it is this: you’re not using the elbow, you’re using the bicep to cut off the blood flow from (I think) the carotid artery when you squeeze. And the answer is not long. If the choke is done correctly, only takes 15 seconds to kill. If the character is distracted, they really could kill someone without meaning to. When we practiced this hold, the minute we felt it working was cause for an immediate tap out.

Things to remember about this choke:

The character who is performing the choke must be higher up than their victim, so it’s a good idea to knock them to their knees or make them stumble first. This can be done easily by simply stepping on the back of the calf to drive the other person to the ground. A taller character has to worry about this less, but it’s going to be a concern for a shorter character and something that they’ll have to work around. The choke itself is fairly difficult to execute if the character has never practiced with it (it has something to do with the alignment of the elbow and the victim’s jaw), they’ll need at least a few sessions of practice in a controlled environment before they get comfortable with it.

Anyway, I hope that helps.


I have a character with long hair (because of cultural reasons), so what hairstyle would you recommend to keep it out of the way in a fight?

We did an article on this! FightWrite: On Hair Pulling

You want a hairstyle that keeps the long hair tightly bound (skin tight) so that no opponent can get a good grip. A loose ponytail isn’t good enough. Modern “conventional” wisdom likes to assume that only girls are wussy enough to pull each others’ hair or that it’s “cheap”. It’s actually not true. Regardless of what is right or fair, both men and women will yank someone else around by their hair in a fight. The reason is that the hair is full of nerve endings, when yanked on their cause pain, and a good solid grip on someone’s head means that you can control where they go in a fight.

A character with long hair is going to need to keep their hair bound up and out of the way, or their opponent will snatch it and yank. The longer and looser the hair, the easier this is.

A ponytail, a loose braid, and even a loose bun will allow another character to simply walk up behind the character and take a hold of them, or grab it during a fight when they get in close enough. There’s no practical reason to ignore the hair, so most don’t.


Reminder: Real Pirates Were Awful

Reminder: Real Pirates Were Awful

Writing Violence Part 1: Developing Characters and Comfort Levels (And You)

We’re going to do a small series about writing violence, mostly because we haven’t covered some the basics yet and these are important. There are a lot of important steps that go into writing about violence, these include language choice, the intensity of the violence, the characters in question.

Today, we’re going to talk about developing your characters and more importantly than that, how to asses your own comfort zone.

There are many pieces that go into building a successful fight scene and many of those pieces begin to build together before your character ever pulls the trigger or throws their first punch. The way a character looks at the world around them is infinitely important to showing the reader the kind of fighter they are (or the kind of fighter they will be) before combat happens. Characters with different skill levels and different outlooks will all approach combat differently; the same is reflected in a character’s strategic preferences (if they have even thought that far ahead), their honor code, their choice of weapons, and the techniques they choose to use.

Not every character enjoys visceral combat. Some characters like squelching their opponent’s eyeballs with their thumbs, others will wince at the thought, others will be indifferent, and some upon witnessing the act will come to their enemy’s defense because that’s just too cruel. Every character is different and that’s part of what makes writing these sorts of scenes so hard, because a fight scene involves much more than just knowing how to throw a punch right. In fact, as funny as it sounds, for writing that is one of the most inconsequential parts. You can write your combat perfectly, but if it doesn’t reflect your characters and the themes of you’ve been setting up in the plot then it will still fail. A scene with flat out wrong combat can be the best part of a book if the sequence remains in harmony with the rest of the story and furthers the development of both the characters and the plot.

 Establish Your Violence Comfort Zone

You can write a level of violence in your story that you’re not comfortable with, but you will have a great deal of difficulty writing a character who is exhibiting a level of violence that they are supposed to be comfortable with but is uncomfortable for you. Given the attitudes towards sex and violence in American culture, it may sound funny or cliché when I tell you that writing about violence is a lot like writing about sex. How graphic you get is going to depend on your audience and your own comfort level before it reaches your character. A sex scene where you were wincing every few seconds as you were writing it is going to feel uncomfortable to the reader; the same is going to be true with violence.

Some of you may be wondering, but aren’t violent sequences supposed to be uncomfortable? Some of them are, but if you are writing a character who relishes violence or an epic sword duel and you are wincing on each sentence then you have a problem. Or alternately, if you honestly, truly believe that torture is completely unacceptable, that it is always bad, always evil then don’t try to write a character like 24’s Jack Bauer. Whatever you write, you need to be able to completely submerge yourself in your character. You’re going to write characters who don’t believe the same things you do, you are going to write characters who are not you, who will do and say things that you would never in a thousand years imagine doing. But violence is difficult, it hits on a core of human experience, of misery and suffering that is hard to capture. If you can’t convince yourself in the moment to believe in what your character is doing then it’s time to step back. You must ride the ride after all and if you’re getting sick on the loopty-loops, then maybe this rollercoaster isn’t right for you.

It’s fine if it isn’t, just because this didn’t work doesn’t mean the entire amusement park is off limits. You just have to figure out what you like and learn when something goes far enough outside your comfort zone that it affects the integrity of your work. Stepping out of it can be a good thing, sometimes it’s going to be a necessary thing depending on the genre you are working with and the line in the sand will shift as you adjust to new concepts.

The only way you’ll figure it out is by experimenting, so don’t worry about it so much. The only way you can really fail is by not trying at all.

Some Helpful Tips:

-Find authors whose fight scenes you admire and who you want to write like and study their techniques

-Watch movies that represent the kind of combat you’re writing about

-Play videogames, simulation often helps up experience new things and gets us thinking

For example: the combat between Assassin’s Creed, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, and SpecOps: The Line can all evoke different feelings and emotions through the kinds of combat they present. When you want to get in the right mindset for what you’re writing, this can help.

-Listen to music that reflects the characters and scene you’re working on

Establish a violence threshold for each of your characters

Just like you, every person has a threshold of violence that they are comfortable with and it’s similar to how some people like action movies and some people prefer slasher flicks. Just keep in mind that the media entertainment someone consumes doesn’t necessarily relate to the level of violence they’re willing to inflict on someone else. A character who loves Disney movies can still cheerfully pick up the lead pipe and bash your skull in on the cold hard concrete.  So, try not to think in stereotyping details.

When working to establish a threshold, to figure out what your character is willing to do and what they’re not present them with different situations that are outside the context of your story. It’s best to do this when you’re not sure of who they are and, ultimately, is exactly the same as filling out any of the numerous character questionnaires floating around the internet.

Don’t try to forcibly decide for them. Don’t focus on the right way, the techniques that are supposed to be used, what they are supposed to know. Don’t worry about any of that, you can correct it later. Instead, present them with situations and let those situations play out in your head or as you write them down.

Do you have to do this for each of the major players in your story and not just your protagonist? Yes. Yes, you do. When writing a story about violence, the level of violence a character is willing to inflict and what they are comfortable with can clash with another’s, by figuring out each character’s threshold whether it’s part of the supporting cast, your antagonist, or the henchmen, you’ll have a better sense of how they’ll relate to each other and what kind of interpersonal conflicts can arise.

Below are some helpful questions with corresponding examples to get you thinking. The more situations you come up with on your own, however, will be more helpful to you in the long run.


Example 1: Character X is walking down the street and sees a man being beating, what do they do?

On the far side of the street, Amelia could see two shapes. They were vague and hazy in the drifting fog, just outside the splash of yellow light from the lamp that stood on the corner. A big man with broad shoulders stood over a much smaller individual; she couldn’t see it well from this distance. It could have been a smaller man, or a woman, or even a child. The big man’s frame blocked her as he drove a giant booted foot into his victim’s side. All she knew was what she heard, pathetic whimpering and shrieks pitched higher with each hit. Whoever they were, they’ be dead soon.

Well, she shrugged, it wasn’t her business. Things were hard in Darkside, people died daily, why risk bringing more heat down on herself by intervening? Better to let it play out and disappear before the big man noticed her.

Example 2: Character X is breaking into a building and has made it inside, at the end of the hallway there are two guards, all that stands between them and what they’ve come for. The hall is long and narrow. The guards haven’t seen them yet. What do they do?

Amana flickered, her shape re-entering the Living Space. The bare skin of her breasts pressed against Guard 1’s back, right arm sliding up under his jaw, tilt head back, stand ear to cheek. Forearm into windpipe. Bone in and increase pressure. Cut off oxygen. Left hand down, take holstered sidearm. Glock 17. Flick safety off.

 It leveled at Number 2’s skull.

“Holy shi—”


Example 3: Character B has been hit by Character X, someone they trusted, how do they respond?

Leah stumbled. Hand rising, she pressed cool flesh against the warm, stinging buzz that was now blooming across her cheek. A sharp, shuddering pain was striking out from behind her eye and the world swam in dots of black and white. Her vision dropped to the floor, the crevices between the floorboards were suddenly so sharp and clear. She could see the tips of black boots lingering inches from her own.

John’s boots.

“Leah,” that was John’s voice.

John. He had hit her.

Why? She was surprised to hear her own voice echoing her thoughts cramming into the space between them. “Why?”

These are, like I said, just some examples. You can come up with whatever scenarios you want. But when establishing a violence threshold, they should involve violence of some kind. By developing the different violence thresholds for different characters, you better understand the actions that will bring them into natural alliances or conflict with one another. One of the key ways to keep readers invested in your stories is the interpersonal relations between the major players. Once you know the boundaries the characters ascribe to, what they are willing to do, what they aren’t willing to do, the lengths that they will go to and know when they will stop, you can push them outside of that comfort zone and craft development that is naturally in line with where their story is going.

From the first example, I know that Amelia is the kind of character who puts herself first. She doesn’t believe she can make a difference and doesn’t want to deal with the trouble that intervening to aid someone else could bring down on her head. She could engage, but doesn’t want to. We know that those reasons have nothing to do with being incapable of those actions, she just won’t try because she’s not going to get anything out of it. If I were to write this character, I’d give her a plot development that forced her to engage, someone she doesn’t know, someone desperate, probably a break in at her apartment while they are running from people who are hounding them. Someone she can’t say no to, even though she wants to. She is forced to take action and then eventually she will continue to do so of her own volition.

Voila, a character arc.

So, find your character’s comfort zone and then pop them out of it. The same is true for violence, there is a level of violence that your characters will be comfortable participating in and then there is a point where they are pushed past that into uncomfortable territory. You can only get X by starting with Y. Cause and effect. Conflict that is both external and internal.

Conflict is good. Conflict is crucial. Write conflict.









The Writing Café: Things I wish I’d see more in YA books

The Writing Café: Things I wish I’d see more in YA books

How would you write boxing for a character? Like stances, punches ect ect.

Well, keep in mind that I only have a passing familiarity with boxing, so if you really want to write it, you’re going to have to do more research. (And you should always be doing more research anyway because the information you glean from one source is never as the one you gain through your own work.)

Boxing is one of the oldest surviving Eurpoean martial forms and has been part of the fine tradition of gambling for many centuries. However, training in boxing has currently passed almost entirely into the realm of sport fighting and out of the realm of traditional combat. Today, boxing can be learned for self-defense but most of those who practice it do so to either become a professional fighter or for health and fitness reasons.

You may be wondering, what does the history of boxing have to do with writing it? Well, like civilization itself, combat evolves. How I would write boxing in 2013 is very different from, say, how I would write a character who boxes in 1908, or one who boxes in 1803, and so on. Fortunately for you, however, boxing is a sport that is very well documented. I recommend some research of it’s history if you haven’t yet, mostly because it will help show the kind of characters who become professional fighters, the tradition of boxing in the “Western”/European/American military, and of course, what the culture that surrounds modern boxing.

Remember, it’s not enough to write a character who can box, you also have to create a realistic persona to go with it and a surrounding back story that supports them. A character who started boxing as recreation at their local YMCA is going to be very different from the character for whom professional boxing was the only way to escape poverty, and they both will be different from the character who learned to box at college and worked the collegiate sports circuit (and whether that was East or West Coast in America), they will also be different from the character who started boxing because they joined the Military and went to one of the officer Academies like Westpoint where boxing is a tradition.

Okay, so let’s talk about boxing.

First, I want you to check out this post: FightWrite: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists) because it does cover some of the basic punches and how they work.

Boxing is limited almost entirely to the upper body, with the exception of knees, and, in a modern context, almost all the strikes are based around the assumption that your hands are wearing boxing gloves or, at the very least, some sort of wrap for reinforcement. A common beginner mistake is assuming that the boxing gloves are there to protect the opponent’s face, they aren’t. They are there to protect the hands from a metacarpal break (fracturing the fragile bones in the fingers). A metacarpal break is commonly called a “boxer break” or a “boxer fracture” for this reason, a broken finger bone is a common injury for a professional boxer. The incidents of serious head injuries actually increased after the introduction of the boxing glove because fighters could suddenly punch to the face without fear of injury.

This is important because this is how your character is going to be trained, unless they receive supplementary training for when they are assaulted on the street, they will follow their first instinct and today, the opening boxing strikes do go to the head.

Because of it’s reliance entirely on the upper body, boxing has to happen in very close quarters aka inside arm range. This means that if the fight doesn’t begin with a face to face altercation then the boxer has to close the distance. Boxers will be at a disadvantage against kickers if they can’t get past the legs and may also be at a disadvantage against grappling experts and joint locking practitioners if they can’t knock them out before they get a good grip on their arms/legs/shoulders/head etc. It goes without saying that they will also be off balance against an armed opponent, especially a knife or crowbar/club/tire iron. That said, boxing would not have survived so long if it was not an extremely effective martial form and, also, fun to watch.

Some terminology:

The Fighting Stance: The fighting stance for boxing is a very square one, both shoulders face the opponent on an even line, the back foot is on the ball and bent at a 45 degree angle. The boxer leans forward slightly on the front foot, tilting forward, ready to spring into action. Both hands are up to protect the face, with the fast hand (usually the left) slightly forward with the right hovering right at the cheekbone. The power hand (right or left) will always match the foot that’s tilted onto the ball, because of the greater hip rotation provided by the pivot of the back foot.

Blocks: Boxing blocks are very simply and are great when studying conservation of movement. Unlike some of the more traditional martial arts that use big movements, blocks in boxing rarely move much. They involve batting and pushing the incoming hands away from the face, freeing the fighter up to retaliate quickly. When they need to protect the head from a high strike like a haymaker, the fighter tucks their elbow up against their head in a triangle to take the incoming hit.

Slip: The slip is when the weight drops and the head tilts slightly to get out of the way of an incoming attack. A slip will often lead into a hook or an uppercut, because the lower positioning of the body allows for greater rotation of the hips and puts the fighter into a position to easily attack the ribcage.

The clinch: When the fighter gets in close enough that he can wrap his hands around the back of his opponent’s head, the clinch is often accompanied by powerful knee strikes while the other fighter attempts to defend himself from a disadvantaged position.

The jab: This is the opening punch used to soften up an opponent’s defenses before delivering a cross. The jab is always the front hand or the fast hand and while it doesn’t deal much damage, it can pound away on an opponent to create openings for much stronger attacks.

The cross or the straight right: The cross is the back hand or the power hand, this punch achieves a full rotation of the hips. It’s slower due to the windup, but is much stronger. In a professional fight, the cross often aims for the cheek, the nose, and the eyebrow (to cause bleeds). These attacks correspond to the same side as the punch, so one fighter’s right connects to the fighter’s left side of their face.

The hook: the hook is a punch that comes across and aims for the ribcage. The hook can also go high, if the opening is right, and aim for the back end of the jaw to the gap between the jaw and the rest of the skull, right beneath the ear. A successful hit here will cause a knockout.

The uppercut: The uppercut is a punch that comes up, underneath the jaw or drives into the stomach/solar plexus region of the body.

Elbows: I think boxing allows elbow strikes, these usually go to the face if the opponents are close enough for them.

Shoulder check: ramming the shoulder into the chest.

Hip check: ramming the hip into the opponent’s side, when on a horizontal angle.

Strategy: most professional and collegiate fights rely on a significant amount of strategizing pre-fight for success. A similar kind of strategy will be at play if the fighter finds himself or herself in combat on the street. So, it might be worth reading through a few memoirs and how to books to get a solid feel for what the basics of those strategies are. You want to write a boxer, you’ve got to write a character who thinks like one.

There’s a lot more to it than this, but this should be enough to get you started. Also, do yourself a favor and start learning the differences between professional boxing and Olympic boxing. Then, watch some professional fights if you haven’t yet. You can find quite a few for free on Youtube. Have fun!


Hi, I just found out something rather obvious that there are different fighting styles for different cultures. What would a Russian fighting style look like?

Well, believe it or not, there are actually quite a few of them.

The two big ones used by the Russian Military are Systema which translates to “The System” and Sambo. Sambo comes in a few different flavors, such as the variety used for sports and the version used by the Russian Military. Systema is military only, though you can find a few schools in the United States that teach it as a form of self-defense.

Systema is more about joint locking and screwing with someone’s body.

Sambo is more about grappling.

Neither of these martial systems were inspired by their southern neighbors. They are unique to Russia.


(via http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=9_t6jCPSL_FsXuWJV8YbDg&u=/watch?v=O8RWLxlzTiM&feature=share)

These two are from the Academy of Historical Fencing and they are sparring with a spear versus a sword and buckler. The sword is a light blade, but here’s a good example of European spear combat. Notice, they hold the end of the weapon to extend it’s reach and maximize the momentum with quick bursts.