Tag Archives: writing tips

Spellswords, Believability and Understanding how to use Powerful Characters

maybe a stupid question but how would i write a believable ‘spellsword’? without making my character overpowered

So, “believable,” and “overpowered,” are two entirely different, independent, considerations. You can easily have one without the other, and while the former is probably necessary, the latter is not, depending on the kind of story you’re telling.

Believability is contextual to your audience. Do they believe in your character? Do they accept that your character is who they say they are? This can get significantly more complicated if your character isn’t being honest with the audience, though that is a more advanced concept.

At its simplest level, “believable,” simply asks if it’s plausible that your character could be who they say they are. If spellswords are accepted as a part of your world (even if they’re somewhat rare), a spellsword will trend towards believable. If they are fundamentally impossible, (either because magic is understood to be a fantasy, or some fundamental element of spellcasting conflicts with martial combat) then they will be less believable (at least, initially.)

Similarly, how your character views the world is a serious consideration for believability. If you have a character who’s been formally educated in magic, then that knowledge will shape their understanding of how it works. If magic is uncommon, your spellsword would have an unusual understanding of how magic really works, when encountering magic during their travels. This would likely set them apart from other characters, who have no formal education on the subject.

Similarly, someone with a martial background will have a more practical understanding of waging warfare. Either, on a direct blade to blade, level, or (if they’re formally educated) at a more strategic level.

So, can a Spellsword be believable? Yes, absolutely. They can operate as a bridge between martial and arcane training, with a unique viewpoint of the world they exist in. Depending on how they fit into your world, they could easily have held military rank, or operated as a liaison between the military command and it’s battlemage corps.

Alternately, it’s quite possible they never ascended that far, or even graduated without actually joining the military (for whatever reason.) It’s possible they served in an organization tasked with protecting less militant mages, they may have worked as a mercenary, or any number of other jobs that would benefit from being able to fight, while also being able to cast magic. In a setting with freelance adventurers, spellswords are a natural fit.

So, it’s entirely possible for a spellsword to be believable, if your setting permits their existence in the first place.

Now, here’s the harder part of the discussion, “overpowered,” characters aren’t a problem, until they are.

“Overpowered,” is often a problem in games. I don’t just mean video games, ironically it’s probably a bigger problem in tabletop roleplaying, than in video games.

Ironically, the conflict between these two can give some pretty clear insights into how much you need to worry about this.

In a tabletop roleplaying environment, the gamemaster (whatever their actual title) needs to balance the experience for the players present. Most, quality, roleplaying rulebooks will devote some time to discussing this, and offering their insights on the subject.

The simplest reduction would be, you have multiple people at the table, and so your story needs to include all of them to a (roughly) equal degree.

In a game where you only need to worry about one player, they can be the focus. Concerns about being overpowered only relate to how it influences the experience of that player, and many, many, games heavily tilt the odds in the player’s favor, and the player character in an RPG being, “the chosen one,” has been a meme for decades.

How does this apply to writing?

Simple. As in games, “overpowered,” is a relative statement. A character is overpowered, when they’re mismatched to their place in the story and the challenges they face.

If your character is facing opposition that legitimately threatens them, then they’re not overpowered. If they’re carving through cannon fodder enemies without repercussions, then they may be a bit overpowered for that challenge.

Ironically, there is a similar element here. The danger of an overpowered character in a game is that the player will get bored. The danger of an overpowered character in a story is that the audience will get bored. There are deeper differences in how and why that happens, but there is still some similarity. If the character is too powerful, the outcome is preordained, and the experience itself is dulled. This leads into one of the most challenging elements of overpowered characters.

The problem with an overpowered character isn’t that they’re overpowered; it’s that you need to work harder to keep them interesting.

A character who is balanced against the threats they’ll face has to constantly work for every victory. In theory (though, not always in practice) that gives you a base degree of interest in the events that are unfolding. If the outcome is uncertain, the audience is less likely to tune out.

Similarly, repeating the same encounters will have diminishing returns. If your character dispatched three bandits in the previous chapter, will three or four really pose that much of a threat now? Remember, the threshold on a character being overpowered is whether the outcome is uncertain.

One solution is to introduce uncertainty into the environment. By, “environment,” I don’t literally mean the space the characters are fighting in, though that is an option; instead I’m talking about the general social space around the character. A character who is disproportionately powerful can still be interesting if they’re trying to expose a conspiracy lead by people on their own level, if they’re wrestling with the philosophical implications of their own nigh-omnipotence, or any number of other potential challenges, that extend well beyond what they’re dealing with. In a reverse, an egregiously overpowered character may struggle to hide their true nature from the people around them (a sub-plot that has been run into the ground by superhero writers over the years.)

An overpowered character isn’t, automatically a problem, but they can be more difficult to work with. Having said that, this may not be an issue for you. While your spellsword may be more dangerous than an individual fighter, they’re probably less magically adept than a mage who focused on their arcane education. Meaning they fit into a very specific niche between normal melee fighters, and dedicated magic practitioners, along with other specialized magic practitioners, like whatever you chose to name your stealth/magic specialists.

The hard part is making sure your character is believable. After that, power is what you make of it, if your character feels too powerful, they may just need more powerful foes to challenge them.

-Starke

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The Self-Delusion of “Good in a ‘Real Fight'”

Hii how are you both? I like your blog’s tips as a fan of fantasy fiction, but I thought you could answer a real-life question. I do HEMA (im not good at it but its good fun!) and something comes up every now and then that i thought you could weigh in on with more authority.

Theres a big guy who isnt the best, but whose refrain is that he would win in a real fight since he wouldnt be holding back. He says its not a gender thing, just a size thing.

Since everyone has to hold back so we dont injure each other (and we still get plenty of bruises) he’s right, it’s an artificial environment.

Does he have a point that everyone’s restraint disadvantages big guys more, or is he being a bit of a poor sport?

Thanks!

rub-the-rest-with-yellow

He’s deluding himself, in a variety of ways.

Generally speaking, size doesn’t help, especially not in armed combat. It just means you’re a larger target for your foe’s weapon. Sword combat isn’t about being bigger and stronger than your opponent, it’s about opening your foe up and filleting them.

It’s important to remember that being bigger does not make you tougher, and no theoretical biological advantage makes you tougher than steel.

The entire point of using a blade is cutting your foe, not bludgeoning them. The emphasis here is to point out that you do not mindlessly hack away with a sword, trying to brute force your way through your foe’s armor, you look for openings and either slice through them, or thrust through them.

Now, if you’re using blunted edges, it is true that he could cause some misery if he didn’t hold back. However, that’s true for pretty much anyone in your group. You’re not competing to hurt one another.

Even with blunt weapons, like warhammers, maces, or mauls, you’re not relying on your strength, you’re using the inertia of the weapon to cause harm, so being a big guy still doesn’t offer any real advantage there.

Guys like this aren’t uncommon. They’re convinced that they’d be good in “a real fight.” In actual combat they would, inevitably, go down with the first hit, and then whine about how the fight wasn’t fair (if they survive.)

This is may be a bitter pill, and I’m not judging you for this, but there isn’t a single member of your group that would be okay in a real swordfight. The defect is in HEMA, not in you. HEMA, like many martial arts, is a revived art. This means, at some point in the past, the last person who was properly trained in your combat style died without passing that knowledge on. Someone in the 20th Century found surviving training manuals and manuscripts and did their best to rebuild the martial art from scratch.

This isn’t a case where the best techniques survived and have been codified, instead the only filter on which techniques survived is which texts survived the following centuries.

More than that, we know our reconstruction is wrong (or at least, incomplete.) We know this because of Polish Crosscutting. Unlike HEMA, this is not a revived art. It was (at least partially) preserved. It does a number of things that HEMA preaches against, and it decimates HEMA practitioners in competitive bouts. To be clear, Polish Crosscutting is not some incredibly effective set of sword techniques, it’s just better preserved than HEMA.

The end result is, our understanding of Historical European Martial Arts is extremely limited, with serious gaps. Against someone who actually knew what they were doing, any one of you would be screwed. And that’s not the point of the exercise.

This is going to somewhat duplicate the previous point, but, as you said, you’re training recreationally. This is for fun, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re training recreationally, or for sport, you are not training to use your skills in, “real,” combat. Again, you’ll find guys who are studying other recreational or sports martial arts and hold that up as their ability to handle themselves in “a real fight,” and they’re also deluding themselves.

If you want to train for combat, you train to kill people, not to, “fight.” It’s not fun, it’s not recreational, you’re not doing it to prove you can fight. It’s about ending another person’s life as efficiently as possible.

The idea of, “a fair fight,” (or in this case, “a real fight,”) is an illusion. It’s actively dangerous to both participants. In a real life or death, situation you’d want to take him out in as few strikes as possible. Realistically, we’re talking about ending his life in less than a second. Ideally, before his brain even realizes he’s in combat, and can react, though that’s bit harder to do reliably. If he is aware he’s in danger, neutralize his weapon, then end him. Again, the goal is for combat to be over in under five seconds. That probably won’t happen, but it should give you an idea of just how fast this would need to be. The longer you’re in combat, the greater the risk of you taking a hit, and in real combat, that’s a risk you cannot afford to take. Any injury means you’re at a disadvantage when you’re facing your next foe.

Killing someone is an entirely different discipline from recreational martial arts (and even from competitive sport combat.) If you train to kill people, you’re ready to kill people. If you train to have fun, you are not. If you’re in a real fight with real weapons, you’re not fighting to, “win,” you’re looking to end your foe.

To be fair, he may not be a poor sport about this. He probably, genuinely believes he can take any one of you. But, if he believes it’s because, “he’s holding back,” and he’s not one of the better duelists, yeah, he would not survive.

-Starke

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The Problems With Being Defensive

Um, sorry..I did kinda mean to be a bit defensive due to your posts about impractical attire. I was afraid you’d think I was purposely going for putting characters in nice skirts/dress and fight and it being impractical and respond as you would someone for giving characters boob plate armour or something. So, I was simply reassuring you that no, I’m not trying to use improper fighting attire, just how they’re dressed.

You don’t need to apologize, but it is something you want to be conscious of, and careful about. When you get defensive over your work, you’re letting everyone know that there’s a problem with it, and you’re not confidant about it. It can also mean, you don’t get an answer to the question you’re looking for.

Without going back and reviewing every post we’ve written on impractical attire, I’m pretty sure the general thrust was a condemnation of authors objectifying, and sexing up, their characters. For example: putting fighters in stiletto heels. This can come from someone genuinely not understanding that clothes can impair a character’s ability to fight, or it can be from someone who prioritizes sex appeal over functionality.

The thing is, (hopefully) neither of these apply to you. So, there was no reason to get defensive, though I can certainly understand the anxiety.

There’s two major reasons I caution against this.

First, it is a cue that you’re worried (consciously or not) that there’s a weakness in your material. When you put material out there, you will be attacked. Anything you write, which draws attention, will draw criticism. When you’re dealing with people who simply want to tear you down, that defensiveness is practically a dinner bell.

That’s why I advised you to get ahead of the potential criticism. If you realize you feel defensive about a point, make sure you identify why, and close off those potential attacks.

When you’re writing, and expect to receive push back, it’s a good idea to think about the kinds of arguments you expect. You can actually see that behavior in many of my posts. I’ll frequently take a second to carve out exceptions, or preemptively cut off counter arguments, that I expect someone to raise. In many cases, I am already controlling the kinds of critique I can receive.

For example, if you were worried about being attacked for your characters dressing inappropriately, you could have written:

How would wearing a dress or skirt hinder combat? My characters are attending a formal event when they’re ambushed.

It’s a small difference, but it has a huge effect on how the question is perceived. If you were worried about what I thought of you, then it addresses that fear, and it also explains exactly what you’re looking for, with more detail than the original question offered.

It’s not incredibly important, but a “this/that” structure can also be a nervous tick. It’s probably better to write, “this or that,” or, just commit to a specific term. Slashing can be useful in rare situations, and it’s not something most readers will pick up on (unless you overuse it), but commit to a word. (This may go out the window during drafting, when you’re trying out multiple words and haven’t settled on one. At that point it would be entirely reasonable to write down any alternative you want to play with, before you commit. But, don’t show that to someone else.)

This is the second reason that getting defensive, even preemptively, can be a problem. You’re focusing on one issue, and, that cut off useful information. If you’d said the context of your character being in a dress or skirt was a formal event, I would have focused on how formal attire frequently interferes with movement, how it’s often better to simply abandon high heels, than continue to fight in them, and how, men’s formal attire restricts movement as well. I may have spent some time discussing how fighting in formal garb will probably damage it. Instead I talked about kilts, which probably wasn’t that useful for you.

You will find people who will attack you, and your work. There’s no escaping that. When that happens, it’s important to remember that they have no power over you. Their, “criticism,” doesn’t invalidate your work.

It’s also a good practice to become aware of things you’re sensitive about in your work, as a diagnostic tool. If criticism of something bothers you, there might be a problem there, and you may want to focus on shoring it up (however that works out.) Remember that your goal, as a writer, is to communicate clearly and efficiently; everything after that is style and poetry. There’s no place for, “but, you don’t understand,” make your reader understand the first time.

Have confidence in your work. I know this can be harder than it sounds, but when you believe in it, it shows.

-Starke

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Considerations for Slaying a Dragon

Realistically, if One Person needed to defeat an approximately house sized, fire breathing Dragon, what weapons would they use? Medieval weapons of course, and Magic is definitely allowed.

I know that realistically it seems like an impossible task, and that’s part of it. A lot of people have died fighting this dragon, and this character is only capable of it because his rich father has been training him since he was little, so maybe that helps? (I’m trying my hand at subverting the ‘princess in a tower’ trope)

I honestly just don’t know how to handle this. Should I just say “Fuck It” and chuck whatever realism is left out the window? That’s kinda what I’ve been doing so far, as I’d just given him a sword a lot like the Buster Sword from Final Fantasy, but I thought I’d ask you anyway.

So, there’s a couple problems here. Let’s start with the dragon.

There is no concrete set of rules for dragons. Everything is particular to the story you’re looking at, or, in this case, writing. Giant, fire breathing, murder lizard only gets you so far. Dragons range from being just another wild animal to thinking beings with superhuman intellect, depending on the setting. Similarly, they range from being just another chunk of meat with a slightly crunchy exterior, to literally immortal and impossible to kill, with examples everywhere in between.

Obviously, there’s a bit of a difference between a story of someone hunting a mundane apex predator who’s been picking off professional game wardens, and someone trying to slay Jormungandr. These are entirely different genres of storytelling, and it’s not as simple as pinning down a size and saying, ‘it breathes fire.”

What are the best weapons? It depends on the dragon’s durability. Things like lances or ballistae are probably your best options, if they work at all. Of course, if the only weapon that can harm it is an enchanted letter opener, then you’d need to use that, and try to figure out a way around the limitations of it not having an edge, and only being a few inches long.

This feeds back into a different problem, and it’s not there already, but heading into dangerous territory. Magic is a cheat. When used carelessly, it will leach all of the tension from your story, and cause the entire thing to collapse. “Just kill the dragon with magic,” isn’t going to be a satisfying ending, and leaves you with the question, “why didn’t any of the last thirty would-be dragon hunters think of that?”

The more difficult that the magic is (by any meaningful metric), the less harm it will cause to your tension, and there is even potential for benefit. If your character is trying to find a magical means to dispatch the dragon, and that’s the core of their quest, it does go a long way towards why none of the previous hunters simply zapped that overgrown iguana out of the sky.

(I’m trying my hand at subverting the ‘princess in a tower’ trope)

Don’t.

There are times that I could gleefully shoot that website into the sun, and this one of those.

It can be a very useful when you’re trying to pull a work apart and see all the underlying thematic elements.

However, when you start looking at it like a shopping list, something is about to go very, very, wrong.

This is one of those times.

What you have is a rich, privileged kid, swooping in to save the day. That’s not a “subversion,” of a damsel in distress (of any form), that’s a version of Bruce Wayne’s superpower being his bank account.

TV Tropes is not a dictionary of narrative elements, it’s a thesaurus, and if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, should be avoided for the same basic reasons. Be especially cautious of picking a trope and trying to, “subvert,” or, “deconstruct,” it. Both are very popular in the Tropes community, but are exceedingly difficult to reverse engineer off a Tropes article.

An actual subversion of the damsel in distress would be the comic strip of a dragon that is casually executing would be rescuers because the princess isn’t interested in them, and the king’s posted reward is marrying her off.

Another, classic, subversion of the damsel in distress would be Princess Leia in A New Hope, and the host of imitators that followed over the next couple decades.

However, Batman is not a subversion of a damsel in distress. Not only because he’s male, but also because he’s not in distress.

I honestly just don’t know how to handle this. Should I just say “Fuck It” and chuck whatever realism is left out the window? That’s kinda what I’ve been doing so far, as I’d just given him a sword a lot like the Buster Sword from Final Fantasy, but I thought I’d ask you anyway.

I’m going to say something that will sound utterly bizarre: “Realistic” is what you make of it. It’s in how you create and justify your world.

This is also why that site can be useful. If you want a snapshot of all the different systems of magic used in fiction, it’s all in one place. Granted, some of it is going to be a bit distorted by fans, who are distracted by how awesome they think their favorite series is. But it is a quick place to start a lit review.

When you’re telling a story, you’re going to be influenced by the media you’ve consumed. That can be books, TV, video games, comic books, music. Very importantly, there isn’t a wrong answer here.

The world you create is boundless. If you want to tell a story about people swinging around implausibly massive swords, that’s an entirely valid option. You may want to find a way to justify it, or you might just want to run with it, and let the audience deal. It only becomes a problem if your world doesn’t support the idea.

Now, the Buster Sword is a visual motif. It’s not going to have the same effect in prose. Obviously, if you’re writing a webcomic or doing animation work, there’s a legitimate aesthetic in comically oversized weapons. If you want to go that route, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Similarly, greatswords are anachronistic in medieval settings, but most people won’t catch that, and it’s really something you only need to worry about if you’re chasing historical authenticity.

Finally, I would not discount spears. They’re extremely underrepresented in modern fantasy, but have a huge footprint in myth.

If your character’s quest is to find a mythic weapon to kill the dragon, that’s fine. You now have a very solid explanation for why that weapon is different from the world around it.

-Starke

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Setting Goals for Your Characters

Not sure how to properly ask this but how do I write a fight scene between two characters who are both trained but might have different skill sets, while anyone still might get out alive that it could factor in?

Two things come to mind. First, it’s unlikely that you’re writing from both character’s perspectives simultaneously. Second, not every fight is going to be to the death.

When you’re writing a scene, it’s important to have clear goals for the participants. Violence is a way your characters attempt to exert their will on the world around them, it doesn’t simply occur for its own sake. (This isn’t a moral judgement; just that if your violence lacks motivation, it will come across as hollow. There are ways to leverage this, but, that’s a more complicated topic.) If you have two characters who want each other dead, then chances are someone’s not walking away. However, if you have characters with different goals, then any combat that occurs will be at cross purposes.

You don’t necessarily need to explain those goals to your audience. In fact, by default, your characters are unlikely to know their foe’s goals. That’s the biggest consideration in the other part of this question.

Your characters aren’t part of a psychic gestalt. They don’t automatically know what the other people around them are thinking, feeling, or planning. Even with an omniscient narrator, your characters won’t know their foes thoughts and plans, though the audience may be. With a limited narrator, you’re going to be writing the scene from the perspective of one of your characters, and, again, they won’t know what their foe is planning.

When both of your characters have the same background, it can provide an edge against one another. They’ve had the same training, and they’ll have learned the same strategies, tactics, and techniques. This means they have some ability to predict the other’s actions. They’ll be in a better position to predict their foe’s goals, and how what they’ll do to realize them.

If your characters have different backgrounds and skillsets, they won’t have that advantage; that’s the difference. They’ll have to guess at their foe’s methods, based on the information they have. They’re less likely to know what their foe wants, and they won’t know how their foe will go about achieving their goals.

So, how do you write two characters with different backgrounds in conflict? By remembering that they’re different people, and don’t know what the other person was trained to do.

-Starke

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Q&A: Unarming the Weapon Disarm

self-fulfilling-prophet asked:

What are important factors to consider when using one weapon to disarm another? i.e. using a sword to disarm someone with an axe vs using a lance or another sword

The caveat I’m going to start with is that weapon disarms, armed or unarmed, aren’t the violence “get out of jail free” card for escaping violence’s more unpleasant aspects (such as, you know, murder.) Weapon disarms are extremely difficult, time consuming, finicky, prone to failure, even in the hands of an expert. In fiction, the weapon disarm’s primary use is to demonstrate extreme skill differences between one combatant and another. 

The “extreme skill” differential makes disarms a terrible choice to lean on as an alternative if you’re planning to write a character who fights professionally but refuses to kill. (This is a Saturday Morning Cartoon character. A lot of writers who want the glory of violence but are uncomfortable with the idea of their character killing will try it.) On a literary level, disarms will screw your narrative tension hard. Beyond their use in the real world, weapon disarms are an action movie trope. They’re flashy, they’re visually fun to watch, they’re often used for comedic purpose, and, again, they provide the audience with a solid sense of superiority which connects them to a character. You’ll only see a disarm about one to three times per action movie and in very select circumstances. Disarms are what we call Fucking Around. (Trust me, you don’t want to find out.)

In the real world, attempting a disarm will probably kill you. This is true across the board. Armed or unarmed, skilled or unskilled, they are that dangerous and difficult to pull off. You’re far more likely to be killed in the attempt than you are to succeed. That’s why the real world advice is, “don’t, unless you know you’ll die anyway.” In the self-defense context, unarmed disarms are utilized only in a last ditch attempt to save your own life because it’s better to die fighting.

Now that we’ve covered the depressing reality, let’s move on.

Understanding the real world statistics for weapon disarms is crucial to writing disarms in fiction. Understanding the disarm’s combat role is crucial to correctly applying them in their fictional role and crafting characters who could convincingly use them effectively. They can rather easily destroy your character’s credibility, especially when utilized in the “get out of jail free” aspect. Or, you know, portraying them as easy.

Weapon disarms are among the most technical and tricky martial arts techniques and, realistically, if you’re here on this blog asking how to do it, you probably won’t be able to write your character doing a disarm without at least a few years of martial arts practice. Weapons or no weapons, the functional idea is basically the same. However, even understanding the theory, it’ll be difficult to grasp the mechanics without practicing those mechanics yourself. If you don’t understand how the weapon moves and the applicable techniques, you won’t be able to write a disarm because disarms are all about manipulating those movements and techniques past the point of no return. To put it simply, weapon disarms are joint locks. 

Yeah, you heard me.

The functional goal, theoretically, of a disarm is to get your opponent into a position via angles and pressure that makes it fundamentally impossible (from the perspective of body mechanics) for them to hold onto their weapon. That’s where the whole “extreme skill” differential or demonstrated mastery comes in. Your goal is not to take the weapon. Your goal is to force your opponent to let go of their weapon. The perspective difference here is very important. Disarms can be done by accident, but the chance of lucking into a traditional one is low (outside of numbing out someone’s hand or arm, which also works.) To get there, you have to go in with intent to disarm and control the fight from start to finish. If you can’t control your opponent and the flow of the fight, you can’t disarm them. 

Disarms also require overlooking opportunities which may end the fight more quickly. This extends the fight, meaning you have to fight longer to achieve the same objective. Ultimately, it’s an unsustainable practice outside of specific encounters/contexts. Given your opponent’s objective is not the same as yours i.e. “disarm” vs “end the fight by any means,” you provide them with more opportunities to defeat you using this method. This puts you, the one seeking to disarm, at an extreme disadvantage. This gets worse when discussing different weapon types, especially those of differing lengths, because, depending on which weapon you have, you might already be at an extreme disadvantage due to a combat concept called reach.

The length of your weapon determines how much distance is required for contact. A shorter weapon means you need to go to greater lengths to strike your opponent, while a longer weapon means you can strike sooner. Most swords are longer than the hand ax, for example, and have greater reach. Spears and staves are longer than most swords.

I don’t even want to think about disarming someone who has a spear if you only have a sword, or (worse) an axe. The stabilizing control of hands on the mid-shaft and end shaft is just brutal. Choosing to go for a disarm is consciously deciding to shift the arrow from horrifically screwed to completely fucked. (You’ll have a similar problem with any two handed weapon, so swords where the hilts are long enough for two hands are also an issue. You can’t do the fencing disarm commonly seen in film with any sword other than that specific type: sabre, epee, foil. The rapier can also be done, but the point of contact is different because the weapon is longer.) It is a lot easier to do disarms with weapons of the same type than weapons of different types, unless you’re using a weapon (or set of weapons) specifically designed for disarms, trapping, and breaking such as the deer horn knives from Baguazhang. However, weapons designed for combat in one culture do not seamlessly transition to having the same effectiveness against similar weapon types from other cultures. (Points to Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone for realizing deer horn knives exist, points deducted for trying to unironically use an the earth version in battle against space angels and their swords of unknown origin.)

There is no one size fits all.

This brings us to our next problem.

The types of disarms you can do is heavily dependent on the type of weapon you have, which is me saying: design matters. Historically, weapons weren’t actually standardized and there are many different types within a familial subgroup that extend far beyond the question of, “two hands or one?” There are all kinds of little quirks that could completely screw a warrior attempting a disarm, such as the length and curvature of the axe head and the length of the shaft because these will adjust whether or not you can catch/hold/lock the axe with your blade or spear shaft and the angle necessary to force the weapon from your opponent’s hand. And all this gray area theory is before we get the actual skill of your opponent themselves.

If you’re starting to think this sounds like complex math, you’re right. This is why in the risk vs cost benefit analysis, disarms lose out. They cost significantly more than they’re worth, especially since you can’t even guarantee you’ll have defeated your opponent once you’ve removed their weapon. Even if you succeed, you haven’t won. Why? Violence is not that clean. Once you’ve demonstrated you’re unwilling to kill to protect your own life, you are dead.

So, what can you do instead? Attack the wielder, not the weapon.

Attacking the body makes your life significantly easier and that’s why we’re trained to do it. It is much better to ensure your opponent cannot fight than it is to take their weapon because taking your opponent’s weapon does not ensure your opponent cannot fight. If your immediate knee-jerk reaction to this is, “but I don’t want my character to hurt anyone” then maybe you need to rethink their choice in using combat as their means of problem-solving. There’s no non-violent violence, not even in Aikido.

This is where attacking or disabling the hand or the arm comes in. If you persistently smack the hand or the wrist (rather than jabbing it with the pointy,) you’ll numb the hand. (You could also potentially break the bones, but let’s ignore that for a moment.) Once the hand starts to numb, your opponents grip on their weapon will loosen and, eventually, they’ll be forced to let it go. One of the problems of wielding weapons is that if you’re clashing too much, the vibrations from the force of impact will tire out your hands and arms over time. This is why you’ll occasionally see martial artist characters smacking their opponents (who they don’t want to kill) with the flat of their blade or hitting their extremities with a staff, etc. While it might be played for laughs, they’re actually bruising their opponent’s muscles to make fighting more difficult.

Or, you can just roll with black humor.

“You said you were going to disarm them.”

“Yes, they are now disarmed.”

“They’re dead, Jess.”

“They’ll never hold a weapon again. That’s disarmed.”

Or, lop off the limbs. That joke works too.

-Michi

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How Wearing a Skirt Affects Combat

How would wearing a dress/skirt hinder combat? No, my characters aren’t planning to fight in one, but it’s what they are wearing when being attacked.

That’s a bit defensive.

As general writing advice, you create the setting and scenarios. You have control over that. If you can establish how your characters got to the starting points, where they go from there, that’s all you need to justify. Your work lives or dies based on your faith in it, and if you’re stepping back and trying to preemptively defend it, you know something’s gone wrong. What you want to do is get out ahead of that criticism and shut it down before you’re worried about defending it.

Most people do not dress with combat in mind. Even characters who know what they’re doing will sometimes have to dress for occasions where they’ll have to wear something uncomfortable and restrictive. This goes for both genders.

Beyond that, real people, in the real world, make poor choices with distressing frequency. This is especially true when they’re under stress and dealing with unfamiliar and dangerous situations.

Historically, people fought in skirts. The kilt is still a part of some traditional regalia, and they were worn to war.

The issue is how much any article of clothing restricts your movement. Tight skirts which restrict your movement will continue to do that in combat (unless they tear), looser skirts which don’t restrict your movement won’t, and won’t have much effect on your ability to fight. This is also true for, basically, any article of clothing. A tight jacket or skin tight jeans, which limit your mobility will continue to do that in combat, while looser streetwear won’t.

Long and flowy clothing can get caught, and, depending on how sturdy it is, torn. Somewhat obviously, if you’re wearing something you can’t tear off or discard, and it gets caught, that’s going to effectively hold you in place. Though, in many cases, this is more of a path towards damaging or destroying articles of clothing.

So, how does a skirt effect your ability to fight? It’s like any other article of clothing: If it restricts your movement, it restricts your movement. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

-Starke

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Equipping and Using Armor

How long should armour/costumes take to put on? Also it seems from films, there are so many complaints about such being ill-fit, and taking a long time to wear, movement restricting, too heavy. I get it’s filming but we’re expecting the characters are able to freely fight in them and get in and out at ease. In other words, what we see is too impractical and unrealistic in reality. So what is actually realistic and something you could really see working?

So, there’s a huge difference between armor and costumes. There’s also a wild difference in the amount of time (for either) based on what you’re talking about.

Something like a gambeson or breastplate could be put on fairly quickly. Somewhat similar to putting on any other article of clothing (though, admittedly, the breastplate may be a poor example here depending on the design.)

On the other end of the spectrum, something like full plate would require a second person to strap the wearer in, though I’m not sure on exactly how much time it would take. A modern reenactor can get into plate in ~10 minutes, though that number will vary based on the armor in use, and it’s likely that a professional combatant in the era could have easily shaved a few minutes off that time. So, it’s not an incredibly drawn out process, but it is still something you’d need to do before combat began.

As he demonstrates, getting out of your armor is considerably easier than getting into it, but there are still going to be buckles in hard to reach places that will require assistance. His estimate of it taking about a third as long to get out, is probably a pretty sound guess.

Too heavy is a very subjective criticism; it is entirely dependent on the wearer’s conditioning. Historical armor weights vary wildly depending on the style, and material. The video example above weighs just under 60lbs, which is slightly lighter surviving historical examples from the 14th century.

Ironically, soldiers today tend to have heavier carry loads than someone armored in full plate with their kit.

The reality was that fully articulated armor offered the wearer a lot of mobility, and combined that with protection. While it is, “heavy armor,” that is weight that a professional combatant could condition themselves to, and wouldn’t really interfere with their ability to move and fight. If you have armor that seriously impairs your ability to move, that’s just going to get you killed.

Ironically, the bigger issue wasn’t the weight of the armor, it was the way the armor could trap heat, and exhaust a combatant who didn’t have the conditioning for it.

This is where you’ll get into a specific problem that’s basically impossible to lock down because it’s going to depend on the individual. If you’re putting actors in period appropriate reproduction armor, they might find that very uncomfortable, and may not have the condition (or the desire to build up the conditioning) to be effective in it. They’re not going to need to actually fight in the armor. Additionally, it’s entirely possible that the costume designers created armor that isn’t really functional. This is a weird edge case, because at that point you do have a costume, not armor, and it doesn’t matter if it would be impossible to actually fight in armor designed to those specifications, because the actors are going to do what the script tells them to.

There’s actually a lot of examples of downright terrible armor designs in films, that would be more dangerous to the wearer. Any armor with, “boob plate,” come to mind off hand, but that’s an entirely different topic.

Now, having just dunked on that, there are a lot of films, and TV where the production team takes the time to make functional armor designs, or use historically accurate(-ish) reproductions. (Sometimes you’ll see some anachronisms. Post-gunpowder armor designs in a pre-gunpowder setting is a very common example.) The considerations of filming work better if your actors can move and interact with their environment. If they’re comfortable and mobile, then that’s not problem for the production.

One of the biggest examples of armor that simply doesn’t work which you’ll see frequently in pop culture, isn’t heavy at all, it’s leather. While leather was used as a component of armor (such as the straps in the example above), nobody was making armor out of leather. The image of a stealthy knife fighter in bondage gear has the same historical authenticity as Leonidas’s leather speedo crew. Which is to say: None.

Leather was used in clothing (just like it is today), and if you’re looking at a character like Aragorn (and, I mean, specifically Aragorn, as in the creepy murder hobo wandering around in the forest), then leather clothing makes a lot of sense. But that’s not armor.

When it comes to armor weight, most of it is going to come from the chain. Chainmail is excellent protection. It has its weaknesses, but it’s a very solid starting point. Padded armor gets a bad reputation in modern pop culture, but was also shockingly effective. It’s easy to forget, but that was armor, and it did work. Plate was an effective outer shell, protecting your chain from the worst of the abuse you’d take.

So, in asking, “what works?” Historical armor worked. It worked very well. Even things like full plate (when they’re based on historical examples) were things you could actually move and fight in. Now, you needed training, you needed the conditioning to effectively function in that armor, but real people did that.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Elaborate Fall and Controlling Your Center of Balance

Anonymous asked:

I kinda want to hint at a character’s martial arts skills by having them trip and respond using skills taught in martial arts. Perhaps it may not be martial arts specific, but anything else where keeping steady and taking tumbles well is important, idk skateboard, acrobatic? Perhaps it matters why the trip occurs, like missing a step or stepped on loose tile, small moving obstacle ran into them?

Did you mean, physically adjusting my body to restore my center of balance and counter a fall?

Any form of activity which trains you to maintain your balance/center of gravity and develops control over your core muscles will help you save yourself from falls. This is most forms of physical activity, but not limited to martial arts, dance, skateboarding, acrobatics, yoga, cross-country running, sprinting, most track and field related sports, most sports, etc. It’s an exhaustive list.

They’re probably not going to trip, tip forward, turn the fall into a forward shoulder roll in the middle of the street, and calmly just walk it off like “no biggie.” That’s a lot more effort than the average fall is worth. (The average person’s confused reaction would be hilarious though, and that’s why the elaborate fall is a comedy trope. There’s also nothing subtle about it.)

Honestly, there’d be no overblown response which would force a character to use their “skills” i.e. techniques for falling because losing your balance is really common when you’re training. Techniques for falls are really techniques for how to fall safely when thrown and spreading the force out so you take the impact on a greater area. For example: if you slap the floor on the moment of impact, you reduce the effectiveness of your opponent’s throw and limit the damage done to yourself.

Lost balance is resolved by utilizing your core muscles (your abdominals) to correct your posture in the moment, set your weight if necessary, and bring your body back into balance. That’s it. You don’t think about it, you’ve practiced so often you just do it. The mental process for tripping is, “oh no, I’m falling. There’s the ground. Oh, now I am not falling.”

The best scenarios are, “Oop… Nope. We’re good.”

Taekwondo gives you a lot of practice standing on one leg, so you learn to balance your body at all kinds of weird angles. We learn our central balance point is a fulcrum. I cannot tell you how many times this has occurred on ice and my body just auto adjusts to counter how I am out of balance. Sideways? If your ankle can resolve the problem on it’s own, opposing arm out and lean toward it. Falling forward? Bend your knees and squat. Falling backward? Lean forward. Foot slipping out from under you? Go with it and start a split. In 98% of ice slips, my butt never hits the ground.

The reason why is that when you train in martial arts (and I’m going to discuss martial arts specifically, but this is applicable to other sports) you develop fine motor control, fine motor control and awareness of your body lends itself to a greater internal sense of balance. What does this mean? I will realize when I am out of balance sooner than the average person and my response time is faster, meaning the corrections likely go into place before passing the point of no return. The point of no return is when your body has passed a point where your fall can be stopped in it’s arc. If you pass that point, gravity takes over and nothing you do can save you. The same thing happens with strikes if you want to block them, you have to stop the strike before the extension otherwise the blow will go right through you. It’s dependent on your inner timing.

If you want to hint at a character’s background in martial arts, a better option is going to be their reputation for auto-correction and fixing their falls. “Jack’s got a really good sense of balance. Like, creepy good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jack fall.” I was somewhat notorious among my friends in high school for my ability to stay in balance. People notice when you’re good at things that they are not good at, especially girls who like to complain about being clumsy. Someone being very centered can become very creepy if you spend enough time around them.

It’s like getting asked, “where’d you get that bruise?” And responding, “uh? Dunno.” And you really don’t know because it could’ve been anywhere. You just get so many, you stop noticing.

You’d really need to get a handle on how balance and balance adjustment works if you wanted to try and pull off balance adjustments seen in genres like Wuxia or Xianxia. These scenes are usually there to be comedic or act as a genre specific tell for a specific kind of martial artist. Basically, it’s there to subtly (or, in most cases, unsubtly) tip the audience off to the fact the character is literally superhuman. So, when you see a martial artist do this in a martial arts film, they do this elaborate stunt (often on wires) because it’s a martial arts film or television show and not because people do it in real life. It’s a specific genre convention heavily dependent on Martial Arts Give You Superpowers in conjunction with the specific brand found in East Asian storytelling. You’ll be hard pressed to get the elaborate fall working outside the martial arts genre because, well, outside of East Asian storytelling tradition and other cultures where martial arts hold an enshrined existence, they don’t give you superpowers.

(If you’ve been uncritically consuming Japanese anime, Jackie Chan films, Into the Badlands, martial arts based k-dramas, wuxia and xianxia c-dramas on Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vicki like the Untamed, or even Marvel’s recent outing in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I can understand where the elaborate fall might become confusing.)

– Michi

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The Butterfly Effect: Pitfalls of Converting Your Fanfiction into an Original Work

The disclaimer I’m going to put at the beginning of this post is I know fanfiction vs original fiction is a touchy subject.

Fanfiction exists, I’ve written fanfiction, I’m not making any value judgements on fanfiction as a hobby, a passion, or a craft learning tool. If you like writing fanfiction and aren’t interested in converting your works into original fiction for publication, this post isn’t for you. If you’re the sort of person who feels threatened or delegitimized by discussions about the benefits and weaknesses of fanfiction as a tool for learning craft, this post isn’t the place to throw your tantrum. Got it? Good. Let’s move on.

One of the lies you’ll hear when you’re thinking about transitioning any fanfiction work you’ve written into an original work such as a short story or novel you can send on submission is that there’s no difference between fanfiction and an original work and that the conversion is easy.

It isn’t. 

They’ll list off all the authors who have admitted to writing fanfiction or converted their works from fanfic into “real” fic like Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments vis-à-vis Harry Potter, E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey  vis-à-vis Twilight, even trying to nail JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings vis-à-vis the entire tradition of European folklore with extra special helpings of Beowulf, Norse, and Celtic myth. These arguments equate inspiration and adaptation to fanfiction without any contextual nuance. “Everything is really just fanfiction anyway,” they say. Which? No.

It’s important to understand that these arguments are defensive by nature and exist more to reassure the person making the argument than to convince anyone else. It’s an argument meant for the echo chamber and the ears of those who already agree, a defensive knee-jerk reaction, and an expression of insecurity. This can be confusing if you’re genuinely trying to make a conversion because the defensive discourse surrounding the “legitimacy” of fanfiction will ultimately point you in the wrong direction. 

There are very important differences between fanfiction and an original work that have nothing to do with your writing’s quality or your skills as a writer. The relevant pitfalls are structure and, most importantly, context. 

Fanfiction is in the name, the work is designed to exist supplementally to the work it’s based on and cannot stand on its own without its point of origin. The entire genre is referential by nature, you’re not just using another creator’s work as inspiration for your own work, you’re writing stories in that creator’s world. It’s more akin to tracing than fanart, which is where fanfiction acts as an excellent learning tool. You can learn a lot about drawing and drawing well from tracing. You can learn a lot about writing and writing well from fanfiction, whether you’re working within the provided template, practicing other styles outside your own, or taking the work apart and restructuring it in new and different ways to fit your imagination. Fanfiction’s problem when transitioning to an original work is in its contextual reliance on another narrative. You’re using a complete creation as your launch pad, there are going to be problems baked into the very bones of your narrative you may not even be aware of; even in a completely different story which only uses the characters of the original work like your Coffee Shop AU.

At the end of the day, fanfiction is all about playing in someone else’s sandbox and, no matter how cool the castle is, everything you’ve built is full of their sand.

The professional form of fanfiction is tie-in fiction. With tie-in fiction, the work is written with the expectation you’re already aware of the property the story is based on and its world, meaning you know many of the rules, foibles, characterization, and world building coming in. This means, none of it needs to be explained to your reader. You can skip it. This is a serious problem if you’re trying to convert a fanfic into an original work. A lot of the steps you could skip as a fanfic writer cannot be skipped with original fiction because an original work lacks the benefit of prior understanding. As I said, the issue for an original work conversion is in the bones of your fanfiction rather than the surface read. This has nothing to do with a writer’s skill, but rather their intention when they originally started writing and all the aspects of a work they accidentally brought with them when they copied.

If you go back and review each of the examples I listed, you’ll find those works can all stand on their own merits. However you may feel about the authors or the quality of the work itself, none of them require prior knowledge from having read the original source material to understand the story, the characters, and their world. You don’t need to have read Beowulf to understand The Lord of the Rings. You don’t need a Cambridge scholar’s understanding of European myth in general to enjoy The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, though it may enhance your experience and the same is true for The Lord of the Rings vis-à-vis the entire fantasy genre. You don’t need to know Robert Jordan was deconstructing The Lord of the Rings and the Chosen One trope to enjoy The Wheel of Time, just like you don’t need to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy Bridget Jones’s Diary. That’s the difference between inspiration and fanfiction. One is a complete work capable of standing on its own merits outside of required prior knowledge and the other is inherently tied to the prior work in the very fundamentals of the text.

The necessity of context is why you can’t just palette swap the surface of your fanfiction and call it ready for publication. We need to go deeper. When drafting and rewriting, the butterfly effect is real. When you change one thing, whether it’s events in a single scene or a single decision, much less an entire character, you alter your narrative’s internal logic. Internal logic is what your plot runs on. It’s the basis on which all your characters are making their decisions (Why you? Why now?) to propel your narrative forward. In a palette swap of a fanfiction for an original work, you no longer have the characters you were previously using for your plot. Their world is different and, as a result, they are different people. Your reader no longer has the benefit of prior knowledge regarding the character’s history, their characterization, and no expectation for how they’re supposed to behave. The butterfly effect kicks in.

Let me give you an example, you’ve written a piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fanfiction with Julian Bashere in the starring role. He’s trapped on a prison planet controlled by The Dominion with Miles and Kira (and Ducat.) The scientists in charge of the prison planet want his help unlocking the secrets of an ancient alien technology that’s been lost to the ages. Julian is torn between his love of science and his hatred for the enemy, all the while his friends are secretly plotting an escape behind his back.

Okay, we’ve decided to make our changes. We now have Not-Julian in an industrialized fantasy setting trapped on a fantasy prison island reminiscent of Australia and Alcatraz. No one has ever escaped from it. He’s a freedom fighter captured by the ruling regime after they conquered his homeland, and we know he committed some sort of horrible crime but the details are kept secret. He’s in love with Not-Miles, and Not-Kira is a complete stranger. The scientists in charge of the facility want his help unlocking the secrets of an ancient fantasy technology that belonged to a long dead race of a previous era. He’s no longer torn about helping them and is focused only on his own survival. All the while, his lover is being blackmailed by a complete stranger and secretly plotting an escape behind his back.

Have you noticed the problems with the narrative’s internal logic yet? Why do the scientists need Not-Julian, who is just a freedom fighter?

The problem for this setup is that Julian Bashere is not just a Starfleet doctor. He is a minor celebrity within his field and considered one of the greatest scientific minds of his generation, meaning it makes perfect sense within the narrative for even highly advanced alien races to turn to him or blackmail him for help. If you take that prior knowledge away without adding any additional justification that supports his level of involvement within the plot (like not just being a brilliant and famous scientist, but also being a specialist) and let it run… it no longer makes sense, especially the degree of access to sensitive information Not-Julian gets within the narrative as a result. In fact, the decision to keep this the same makes your narrative worse. Now you no longer have a narrative running on internal logic, you have external logic. External logic is when the justification and reasoning for a character to know what they know comes from outside the story. The narrative’s justification for Not-Julian’s position is now “because he’s our POV and main character.” That’s bad writing.

This is the butterfly effect. You wrote your story for one set of characters as the driving force of the action and now those characters are different people. They live in a different world, have different stimuli, different needs, and potentially completely different backgrounds. It’s the same as when you do an adaptation but change important key details at the beginning and keep the same end result. You weaken your narrative because the chain of events which justified that ending is now broken. How does your story as written make sense? It doesn’t. Unless, you start from the very beginning and do all the important detail work in the building blocks to reorient the character and their world into a new, harmonized existence.

This is where an old axiom becomes very important:

Bad writers copy.

Good writers steal.

A lot of fanfic writers hear the first section “bad writers copy” and immediately think it pertains to them, and it doesn’t. (However, if “bad writers copy” did just make you feel defensive then your brain’s gone and told on you. Congrats. You’re copying.) 

The difference between JRR Tolkien and fanfic is that JRR Tolkien stole. He stole flagrantly, he stole shamelessly, and he made all of it his own within the context of his narrative, his characterization, and his worldbuilding.

If you want to convert a work, you need to steal. You need to take someone else’s property and make it wholly your own. There are lots of ways you can achieve this, one of the easiest is actually going harder toward the original property rather than running from it. You don’t need to change everything if the world your characters exist in remains mostly the same. In the case of Star Trek, there’s an entire genre influenced by its existence.

Okay, let’s go back to Not-Julian. How could you restructure the scenario to keep your narrative’s goals mostly in line with your original fanfiction? Let’s see.

After a failed rebellion against the Federation of Planets, freedom fighter Jackson Ran is sentenced to the prison moon of Azkabar; a place from which no one has ever escaped. Together with his lover, Mac, and their CO, Kendra, he’s destined to spend the rest of his life mining duranium for the enemy. However, Doctor Jaybrin of the Federation soon arrives to make Jackson an offer.

Once Jackson was a star scientist studying the technology of the lost alien race. Jaybrin needs Jackon’s help unlocking a key genome keeping the Federation from accessing their surviving weapons technology. In return for Jackson’s help, Jaybrin will use his influence to provide Mac safer work, better meals, and living quarters. With Mac’s health taking a turn for the worse, Jackson can’t refuse.

As Jackson grows closer with Jaybrin, Mac and Kendra plot their escape from Azkabar. A plan Mac knows he must keep from Jackson now that the love of his life has become the enemy.

Reminder, this was our fanfiction:

Julian Bashere’s trapped on a prison planet controlled by The Dominion with Miles and Kira (and Ducat.) The scientists in charge of the prison planet want his help unlocking the secrets of an ancient alien technology that’s been lost to the ages. Julian is torn between his love of science and his hatred for the enemy, all the while his friends are secretly plotting an escape behind his back.

The narrative of the new original work remains very similar to the DS9 fanfiction, however, many of the key details which allowed the narrative to function remain the same. The themes and goals of the work are the same, and it doesn’t scream Star Trek. You’ve just got a sci-fi novel.

One of the downsides of fanfiction is that it can lead to authors feeling illegitimate, even delegitimized, like their work isn’t as valid because they’re using another person’s creativity as a launchpad. This sense of illegitimacy overwhelms the author’s original goals and can lead to them running from their story, trying to make it as different as possible to cover up it’s fanfiction origins. That’s the one direction you shouldn’t take.

It’s important to remember we’re all influenced and all inspired by the media in our lives. We can even begin to feel reliant on others for our creativity. Remember that the goal of converting your work from fanfiction to original fiction is for your work to stand on its own without being reliant on contextual knowledge or outside structural support. It doesn’t have to be good. (It could be.) It doesn’t have to be successful. (It could be.) It just needs a self-contained existence. You don’t need to be ashamed of your novel’s origins. Recognize that while your story needs to change, it doesn’t need to change drastically. If you read the works I mentioned and the original fanfiction back to back, you may notice that on a surface read they do feel remarkably like a palate swap. Yet each one is capable of standing on its own merits. Why? 

These works didn’t stray that far from their authors’ original intentions. They were given the grounding in worldbuilding and characterization to allow a reader with no prior knowledge or fandom background to jump straight in.

A self-contained existence is the real dividing line between fanfiction and original fiction.

-Michi

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