This video is very important, especially when you’re writing or maybe even drawing out fight scenes. Many don’t seem to realize that swords were often not the primary weapon and see spears more as a weaker weapon. This YouTube channel is actually very good at helping to explain older medieval martial arts, mostly the sword and European fighting methods, but very helpful nonetheless for fellow authors/artists.
This awesomely-named YouTube channel, called scholagladiatoria, is a brilliant resource for writers. Have at it!
I did touch upon some of this stuff in the second installment of Realistic Writing on Handguns, but I will give some more elaboration. I’ll be using the US as my basis of information, but know there are other popular models of guns in different countries.
Choosing a weapon for your character is going to come down to a few things:
Your character’s experience with guns – This is very important. A character who has experience firing a weapon will generally react more quickly and efficiently in a high-pressure situation where a gun is required, they will be more confident, have better aim, be able to handle recoil better, may be able to identify the gun of an opponent (down to the amount of ammunition), know how to operate and maintain a firearm, possibly know how to modify one and will likely be aware of the basic science behind them.
Your character’s body type – Is your 110 pounds-when-soaking-wet school girl going to be able to handle the recoil on a Desert Eagle? Probably not. Can she handle something smaller like a 9mm? Sure! A lot of guns aren’t light. While unloaded, most weigh several pounds and if your character doesn’t have a lot of strength in their arms, then they’re going to have trouble handling (especially aiming) their firearm because it weighs too damn much. Generally, once you go over about 4 lbs on a handgun, it’s probably going to be to heavy for normal people. For rifles, it’s going to vary. Small rifles are generally 6 – 8 lbs with the large ones going up over 13 lbs. Heavier weapons will have greater recoil and it may be impractical for your character.
Access – If the world your story takes place in happens to be made up (or post apocalyptic), then you’re going to have more liberty with this, but most places in the real world have laws regarding what kinds of guns are available to certain people. In the US there are a number of state and federal statues defining gun law and some states are a lot more strict than others. Gun laws in the US and gun laws by state via Wikipedia for your reference.
Occupation and hobbies – Is your character a civilian? Does he like to hunt? Is he a marksman? Is he a gun collector? Is your character a police officer? A soldier? Does he work for the FBI? The CIA? Some other federal organization? Is he a mercenary? Is he bank robber? Is he a drug dealer/runner? Is he a pirate? What he does in life is going to help determine what level of access he has to weapons and to what types.
Concealability – Does your character care if his weapon is easy to conceal? Handguns and small semi-automatic weapons would be a good choice he he does. If he doesn’t then go ahead and run around with a rifle, but know that those are easy to spot unless he’s good at hiding it or taking it apart. Just remember that your character also has to be able to conceal any type of ammunition or extras (stands, scopes, silencers, etc). If you’re doing this in a real world setting there are some states that have concealment laws while others allow open carry on both handguns and long-barreled weapons.
So what guns are commonly available?
Civilians – Most civilians can get access to handguns, shotguns and rifles depending on the laws of the area. Semi-automatic (self-loading and only shoots one round at a time; the trigger must be reset before another round can be fired, meaning one pull per round (source)) pistols are illegal but you can get semi-automatic rifles in the US. Popular handguns include: Glock 17, Glock 19, Glock 23, Smith and Wesson M&P models, Ruger SR1911, Ruger LCP, and the .38 Special Revolver (multiple manufacturers). As far as rifles go, the AR-15 semi-automatic is popular in the US, often used by hunters and marksmen. For a more traditional looking rifle, the Remington 700 is a solid bet. Here’s a list of some more hunting rifles. For shotguns, the Mossberg 12 gauge pump-action is pretty popular. For the gauge size, 12 and 20 are common in the US but you can get shotguns in 10, 16, and 28. Legally, people cannot own fully-automatic weapons (except mini-guns apparently because our laws are messed up), and most explosive weapons in the US. Flamethrowers, however, are legal in most states. Also we totally have access to thermite.
FBI – The Glock 22 and 23 are commonly issued sidearms.
FBI SWAT – Glock 22 and 23, MP5/10/9X19 parabellum sub-machine gun, M4 carbine, M1911 pistol (.45 cal), Remington 870 shotgun, H & K MP5 sub-machine gun to name a few that they use (or have used).
Police – They also have access to a lot of weapons and they’re going to vary by location. I’d take a look at this site to get some ideas: http://www.policemag.com/channel/weapons.aspx
Military – I’m sure you’ve heard the term military grade weapons. These include machine guns, rocket launchers, assault rifles, cannons and pretty much anything else under the sun that has more power than a handgun. The military also has free access to automatic weapons. For the Marine Corps: M16-A2 assault rifle, M16-A4 assault rifle, M249 light machine gun (used to be the SAW) and M4 (also known as the M4-A1 carbine) assault rifle. AT4 rocket launcher, M203 grenade launcher attachment (works on the three listed Assault Rifles).
Criminals – Your character can gain access to anything illegal if they know the right people. The AK-47 is a common assault rifle choice for the seedy underworld. TIME Magazine had an article a bit back about The Top 10 Most Wanted Guns that’s worth looking at.
P.S. In the words of someone’s comment on my handguns article: Honest officer, I’m a writer!
In this post we’ll be talking about open hand strikes, how they work and what they do. While closed hand strikes are more popular in fiction, the ones working with the open hand are also important. We’ll start by talking about the advantages and disadvantages of the open hand, and then try to give some insight into some specific strikes with some examples on how to write them.
With open hand strikes, there’s honestly not that much to say. Or there’s not much I can say, aside from a few common ones, they’re not my specialty. But try not to let that worry you too much, I’m avoiding the spear hand on principle because it’s finicky and the chances your character would have to use the strike are so limited (and so obvious) that it’s better to just ignore it for the moment.
So, let’s get down to it.
Open hand strikes can be, in the right circumstances, more dangerous than a closed fist because they focus the force of the strike into a much more concentrated point than the fist. It’s important to remember that most of the conventional wisdom about force application we have in popular culture comes from observations made about various sport styles and exhibition fighting, such as in movies and staged fights at martial arts tournaments. The assumption becomes that those moves were chosen to be allowed because they are more effective, not less. The problem though, with that assumption is that while goal of fighting is to win, it’s also to do so with relative safety and not kill the opponent. Injure, wound, and maim perhaps, but again not kill. The same is true for both tournament demonstration and media in general. Many of the open hand strikes are, in fact, designed not just for killing but also screwing with the body’s internal energy flow and its nervous system.
Open hand strikes are useful in that they can transition more easily into blocks than the closed hand strikes.
Below: the open palm strike, the half-palm strike, the knife hand, the ridge hand, and the slap.
The Open Palm Strike:
A common strike in Karate and Tae Kwan Do, the palm strike (open and half) is one that allows the attacker to hit their opponents body with minimal risk to the delicate bones in the hand. The open palm strike specifically hits the opponent with the meaty portion of the lower palm in the vulnerable areas of the body. It is important to remember, that the strike does not use the whole hand. The palm strike uses the wrist as the driving force behind the assault, with the hand vertical to the rest of the arm. It’s important to keep the entire hand and wrist tight to absorb the impact. Like the punch, the palm strike goes upwards at a 45 degree angle to the face (hitting the nose, it drives the cartilage into the brain) and straight to the stomach. If the strike is low enough, it can connect with the throat, but it’s also important not to catch the fingers on the chin. There is, however, a variation on the half-palm strike that goes to the throat and it is discussed below.
Remember, like all strikes, the power of the palm strike comes from the hips, the shoulders, and the pivot of the front or back foot, not the muscles in arm. Martial arts is a full body exercise.
How do you write it? Here’s an example:
Amy stepped in as her opponent’s arm came up. Folding her fingers in until they touched the underside of her knuckles, she bent her hand up to expose the fleshy portion of her palm. There wasn’t enough distance between the two of them for her to strike his nose and he was closing rapidly.
Well, Amy realized, she’d just have to take a chance.
Jaw clenching, her elbow and shoulder pulled back. Then, her hand shot out, slamming her palm into the small, vulnerable opening underneath his chest. As the wind went out of him, she threw herself forward. Her hands rose to clinch the back of his head, her fingers locking together as her elbows folded in around his throat. Drawing him down as her hip came up, she rammed her right knee into his groin.
The Half-Palm Strike:
The major difference between the open palm strike and the half-palm is that the first one comes in with fingers straight, the second folds the fingers and tucks them in tight against the bottom knuckle of the palm. When the half palm is vertical to the wrist it strikes the same as the open palm. However, when it’s horizontal and in-line with the wrist, it strikes with the joints to the windpipe or the stomach. It can be performed overhand (with the palm facing down) or underhand (with the palm facing up).
Common Beginner Mistake: The open palm strike is commonly taught first, on the basis of beginners risking a finger break. The joints of the fingers are extremely delicate, so if it connects wrong such as the practitioner forgetting to pull their hand all the way back to expose the meaty portion of the palm when the hand is vertical or connecting with a bony part of the body such as the cheek, chest, or chin when doing the horizontal version the fighter risks damage to themselves.
So, how do you write it? Here’s an example:
Alan’s fingers folded in and he rolled his hand over. Drawing his arm down to his waist, he struck upwards at a forty-five degree angle. The tender joints of his fingers met his opponent’s windpipe, but instead of slamming through, Alan pulled back. After all, this was just a training exercise. Jim stumbled, hands rising to his throat. He hacked and wheezed, drawing air up in through his nostrils. Then, he lifted his head. Narrowed eyes glared at Alan as Jim turned his head to the side and spat.
The Knife Hand:
We’ve talked some about the knife hand and how dangerous it can be in previous posts, but we’re going to talk about it again! Why? Why not! The knife hand is a bread and butter strike from quite a few different martial arts from all over the world, though it was popularized, attributed, and defanged by Hollywood to Karate in the 60s and 70s in the spy genre with “the karate chop”. Contrary to popular belief though, the knife hand isn’t actually a safe knockout strike to the side or back of the neck. It’s a kill strike and when it’s within range, it’s a fairly efficient one. So, be careful with it. If your character is practicing any variant of Karate or more traditional forms of Taekwondo then they will be exceedingly familiar with this strike.
The knife hand or the sword-hand uses the blade of the hand, the outside edge opposite the thumb that runs from the little finger to the wrist when the hand is flat and tightened together. The wrist locks in place to support the hand and the fingers point to create the visual profile of a knife or single edge sword. The knife hand strikes in a chopping motion either up and down or on a diagonal, it doesn’t stab. The knife hand targets soft points on the body from the carotid artery in the neck to the outside pressure point midway up the upper arm between the biceps and triceps. The strike closes the carotid artery and when it aims from the spinal column or the back of the neck, it’s looking to sever vertebrae. The blade of the hand allows for much deeper tissue penetration and more pinpointed strikes.
Common Beginner Mistake: Your character has got to keep their entire hand tightened, if they loosen up before impact they’ll damage their hand and won’t really damage their target. This is where thoughts like “I don’t want to hurt anyone” will really screw you, because it both damages a character’s ability (and yours) to fight effectively (thus ending the fight quickly before anyone is hurt more than they need to be) and the good intentions open the character up to retaliation by the person they’re fighting (who often really does want to hurt them). The knife hand, while a simple strike, doesn’t have a lot of room for error on the part of the practitioner before it’s no longer capable of dealing damage. The mind and body need to be in sync with each other.
Tightening her hand into a blade, Sonya slammed it on a downwards diagonal into the side of Misha’s throat.
The Ridge Hand:
The ridge hand is the opposite version of the knife hand, it uses the inside portion of the hand to strike on a diagonal arc to different portions of the body, such as the mastoid muscles in the neck, the jugular, the temple, the eyes, the nose, and the groin. It’s a strike that I personally feel is more dangerous to the wielder than the opponent because of what happens if they miss, but that’s why it’s high risk and high reward. Unlike the knife hand, the ridge hand is a very big strike. Much like a haymaker or roundhouse punch, it requires a rather wide arc to be successful and thus is very easy to see. This is not a stealthy strike. Like I said: high risk equals high reward.
To perform a ridge hand, tuck the thumb against the hand (or under it in some styles). Lock the fingers together, tighten the whole arm up to the shoulder and swing the arm on a diagonal, high or low, to the point of impact. The ridge hand doesn’t strike with the fingers, but with the inside side of the first knuckle on the hand. When on a high diagonal strike, the arm swings up and arcs downwards into the target, even when going across into the nose or eyes. When going to the groin, it just swings straight up between the legs while stepping through the opponent.
Common Beginner Mistake: The ridge hand really requires fairly exceptional accuracy when dealing with an opponent in non-sparring circumstances. A beginner has a greater chance of missing, which means they’ll hurt their hand in the process. It’s better to stick to safer strikes. Safer for the beginner, I mean.
Sarah whipped her arm up and slammed it downwards in a wide arc, tucking her thumb tightly against the side of her hand. The first knuckle of her hand collided with Ethan’s left temple and he stumbled backwards. Then, his eyes rolled back and he dropped to his knees.
The slap doesn’t get a lot of love and with good reason: there are better techniques out there that work faster and do more damage in a shorter amount of time. The slap mostly plays out in the hands of street fighters, amateurs, and wife beaters because it’s a safe strike for the hand, and spreads the force over a wide area, and is a stunner more than a hitter. But, for a character who is not sure how to fight and is worried about breaking their hand on someone else’s face, the slap is actually a pretty good strike to use when disorienting and distracting an opponent. Its fellow technique is the bitch slap which uses the knuckles on the back of the hand to make more of an impression.
The slap comes with some nasty connotations for abuse, so be careful with it.
The slap uses the whole hand to whack the opponent across the face, it’s usually going for the cheek or, more specifically, the sensitive exposed cheekbone underneath the eye. Places on the body with exposed bone like the shin, the cheek, and the elbow’s funny bone tend to be more sensitive and easy places to produce pain for a stun to lock up the opponent.
Common Beginner Mistake: This one’s more about perception of an opponent than it is about actual fighting failure. The slap is very safe and easy, but because it’s used as a controlling strike and often gets lodged in as the favoured strike of abusers and bullies, writers and their characters often underestimate those who use it. Someone picking on or hurting someone smaller and weaker than themselves is (a bad person) not necessarily a weakling that a stronger character can take out. Sometimes it’s that simple, but often people are more complex than that.
Do you really need an example for how to write a slap? I didn’t think so.
Other primers that may be of use to you:
Anonymous asked: do you have any tips for writing combat scenes?
Thank you for your question!
Message(s) on this topic:
Anonymous asked: Do you have any guides or any advice on writing action scenes?
Thanks for your question!
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) - Resource for Crime Writers
Anonymous asked you: I’m having trouble writing this action scene
aviolentshadeoftardisblue asked you: Hello! I love your blog, it’s been so helpful. I was wondering if you have any advice about writing action scenes? I’m terribly sorry if you’ve got a post about this, I looked around and didn’t see anything, but I’m notoriously bad at finding things. Thank you so much!
Thank you both for your question!
godtricksterloki asked: When writing aggressive and action oriented parts of a story I can never seem to express exactly what I want to correctly. The writing suffers in terms of placement of the commas, terrible wording and grammar. Mostly because my mind is going about 100 mph and I cannot seem to properly catch up. Any advice on how to properly execute a well written action packed part of a story?
Yes. Get everything out that you want to say as fast as you can. Don’t mind the commas or the run-on sentences; just write. Then, once your adrenaline has run dry and your scene is in its roughest form, take a deep breath (and maybe a long break). Then edit. Edit the crap out of it.
It’s okay if your action scene isn’t perfect from the get-go. Action scenes rarely are. To me, the mark of a great writer is a willingness to write madly, and then to craft that madness through careful editing.
Write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite… on and on until you have carved through your words with a scalpel, until you are telling the story exactly as you want it told. That is the way. It can be difficult, frustrating, even tedious. Tough cookies. That’s how it gets done. Not all in one great choking gulp, but in small bites, chewing slowly.
Check out these links for more on writing action scenes:
Thank you for your question! If you have further questions or a comment to add, hit us up!
Anonymous asked: I’m doing crime fiction in school and have to write a short story, but I’ve never written crime before and I don’t really know how. Do you have any tips? Maybe something on writing action scenes, creating suspense, and leaving clues? Thanks for any help you can give me!
Crime fiction is most definitely one of my favorite genres to read, so I’m so happy that you’ve given me the chance to look these things up!
- Writing Action Scenes
- How Do I Write Better Action Scenes?
- Writing the Action Scene
- 10 Tips for Writing Good Action Scenes
- Punch Up Your Fight Scenes: Three Techniques To Knock Readers Out
- Writing Tense Action Scenes
- Ten Tips for Building Suspense in a Novel
- Foreshadowing and Suspense
- How to Keep Them Reading
- 9 Trick to Writing Suspense Fiction
- 5 Simple Steps on Creating Suspense in Fiction
- Don’t Drop Clues; Place Them Carefully
- Effectively Leaving Clues in Mystery Stories
- False Clues and “Red Herrings”
- Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction
- Crime Fiction Writing: Ten Clichés to Avoid
- Tips for Writing Crime Fiction and Thrillers (I would focus on tips 1-7)
I hope these links can help you. If you have any further questions, let me know!
[Made rebloggable by request]
Often the reason a scene doesn’t work, or doesn’t seem to have any life to it, is because what’s happening in the scene isn’t very interesting.
People may be doing things, moving around, attempting to reach their goals, but how they’re going about is too straightforward or too easy.
There are various ways to achieve things in life that are reasonable and sensible. You want to be a doctor, you go to medical school and study hard. If you portray that within a story it may feel realistic and true, but it won’t be very gripping.
There is more to a good story than holding a mirror up to life.