Realistically? She won’t kill him, her guards will. (She won’t even get close to him and his challenge is meaningless.)
This is the most important thing to remember: a female noble heir is the social and economic future of their household, if your pirate captain takes her then he gets to claim her which is the equivalent of stealing Alabama, Alaska, or California. Now do you think for a second her guards or her family will allow that to happen? (The answer is no.)
If you’re using pirates, then you’re probably pulling from the Golden Age of Piracy for inspiration, so between 1650 and 1726. It’s important to remember than aristocrats in any period before the 19th century were not decorative. Today, we (Americans especially) have a habit of confusing the echoes for the gunfire. We view the nobility and royalty like CEOs and other really rich people instead of what they really were: warlords, an important part of their nation’s command and control structure. Nobles were taught to fight because they needed to be capable of defending themselves from the peasantry, from other nobles, and from attempts at political assassination. Your heir is probably living in a period where she is expected to know how to fight because someone else is going to try to kill or kidnap her. While we’re talking about a period in history where the importance of the nobility was ending, it wasn’t there yet. Fencing as recreation hadn’t quite taken hold yet and your heir’s education is going to be for realities of the world she’ll be facing. This is also a period in history when training with live blades was not uncommon.
Nobles engaged professional swordmasters as members of their households to teach them and their children. Your girl is likely to have had a fencing blade in her hand by the time she was six years old, the standard training age for an aristocrat. It’s likely she was trained on a variety of weapons, but depending on your time period her main sword is likely to be either a rapier, an epee or another variant of smallsword, all of which will turn your pirate captain into Swiss cheese before he can say “what’s that?”. She’ll possibly also know how to use a longsword (still saw battlefield use) or a heavy saber (as opposed to the later lighter version of the fencing blade) as a cavalry blade, she’ll have been trained to use it from horseback in case she was ever called to military service by her monarch. If her family employs a professional duelist to fight for her father or mother in case of another noble challenging the family, she might have also trained with them. If her family doesn’t have the money or the family patriarch prefers to handle to duels themselves, it’s likely she was grilled by them regularly. As the heir, she’ll be under direct scrutiny from whichever figure is managing her education and training to ensure she can do her job when she eventually inherits management of the household/estate.
The problem here is that you’re thinking about this in terms of her not having any practical combat experience and conflating the 18th and 19th century nobility with the 16th and 17th century is a terrible, if common, mistake. Unless your pirate captain is a former member of the gentlemen class or noble class then the weapon he’ll be using is likely to be the cutlass, which while a fantastic weapon for boarding actions, is horribly outmatched by both the epee and the rapier when it comes to dueling. They’re both longer (reach and speed advantage) and faster (substantial speed advantage) and in the hands of someone who knows how to kill with them. Weapons are a great equalizer, your heir doesn’t need to be exceptional to kill him, she’ll be armed with the better weapon for the situation and has the knowledge to know how to use it in practical combat. Even if she’s armed with a longsword, she’ll win.
Here’s your first real issue: you’re conflating all types of combat experience together while ignoring the separate skill sets and types of experience. A pirate captain is going to be experienced in ship to ship combat and boarding actions, his exceptional talent is the handling of his crew and his ability to command. This is what he needs to be good at in order to maintain his position. Dueling is not going to be his focus, he may excel at dueling other pirates both with pistols and with swords but the question is who is he dueling? The caliber of your opponent does a lot to enhance skill, so does having the luxury to devote the necessary time to developing that skill. A boarding action is a mass melee, it’s not a duel. Even if he’s used to fighting multiple enemies, it’s going to be in fighting back to back with the support of his crew. His most common opponents are going to be other pirates, most likely drunk pirates, while on shore leave. This doesn’t leave him a lot of time to come up with the skill necessary to hand a noble their ass in a one on one. A duel with your heir is going to end up looking a lot like Edmond Dantes’ first duel with Ferdinand in The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). Your pirate is Dantes, she’s Ferdinand and she’s got less reason to play nice. (It’s worth noting Ferdinand isn’t even considered an exceptional duelist and, at this point in the movie, he’s just got the advantage of his training.)
Now, he could be a former naval officer or son of a merchant with a business in overseas trade. However, this would mean he comes from either a wealthy merchant family or the middle/upper class. At this point in history officers were still expected to buy their commissions which meant ships were largely commanded by the rich/gentlemen and the sailors/grunts were pulled from the poor/uneducated.
The second issue: Heirs are incredibly valuable, incredibly valuable. Female ones especially because they are the means of carrying on your bloodline. A lot of effort and work by the head of the household goes into the heir because they are the economic and socio-political future of the family. Heirs are not allowed to engage in the same sort of risky business that a second or third child can get away with. A fairly decent modern comparison is Prince William versus Prince Harry, both are in the military but only one gets to fight on the front lines. Now, you can disinherit the heir to ensure that their progeny/new husband cannot claim their titles and lands but you lose all the effort that went into them in favor of (what is likely to be viewed as) a substandard second aka the spare. So, again, it would be like stealing Alabama and she doesn’t have the free time to run off for a weekend cruise with a strange man unless she’s intending to throw away everything anyway (and no one is going to let her).
Second to the Family Head, the Heir is the most well-defended member of the family. They’re not getting out of the house without an escort, these men (and women) will be among the most loyal and skilled men (and women) the house has at their disposal. She’s not going to go anywhere without them and has probably known them (somewhere between four to six) all her life. They may know her better than her parents do, they’re always there, and they will defend her with their lives. Not being a noble, your captain has no ability to challenge her directly even if she challenges him. He is going to have to go through them to fight her and they aren’t going to bother with a duel. They’re not going to fight him one on one, they’ll fight him together. He’s outnumbered and fighting better trained opponents (it’s going to be either three on one with one guarding the girl or four on one with two guarding the girl), so he’s dead.
It’s important to remember that a bodyguard’s job is not to do what their protectee wants, it’s to do what is best for them and ensures their safety. It’s their job to keep them alive, not to keep them happy. She’s not the one paying their salary, her parents are, and even if she was it wouldn’t make a difference. While her guards are fighting him, the other one (or two) will hustle her somewhere else to keep her safe.
Third Problem: In attempting to take her anywhere, he has shown he means her harm. Whether it’s to kill her, ransom her, or claim her as his wife is irrelevant, whether he actually intends any of those things is irrelevant. From her perspective, that of her family, and her guards, he intends her harm and if she’s forced to fight him then it will be to the death. Remember, these are threats she faces from the other members of her country’s nobility. She’s primed to respond to any threats to her person with deadly force and so are her guards, all of whom are likely to face much more talented combatants from their own class than the pirate captain. She has a vested interest in being better at combat than him and she will be because nobles are not sheltered fragile flowers who have the luxury of using money instead of force to protect themselves. The French Revolution was successful because of the number of peasants and the willingness to bury the aristocrats in bodies (which was what it took). It wasn’t because they were better warriors.
Do Not Steal California: Heirs are valuable and important people, stealing them is a lot like stealing the ownership of a state. Lots of people are bound to try it and there are reasons their families take steps to ensure they won’t succeed.
A Rapier or Epee versus a Cutlass: both weapons have a reach advantage over a cutlass and are much, much faster. The pirate captain’s brain will not be used to fighting at it’s speeds and in a single unarmored bout, it will be over in one or two hits. In fact, historically the epee is so fast that it resulted in multiple double suicides during duels which is part of the reason we switched to fencing with blunted blades.
Nobles Are Not Decorative: Unless we’re discussing nobles in the 19th (excluding Russia), 20th, and 21st centuries then an aristocrat’s position was fraught with danger. Even in the 18th century when they were heading toward being obsolete, nobles were very dangerous individuals who faced a great deal of danger in their everyday lives both from the peasantry and members of their own class.
Depending on Context All Combat Experience Is Not Created Equal: while there were pirates who were very skilled duelists this was usually a skill they cultivated during the time before they became pirates (as members of the gentry). Pirate Captains needed to be skilled in naval combat, interpersonal skills, leadership, and other skills relating to raiding, theft, and seafaring leaving little time to focus on skills unnecessary to their general lifestyle.
Where the Heir Goes, The Guards Follow or Lead: A noble’s guards are never far away, they travel in packs and it’s their job to defend their master from harm. Getting through them to the protectee isn’t easy and the protectee is unlikely to thank you if you do.
Swords are made for killing: intentions are great, but swords are made for killing. The better the opponent, the less likely the option of not killing. With faster weapons, it becomes very easy to kill accidentally or a wound may become infected leading to death.
Think Leia, Not Gossip Girl: I didn’t actually throw this one out there in the above, but personality wise, you’re better off looking at Princess Leia (especially Leia from A New Hope) as opposed to modern day rich girls like Blaire Waldorf and Serena Vanderwoodsen. Think about Leia’s response to Han and Luke’s rescue attempt on the Death Star, particularly the part where she takes charge and shoots the Stormtroopers. Feisty yes, but also intelligent and capable of taking care of herself. They provide her with the opportunity to escape, but she’s more than able to act for herself when the moment comes and patient enough withstand the indignities and torture inflicted on her by Vader and Tarkin to wait it for it. She’s also all business once she gets out and is much better at providing direction than the boys are at finding it.
In short, he’s dead.
A solution: as fun as the concept of the Princess and the Pirate is most of your problems could be solved by removing the heir part from the equation. If writing a lazy layabout who isn’t interested in real work is your angle with this character then it’s best to go with a member of the family who has the unfortunate luxury of being a strain on finances simply by virtue of their birth. The third child or a bastard the Father/Mother/Family Head refuses to get rid of who gets all the privileges, none of the responsibility, and who the family doesn’t care enough about to take an active interest in their protection or their training will have a much better shot of doing what you want without all the messy complications. They also have a much, much better shot of being in a place where they and the pirate will actually cross paths. Younger children have a much higher likelihood of leaving the country to seek their fortunes or being in less savory places. (Do not have the pirate break into their house, homefield advantage is huge and estates/castles are designed to be deathtraps for invaders. Don’t do it, you can’t have a fight there without drawing twenty or more guards.)
A solution to the sword problem: they’re drunk. Your character is at a low point in their life, they’re in a bar feeling their failure, and they’re drunk when they challenge the pirate. This gives the pirate the luxury to feel sorry for them, you can subtly handicap their actual skill level, and give them the opportunity to grow as a person and a combatant without jeopardizing all the advantages a noble has access to.
Some Reading Suggestions/Historical Figures:
Julie La Maupin: The life of Julie La Maupin could quite literally fill any swashbuckling novel to rival the tales of Alexandre Dumas, her stories however have the advantage of being real. This brash, deadly, bisexual cross-dressing swashbuckler bucked the times and society to carve her own way in 1600s France.
Gurps: Swashbucklers, Roleplaying In The World of Pirates and Musketeers: The Gurps books tend be great reference material and this one is a great overview of everything you need to write about pirates and swashbucklers. It covers the history surrounding pirates and musketeers, the notable historical figures, the socio-political climates of the times, and pretty much everything else you’re going to need to build your setting.
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. While not a book about pirates, this novel (and the others by Dumas) will be helpful for getting into the frame of mind to write about swashbucklers and nobles. It gets closer to a period when the nobility was still considered relevant and treats them that way.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy (1903), the foundation for superhero literature and secret identities, this is the novel that inspired Zorro and subsequently Batman. It follows the adventures of wealthy Sir Percy Blakeney in his adventures rescuing individuals sentenced to death by the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. In England, Percy presents himself as a dim fop to throw off suspicion that he (along with a band of merry friends) is the Scarlet Pimpernel, daring escape artist, master swordsman, and outside the box thinker. If nothing else, it’s a fun adventure novel read.
The Errol Flynn Collection: The Seahawk and Captain Blood especially, but I suggest a general review of the Golden Age Swashbuckling films.
The Mask of Zorro, The Count of Monte Cristo, anything with fight scenes choreographed by Bob Anderson for the spectacular sword work which may give you ideas.
Wikitenaur: pretty much the best resource for historical fighting manuals if you want to go outside modern fencing to get ideas for your fight scenes. You will have to slog through some older language, some of the manuals come with plates and translations. Others don’t.
Get a manual on fencing. Even if you don’t plan to take up fencing yourself, a manual for beginners will be helpful for getting the basic ideas and terminology down.
While I wouldn’t recommend Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for it’s historical accuracy (cringeworthy, especially the way it messes with and reduces the awesomeness of some very incredible historical figures) or it’s combat accuracy (also cringeworthy), it’s ship combat is a lot of fun and may help you get into the right mood for when it comes to the fun side of pirates. This depends if you want to shell out for the price tag. The same is true of Pirates of the Caribbean. Decide what pirate theme you’re going with, compare Jack Sparrow with Peter Blood for reference and do some research into historical figures to help you with your captain. If you’re doing a gender equal setting, feel free to research and export the considerations for male nobility onto your female noble.
I have posted a bunch of tips about that. :-)
#40: Ten Tips For Writing Good Action Scenes.
#50: Writing Action. Part 1.
#51: Writing Action. Part 2.
#60:Writing Action Scenes
#96: How To Write A War or Battle Scene in Your Novel
#120:Fight Scenes and Love Scenes – Seven Tips to Writing Action
#121: Writing Realistic Injuries
#40: Ten Tips For Writing Good Action Scenes.
#50: Writing Action. Part 1.
#51: Writing Action. Part 2.
#60:Writing Action Scenes
#96: How To Write A War or Battle Scene in Your Novel
#120:Fight Scenes and Love Scenes – Seven Tips to Writing Action
#121: Writing Realistic Injuries
Don’t be sorry! Writing about fighting when you have no practical experience is a difficult challenge and writing fight sequences when you do is still time consuming. There are a lot pieces working together and figuring out how they function is difficult and something very few writers actually do well.
Here are a list some of our posts that may be helpful to you:
Also check anything in our Michael Janich tag, he is a very good instructor who teaches self-defense. I refer people to his videos for the work he does with concepts, where he actively explains what a technique is, what it does, and why it’s used before teaching the technique. As a writer, you need both technique and concept before you can put it on the page.
I plan on doing a write up on both elbows and knees in the near future. There’s a lot of misconceptions about how these techniques work.
Also check out Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series particularly First Test and Page in The Protector of the Small quartet. Tamora Pierce is one of the few authors that write fight scenes I feel comfortable recommending for reference.
Because beating the crap out of someone isn’t socially acceptable in the real world.
WHAT MAKES AN ACTION SCENE GOOD?
IT’S RATHER PERTINENT QUESTION NOWADAYS. IT SEEMS ACTION SCENES ARE A COMPONENT OF EVERY KIND OF POPULAR MOVIE. AND WE BUILD HIGH-STAKES SUMMER TENT-POLE MOVIES AROUND NOTHING MORE THAN A VAGUE CONCEPT AND THEN TREAT THE SET-PIECES LIKE THEY’RE ONLY THING THAT MATTER.
FOR SOME REASON, WE CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THIS IS “THE WAY” TO DO THINGS DESPITE THE FACT THAT RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES CURRENTLY HIGHLIGHTING THE FACT THAT A GOOD STORY WELL-TOLD IS THE THING THAT TRULY RESONATES WITH AUDIENCES. BUT BECAUSE ACTION SCENES DOMINATE THE BOTH THE INCEPTION AND PRODUCTION OF FILMMAKING, HULK WORRIES THAT THE EFFECTS NOW TOO DEEPLY-ROOTED IN THE FOUNDATION OF MOVIE CULTURE. MEANING HULK THINKS OF ALL THE THOUSANDS OF YOUNG KIDS WHO ARE TOTALLY INTO MOVIES AND TRYING TO REPLICATE THEIR FAVORITE ACTION SCENES AT HOME. WHAT ARE THEY TAKING AWAY FROM WHAT THEY’RE SEEING? CHANCES ARE IT’S NOT THE GOOD THINGS.
THIS PROBLEM RAISES A REALLY GOOD QUESTION: IF ACTION IS SO IMPORTANT AND INGRAINED INTO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS… WHY AREN’T ACTION SCENES BETTER?
Most Superhero comics are based around two things: character-based drama and fight scenes. Many even forgo the former for the latter, under the horrible impression that they’re the same thing. This is in part due to the superheroes’ humble origins. The Pulps that most early creators drew on were often simplistic fare. This is certainly not true of all pulps, there has been many a great science-fiction story published in them, but it is true of many. Just look over collections of pulp covers and you’ll see, almost regardless of genre, hideous monsters, masculine men, monstrous foreigners, and scantily-clad women. Often there are more than just one of these components, and they’re fighting. For years superhero comics would conclude their conflicts in a fight, often made more interesting by who was fighting what as opposed to the presentation or storytelling at play.
Now I can hardly claim a definite knowledge of comic-book history, but I think it’s safe to say what the next big change in the comic book fight was the arrival of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan Lee’s interest in character drama and Jack Kirby’s interest in explosive mythology were a beautiful combination. Suddenly these inevitable fight scenes were dynamic again. They were firmly grounded in the very human emotions these characters had, and they were exciting and larger than live. Fight scenes (and comics as a whole) quickly evolved to meet this new standard.
The second major development in comic book battles comes from another media, film. With the popularization of action movies came a change in the way comics presented these conflicts. (If you want to read a great article about cinema fight scenes, which conforms to many of the same rules a comic has to, check out this.) With the action movie came a new kind of fight scene, one still popular today. These new scenes had even more of a focus on physicality, on martial arts, on gunplay, and on explosions and their ilk.
Comics (and to be clear this article is about superhero comics, not all comics: assume that’s what I mean when I use the generic term) are built around fight scenes. They are an integral part of the superhero genre, so why are so many of them so bad? It’s a shame, but Sturgeon’s Law seems to hold true over superhero fights. Most of them, even in otherwise excellent comics, are forgetful, uninteresting, unoriginal, or just plain bad. Anyone seeking an in depth exploration of storytelling and action sequences should read this link from before. Some of the technical stuff doesn’t hold true in comic form, but most of the storytelling principles do. I will touch on these concerns throughout the issue, but if you find yourself wanting to know more you should read that article. So- what makes for a good comic book fight scene?
I feel like our friends at How To Fight Write could make you a beautiful list.
Maybe they’ll oblige us?
Well, it’s more a question of what you are looking for or want to be looking at. There are a lot of fabulous books and movies out there, but they are all interested in doing different things. So, the real question is what do you want? Other than a good fight scene.
Here are some of my favorites though:
For novels: the Conan the Barbarian catalogue and novels by Tamora Pierce are good, both are very good and you can learn a great deal from them.
For movies: When you’re looking for good fight scenes in movies, it’s always worth checking who did what and what they know.
Lord of the Rings has fairly realistic sword fights with actual technique.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) This is one of the finest swashbucklers from the Hollywood Golden Age. Howard Hill did the stunt shooting with the bow, the stuntmen were paid somewhere around $200 (that’s insanely real money for the time) to take arrows in the chest, Errol Flynn is charming, it’s got a great staff battle between Little John and Robin on a bridge, and Basil Rathbone was a real honest to god fencer. It’s a timeless classic and it’s worth noting that Errol Flynn hated Michael Curtiz partly because he forced him and Basil to fence with swords using real points to add an air of realism. (Captain Blood and The Seahawk are also very fun.)
GI Joe: The remake gets looked down on, but Byung Hung Lee and Ray Park (and their child counterparts) are absolutely fantastic to watch go at it. I can’t really recommend the second movie, as it uses shaky cam and jump cuts during the fight sequences and the two are moving so quickly it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on.
Expendables/Expendables 2: This is more of those really fun movies put together by aging acting stars, but they really know what they are doing when it comes to action. 2 is my favorite. Van Damme has a jump wheel kick I would sell my soul for (and he does it twice!). Getting to see Chuck Norris tell a Chuck Norris joke on screen is also a bonus. They do some neat and inventive stuff in this movie that might give you some ideas.
Lethal Weapon IV: He may be the bad guy, but see Jet Li take a gun apart with his knees while in the air.
The Karate Kid (Remake): Will Smith’s son and Jackie Chan star in this delightful remake set in China about a young boy who is transplanted from his home. The film stars a bevy of young action stars all of whom are martial artists (you want to know what trained children fighting looks like, it’s right here), gives a fairly nice primer on traditional training and spirituality versus bullying. Jackie Chan is awesome as usual and Michelle Yeoh has a cameo where she stares down a cobra. It was filmed in China, so the martial arts are all excellent and there’s only one white supporting cast member. I very much enjoy this movie and I think you will too!
Romeo Must Die: This was one of Jet Li’s earliest American movies set as a remake of Romeo and Juliet with Chinese versus African American mob with a young interracial couple caught in the middle while they try to work out who murdered their siblings. Jet Li does some amazing things with twist ties and some really cool stunts. On the plus side, the only white actors in the film are the NFL executives looking to buy up the waterfront property.
Rumble in the Bronx: This is an early American Jackie Chan movie (after he was finally able to get insurance in the states) it’s basically a bunch of long stunt fights strung together, but they are pretty fabulous.
RED/RED 2: RED is the better (and over the top) put together movie, but RED 2 with Byung Hung Lee is also pretty fun for his action sequences.
Highlander: the katana combat is silly, but the Italian school of fencing is actually neat. Adrian Paul specializes in aikido and it’s one of the few places you’ll see some interesting fight sequences using joint locks. The show spent most of it’s money on the stunts and it shows. (Season 2 has a great episode involving Duncan training Ritchie, which showcases how beating the crap out of someone teaches them nothing, and what it looks like when it’s done the right way.)
24: Starke would be mad at me if I didn’t mention 24, but it does have some really good fight sequences both with guns and hand to hand.
Burn Notice: This is more about tradecraft, but Michael Westin really does some cool stuff and explains it all to you in VO. It’s a must watch for anyone trying to write a spy. (Or just watch for Undead Larry. Undead Larry!)
There are plenty more than these, but this is what I could come up with off the top of my head.
They have obliged us.
That’s a lot of TV/movie recommendations and not a whole lot of book recommendations.
If I may, I have several author/book suggestions to add.
And this list is really just to get the ball rolling because I’m sure our followers will have some great suggestions as well! I hope this helps!
This is the second article in our series about Writing Violence. In this post,I thought I’d talk a little bit about Cause and Effect. For me, Cause and Effect are on the level of Show Don’t Tell in their importance both to descriptive writing and to generating a plot. Your plot is based entirely on a cause or an action and the effect of that cause or action on the characters and the world around them, your plot is put together through sequences of scenes that are based around your characters’ actions, their reactions, and the world’s or society’s reactions to those actions. Causes and their effects can be big and small, when working with violence, be that violence intellectual, emotional, or physical, and be those causes and effects big or small, they are all important to developing a realistic feeling in your story as a whole and in your characters individual actions.
Starke and I refer to this sense of realism as weight, as in your story feels grounded in reality. Ultimately, when we discuss realism in writing, it doesn’t matter whether your story is a high flying fantasy adventure, far flung future sci-fi, a historical piece, or a horror novel. So long as it crafts it’s own reality in keeping with the rules of cause and effect, you’ll be able to give your story, and the violence within it, weight.
Below, we’ll discuss how to do that.
Every Action Causes An Equal or Opposite Reaction
To steal one of Newton’s Laws, let’s talk about one of the biggest failures in fight scenes. Often, in many of the stories I read, authors are so focused on getting the fighting or the techniques used in the scene “right” that they neglect consideration of the surrounding details.
Take, for example, the line: “Virginia punched Charles in the gut.”
Now, in other kinds of descriptive writing, I might ask what kind of punch it was, but that’s not the most important question that you should be considering when looking to improve the sentence and the scene. The real question is: what happened to Charles?
Without changing much, we can improve the scene by adding a second line.
Virginia punched Charles in the gut. Body curling forward, Charles stumbled back as his hands rose to grasp his stomach.
Neither of these is, admittedly, very good, but see how much the scene improves? Charles’ body curling in to protect the important bits is a natural reaction to the pain inflicted on it by Virginia.
Now, let’s expand on the concept by adding a bench and another character named Amelia to the scene.
Virgina walked toward Charles. Instead of extending her hand in friendship as he’d expected, her fingers clenched into a fist. She rolled them over, slamming her knuckles up into his gut. Body curling forwards, Charles’ eyes widened as he exhaled sharply. As he should, she thought with a smile, all the air he’d stored up had just been forcibly expelled from his diaphragm.
"Charles!" Amelia, his girlfriend, shouted.
Charles stumbled back, calves knocking into the park bench not a foot behind him. The bench rocked and Charles tipped too far forwards onto the balls of his feet. Head swaying and green faced, he fell. His knees hit the dusty ground. His eyes rolled back. He leaned forward, inches from the toes of Virginia’s calf skin boots and, then, he hurked.
The scent of half-digested turkey and sausage stuffing lingered in Virginia’s nose.
"Charles!" Amelia cried again as she sank down beside him, gripping his shoulders. She glanced up at Virginia, her eyes harsh, flat, and furious. "What have you done?”
Virginia’s action of punching Charles causes the physical reaction of him throwing up on her shoes and Amelia’s emotional response condemning it. Violence is both physical and emotional in the reactions it evokes and should be represented in the destruction it causes on the surrounding environment. Remember, the glasses, chairs, tables, and tankards your characters destroy in a bar brawl are valuable property to the owner of that establishment. Your characters may have to pay the cost or risk never being able to go back there. The characters they beat up in the bar are going to be someone’s husband, sister, or friend. They may be more beloved in the community that they’re part of than your wandering drifters. Also, breaking a bottle will involve your character getting glass a fist full of glass embedded in their hand. A prolonged fight will cause your character to perspire and they run the risk of getting sweat (or blood) in their eyes.
Important details run from big to small, but they all work together to create that ‘weight’, that feeling of realism in your work. X happened so Y was the response. When Beth kicked James through the door, she broke it and had to pay $200 to repair it. When Jenna threw her dishware at a home invader, she had to buy paper plates to eat off of for that evening and she invited her friend John to stay over because she no longer felt safe. Then, Jenna cut her finger cleaning up the ceramic remains and had to repaint the walls where the plates hit.
This is the important push and pull, action and reaction, the consequences of even the most flawless plans yielding unintended catastrophe and unexpected results. This is important to remember when writing scenes involving violence because it is inherently divisive. Characters who engage in violence, even when that violence is justified, face harsher penalties and greater risks both to their physical selves and in their personal life.
Once you begin to think in these terms, the tension and drama inherent in your story will naturally unfold and writing violence will come a little easier.
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!