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!
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:
We’ve all seen it in movies, comics and anime: the bad ass hero or the sexy heroine toting two handguns with barrels bigger than their forearms.
It looks cool, in both the design of the guns and the ability to blow orange-sized holes in the bodies of opponents. But is that even realistic?
Properties of a Handgun - Stopping Power
To answer that question, I need to talk about a few different things. First is the point of a handgun. As the name implies, a handgun is a weapon that’s meant to be both portable and concealed with relative ease. In order to have these things, a trade-off occurs between them and stopping power. Stopping power is the ability of a gun to cause an injury that would incapacitate a target, regardless if death occurs or not.
Compared to other ballistic weapons, like rifles, handguns suck at this job. Their rounds are weak and bullet-placement (not having shitty aim) has a much greater effect on target incapacitation. It is in this way that stopping power is also a reflection of the shooter. If you are not accurate with your shots, then your handgun is going to have less stopping power.
If you haven’t heard of the terms “knock down power” or “one stop shot”, then I’m sure you’ve at least seen them in an action flick somewhere. You know the scene where the righteous law-man shoots the outlaw in the chest with one shot and then the bad guy is knocked flat on his ass? This is a myth propagated by Hollywood. There isn’t a handgun that can stop a man with one shot nor is there one that cause you to fall backwards. The energy of a bullet fired from a handgun is pretty low and simply doesn’t have the power to do either of those things.
I don’t believe you! Those incredibly large guns look pretty powerful. They must be high caliber, and high caliber means more power, right?
Perhaps. Let’s take a look at what high caliber really means and then we can see the effect that it has on stopping power.
First, caliber is the internal diameter of a gun barrel. The size of the round is determined by what best matches that diameter. In terms of damage to the body, a bigger bullet is generally a better bullet. Higher caliber bullets have leave a larger permanent cavity, which refers to the hole left by a projectile. In research done with ballistics gel presented by Dave Spaulding (see sources below), the larger caliber bullets (.45 cal) did 15-20% more damage than smaller caliber bullets (9mm). Now that sounds significant but, that 15-20% was measured in millimeters. So, even if the larger bullet is better, it’s not going to make up for the shortfalls of the shooter.
But what about those orange-sized holes where you can see through the body of the victim?
I’m sorry to tell you guys, but that’s not realistic. I asked Teye, my former Marine and source of all things pew pew, what he knew about this. I was informed that the entry wound, (where the bullet enters the body) would be the size of the projectile, regardless of the caliber. If you shot someone at point-blank range with a .45 or a .50 caliber handgun, then you would probably see the exit wound (where the bullet exits the body) be of a significant size. That means you’re just not going to see the kind of through-and-through depicted above in a real world setting.
Alright then, what about explosive rounds?
Explosive rounds for handguns are fiction, pure and simple. They exist in the real world for heavy machine guns, anti-material rifles and other large weaponry. They’re called HEIAP (High Explosive Incendiary/Armor Piercing Ammunition) or SAPHEI (Semi-Armor Piercing High Explosive Incendiary). If you want to use smaller versions of these for handguns in your storyverse, then by all means do so. Just make sure it fits your world!
Let’s Talk About Recoil
Yeah, recoil gets its own section. Recoil, also commonly called knock-back, kick-back or kick, is the backward momentum of a gun when it is fired. The recoil is going to match the forward momentum. In terms of a handgun, the momentum is going to be transferred from the gun, through the body of the shooter and to the ground. Generally larger caliber handguns will generate greater recoil because the projectile is larger so it requires a greater force (and more gunpowder) to move the bullet. Larger caliber handguns also tend to be a lot heavier to accommodate larger ammunition.
When choosing a handgun for your character it is very important to keep in mind the amount of recoil that gun is going to generate and whether or not your character can handle it. Their level of experience with handguns as well as their weight, and strength are all factors to consider.
My protagonist, Kyu, was taught how to shoot by her grandmother, so she has range firing experience with handguns. The problem lies with the fact that she’s about 110 pounds, so giving her a weapon with a high kickback would be silly. She likely wouldn’t be able to handle the recoil from something like a Desert Eagle and might get whacked in the face.
Case in point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIHotBcp0l0
And just to be fair: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-M7FgKedUk
Even considering the fact that both people in the videos are likely not experienced, you can still see the power behind a large caliber hand gun like the Desert Eagle. In both cases neither were expecting the recoil. The thing with recoil is you can learn to prepare for it and get used to it. My character has never fired a large caliber handgun before so the result certainly wouldn’t be smooth.
The gun I decided to use for Kyu was a Glock 19 since the Glock model is widely used by security and law-enforcement (the 22 and 23 are both used by the FBI). The 19 specifically is a compact model with low recoil and 9mm ammunition that I felt she would be comfortable handling. It’s also not nearly as loud as larger caliber models. Being comfortable with a handgun in all aspects generally leads to higher accuracy with the weapon. It is important to know what to expect from your gun, even when you don’t know what to expect from a situation where you have to use it. The less unknown variables you have to deal with, the better.
Glock 19 vs. a .45 fired by someone with more experience. You can still tell the difference in recoil from the slow motion shots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5782pVYrwU
Gun Barrel Length
The longer the barrel of your gun, the more time your gunpowder has to burn when you fire a shot. This allows for a greater pressure build up, which will propel your bullet at a higher rate of speed. This will cause your bullet to hit harder, and in terms of trajectory, have a flatter shot (meaning it doesn’t or has less of an arc, think of when you hit a baseball).
A gun has two sights, a rear sight and a front sight.
Say you were looking at a target at a firing range. You line up the rear sight with the dot on the target that you want to hit and then adjust the front sight so it intersects that dot. The longer the gun barrel, the more accurate the shot because your front sight is going to be closer to your target than it would if your gun had a shorter barrel. There is going to be a smaller margin for visual human error when aiming.
The only issue with large barrels is that having one severely decreases the portability and concealability of your handgun.
Shooting Two Handguns at Once
It’s possible, but the human eye cannot aim two guns at once so your accuracy is probably going to suck. Those pinpoint shots you see in movies are bullshit. With two guns, you’re going to be stuck using point shooting, which relies on instinctive reactions and is often used in life-threatening situations when you simply don’t have time to aim a shot. You’re also going to have to deal with holding two guns at once, having one arm to support the weight of each and their recoil, so if you’re character isn’t strong, they may have a hard time pulling this off.
Since dual wielding is inaccurate, your character will probably empty the clips of both weapons just to make sure he killed whatever he’d been shooting. Handgun ammunition capacities have a pretty extensive range. Revolvers tend to be either 5 or 6 rounds while other handguns (pistols) can be modified with extended clips of about 30 rounds or drums to increase their capacities to about 40. There are ways to extend this further of course, but that dips into serious modification territory and I question why you wouldn’t just switch to an Uzi (32-round standard, 40-50 round extended, 22 round for the micro version) or another submachine gun at that point.
Regardless of what you use, reloading is going to be an issue. Reloading a weapon is meant to be quick and since you no longer have a free hand while dual wielding, you’re character is going to have to waste time setting one of the guns down and putting in a new clip. He’s also going to have to do it again. In that time whoever he’s fighting is probably going to kill him or find a way to get around his cover. So unless you can come up for a realistic solution to this problem (and don’t use the infinite ammo cop-out), dual wielding handguns is just going to end up being silly.
Well what about in Underworld or Resident Evil where they have ways to quickly reload spent clips from their belts or holster straps?
Yeah those sorts of things don’t exist right now. There is some liberty with reloading methods if your story takes place in a futuristic setting, but if your story is in modern times, you’re SOL.
Fun with Tropes!
Mythbusters tests out the dual wielding trope. They hit the targets but if you compared the dual wielded shots to using a single weapon, there wouldn’t even be a contest when it came to the overall accuracy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HhY2xQr0zw
TV Tropes Page (I’ll never see you guys again D:): http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GunsAkimbo
What you’ve seen in media is lies, liiiieeees.
But, just because Hollywood, comic books and anime tend to embellish the truth, doesn’t mean that they’re portrayals aren’t awesome. You can feel free to modify the way handguns work with your characters and your world, as long as you remember the real concepts behind them. That’s what being creative is. :)
My boyfriend Teye, a former Marine.
The work of Dave Spalding, a 28-year law enforcement veteran who retired at the rank of lieutenant, and then went to work for a federal security contractor. He’s currently a trainer for law enforcement and his website can be found at: http://www.handguncombatives.com/.
The work of Jeff Cooper, a former Marine. He is considered the father of “the Modern Technique” of handgun shooting.
The first three images are from Hellsing by Kouta Hirano.
The image in the dual wield section is from the film Equilibirum.
I did pluck the recoil definition from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recoil). I rarely use Wiki directly but that information was actually solid.
Side Note: I’m not picking on Hellsing with this article. I love Hellsing. It’s just the only example that came to mind when I thought of oversized handgun, unless you wanted me to use this:
What, he’s using one hand. It totally counts, right? Curse you Superman at Earth’s End (which belongs to DC).
Fighting in Suits
Doing research to add realism to your writing is incredibly important, so I figured I’d start a post series concerning the various questions I’ve had, and the answers I’ve come across regarding this subject.
I have a lot of fight scenes in my novel and I have a character who wears a suit all of the time. Anyone who has ever worn a suit knows they don’t allow for a great range of movement and I’m surprised that James Bond hasn’t torn more of them considering how many fights he gets into. But as we all know, Hollywood tends to lie and I was curious if fighting in a suit was even possible.
In my search I stumbled across this wonderful article: http://www.vulture.com/2012/11/bespoke-tailor-explains-james-bonds-suits.html
It’s an interview with a professional tailor and he tells exactly what he would do to a suit in order to make it viable to wear in a fight:
How would you tailor a suit or tuxedo to make it fighting-ready?
Armholes would be high. That’s the key thing — armholes have to be high. The shoulders have to be natural, so as little shoulder pad as possible. Small armhole, but the sleeve has to be a little bit fuller, so you’re able to just raise your arms up. Also, it has to be the correct width for the arm. It shouldn’t be too wide or too close. There’s no general rule on how it should be – it depends on the customer’s arm.
And what about if someone needed to be able to kick. What alterations would need to be made?
Oh, they would definitely have to be comfortable wearing their trousers really high. Because if you’re wearing a low-cut trouser, then you’d have to wear a fuller cut in order to have that comfort. But if you want to wear a nice, skinny trouser, a slim-fitting trouser, then you have to be comfortable wearing your crotch high. Pretty much, the key for that kind of movement is the crotch. Like, the jacket would be the armhole, for the trouser it would be the crotch.
How would a suit need to be cut for the wearer to be comfortable carrying a handgun?
I’ve done a suit for someone who carries a small .22 – legally that is [laughs]. The thing is a fuller chest. So right under the ribcage, exactly that position where the weapon would be concealed, that would be fuller. And then everything else would be tapered down.
There seems to be a lot of very specific alterations needed. Would it be possible for James Bond to do his thing if the suit wasn’t specifically made for him?
No, no. It’s not possible. There’s no fixed amount of how deep or how wide the armhole should be. It all depends on that customer. How your arms are when you’re standing relaxed is incredibly important: Are they forward, are they slouching to the side, are they a little back as if your chest is pushing up? The balance of the sleeve has to be just in the right place and Bond wouldn’t get the accuracy necessary without it being costumed.
So yes fellow writers, it is indeed possible to realistically fight in a suit when your character is wearing one that’s specially tailored. Be sure to check out the full article for more great information!
Anonymous asked: do you have any tips for writing combat scenes?
Thank you for your question!
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