Rachel Aaron (via relatedworlds)
Yeah, so, this answers a lot of asks I get. It’s also why YW focuses on technique and style, and less on content and research.
Rachel Aaron (via relatedworlds)
Yeah, so, this answers a lot of asks I get. It’s also why YW focuses on technique and style, and less on content and research.
Here’s renowned self-defense instructor Kelly McCann talking about rage and it’s place in a fight. He also talks a little bit about legality and why jumping in fists swinging just isn’t a good idea.
When working with this in a writing context, it’s important to remember when you’re building characters to moderate their aggression. Combat is about control, controlling your opponent and keeping control of yourself. It’s important not to confuse guided rage with berserker, and also important not to confuse those things with “professional combatant”. No matter who they are, your characters are going to be working within the boundaries of some sort of legal system.
So, try not to go hog wild.
Huh, I stand corrected. I get why I screwed it up too. My first hand experience with black powder was from a muzzle loader back when I was in Scouts. That thing had an insane kick, though I was also about 11 at the time. But, it’s an experience that’s stuck with me.
…and reblogging this to the right place.
Yeah, this I can completely agree with.
We tend to skim over how to do research when we’re making recommendations, but, some basic things to keep in mind.
First: always research the author before you start reading. This is for all kinds of reasons. You can usually start with their wiki bio, if they have one, or sometimes the bio in their book. Depending on who it is, that might be enough. In other cases, as with someone like Diamond, you’re going to have to go further afield and look at what people are saying about them.
You don’t need to know everything about the author, but you do need a baseline of who the are. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction.
Second: take everything anyone says with a grain of salt. Everyone, and I mean everyone, including both you and me, has an agenda. When you’re reading someone’s work ask yourself why they wrote this. Why are the making the argument? Or, sometimes, in the case of fiction, what argument are they making?
This is why I told you to research the author before you started reading. It will help gauge their motives.
For example: how does your understanding of Jurassic Park change, when you know that Michael Crichton was an MD?
One of my first classes, the professor started by saying, “everything is political.” What she meant was your personal philosophy influences everything you do. The same is true for everyone else. Why did they write this story? Why did they write it this way? What are they trying to say to you?
In a similar note: be immediately suspicious of anyone who tells you, “no really, this very complex system is really quite simple.” If it was, it wouldn’t really be complex. The cause (or causes) may be, but the resulting social fractal is anything but.
Third: Look at what the critics said. This goes for both fiction and non-fiction. Though, for non-fiction you’ll often have to dig through trade journals for the book reviews. Look for what they noticed that you didn’t.
Seriously, you can learn a lot about how to put a story together from reading through the reviews Roger Ebert wrote. There are literally thousands of pages of him telling you what did or didn’t work in a story. Some of that strictly pertains to film, but go ahead and take a look, you will learn something.
Finally: What did other people in the field say in response. When I say, “this is a place to start,” I don’t mean this is all you need to look at. Look at the sources they’re using. Look at what other people say on the subject. Look for names that keep popping up in a field, and find out what they’re saying.
A quick aside, if you’re coming into a field from the outside, go through 10-15 articles on the subject, and look at the names the authors keep mentioning, then go find what those people wrote.
But, this also happens in fiction, and it leads to a really degenerate criticism. “It’s just a ripoff of my favorite thing.” That’s almost never true.
No, someone didn’t go out there and write a ripoff of Constantine with a teenage lovechild. They were responding to Hellblazer, or Supernatural, or The X-Files, or Watchmen, or Twilight, or Anne Rice, or whatever, and said, “no, what this really needs is X.”
Because everything is better with Steven Williams.
I don’t think what Twilight needed was
hardcore S&M torture porn, though, obviously, someone disagreed.
I don’t mean the author was automatically right. They might not have actually said anything interesting. But, ultimately, that’s a personal judgement you need to make on a case by case basis.
Very few creative people will be truly satisfied by just playing in someone else’s sandbox forever. When they go there, there’s usually a reason that has nothing to do with, “I just wanted to copy their success.” Try to find out what it is. When you start seeing similarities, immediately start looking the differences as well, and ask yourself, “what does this mean?” “What are they trying to say?”
Sometimes they’re just learning. But, other times, you’ll see things you never thought of.
Hopefully this will help some of you, when we’re tossing out recommendations in the future.
I’m assuming, when you say “recent anthropological scholarship” you’re not talking about Guns, Germs and Steel, given that the book was published in 1997. That might be a legitimate critique of Collapse, though, I’m not sure. It’s also possible that Diamond’s gone off his gourd since I got out of college.
So, for the uninitiated, this is kind of how academia works. Someone publishes a thing, and then everyone else dog piles on to tear it apart and look for it’s flaws. The more prominent the literature, the bigger the dog pile. The further it is from the field’s norm, the more savage the critiques.
If I’m completely honest, I actually tend to forget that Guns, Germs and Steel is supposed to be an anthropology text. To me, it’s always read more like a (sharp) criticism of Huntington’s civilizations model. Stopping just short of actually calling Huntington a racist by name.
And, as a result, I’m not surprised at all that Diamond drives mainstream anthropologists absolutely nuts. He’s taking the study of people, and then ignoring the role of people in social development.
That’s a big part of what Jason Antrosio (the author behind Living Anthropologically) seems to be taking issue with.
He does make a few good points, though. Diamond is prone to making sweeping generalizations. I’ll take it over something like Michael Walzer’s horrifying attention to minutiae, paragraphs that never stop, and pathological fear of footnotes. But, this is one of those, endless debates, between providing enough information without providing too much. As writers all of us should be familiar with that dilemma.
By definition, Guns, Germs and Steel is incredibly deterministic, which is one of Antrosio’s points. It’s a valid. Philosophically, the book is sort of saying that individuals are meaningless in the grand scheme of human development. That factors like the distribution of physical resources, actually shape a culture. But, I’m not sure I buy Antrosio’s claim that this somehow reveals a deep failing in Diamond’s work, especially given what the book was reacting to.
So, why am I recommending Diamond? Because he’s accessible.
For your writing, having a coherent world model you can build and tear apart is invaluable. Also, because of the deterministic qualities, it provides you with a racially agnostic system. Now, that probably doesn’t mesh with how you view the world, but when you’re building a world from scratch, it can be immensely useful.
If you’re never going into anthropology, the issues with his work probably won’t matter (though, obviously, that’s a point of debate). If you are, then you’ll have professors who will show you the error of your ways, they’re used to doing that. So, I’m still inclined to say Diamond’s a resource point, even if he isn’t perfect.
At a guess? Black powder kicks harder than modern gunpowder, so, you’d need to use less. The fouling would be an issue, though, as tolerant as AKs are for abuse in general, I’d be inclined to think they might be able to handle it, if they were properly maintained. Obviously, that is a recipe for a fantastic barrel failure down the line if it just builds up.
From what I’ve been told intermittently, the Soviet era rounds that the AK was built to handle were pretty nasty to begin with. Though obviously, nothing on par with just loading the thing up with black powder, but this isn’t as completely implausible as it might sound.
If that isn’t an issue, the biggest problem might actually be the gun smoke obscuring the shooter’s vision.
Anyway, that’s off the top of my head, I’m probably not considering something.
EDIT: As someone has pointed out, I’ve actually got the black powder part backwards. This is the risk of going off the top of my head, once in a while, something will go slightly screwy.
So, instead we’re actually looking at sub-par ballistics in addition to the smoke, and possible for barrel failure. Also, the vague possibility that the round won’t push enough force to cycle the action.
Some of this can be compensated for by hot loading the rounds, but that’s solving one problem by creating another. I’m not sure if hot loading an AK round would require a shorter bullet in the cartridge, nor if hot loaded rounds would, in fact, be more prone to detonating in the action.
Either way, you would be adding more powder to the barrel which means faster fouling.
So… yeah… just this side of possible, but still problematic.
Well, depending on how you define swords, there’s always machetes. They occupy an uneasy place between a long knife and a shortsword. They’re more of a tool than a weapon, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for your characters to have them.
With modern combat doctrine, the best use for a bow are those times when you need to kill someone absolutely silently at pistol range. It works best with very aggressive situations, where the point is to break an enemy position without them knowing they’re under attack. Which, doesn’t really sound like scouting or patrol to me.
Given we’re talking about modern hardware, you’re more likely looking at something like a modern mechanical compound bow than a short bow.
This doesn’t exactly mesh with my understanding of recon operations. Where the point is to find the enemy, get back out safely, and report what they saw so main line infantry can go in and kill the enemy.
Having just cited Jared Diamond on the proliferation of guns, the last element of this is probably the biggest issue. Bullets are really easy to make. The Metro books by Dmitry Glukhovsky (as well as the games based on the setting), and Jack McDevitt’s Eternity Road both come to mind as settings where industrial production is gone, but firearms live on.
If your characters are part of a larger organization, it’s distinctly likely they’ll have firearms. Those guns might be shoddy and more likely to explode in their hands than shoot straight. But, they’ll have them. Just look up the kinds of random scrap people make zip guns out of today, if you haven’t already.
As for bullets, hand loading, with the right tools, is incredibly easy. I could see a situation where they might have to improvise on bullet material, powder, primer, and potentially even their shell casings. But, if they’re part of a larger organization, I doubt you’d see a situation where they weren’t being given bullets.
I recently ran across a channel on youtube that’s almost nothing but a couple of guys loading whatever comes to hand into shotgun shells. From coin shot to silly putty, they’re demonstrating how stupidly resilient the technology is. You probably wouldn’t want to make rounds for a modern AR out of melted down soda cans, but if that’s what you have access to, that’s what you’ll need to work with.
Poor quality ammo might restrict them to bolt action rifles, or revolvers, but even there, if this is a decently run para-military organization, they should have enough people who know what they’re looking for in ammunition to have the ability to produce decent quality rounds.
And, as always, shotguns will take practically any crap you can find. Your characters might be loading rusty nails into a jury-rigged breach loading double barrel, but, it’s still a gun, and it will kill someone. Even if their people are having to make the powder and primers themselves.
EDIT: I’m adding this comment from Disasterintow, because it’s on point, and they’re right, making arrows is a pain:
disasterintow said: Two things: bows are better for mounted scouting if the horses aren’t trained ahead of time for ballistic weapons (yay for loud noises) and two, arrows are actually harder to make than common caliber rounds for the untrained.
The Ninja: I don’t mean actual historical ninjas. This is the cultural perception of guys in black masks who leap between buildings like Spider-Man. The Assassin’s Creed assassins a.k.a the guys who can’t kill their way out of a paper bag. The supposedly human character whose training gives them a hefty dose of superpowers with a side of Orientalism and fetishizing of “insert Eastern culture here”. Believe it or not guys, people do look up.
The Forced Prodigy: “My character is a super awesome killer, but they were forced to learn these skills”. No. In order to be good at something, you have to enjoy it and you have to want to be good at it. You have to want to learn. An assassin is a hired killer, they kill people for either money or a cause. They stalk them, they invade their lives, they learn everything they can about their target, and then they hunt them down. It’s not the sort of profession you thrive in if you’re squeamish. More, the sorts of organizations we’re talking about aren’t going to take someone who doesn’t want to learn or train someone who actively resents them. Talent isn’t everything, in the long run it actually means very little. Someone who wants want you’re offering, who sees this new addition in their life as an improvement, is much more valuable. The individual who chooses the life, even if it was originally chosen for them, will always beat out the unwilling no matter how much natural talent they possess. There are plenty of other candidates where your character came from. If you want them to succeed, they’re going to have to prove themselves.
Undone By Love: You mentioned this one. The Best Assassin in the World is undone by… a pretty face? What? Seduction is a standard part of the assassin package for men and women. It’s a lot easier to kill someone by attacking their blind spot and history proves sexual attraction is a great one. Assassins are going to be deeply screwed up individuals, their understanding of normal is nowhere near the standard cultural baseline. It’s easiest to start understanding it by assuming everything you understand is inverted: kindness is a lie, interest means you want something, trust is a sign of an inevitable back stab. When you live in a world of shadows and lies, paranoia is inevitable. “Normal” people are either background noise or enemies in disguise. Staying one step ahead is how you stay alive and if you can do this to other people then it can also be done to you. So, someone who shows them kindness? Why would they ever trust that?
The Oliver Twist: This is like Undone by Love. The idea is that once the assassin gets a taste of real life outside the walls of their compound, once they experience kindness, once they experience normalcy, they’re going to want that and realize their life has been a lie. “I just want to be normal’. Well, this comes from a mistaken assumption on the part of the author about the character because they’re assuming:
1) that they’re baseline for normal is normal.
2) that once exposed, everyone is going to want to have what they have and be like them.
An assassin is trained with the understanding that they will eventually go out into the “real world”. Part of their job is infiltration and that means learning how to fit in, perhaps in a multitude of different cultures. Psychology, human behavior, seduction, and general social skills are going to be part of the package. You can’t manipulate individuals without understanding them, understanding their concept of normal is going to be necessary. Normal is relative. It’s important to consider that a character who kills people for a living may not want to be like the people they kill or like their creator (you).
Biting the Hand That Feeds Them: The assassin goes out into the world, realizes what they are, has an epiphany, and says “I must stand against the evil!”. This is an assumption about morals. Killing is wrong, ergo the assassin must be wrong, when they realize they are wrong they will want to make it right by… killing more people? Welcome to Saturday Morning Cartoon morality, where things are black and white and everyone is immortal until someone slits their throat. Death is the natural conclusion to life. People die. In fact, they die all the time. If your character is a professional assassin, they’ve made peace with murder and the muddy waters they wade through. They kill. Death is part of them. Why is one person more or less worthy of life than another? In their mind, some of the people they kill may indeed have it coming. What makes their organization and what they do so much worse than the good guys?
Writing any character who fights involves wrestling your personal philosophy and your morals. Why we fight, why we kill, why we commit atrocities have been a central focus of human philosophy throughout history. There aren’t any easy answers to those questions, nor are there universal ones. Like spies, assassins are among the hardest to understand because of the manner in which they kill. They have to be able to empathize with their target, they don’t have the same luxury of dehumanization that a soldier does. They get to know people with the intent to kill and if you’re not able to get comfortable with that then writing it can be very hard.
The Assassin With A Heart of Gold: The assumption that turning around on their masters makes them a good person, or that doing the right thing somehow absolves them. Black Widow’s “red ledger” line from Avengers. Essentially, the Atoner. I’m sick of the Atoning Assassin. “I’m doing the right thing because I want to make up for my past mistakes” by killing more people. I mean, sure, it’s funny but really. They’re essentially doing the exact same thing they did before but this time it’s okay because of authorial fiat. They’re working for the good guys now. That makes them a good person.
No. They may have changed sides, but if they’re still killing then they’re still the same person. At it’s heart, killing is killing. There is no good killing and no bad killing, there’s just killing. Every person is someone’s mother or father, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, every person your character kills matters to someone. It’s not people in general, or those people over there, the person being killed is an individual. Your assassin knows they’re killing an individual, they know that because it’s part of their training.
So, why does this individual matter? What is it about this one that made them change their mind? They go through all their training, fully understanding what they’re being asked to do because it won’t work if they don’t, kill all those other people and then they get to this one person who makes them realize their entire life is wrong? Why? It’s not because they’ve suddenly realized killing is wrong.
Figure it out or become an internally inconsistent cliche.
So, what would we personally like to see more of?
Well, don’t do the above and you’re well on your way to what we’d like to see. The Professional Assassin, The Cheerful Assassin, and The Gleeful Assassin, so long as they aren’t presented as villains. Personality types that go in for something other than “sour, dour, moody, broody” and “angsty, whiny, poor me, victim”. Characters who don’t sit around talking about how awesome and dangerous they are or make grandiose claims about their skill set while never backing it up.
What about you, followers? What assassin archetypes do you hate? What would you like to see more of in fiction?