How to Fight Write

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Anonymous asked: Would a shotgun firing shot have less identifying ballistic evidence than a rifled gun such as a pistol? (In terms of matching fired rounds to a specific gun)

If it’s loaded with buckshot? Yes and no.

When you’re trying to match a bullet to a gun, usually you’re looking at the pattern of striations (scratches) on the bullet itself. This is caused by the bullet moving through the barrel and scraping across the rifling. This is what gets the bullet spinning, and keeps it from tumbling in the air, but it also leaves a distinctive pattern on the bullet itself.

Keep in mind, lead is a very soft metal, so firing into a concrete wall, or even just pulling it out of the victim with surgical tools will destroy some of those markings.

With a shotgun, the shot itself won’t have striations that you can tie back to a specific weapon, but the spent shells can still be forensically useful in identifying a weapon.

Spend shell casings pick up scraping and indentations from the firearm that they’re fed through. The firing pin will leave an indentation in the back of the shell casing. The breach block (which seals the battery/chamber when firing) will impress on the shell when it’s fired. And, finally, the feeding system, the extractor and ejector, will leave markings on the spent shell. And, all of these things will apply to a shotgun.

Spent shells can be useful for identifying the make and model of a weapon, and in some cases actually identifying a specific weapon (the same way bullets are). Though, my limited understanding is, that it is less useful for identifying a specific weapon, unless there is some anomaly or defect in the components that handle the shell.

However, if the shotgun isn’t cycled after being fired (with a lever or pump action) or reloaded (with a breach loaded shotgun), then there wouldn’t be any casings left at the scene.

Also, breach loading shotguns and revolvers won’t leave extractor markings, and some don’t even have ejectors. The extractor is the mechanism that removes a round from the magazine and cycles it into the chamber. The ejector removes a round from the chamber and kicks it out of the weapon, so the extractor can load the next round.

If the shotgun is loaded with slugs, and the barrel is rifled, then it should leave striations, though I’m not completely certain this is the case. A smooth-bore shotgun probably wouldn’t, though, again, I’m not sure.

Although it’s not generally an issue with shotguns, suppressors will further scrape the bullet, meaning they can make matching striations much harder or impossible.

-Starke

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Anonymous asked: Hi there! I am writing a novel and in it there is a character who learned self defense plus some martial arts skill online- watching youtube videos, and what not. First of all, I want to ask you how effective that would be? And If he comes into a fight with a person properly trained in a martial art, what would be his(online learning guy) weaknesses?

It’s not going to be that effective. Let me break it down.

Self-Defense: Self-defense training isn’t about learning how to fight, it’s about learning some tools and techniques to avoid trouble and extract yourself from a bad situation. All the techniques learned are geared toward providing the trainee to create openings that allow them to get away, to see trouble happening before it starts. “Do what you have to and get away” is the mantra. The techniques should be simple, easy to use, and capable of fitting a variety of situations. This isn’t always the case. Joint locks and throws were very popular in the 90s (and probably still are), the question is of course whether or not the student will remember how to do them a month or two later after only a few days or weeks of training.

Now, there are different schools of self-defense training. They also have different lengths. The best self-defense is consistent training, especially one where the instructor has a practical combat outlook. (The term “practical combat” can be confusing if you’ve never encountered it, it means the martial training has a total focus on “actual combat” or “real world combat” as opposed to sport or exhibition. Training with the expectation of real word application and usually restricted to students 18 or over. Here, you’ll see full contact training without pads because the only way to truly know how to do a technique is to experience it. Military combat styles, Police Academy, etc practice practical combat.)

The late Close Combat and Self-Defense Legend Rex Applegate is a good resource if you want to study the difference, so is Michael Janich. These are usually instructors who have a police or military background first and foremost with secondary martial arts training.

"Practical" self-defense will often include guns, knives, and other weapons as legitimate options to use when defending yourself. Because of the way non-martial artists and recreational martial artists think about the word "practical", "militant" self-defense is probably a more accurate term to use.

Your character probably isn’t doing this kind of training, but it’s a good idea to stop and really hammer out where they were taught self-defense and what kind of class it was.

Did they pay for it? Go to any YMCA or public gym and you’ll find flyers for different martial arts schools and occasionally self-defense seminars. Many martial arts schools offer their own brand of self-defense as part of their school’s offerings. Any shop, like many privately owned bookstores, might keep around flyers and other sorts of community events (such as cons and author readings). Privately taught self-defense can be expensive, ringing in around $80 to $200 (or more) for just a few weeks. However, colleges and other groups do offer some seminars for free. If your character was in the Boy Scouts (or possibly Girl Scouts), they may have gotten their self-defense training as part of their activities. Sheriffs offices and Police Precincts regularly offer self-defense seminars for free to the public. (The techniques taught are usually the public safety approved variation of Police hand to hand.) I recommend at least looking into these for research if you’re serious about this character as they won’t cost you anything more than your time. (If you’re under 18, you’ll need a legal guardian to sign the waiver and participate with you.)

How long was their session? The guy who put down $200-$400 for a two week retreat into the mountains where he trained six hours a day, every day, is going to look a little different from the guy who spent a few hours learning some throws in the college gymnasium.

Did they earn any certifications? Some courses offer certifications similar to the belt ranking system, but also put in a legal prohibition of teaching the techniques to anyone else. Gun disarm seminars often include these.

Remember, knowing how to do a thing doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach the thing. Just like me discussing the concept behind a technique doesn’t translate into practical application if you don’t already know how to do it. This segues us nicely into:

Martial Arts Instruction Through YouTube Videos:

No, it wouldn’t be effective. Just like many internet blogs, videos on YouTube are a form of self-promotion. The information handed out by martial arts instructors in those videos is useful for inspiring interest, drum up business for their studio, and help out trainees in their martial style who already have a school and instructor they train with.

Every so often, we get requests on this blog to sit down and teach what we know. My answer is always the same: you cannot learn martial arts by remote. You need the assistance of (at the very least) an instructor and of a training partner to actually learn how to properly do a technique. A video can show you a concept, it can show you step by step how something is supposed to be done, but it cannot correct your bad habits. Bad habits are inevitable. It can’t show you what the technique should feel like, it can’t push you to work harder, and it can’t help you beyond the concept. The concept may give your character confidence, just like reading through a variety of tags on this blog may have inspired you with confidence but what we are able to imagine doing and what we can do are separate things.

Example: Once, outside my apartment, I saw a little girl practicing cartwheels. Each time, she tried it but always stopped halfway and fell over. She tried again and again, but she couldn’t complete the cartwheel. Watching her, I could see what the problem was: at the beginning she wasn’t putting enough momentum in to carry her through the wheel. So, I told her “Hey, you need to throw yourself into it, use your arms more, like this,” and put my hands up over my head I showed her the motion. She looked at me strangely because I was a stranger, but then she tried it and immediately after completed the wheel. Afterwards, she did cartwheels all over the lawn.

When your character is doing the technique wrong, and they will because all beginners do, there will be no one there to help them. For a really good example of the difference, go sit down and watch The Karate Kid remake with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. In the movie, Jaden Smith’s character brings videos from his former Karate school with him to China and tries to rely on them for guidance when he’s bullied by kids who train at the famous Martial Arts school nearby. You can see where he’s going wrong when he’s practicing with the videos, but again, there’s no one around to fix it until he starts training with Jackie Chan. Really, watch it.

This is part of why I, personally, get frustrated when techniques are passed around the internet as self-defense without the context behind them. “Hey guys! Did you know you could choke someone out with your thighs!” Yes, I did actually that’s a triangle leg choke and, like all grappling moves, it’s really difficult to pull off without a lot of… “Pass this around! It could save a life!” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Watching videos on YouTube and even practicing them in your own home is likely to inspire you with confidence that you know how to fight, but is actually much more likely to get you killed. However, as writers, it’s great for conceptual work and studying up on the different personality traits and quirks martial arts inspire in their practitioners. Seriously, I love watching YouTube videos by different experts in the same style. It’s very illuminating about how different kinds of training affect personalities. For me, it’s basically just glorified people watching. For your character, it’ll probably fill them with false confidence.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Online Guy’s weaknesses versus Martial Arts Guy would be:

Slower: yeah, he may strike first, but he’s gonna be much slower both physically and mentally in terms of following what’s happening.

Lack the Ability to Chain: Martial artists train and train and train so that their techniques become second nature, so blocking or reacting to an attack becomes as instinctual as a non-martial artist trying to swat a fly. They can use their techniques together and switch them up. Basically: one, two, three. Online Guy will be lucky if he can pull off anything other than a one.

Less Adaptable: Depending on what Martial Arts Guy has been trained to do, he or she will probably be more adaptable than Online Guy, simply because they’ve spent more time doing different things. They’re more likely to go with what’s first and reactionary. Online Guy has only been trained to use his techniques in very specific situations, he’s going to have to think about each technique he uses. At the very least, he’s been trained to flee not to fight. (Traditional martial artists weaknesses are often that they’re trained to fight (sport), not to wound and flee.)

Sloppy Technique: Sloppiness, this translates to some holes in his defense and he’ll wear out much faster. Martial arts techniques teach conservation of movement, tighter technique expends less energy which allows you to fight longer. Online Guy will have less control, making him more likely to hurt his opponent even if he doesn’t want to. He will also be unbalanced, lack precision, and his body will telegraph his movements before he moves.

Isn’t Used to Kinetic Impact: Unless Online Guy spends a lot of time actually hitting other people, he won’t be used to the pain that comes from actually connecting someone else. Martial Arts Guy might not be ready for this either, but he has the help of practicing on pads.

Those are the big ones. The big thing to remember about Online Guy is that he thinks he knows what he’s doing, but actually doesn’t. He’s barely a novice, but those qualities are what make him dangerous.

-Michi

mandy-monstar said: Don’t forget that about 80% of what you find in ‘self defense’ youtube videos is downright wrong, a bad idea, and will get you killed very quickly in real life. Someone who studies from youtube will not just be less trained, they’ll be trained wrong.

Too true. Always source whoever you find.

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walkmanboy asked: I'm reading a Warhammer 40K novel (Gaunt's Ghosts) where an imperial commissar fights with a sword in his left hand and a pistol in his right. Is this at all a legitimate strategy? If it is I'd quite like to incorporate it into something I'm writing. Apologies if this has come up before, I'm new to the blog and am am going through your archive, great stuff!

Sort of. In the real world, you only see this in situations where combat is going to degenerate into melee anyway. The handgun is to open things, and then the combatants would switch off to their blades. Early modern boarding actions come to mind, though marines still expected to use their swords in close quarters as recently as the early 19th century.

This approach is more common in eras when firearms are difficult to reload in combat. Since you wouldn’t be able to reload before your opponent got into melee and started carving you up, why bother? Just pull a sword before you start.

Incidentally; if your character needs to reload, they need to put the sword away, reload, then get it back out. It’s doable (if someone else isn’t trying to stab them) but time consuming.

Incidentally, something you don’t see in 40k, that did occur, was rotating through multiple weapons rather than reloading. Blackbeard is infamous for (among many other things) carrying six loaded pistols into combat, and switching after each shot.

In 40k, a pistol and close combat weapon is a fairly common weapon choice for some factions, including the Imperial Guard. For Gaunt, the weapons are almost more badges of office than actual weapons. Commissars aren’t supposed to kill the enemies of the Imperium, they’re supposed to kill guardsmen that decide they’d rather run than go toe to toe with a Daemon, Carnifex or active Monolith.

One thing to note: Gaunt (and most of the characters in 40k) wield the close combat weapon in their dominant hand, with their pistol in their off hand. So, that’s a sword in his right hand, and a bolt pistol in his left. This is probably because it’s easier to operate a firearm with your off hand than a blade. I’d expect that setup follows over into the real world, but we’re dealing with a combat style that doesn’t have much of a place in the modern world, so I’m not entirely sure.

Also, some Chaos units are blade in left, pistol in right, but I’m just going to chalk that up to “they’re Chaos Marines, and we should all be thankful they’re not trying to kill us with a boombox from hell,” not that they found a way to make it work.

-Starke

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FightWrite: Your Killers Need to Kill

Killers need to kill. It’s surprising how many writers ignore this very specific and important piece of the ones they claim are killers, heartless or not. Sometimes, there’s a difference between the character we describe in the text and the actions the character takes. An author can tell me over and over that a character is a deadly and dangerous person who strikes ruthlessly without mercy, but if they don’t behave that way in the actual story then I’m not going to buy it.

Show versus tell: the difference between who the author says the character is and the actions the character takes in the story. Especially if the actions counteract the description. Now, you do have characters who lie, characters who misrepresent themselves, characters who say one thing and do another, but these are not the characters we’re talking about. This is about ensuring that you, the author, know the character you are writing. Unless you’re hiding their habits, let us glimpse the worst they’re capable of.

Monster. I could tell Jackson I was a monster, but he wouldn’t believe me. He saw a strawberry blonde, five feet eleven inches. A waitress, a Pilates nut, not a murderer. The nasty scar across my slim waist that I’d earned when I was ten? He thought I’d gotten it from a mugging at twenty one. Just as a natural layer of womanly fat hid away years of physical conditioning, I hid myself behind long hair, perky makeup, and a closet full of costumes bought from Macy’s and Forever 21. To him, I was Grace Johnson. The woman who cuddled beside him in bed, the woman who hogged the sheets, who screamed during horror movie jump scares, the woman who forgot to change the toilet paper, who baked cookies every Saturday morning, the woman who sometimes wore the same underwear three days in a row. The woman he loved.

No, I thought as I studied his eyes. Even with a useless arm hanging at my side, elbow crushed; my nose smashed, blood coursing down from the open gash in my forehead, a bullet wound in my shoulder, Sixteen’s gun in my hand, the dining room table shattered, and his grandmother’s China scattered across the floor. He’d never believe Grace Johnson was a lie. Not until I showed him, possibly not even then. Not for many more years to come. Probably, I caught my mental shrug, if he lives.

“Grace,” Jackson said. “Please…” The phone clattered the floor, his blue eyes wide, color draining from his lips. “This isn’t you.”

Gaze locking his, I levered Sixteen’s pistol at her knee.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Morrison will take you in, he’ll fix this.” Her voice cracked, almost a sob. For us, a destroyed limb was a death sentence. Once, we swore we’d die together. Now, she can mean it. “Thirteen, if you run then there’s no going back.”

My upper lip curled. “You don’t know me.” I had no idea which one I was talking to. “You never did.”

My finger squeezed the trigger.

Sixteen grunted, blood slipping down her lip. In the doorway, Jackson screamed.

Do it and mean it. Let it be part of their character development, regardless of if which way you intend to go. In the above example, there’s a dichotomy present between the character of Thirteen and her cover Grace Johnson. There’s some question, even for the character, about which of them they are. It sets up a beginning of growth for the character as she runs, but it also fails to answer what will be the central question in the story: who am I? Which way will I jump?

If Thirteen doesn’t kill Sixteen, if the scene answers the question at the beginning then why would you need to read the story?

Below the cut, we’ll talk about some ways to show their struggles.

-Michi

Read more …

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Anonymous asked: What are some things you think a writer should keep in mind before beginning revisions on their manuscript?

queryquagmire:

This is a great question! I’m surprised nobody has asked it yet.

Revision is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of courage, chutspah, and balls/ovaries of solid granite to rip something to shreds after you slaved over it for months. But it is a necessary part of the writing process and to skip it is to say good-bye to your dreams of publication. Why?

Because first drafts blow.

Seriously. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. It is a mythical creature native to the magical land of Wishfulthinkia. I don’t care if your name is Virginia Woolf and you can spout better prose in your sleep while wearing a mouth retainer than most authors will write in their lifetime. Your first drafts still suck.

And that’s why we revise. So stop arguing with me and just do it. Now, without further ado, here are some things I think writers should keep in mind before they dive into their revisions:

  1. No change is permanent. You can try a particular scene nine different ways before deciding on which way works best. You can change a character as many times as you want and eventually go back to the first iteration. So if you’re terrified that something new will actually be worse than what you had in the first place, fear not. You are not locked into any changes you make. You have no excuse not to try something crazy or experimental.
  2. No one is reading over your shoulder. It’s just you and the words on the page. So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to try something freaky. If it doesn’t work out, no one has to know it happened. No one has to know that you named a character “Dr. Sexy” for 78 pages before you picked a name for him. 
  3. Save each draft as a separate document. Not only is it smart to make back-ups, but if you delete something that you end up wanting to keep, you will have only to go back and pluck it from an earlier draft. Some authors even start writing the next draft from scratch, rather than copying and pasting from the original.
  4. Join a workshop/get a writing buddy/hire an editor. Outside feedback is essential to the writing process. If you’re writing in a vacuum, you will have no idea if your story actually works for an audience, or if it’s just an echo chamber of stuff you like. Writing buddies will also help identify flaws that you never noticed because after reading your own work seventeen times, it starts to look like ancient Aramaic. Don’t make the mistake of hiding away in your basement for draft after private draft. Get feedback after every draft, or even after every chapter of a single draft.
  5. Don’t ignore feedback just because you don’t like it. In fact, if you recoil in horror at a particular bit of advice, that’s a sign that you should probably examine it further. Question why you react to certain advice. And if you find that you only accept advice that sounds nice, well then you’re a spineless coward who should have her word processor taken away.
  6. Work on a schedule. Writing and revising is work. Act like it. Schedule regular breaks and commit to set time periods in which you will work on your writing. Not only will this make you more serious about the revision process, it’ll help you avoid needless procrastination. 
  7. "Kill your darlings." If you’ve ever read a single blog or book about the art of writing, you’ve heard this one. For the uninitiated: it means you need to be willing to sacrifice parts of the story that you love or that you worked really hard on in order to benefit the story as a whole. Really like that random flashback you wrote about Dr. Sexy’s time in med school, but it doesn’t actually provide any insight into the character or further the plot of the book? Cut it. Just love that plucky sidekick who is actually pretty useless and only serves to muck up already dense conversations? Give ‘em the axe. Then forget about them. Your story will be better for it.
  8. There’s no such thing as “perfect,” only “good enough.” You’re never going to get it exactly right. That way lies madness. But you can get close. And that’s what you should be shooting for. If you embrace perfectionism, you’re never going to get the damn thing in the hands of a publishing house. You’ll just be revising till the day you die.
  9. There is a difference between revising and copyediting and you should not do them at the same time. I know it’s hard to ignore typos in your work. You want to correct them as soon as you come upon them. To resist is painful. But you know what? Don’t. The process of editing naturally flows from the macro to the micro. Start with the big-picture editing: rewriting scenes, adding characters, revising whole conversations, changing the ending. Then work your way steadily down to the nit-picky edits: consistency of character names, making sure you’ve got your timeline straight, making sure your geography makes a lick of sense. Next work on your prose: making it sound pretty and poetic, using your writing tone to reflect the mood of a particular scene. Then and only then can you start editing for spelling, grammar, and syntax. If you start out by copyediting you’ll be wasting time in two ways: 1) You’ll be spending extra time reading line by line to catch errors that you could spend reworking the meat of the story, and 2) You run the risk of perfectly editing a chapter only to realize you need to rewrite 90% of it. So resist the urge to copyedit when you start revising.
  10. "But that’s how it happened in real life"/"But that’s how I first imagined it" is no excuse for shitty writing. The truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. So if the plot seems far-fetched, or if it strains belief, or if your readers say it just doesn’t make any fucking sense, don’t be afraid to change it. In fact, you must change it. I don’t care how sentimentally attached you are to the original version. The exception to this rule is of course nonfiction, in which you should never deviate from the facts because that is called lying.

I now open it up to the whole class: what do you guys keep in mind before you start revising your manuscripts? How do you prepare for the arduous task? 

~QQ

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Anonymous asked: Hi there! Quick question about strangling. I was going to have one of my characters use a garrote to strangle a man that was following her but then I started reading about choke-holds and thought that might be more believable than her just happening to have a garrote on her. My question is that since my character is rather petite would that effect her ability use choke-holds or are there ones specifically for petite people? Note : The characters been trained for years as a a kill for hire.

No, it wouldn’t. However, most choke holds, and garrotes, for that matter, are designed to be used from behind. So, a head on attack trying to choke someone out is just not going to work.

You can just go for the throat with both hands, but anyone who managed to stay awake through a self defense seminar should know how to break out of that. To say nothing of someone with actual combat experience.

Your character could crush his windpipe with her elbow, which would have mostly the same effect, but without her having to stick around and make sure that, “no, really he’s done trying to breathe and you can let go now.” The downside is, she’d need to be standing right next to him to do it.

Making sure someone stays down is actually an issue with most choke holds. While you can accidentally kill them with a blood choke (where you’re restricting the flow of blood into the brain, rather than the flow of air), most choke holds take a long time to kill someone.

They are useful for subduing someone long enough to get handcuffs on them, or for them to calm down (if it’s an anger thing), but actually incapacitating or killing? That’s a lot of time to spend on one combatant.

I’m not sure how long it takes to kill someone with a garrote. I’ve just never gotten reliable information on that one, sorry.

-Starke

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novacattrueborn asked: I write fiction set in the Classic Battletech universe and, while I have my main character pretty figured out as far as personality and psychology, I've hit a bit of a roadblock: When she's 33, she gets pregnant with fraternal twins. There's plenty of scientific research out there on pregnancy and symptoms/side effects, but not having a had a child myself, I'm having trouble pinning down both when the mother is able to feel the fetus move in utero and what it feels like.

Well, this is pretty much the exact opposite of the kind of questions we field on a regular basis but…

I remembered running across a post a couple weeks ago, turns out it was actually reblog of this list that Writer Help put out last month, and it should cover your question. Also, Write World put out what looks like a decent research primer last year.

I’ll admit, I’m not familiar enough with the Battletech setting to really know the state of it’s medical technology, and if the Clans use of genetic engineering, skews that information at all. That’s something you’d need to find in the source books, if it’s covered.

-Starke

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