March 12th, 2018

Write the Good Fight

Piper Bayard
of Bayard & Holmes

Everyone loves a good fight, and a good fight scene is arguably the heart of every thriller. But as NYT Bestseller James Rollins says, in fiction, never use the same killing method twice in the same book. As a result, fiction writers are always looking for a new twist on a fight scene.

 

Note the bottles in their hands. They are armed.

 

Since my writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a forty-year veteran of the military and intelligence communities, we are often asked what weapons we prefer for fights. As Holmes says, “My favorite weapon is my radio. I use it to call in air strikes.” However, in lieu of having the US Air Force in our backpacks, we writers can “punch up” our fight scenes by using common objects as weapons.

I could give you a list of common objects that can be used as weapons, but that would actually limit you, and I don’t want to do that. That’s because with the right attitude, virtually anything can be used as a weapon. Which brings me to attitude—the first ingredient to surviving a fight.

My husband (not Holmes) literally has to teach karate black belts self-defense because skill with punches, kicks, and weapons are irrelevant if a person doesn’t understand the kill-or-die mindset that is so often necessary to survive a battle outside of a refereed ring. In other words, the most important weapons a character brings to a fight are their heart and their mind. They must be determined to do whatever it takes to keep themselves safe and disable or kill their opponent. Once they see the world in those terms, potential weapons are everywhere.

Before I continue, the recovering attorney in me demands that I make it clear that this post is not meant to be formal instruction in self-defense.

In truth, Holmes and I both advocate firearms training for the best self-defense, but shooting too many people in books tends to make for boring books. So we’re going to explore a bit more about common objects as weapons—strictly for the purposes of writing fictional fight scenes.

If we can stab with it, it’s a weapon. If we can jab with it, it’s a weapon.  If we can use it to hit someone, it’s a weapon. If we can throw it, it’s a weapon.

When we think that way, and almost everything in our environment is a weapon. Holmes and I have literally killed off people in our books with cactus, knitting needles, and sheep. To be fair, the sheep was an active participant, but you get the idea.

Let’s do an exercise right now.  I’ll do it with you. Let’s look around our immediate environment and ask ourselves these questions:

  1. Can I stab with it?

The pens and pencils here on my desk can stab out an eye or puncture a jugular vein.

  1. Can I jab with it?

These handy thought facilitators, a.k.a. desk toys, could jab an eye, throat, or a groin to give me a fighting advantage. This newspaper can be rolled up tight and jabbed into a groin, a kidney, or an eye.

 

My actual jabbing weapons.

 

  1. Can I hit with it?

The pottery lamp could double as a bat, or my computer could be the extra weight and reach I need to land a blow. . . . I know what you’re thinking. Yes. My computer really is old enough to be a heavy weapon. I’m going to use it as a brick in a custom design in my house someday.

  1. Can I throw it?

Books! And look . . . My first manuscript. No one has survived that one. This glass elephant or the heavy glass pencil cup should be good for a concussion, or at least a distraction so that I can grab the lamp. . . . And there’s a cup of hot tea!

We’re going to pause a moment to consider hot beverages. Hot beverages are the versatile paydirt of social interactions, including a good fight. Since one “picture” is worth a thousand words . . .

One of my acquaintances—a seriously badass retired French Foreign Legion guy who we’ll call “T”—owns a bar in Texas. One night, a couple of men were causing trouble with the clientele, so he booted them out. When he closed down the bar, he armed himself in case the two undesirables were hanging out for another round of unpleasantries. He poured two cups of coffee.

Wait! Coffee? . . . Wouldn’t this badass grab something more impressive like nunchakus, a knife, or a gun?

Nope. Just coffee. Sure enough, the idiots tried to jump T between the building and his car. T threw the steaming coffee in their eyes and took out their knees with a couple of kicks while they screamed. . . . The lesson? Never underestimate the power of a hot beverage.

The hot beverage container can also be an effective weapon. My husband carries his metal mug with him everywhere he goes. It can be used to block a knife or strike an opponent . . . Coffee. Never get in a fight without it.

 

Innocent romantic beverages,
or opening salvo of a lethal attack?
You decide.

 

Extra Credit Challenge: As you go through your day, look around each space you enter, study your environment, and repeat the above questions to yourself. You’ll be amazed to be surrounded by so many weapons.

Now that we have a weapon, where do we strike?

Anywhere we can. It’s all well and good to imagine a nice Hollywood fight where we grab a kitchen knife and slide it perfectly between the ribs and into the heart of a bad guy who is holding still for the stab. In real life, attackers aren’t usually so accommodating. It’s much more effective to keep in mind some sensitive body parts and go for whatever openings present themselves in that split second.

Eyes are at the top of the list of sensitive parts. Some bleach, salt, coffee, sand, or anything else that can be painful and blinding in the eyes is always a good move.

We might ask why the groin is not at the top of the list. The groin is a great target. However, people, particularly men, are quite adept at protecting their tender bits, so the groin shot might not be the easiest blow to land.

Other key body parts that can distract or disable if impacted are the ankles, the shins, the knees, kidneys, solar plexus, and the throat. And of course, there’s a good old-fashioned blow to the temple, which can be lethal. Keep in mind that any blow that is hard enough to cause the head to turn is more likely to produce a concussion or even death than a blow that does not spin the head.

Now that we’re actually in the struggle, I’ll reiterate that the most important weapons are the heart and mind.

Don’t be set on any one move. Instead, go with the fight and take the shots that present themselves. Be aware that one jab won’t be enough. Follow through, and don’t stop just because they fall—they won’t necessarily stay down. Our characters must be willing to stay on the opponent until they are clearly dead or disabled, and recovery isn’t an option.

Bottom Line: A fight for survival can be the most creative part of a book. Just remember to stab, jab, whack, or throw, and don’t stop until the opponent is clearly dead or at least down for the count.

What common objects did you find that could be used as weapons? Do your characters have any particular “weapons” they prefer?

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Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Jay Holmes is a forty-year veteran of the military and intelligence communities. Together, Bayard & Holmes write espionage fiction and nonfiction. Their upcoming nonfiction release, SPYCRAFT: Essentials for Writers, covers everything from what the main intelligence agencies do and where they operate to honey pots, sleeper agents, enhanced interrogations, and more. Now on pre-sale at Amazon.

46 comments to Write the Good Fight

  • Wow Piper, this is an encyclopedia of fighting, in one blog! Awesomesauce – thank you!

  • My daughter is big into ju-jitsu, and I let her choreograph all my fight scenes, not that I have that many of them. I also have a few experts I can ask about weapons and strategies when I can’t avoid the “Bad Stuff Happens” scenes.

  • christopherlentzauthor

    You got me thinking. Thanks! On a side note, I acted out a “first kiss” scene I was writing yesterday with my wife. She liked it. And so did I. Much better than choreographing the murder scene in my WIP.

  • Long-time reader of the WITS, first time commenting. I’m also married to a black-belt, and I can attest second-hand that the way they look at the everyday is both eye-opening and a bit disconcerting. I’ve also been hit in the head with a paperweight, and can attest first-hand that it doesn’t take much force to knock a person wobbly. All that and more went into my protag killing an attacker (in self-defense, of course) with a bootlace and a chunk of concrete. Thanks for (a-hem) hitting close to home, Piper. I’ve enjoyed your work.

  • Wow, this comes in really handy for the next book I’m writing. I definitely hadn’t thought of all that great stuff one can use.

    Although I have sometimes talked back to TV shows when an attack or kill happens: “Why isn’t that person just throwing stuff at them? Look, there’s a perfectly good pen they can stab with! Scissors—aren’t scissors in every desk drawer or kitchen? Get the scissors!!!” Not sure how put together I’d be in such a moment, but I would really hope that I’d grab the scissors. And land a good blow.

    Thanks, Piper! And Holmes.

  • Terrific piece, Piper and highly entertaining! My husband and I were on more than 20 commercial airplane flights starting only two weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He carried a heavy camera on board and practiced swinging it at home before we left, thinking of its weapon potential.

  • a cord can be used to whip at someone in self defense, if it has a prong on it, it could induce even more pain, and it can be used to tie up someone.

    withholding medication could be a way to cause someone harm–slowly or quickly, depending on the medication and health need of the victim

    I don’t write murder mysteries, but I have helped a friend in her plotting

    denise

    • A cord can, indeed, cause some serious pain, not to mention it makes a nice choking device. And medication is a great idea. So much can be done with that one. Thank you for your input. I’ll bet you were a great help to your friend.

  • Fae Rowen

    Thanks for the myriad ways to protect, maim, and kill in a fight, Piper. Who knew my writing desk could be so deadly?

  • Jim Finley

    This reminds me of a junior-high-school confrontation in which a young man who thought he was Bruce Lee decided to jump my brother Bill. He was still hopping around doing what sounded like bird calls when Bill hit him in the head with a brick.
    In Stand On Zanzibar, a science fiction by novel John Brunner published in 1968 (50 years ago – wow, I think I’m getting old …) a government puts a character through a process called “eptification” to turn him into an assassin – it consists of training him to be hypervigilant, always ready for violence, and to see everything in his environment as a weapon. Something that book also depicts, which is too often left out of popular fiction in books, TV, and films, is the aftermath for the person who uses the weapon. It’s obvious that it’s better to win a fight than to lose one, but people need to be ready for all kinds of psychological and emotional fallout. As a retired Marine, it ticks me off when I see characters kill people as casually as if they were doing the dishes and forget it just about as quickly. Very few of us can function that way, and most who can are sociopaths.
    Excellent post – I’m saving this one. Thanks!

    • I love this point, Jim. So true. Very few people come out of a fight that injures or kills someone else with NO psychological impact. It’s why I feel so much compassion toward our military and our police force. They navigate those battles for the rest of us, and should be deeply appreciated.

    • LOL about the brick. Reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones where Harrison Ford just shoots the guy doing fancy crap with the sword.

      Thank you for your service. My son is in a Marine officer training program at his school. I <3 Marines!

      As for the impact of killing people, this is something my partner and I have discussed and include in our book, SPYCRAFT: Essentials for Writers. As Holmes says, "Blood changes everyone," and that is no small thing. We address that in our upcoming book, The Leopard of Cairo, when a rookie in the field makes her first kill to save her teammate.

      That being said, Holmes says it's very different for the spook assassin as opposed to someone in military service on the battlefield. Unlike someone on the battlefield, the assassin has the psychological advantage of knowing everything about their target. They know what the person has done and is planning to do, and the spook is confident that they are saving innocents and making the world a better place by killing the target. They may have even personally seen the victims of the target. As a result, they tend to be relieved rather than traumatized when they are able to take a bin Laden or a Carlos the Jackal off the planet. They don't lose sleep over taking out those people. Their nightmares are of the children they saw burned alive by the target's bombs. Their nightmares are of the ones they couldn't save.

      Thank you so much for your comment. Sounds like Stand on Zanzibar is a good book. I'll check it out.

      • Jim Finley

        Thanks! Best of luck and Semper Fi to your son. Does he have ideas yet about what MOS he wants to get into? I started in the infantry and switched to computers when I got sufficiently tired of being cold and wet.
        I’ve pre-ordered Spycraft and look forward to it. Hope you like Stand on Zanzibar – Brunner’s work in general is excellent. I wish I had a tenth of his talent for creating authentic-sounding setting details and slang. He also came up with the idea of a computer virus decades before anyone else was writing about them.

  • So, when you’re a knitter like me, there’s embroidering needles, wood needles, plastic and metal jabby needles, plus the crochet hooks. A cozy mystery heroine could do some major damage with my stash. But I’d have to figure the forensics of yarn would trip up a knitting killer. 🙂

  • I once wrote a fight scene taking place in a kitchen. The characters threw kitchen utensils at the attackers and then used a frying pan to hit them. The latter may not be the most original, but it was fun to write! Although, in hindsight, I wonder why I didn’t have them use knives…

  • Hmm. I came up with about a dozen ‘weapons’ on and around my desk (does the cutting part on a roll of Scotch tape count? 😀 ). I’ve kid-proofed it so much it’s not easy to come up with really good ones.

    This is such good information. I already have a tendency to scope out possible escape routes wherever I go, am never comfortable in places like restaurants unless my back is against a wall, and consider more logical weapons I could use – like the window scraper in the van. But the smaller objects and pens don’t come immediately to mind when I consider different scenarios. I’m going to have to get the book. It will come in handy for the few fights I do write … and also for common sense ideas for real life. Just in case. 😀

    • Always good to know where the exits are. While I would never deter someone from purchasing one of our books, I would say that we don’t really talk about fight scenes in the text. We will address those in Volume Two. You mention the kid-proofing. It might be interesting to think about how children’s toys can be used as weapons. I’m thinking spreading legos on the carpet, just as a start. 🙂

  • This makes me think of the movie _Tangled_ and how Rapunzel uses a frying pan to knock out people. In the movie it’s treated lightly, but it’s a great reminder that every-day objects can be effective weapons.

    • I LOVE Tangled. I think it’s the best Disney movie of the decade, and I rate it far higher than Frozen. Just saying.

      As for frying pans, I know of a woman who was a prison warden in a big city back in the early 60s. There was a burglar working her apartment building, and she had surprised him in the act one night when she came home. He escaped through the window. So the next night, she left her window wide open to lure him back and sat next to it in the dark with a cast iron frying pan. Sure enough, he came back. As she always advised her family to do, she waited until he had his shoulders through the window — didn’t want to give him the chance to pull back — and she smacked him on the head. He fell out the window and down two stories to the trash bin. No telling what happened to him after that. She then tucked her pistol in her purse and went out with her girls for the evening. Figured the trash collectors would find him in the morning. There were no more burglaries in her building. Moral of the story? Don’t mess with a prison warden.

  • Jim Finley

    Several folks have mentioned frying pans here. We have a set of cast iron skillets, and those things are HEAVY. Even within the range of possibilities with one object there are different ways it could be used – in all the times I’ve seen depictions of people getting clobbered with frying pans starting with cartoons as a kid, I’ve only seen them use the flat of the pan. If I had to hit someone with a skillet it seems it would be more effective to swing it sideways and hit them with the edge.
    Piper mentioned books, and groins. I know that works. Just after I had a vasectomy, my then 3-year-old son figured out that for some mysterious reason, suddenly neither he nor anything else was allowed in Dad’s lap. So as a budding little scientist, he did an experiment – he sneaked up on me and lobbed a dictionary into my lap. My wife thought she was going to have to get the jack from the car to unfold me. I’m still trying to figure out how to work that scene into a story.

  • Oh – my husband needs your Spycraft book! He’s written an espionage story. So glad I found this!

  • Smashing good tips here.
    In a restaurant now, and just imagined taking out the waiter with my fork, grabbing the chandelier overhead and cracking the busboy on the head oy way toward the door, and then using the glass to smash open the pie case to grab up a few before I dine n dash!

  • […] K.M. Weiland shows how to spot and avoid self-indulgent writing, Piper Bayard reveals how to write the good fight, and Anna Elliott lists 3 tips to hook your reader’s […]

  • This is a great post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 — Suzanne

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