Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Would You Kill A Robot?

In the post  Fighting Robots we looked at ways to best a robot. The goal, of course, being either to thwart the thing or kill it. I got a lot of great feedback on that post and have mentored plenty of authors in ways to kill various and sundry robots. But then I listened to a podcast that made me realize something. How to kill a robot is only part of the problem. The greater issue might be, would we? 

Can Robots Teach Us What It Means to
Be Human?
If you don't listen to Hidden Brain, you should. It's an amazing podcast. This particular episode discussed what we learn about our humanity from machines. And it does examine the issues of "killing" a robot. To give it a listen, choose the pic.

It seems a silly, but part of the problem is a word used in the dilemma itself: kill. See, you can’t kill what isn’t alive. We can destroy the robot or abort its function. We can just turn the sucker off. But, the moment we use the word kill, we’ve anthropomorphized the thing. We’ve assigned human qualities to something that isn’t. And once we do that our behavior toward that non-human thing gets tangled up in our humanity.

Now, before you think that this post is completely crazy, consider the things in your home that you address as if they were a person. We humans love to do that. We seek our own kind among what certainly isn’t. We yell at our TVs, beg our cars to start, I say "thank you" to both Siri and Alexa. And, of course, we have conversations with our pets who absolutely do not understand us. Sorry, it’s true. The average dog understands about 165 words, an African gray parrot about a thousand. Nobody is really sure how many cats understand as they refused to participate in the survey.

We humans seek connections with humans so much that we will assign human traits to what isn’t. When we do that, we invest in that thing emotionally –  to a certain extent. It is so common an occurrence that a popular auto insurance company used the phenomenon in a commercial. The female character mourns her wrecked car. She doesn’t want another car because, “nothing can replace, Brad!” Brad being what she calls the car.

This attachment goes far beyond cars, all the way to the battlefield, in fact. Explosive ordinance robots have become far more common in battle and thankfully so. The work of these bomb detonating machines saves human lives. But, what Dr. Julie Carpenter, PhD. Ed. found is that  soldiers value these robots so much the operators of them begin to see the machines as extensions of themselves. And, it’s not just the operators, the other soldiers do as well. Troops have noted that they can tell who the operator of the robot is based on the machine’s movements. It’s as if the robot has a certain way of doing things. Or, as we humans would say of each other, it has a personality.

When these EO robots have been destroyed in battle soldiers have been known to have funerals for them. (Don't believe me? Choose the pic for an NBC News article) The troops even noted having a sense of loss. It could be that they have an awareness that were it not for the hunk of metal the funeral might have been for a comrade. The funeral might have been for them. So, that loss they feel is very real because they are not only mourning the loss of a sort of mascot and pet, they are grappling with how much worse it all could have been were the robot not there to take the hit for them. 

So, what does all this have to do with us as writers? Well, if you are a sci fi writer and  robots appear in your work, you need to be aware that your human characters will form an attachment to them. And that robot does not have to be an android. It can be as mechanical in form as R2-D2 or an explosive ordinance robot.

And what does that have to do with FightWriting? Your character may hesitate in fighting and killing a robot. Not because they feel the machine will overpower them, but for
the simple fact they see it as killing. Which begs the question, what if they don’t hesitate? What if your character has no issues killing an android or BB-8 or Wall-E? (Only a monster would kill Wall-E!) Well, that’s a whole other problem not so unlike someone who has no issues killing someone’s pet. And we will examine that problem in another post.

Until then, get blood on your pages! Or, whatever it is inside your robots!

Now, for your viewing pleasure, here are some of the best movie robots of all time. Yes, Mecha-Godzilla is in it! 


Friday, January 26, 2018

Human Bites

    A human bite is a nasty thing. While any bite that breaks the skin can become infected, human bites have a very high incidence of complications. About 10-12% become infected, the majority of those bites occurring on the hand. 

   Human bites marks are distinctive. While animal bites often leave triangular or circular holes,
human bites commonly produce bruising more than punctures. The four incisors in both the upper and lower dental arches produce rectangular marks. Those of the short canine teeth are triangular in appearance. If punctures do occur, they correspond to the shape of the teeth producing the injury. 

Soooo...can you bite off a finger? Oh, don't act like you weren't thinking it! Do you have any idea how often I am asked that? A lot. Mainly I ask myself but the point remains and it begs an answer which is, well, probably not. It is more likely you would bite through the joint but not tear the digit from the hand. 

  A finger isn’t firm like a carrot which is with what it’s often compared in this instance. Unlike a solid carrot, a finger contains muscles, ligaments, tendons and
bone. And, although biting through that may be possible and I feel certain it is, the skin is pretty stretchy. I think that would be the toughest part of the whole thing, the skin. Think about when you’ve bitten into a piece of cooked chicken with the skin on it. You might bite through the firm underlying meat but still struggle to bite through the skin.

Can you bite off a hunk of softer tissue like the cheek or bicep? Again, I think tearing through the skin will be the biggest issue. You could absolutely do tremendous damage but I’m not sure you could take off a chunk. If it were firm cartilage you could. You absolutely can bite off pieces of the nose as well as the ear, as we will see Mike Tyson do. And, yes, you can bite off genitalia. (Point of interest, that is exactly how a honey badger takes down big game. Just felt like I should add that.) 

      On that note, the location of a bite says a lot about the circumstances of the attack. Bites on the hands and arms are often basic defense wounds. Bites in more sensitive areas are associated with more intimate violence. And, yes, bite marks can be used forensically as evidence. However, the saliva associated with it them is far more useful.

    So, how does one defend against a human bite? Funny you should ask, I went over that today with my coach. He and I have both done this to dogs as well as the odd person/child that felt the need to try and a take a chunk out of us. If a person bites you on a limb, you jam the limb into their mouth to the back of the jaws. It's painful and they gag pretty good. If they bite you on softer tissue, you need to cause more pain first. Simple as that.

   And now, without further adieu, I give you Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield. It pains me to attach this because I really like Tyson both as a fighter and the human that he is TODAY. 

   I have followed Tyson's career from its beginnings and I saw this fight live. If you have never seen him fight, I hate that this is your introduction. His movement is amazing.

    In the interest of fairness, here is Tyson's apology.

 Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Suturing With Needles and Bugs

On the heels of our series regarding blade damage, I thought it appropriate to look at stitches. If your character has been injured by a blade, there may indeed be a suture in their future. How do you know? Well according to the Cleveland Clinic, your character needs stitches if their wound is:

* Deep enough to expose the dermis or yellow subcutaneous fatty tissue
* Gaping open so that you can't easily press the edges of the wound together with gentle pressure
* Located over a joint (There may be damaged nerves, tendons or ligaments.)
* The result of a bite
* The result of a foreign object impaling the area
* Contaminated or resulting from a rusty object
* Bleeding profusely or the bleeding does not slow with pressure
* On a cosmetically significant area
* On or near the genitalia (Did that even need to be said???)

Until your character can get to a hospital, basic first aid should be applied.
* Place a clean cloth or piece of gauze over the cut.
* Apply pressure directly to the area. 
* If the cloth becomes soaked with blood, put more on top of it. Don't lift the bloodied cloth to apply more. Keep it in place and maintain pressure for a full five minutes. 
* If the cut is on the arm or leg, bleeding may be slowed by lifting the limb above the heart.

And now, how to suture... This video is great because not only does it offer links to several types of sutures, but you can clearly see the underlying tissue. That's a great story detail. Also, you can see that the needle doesn't just slip into the skin. The skin shown is thin and seems like that of an older person. Still, the needle doesn't just glide through.

But, let's say you can't get to a fancy hospital where they have suturing needles. Here's what stitching looks like with a sewing needle. My favorite part of this video is them saying that they hope their mom doesn't see it! If I ever meet this guy, I'm buying him an ICEE. He's earned it. NOTE: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! 

If you have neither hospital nor sewing kit handy, your character will still be ok. That is if they have access to carpenter, army or leaf cutting ants.

What do all of these little dears have in common? Big ole' mandibles.

According to, as far back at 3000 years ago, folks were using ants to close wounds. The ants were pinched in such a way as to hold the jaws open. The ants were then placed on the wound and the jaws released. When released, the jaws closed and would close the wound.  

If the sutures become infected, there will be some telltale signs. 

All of that can lead up to sepsis, which we will discuss in another post. Ahhhh, the anticipation!

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Blade Damage - What Will Kill

 Happy New Year, all! I took a little time off for the holidays and to enjoy a little steaming cup of flu. Ah, good times.  

Ok, where were we... Oh yeah, your character has been stabbed. You've given physical cues, used the correct sort of blade, chosen a great vital target, choreographed a scene and have described the wound down to the last strand of tissue. All that's left is the aftermath. First and foremost, let's see if they will survive. Remember, in historical settings, most anything can kill a character. All of these stats I'm listing are from within the last twenty years and I've given them in order by what was presented as most common. And, keep in mind that any stab wound could be fatal if large enough or if infection sets in. 

CHEST - The chest is a large target. Stab wounds to the chest that prove mortal tend to be to the left side. That
may be because that is where most people think the heart is. In truth, it is in the center of the chest and angled to the left. That said, a stab wound to the left side of the chest can be evidence that the intention of the assailant was to kill. But, it could also be evidence that the assailant was simply right handed.  

HEART - Yes, the heart is the most common target for a stab wound. Go figure. Even though it may not be injured with a stab to the chest, it's likely that was the goal.

A blade strike to the heart is often seen as a sure bet for killing. But, with modern medicine, stab wounds to the heart aren't as fatal as one may think. During a twelve year period at King-Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, over 600 hundred patients were seen for stab wounds. 

Of those with stab wounds to the heart, only about 11% died. These strikes prove most fatal when the aorta is damaged. Interestingly, when the heart itself is injured, punctures to the atria are more damaging than those to the ventricles. The ventricles contract. Each contraction  temporarily staunches blood flow.

Death from a wound to the heart is not only from exsanguination (that's a great word). It's also the result of the pooling of blood and collection of air between the chest wall and lung. In other words, the blood you see coming out is only part of the problem. 

LUNGS - Stab wounds to the lungs tend to happen through the front of the chest rather than back or side. They are far less fatal than stab wounds to the heart. But, when they are deadly, it is often for the same reason as mortal wounds to the heart: exsanguination and the pooling of blood and collection of air between the lungs and chest wall. 

ABDOMEN - I think abdominal wounds are goldmines for writers. They are rife with opportunity for not only damage, but wonderfully gross damage. Also, you can really draw out a death with an abdominal wound. 

Damage to the major arteries prove the most fatal the fastest. A puncture to the liver has the potential to be fatal but with modern medicine not so much. In a study of over 100 patients with abdominal puncture wounds, those with damage to the liver lived about 95% of the time with surgical intervention. Of those that did die from the liver injury, only one death was directly related to the wound to the liver. The others were due to complications associated with other injuries.

But, then below the liver, we have the bowels. Ah, yes, the viscera. They have a way of making an appearance when the lower abdomen is deeply penetrated. But, insides on the outside doesn't necessarily signal death because the actual intestines may not be breached. When they are, bacteria and/or fecal matter will enter the body cavity and causes sepsis. With modern medicine, sepsis is treatable. But, still, on average, 250,000 people die from sepsis each year in the U.S. The Center for Sepsis Control estimates that about 30 million people world wide die each year from sepsis and its subsequent condition, septicemia.   

HEAD AND NECK - Stab wounds to the head and neck are not very common and it stands to reason. Both are fairly small targets that people tend to guard well. Stab wounds to the neck can result in exsanguination or asphyxiation directly related to the blood loss. 

Do not assume that cutting the throat will cause immediate death. Special Forces are urged to perform a kill from the back by stabbing the kidneys rather than reaching around and slashing the throat. If the throat is slashed too high, the arteries may not be severed and the voice box may still be viable. Noise can still be made and the victim can bite the arm of the attacker.

A mortal wound to the throat should be low, below the larynx so that air cannot reach the voice box. And, it should sever arteries. Point of interest, the resulting blood flow would be newly oxygenated and therefore bright red. 

Stab wounds to the brain often occur through the ocular cavity. And, by the way, if the eye ball is punctured, which it may not be, it might move up or down out of the way of the blade. If it is ruptured, the result would be very bloody. I would have imagined it to be more watery than super bloody. Not so. I know a guy who stabbed somebody in the eye with a stick. He said that he was very surprised at the amount of blood that followed. (I know all kinds of folks, y'all.)

This 16year old young man not only survived
but went on to college.
Stab wounds to the brain aren't usually fatal. More often than not, victims have no idea they have been stabbed. Ironically, if the wound does prove deadly, that's often why. The wound may be hidden by hair or folds in the eyes and left untreated. Intracranial bleeding or infection often ends up being the official cause of death with blade wounds to the skull. 

SPINE - Stab wounds to the spine can cause complete or
partial paralysis below the area of injury. And, hey, here's a cool plot twist opportunity: that paralysis can occur many years after the event. It's very rare that it happens.'s possible. Like in Dumb and Dumber when the girl told Lloyd that the possibility of them being a couple was one in a million and Lloyd responded, "so you're telling me there's a chance." That's all we writer's need is a chance. 

EXTREMITIES - Blade wounds to the limbs are deadly when there is major vascular damage. And, in those cases when the victim did die from blood loss, it was often because they didn't realize the extent of the damage and just kept walking around. (One forensic report said a lot of those people were drunk.) 

Blade wounds to the arms tend to be defensive wounds. Which is why when you are defending against a blade with your arms, you should do so with your wrists facing inward.

Blade injuries to the legs aren't terribly common. However, an educated blade wielder knows to go for the upper inside of the thigh. Not only does such a strike have the potential to do damage to the femoral artery, but, at the very least, it will cause the person to go to a knee as side to side balance will be inhibited.

What if the wound to the extremity leads to a limb being lopped off? Can you survive that? Yep, with proper first aid you can. Watch 127 Hours. The man pictured here is the guy on whom the movie is based. His story is incredible. If I had to cut off my own arm to see my family again, I'm sure God would take care of them in my absence. I thought I could do it until I saw James Franco have to go through the nerves. Yeah, no. 

So, there you have it. Now you have a better idea of what sort of blade wound will kill and how it would do so. In all cases, regardless of injury, the wounded should be considered dangerous. The damage should be inflicted and then distance should be put between the wielder and victim. 20 feet or 6 meters is considered a reasonable safe distance. 

If you'd like to further peruse the sites from where I got this info go to: Stab wounds by anatomical location and Gov Stats.  

And now, for those of you who enjoy cooking, here's a little first aid for knife wounds in the kitchen. Enjoy. (The pic will lead to the NBC website and the clip) 

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Geek Block podcast w/ Edged Weapons Expert, Kirk McCune

It's a rare blessing to know someone as knowledgable as Master Kirk McCune. Being able to interview him live is rarer still.   

Calling Kirk an edged weapons expert does him both justice and a disservice. It expresses his mastery but also narrows it. In truth, Kirk knows a bit of everything about anything having to do with melee warfare. He can also thumb through the history of warfare and tactics like a human index. And, for the purposes of this blog, I'm happy to say that he thinks like a writer and is a great storyteller. I've told him that he should write. The ability wafts off of him like a stink. 

Me with Kirk McCune. Y'all, I knew I was going to take
a picture and THAT is the shirt I wore? I'm nothing if not
classy...and 40-60% Irish.
That title also doesn't tell you what a sincerely nice and generous guy he is. During this podcast he was finishing up a month long Bahala Na European tour. He called me from Ireland at 8:00pm and he hadn't even been there a full 24 hours yet. When I say he is a nice guy, I'm not just being nice. (Because he was calling from such a clip away, there's a bit of a delay between us in the interview.)

Kirk will cover a lot of great things in this interview including:
- What you can tell about an edged weapon just by looking at it
GME Leo Giron and GME "Tony" Somera
- Weapon balance
- Where bladed weapons are used today
- Defensive use of daggers
- Main gauche dagger or buckler, which is better for the left hand
- What kind of fighter uses a main gauche dagger and what kind uses a buckler
- What happens when two blades collide edge to edge - it's not what you think! (I gasped like a total nerd at the answer)
- Purpose of fullers and when you wouldn't want one
- What sort of sword he would carry everyday
- One-hand vs two-hand vs hand and a half swords
- How the hands work together with a two hand sword
- How long a real sword fight lasts
- What sort of injuries happen on the battlefield
- How a weapon matches a character's personality
- And what he would choose for self defense in a zombie invasion

By the way, we mention HEMA which is Historical European Martial Arts. 

This and other episodes of The Geek Block can be accessed
through iTunes on the Along Came a Writer network as well as BlogTalkRadio.

To listen to this episode now choose The Geek Block logo. ENJOY and thank you for listening!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Physical Cues Predicting Assault W/ and W/O Weapons

We've been in a series regarding blades and the damage they cause. For today's installment, we're
going to hit the rewind button and look at what leads up to blade damage. We're going to examine precursors to attack. Not fight. Attack.  

In order for a fight scene to be realistic, everything leading up to it has to be true to life as well. If your character means to do harm, they will give predicative cues. Even if they remain silent, their body will communicate what their mind intends. And, yes, the body will also communicate if a weapon is forthcoming.

PATC Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute conducted a study on interpersonal cues predicting assault. A sample of 129 law enforcement officers, all assaulted at least once on the job, chose eleven behaviors that signaled attack. They are listed from least to most predicative.

11. Stretching arms / shoulders
10. Sweating profusely
9. Pacing
8. Tense jaw muscles
7. Head rolls / neck stretches
6. Looking around the area
5. Making verbal threats
4. Clenching hands into fists
3. Placing hands in pockets (Hiding hands) 
2. Invading personal space
1. Assuming a fighter's stance

To continue our series on blade damage, we are going to focus on two of these cues plus one more. We'll look at fighter's stance, hiding hands and, as well, body blading. The last is peculiar to attacks with weapons.

In our post on Types of Punches we looked at a solid fight stance. But, that stance was specifically for Muay Thai. Depending upon your sport or martial art, what you consider a fighting stance may vary. Here are four common fight stances for Muay Thai, boxing (Sugar stance), wrestling and street defense.

Now, Shane Fazen is a trained fighter. If you ever pick a fight with someone and they adopt a proper street fighting stance as he does in this video, you have made a grave error in judgement! Let it go, move along.  

If your character is a regular person, the stance they take before an attack will not look exactly like Shane's. Again, he is a trained fighter and most folks are not trained fighters. Your character may have been in many fights, but that doesn't mean they have proper training.  

On the street, a fight stance may not be easy to spot. The hands may not go up with palms out in the "I don't want any trouble" gesture. But, the hands will be up away from the sides, one foot will step back a bit and the chest will be toward the opponent.  

This brings us to cues of obscured weaponry. If a person assumes a fight stance but keeps a hand or both hands out of view, they are hiding something. That hidden hand may be behind the back, in a pocket or up a sleeve as seen in the picture here. Had the victim noticed that only one hand was in view or known it was a physical cue, he might not have ended up a victim of a knife attack.

At the Realm Makers writing conference last year I demonstrated how a knife could be hidden in one hand with the entire arm and part of the hand in view. It is very easy to do with a reverse grip. But, even then, with the blade completely out of sight, I was giving a warning signal. My arm was straight. One arm was gesturing as the other was strangely immobile. 

In this picture, the attacker is in a fighting stance with one arm up. The other arm, however, is straight. That is because she is hiding a blade. There will be a full breakdown of this particular fight at the end of the post.

The last cue of an attack with a weapon is blading of the body. This means turning the body sideways with the weapon away from the target. The purpose of this is to further hide the already obscured hand. 

This picture is from security camera footage. The clerk was very distracted by the item in his hands and didn't notice that the patron kept one hand in his pocket all times. And, more often then not, the attacker bladed his body. The side of his body that is away from the victim is the side on which he is hiding a dagger. In the full footage you would see the attacker pacing the store, looking around and several times adopting a fighting stance.

Here is an analysis of the physical cues before a blade attack. This is graphic in that you will see blood and explicit as you will hear foul language. Nathan Wagner is the gentleman breaking the fight down for us. He is the creator of the Hourglass Threat Matrix developed specifically for the Fortitude Tactical Group. What you aren't able to see in the video is the same the victim didn't see: the blade. You hear onlookers say knife, but Nathan gives good reason why it might have been a razor blade.

Well, there you have it. Not only are you learning how to write a good blade fight scene, you're learning how to lead up to it. Next week will end the series. We'll go over some statistics regarding blades attacks and learn how to stitch up a victim. Hurray! 

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Blade Damage - Wounds (GRAPHIC)

Blades are special weapons. Not only do they injure, but they do so in such a way that both combatants experience the attack. Purposely choosing a blade over a gun can show a higher level or rage and deeper need to physically experience the suffering of the victim. 

In this third installment on blade damage (Week 1, Week 2), we are going to look at the actual wounds caused by blades. First, let's differentiate in the types of wounds: incised cuts, lacerations and stab wounds. Now, if you look in a thesaurus you will see the first two words are synonymous. But, in medical terms, they aren't.

An incised cut  is a slash in the tissue caused by sharp-force trauma. The wound maintains very clean, sharp edges and tends to be longer than deep. There is no tissue bridging or strands of still intact tissue joining the sides of wound. Because of the clean line of injury, incised wounds are easier to stitch.

Unlike the incised wound, a laceration isn’t so much a cut in the tissue as a tear. Lacerations are caused by shearing, crushing, or blunt-force trauma. They have irregular edges, tissue bridging and are more common on bony areas. Lacerations are more likely to scar and become infected because of damaged tissue. And, because of their irregular edges, they can be very difficult to suture.

How different do they look? Very. You can pinch an incised wound close and it will be a clean line. That's not the case with a laceration. The edges are jagged. Here's some examples and they're gross. I will scoot down a bit so you can prepare yourself. I made sure that in all the pictures the person was living. There are no pictures of dead bodies. And, the pictures in which I wasn't sure, the wound shown wouldn't have been enough to kill anyone.

  These are incised wounds. Notice that you can pinch the edges and bring them together to form a straight line. That guy's tattoo will never look the same.


Laceration - I doubt this was caused by a blade. It was hard to find a laceration wound caused by a blade on a person who I could tell was still alive. But, it shows the difference without making you throw up in your mouth.

Can a blade cause a laceration? Yes, big, heavy swords caused them all the time. The purpose of such blades wasn't cutting so much as bashing through shields and armor. If contact was made with the flesh in such a blow, a laceration was a result as well as crushed bones.

Which leads me to blades that are used for chopping such as axes, machetes and cleavers. Don't worry, I have no pictures. All that I found were so horrific I found them disrespectful to life itself. BUT, I can tell you how they look different and they all do.

Ax lacerations are straight lines that look like the skin has popped. There are crushed bones and tissue.

Machete wounds are straight lines and very deep, deeper than an ax, best I could tell. That's likely because a machete has a shape that lends itself to be drawn in a slicing motion after the impact. Also, there is more cutting surface than in an ax so, again, longer and deeper cut. There's no crushed bones because a machete's design doesn't lend itself to crushing. But, bones can be cut through.

Cleaver chops are clean, thin wounds that don't break bone but do leave cut lines on them.

A stab wound is neither an incised cut nor laceration. It is a type of puncture and there are two types: penetrating and perforating. Penetrating stabs, as the name suggests, penetrate the body. The wound doesn't always match the size of the blade because blades are seldom driven in and removed at exactly the same angle. Also the skin can shrink up a bit after the blade is removed.

Perforating wounds go all the way through the body. The entry wound will be larger with inverted edges. The exit wound will be smaller with everted edges. (Also, I didn't know everted was even a word.)

If the stab is from a single edged blade, the wound will likely have one pointed edge and one duller edge. Fishtailing may also occur as in the second picture

If the wound is from a double edged blade, both sides of the wound will have points.

In this double edged injury, there's a bruise which tells us two things. One, the blade had a guard. Two, this blade was completely plunged into the body.

 Last but not least, remember that the body has an internal vacuum.  If you open up the abdomen, innards can become outers. I will spare you an actual picture. And, although this is a post-op depiction of why one should never be sutured with nose hairs, know that any breach of the abdominal wall can cause this. In sayoc, we call a low abdominal slash a "blue worm" for reasons you can likely deduce.

I was going to include an instructional video on suturing but I'd say we've seen enough blood and stuff. I will save that for next week. Instead, let's all take something for nausea and watch this completely perfect instructional video with Master Ken and Kali expert Doug Marcaida.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.