Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Psychological Warfare - Gaslighting Pt1, Making a Gaslighter

In The Art of War Sun Tzu wrote that "supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." How is that possible? How can an enemy be broken without stepping on the field of battle? Simple. Make his every step a battle.

Psychological warfare is simply that: war waged psychologically. It brings the battle into the head of the enemy and makes him question whether his body is up to the task of fighting. Although the stratagems of psychological warfare may vary, their greatest vehicle of war is the same:


Yep, that's it. Instill doubt in the enemy. Doubt is a parasite that feeds on one's expertise, training, and fortitude. The more it is indulged, the more starved the host. The more starved the host, the more he will seek assurance. And, when you go looking for confidence, you are guaranteed to find insecurity instead. Get where I'm going with this? Doubt is deadly.

So, what does that have to do with fight writing? A whole heap. Psychological warfare is as much a form of fighting as boxing or blade work. And, it is like, THU BEST, kind of fighting for writers. Psychological warfare lays open the mind of a character. Just splits it like a ripe melon and gives access to all their seeds of thought.

If you have a villain in your story, and, ya do, ya gotta consider the mental tactics that n'er-do-well is using to best everyone. They can't be a flat, paper thin, reprobate.You must give the bad guy every bit the attention you are giving the good guy. Know why? Because the only difference in a hero and a villain is who is telling the story.  

In order to instill doubt into anyone, a villainous character has to distort reality. He has to make the good guy believe something that just isn't so. And, one of the most devious ways he can accomplish this is gaslighting.

The term gaslighting harkens back to a play from the late 1930’s called Gas Light. In the play a husband drives his wife to insanity by making her question reality. There was also a subsequent film adaptation known as Gaslight. In the movie a husband seeks to have his wife institutionalized so that he might have access to her family’s wealth. To make her believe she is crazy, he convinces her that the house they are living in is haunted. One way he does that is by dimming a gas light a little more each day, ergo the term gaslight. But, wait, that’s not all. After convincing her the house is haunted he then stops making it seem so to convince her that it was all in her head! HOW MESSED UP IS THAT!!!

Gaslighting is a form of mental manipulation. It is an attempt to gain power over another person by causing them to question reality. When a person isn’t sure what is real, they have no concept of the amount of control another person has over them. Gaslighting is a classic tactic used by abusers, cult leaders, narcissists and dictators and my cat if I may be so honest. 

As a human who has experienced it, I can tell you that it is nothing less than evil. As I writer I can tell you that gaslighting is awesome sauce! Seriously, you pour some of that on your villain and you have yourself a bad guy and a story your reader won't soon forget.  

Ok, so how do we add gaslighting to our miscreant's bag of tricks? Well, first we make him the sort of person that gaslights. And, there are personality traits peculiar to folks who use this sort of mental manipulation. Put these down on your villain's character sketch check list.

Gaslighter Personality Traits
A gaslighter is generally an authoritarian with others but not necessarily himself. He, in fact, may follow no rules and become defensive when given boundaries. With others, however, there is little room for error. For those who cross him there will be some sort of punishment. This will make others hesitant to cross him which further reinforces his behavior. For him, this complete lack of repercussions brings euphoria as does the dependence of others afraid to contradict him.

He is either hot or cold which further ensnares the target of his manipulation. His coldness is so chilling that any amount of warmth is welcomed. In his mind, he is completely correct. There is nothing wrong with him. He is unlikely to go to therapy but if he does, anything the professional says will be discredited. 

And y'all, here's the real kicker. Despite his deplorable means, the gaslighter is well liked. He is charismatic. He is attractive. People want to be in his favor and liked by him. He is, in the truest sense of the word “charming” in that he bewitches all those around him. Your readers should love him and hate the fact that they do.

Ok, in the next round of FightWrite, we will look at how gaslighting will affect your targeted character.

Until then, I leave you with one of the best film examples of gaslighting, and one of my favorite movies of all time, The Usual Suspects. If you haven't seen this brilliant work, don't watch this clip. If you have, this is the end scene where the cop realizes how diabolically genius Verbal Kent is. Those will delicate ears, there's an "effy" in the clip. 

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist. - Verbal Kent, The Usual Suspects

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Do Women Kill Less Often than Men?

In our last round of, we looked at How Women Kill. This week, we are going to consider how often they actually do. 

According to the most recent FBI statistics, in the United States men account for about 70% of violent crime arrests (1). Arrests, not acts. Why is that? Well, I touched on that a bit in the last post. Women are physically weaker than men which means overpowering often requires a tool such as a knife, poison or window. (Defenestration anyone?) It is also less socially acceptable for women to act out violently. The fact would make some women feel as if the act of murder isn't an option. Finally, women tend to only act out violently toward people with whom they are intimately connected. 

And, in my opinion, all of those reasons are part of why women may actually be getting away with murder.  

How women kill  - According to Gregg McCrary, FBI profiler: Women tend as a rule to do softer killings, poisoning, suffocation, those sorts of things. Rarely are they the slasher types of inflicting a lot of bodily damage." (2) All of the adds up to less evidence. It also shows that, unlike those of men, murders by women are not happening under impassioned circumstances as often. The less passion involved the more thought can be given to the act. The more thought given means the more well planned the crime. Those together equal less evidence. 

Who women kill - Women generally kill people they know. Between 1976 and 2015, 46% of those murdered by women were family members or intimate partners (3). Because of that the planning, the opportunity and the aftermath can be much different. When you kill someone you know, you can have greater control over the crime and crime scene. You can create a situation where there is less struggle, fewer witnesses and the evidence can be contained. 

Why women kill - Women kill more often for "gain" or what they personally perceive as "love (4)." In the case of "gain," the murder was related to a women being removed from a will, insurance payouts or other financial assets (4). In the homicides where "love" was the impetus, that love was not connected to lust. It's a common notion that women kill male partners because they are abused. And, while that is sometimes the cause, it's not as often the case as we think. More often than not is was connected to what the killer saw as mercy or the need to remove someone from what they saw as a damaging situation (4). This was often connected to mental illness. That is not to say women don't do heinous crimes. It's just not their M.O.

So, what does all that mean to me? Again, this is just me. I think women are literally getting away with murder more often than men - I don't mean in the criminal justice system. I mean that women aren't getting caught for it because they are leaving less evidence around. Yes, I still think men are more murdery than women. But, that is in part because women tend to internalize things. When we are angry or in emotional pain, we hurt our own self more than others. 

What does all this mean for writers? Well, I think you can comfortably make the murderer in your story a woman. And, because of who she will likely attack and how she will do it, it's plausible that she will get away with it. I think more than focus on how she does the killing, a writer better look at how that female character covers it up. And, because of how women kill, there will be less to clean and therefore less to cover. (I really want to insert a joke on women being good at cleaning but I think that might be tacky.) Is is plausible that the female murderer in your story is the slashy type? Yes. But, that's not the norm.  

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

If you find that you are being attacked by a woman and you want to safely contain her, here's how... Can't miss with Master Ken.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How Women Kill

Female hostility is different than that of men. However, it’s the male version with which we are most familiar. That’s what is generally depicted on page and screen. But, be not deceived. Though the end result of female violence may be the same as a male, the path leading there is quite different.

Although statistically women kill less often than men, it is not because they are less violent. As a whole, women are as aggressive, if not more so, than their male counterparts. Marriage researchers have noted women are more likely to pick fights, quicker to escalate verbal aggression, and are just as likely to use physical aggression as men (1). However, that is in an intimate relationship. Women are far less likely to be as aggressive with those to whom they have no intimate ties. Yes, you are in far more danger around a woman you know than one who is a total stranger. 

So, if they are just as aggressive or more than men, why do they kill less? Well, that's for another post. In this post, we are going to look at how they get the deed done and it is much different than men.

First, the statistics I am going to show are U.S. statistics. I have a loyal contingency in Europe so I want to point that out. (Love y'all!) You will find that outside the good old U. S. of A. that gun violence will be much lower. In the U.K., according to the Office of National Statistics report in February of 2016, the number one method of homicide was knife. (2) The second most common was kicking and hitting without a weapon. Which is exactly what we saw in our post, Being Attacked, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland. 

However, although the modus operandi in other countries differs from the U.S., the difference in how the genders kill is pretty similar. Before I go any further, let’s look at the U.S. stats.  

Murder Weapons Used by Men Versus Women - FBI Supplemental Homicide Report 1999 - 2012
                                             Men          Women
Murders committed by           160,368          17,431    

Means of Attack                                           
   Gun                                    67%             39%
  Knife                                  12                23
Beating                                 7.1             12
  Other                                    7                12   
Blunt Object                         4.5             5.4
Strangulation                          .7               .9
Asphyxiation                           .6             2.6
Fire                                        .46           1.5
Poison                                    .4             2.5
Drowning                                .1                1
Explosives                               .03           .07
Defenestration                        .02           .04

Defenestration means throwing somebody out of a window. Yes, there's a term for throwing somebody out of a window that's not just "throw somebody out the window!"

Ok, what do we learn here? Yes, in the United States you are less likely to get shot by a woman. But, that may be because women simply own guns less than men. For every three male gun owners in the U.S. there is one female. And, women do tend to be at home more than men and folks don't generally carry their gun in their house. So, that could account for the lesser percentage of gun violence.

But, look at every other means of violence. Women are more likely to use an instrument to kill. And, the instrument is most likely a knife. Why do women use a tool to kill (statistically) more often than men? I see two reasons. If you see more, please put them in the comments. 

First, women do tend to be physically weaker than men. It's how we are and that's ok. I'm not sure who said we had to be as strong as a man or how we even starting comparing physicality of men and women. We are complimentary to one another not in competition with one another. Yeesh! Anyway, that disparity of strength can make overpowering a male victim difficult. Thus, women use a tool to even the playing field.

Two, women tend to kill people they know. (3) And, when you are intimately connected to the victim, you sometimes want to experience their suffering. Almost every other noted means of death requires being in someone's intimate space. That's not an accident. (But, women might make it look like one! Again, another post.)

Well, writers, what did we learn today? One: women are as aggressive as men. Ask the marriage counselors. Two: women kill less often than men. (Or do they? We'll look at that in another post.) Three: when women kill in the U.S. they are more likely to use a means that isn't a gun more often than men. That may be due to a strength disparity or their connection with the victim. 

Apply all this warm, fuzzy info to your female characters that kill. I don't mean soldiers. On the battlefield a soldier is a soldier. I mean in any other instance a woman isn't necessarily going to kill in the same way a man might. And, if your setting is outside the U.S. that method of killing will not likely be a gun. Your character will employ a tool of some sort and that tool might be a window. (Beware of any woman who walks around with a window!!!!)

In our next round at we will look a little closer at why women kill less often than men. Or, do they??? 

Until then, I leave you with the words of Rudyard Kipling...

When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride, 
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
- The Female of the Species

Now, go out there and get blood on your pages! 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Claymore - The Good and The Not Great

Ah, the Claymore: the zenith of metal work in a fantasy writer's cache of weaponry. All is lost until the fateful moment the hero grips the hilt of the mighty weapon. Why? Because it's a Claymore dang it! That's why!

The truth is, the Claymore is in fact a wonderful weapon. It does well what it was designed to do as all weapons should. But, what is also true is that it is horrible at tasks it was never meant to carry out. Every weapon has advantages, the good, as well as disadvantages, the bad. 

The History and Basics

The Claymore's name derives from the Gaelic words "claidheamh mor," which mean, "great sword," in reference to size not its value as a weapon. It is said that the Scottish hero William Wallace carried a Claymore. But, the sword he used, which is still in existence, differs from we know as a Claymore in its point and ricasso.

Historically a Claymore was about 47 - 55 inches (120 - 140 cm). The weight was around five or six pounds (2.2 - 2.8kg). Yes, really. Claymores weren't ten pounds swords. Ten pound swords weren't a "thing."  

The Claymore was a two-handed sword. It had great reach and because of the weight behind its overall mass could create a great amount of force.

The ricasso, an unsharpened portion of the blade where it meets the handle, was often, not always, wrapped in leather. This allowed the wielder to "choke up" on the weapon to not only better guide the tip, but recover after a swing.

Because the Claymore was a double edged blade, one edge could be keen for slicing while the other could be dull for bashing through shields without getting stuck in them. The forward facing trefoils protected the wielder from coming blades and could trap the blades as well. The large pommel could be used as a melee weapon and considering the weight behind it, likely delivered a heck of a blow. 

Just as important as any of its functions, the Claymore had great intimidation factor. The effects of that can't be underestimated. As General Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, it's best to break an enemy before the battle. Seeing a massive claymore coming might be enough to make a warrior rethink the fight.

The Bad

Even with a wrapped ricasso, and skilled hands, the Claymore could be a challenge to wield. It's just plain old physics. Objects want to keep traveling in a straight path. The greater the mass of a thing, the harder it is to disrupt its progress. The harder the swing of the claymore, the more difficult it was to stop. 

If you missed the opponent, the swing could bring your arms away from your body leaving it completely open to attack. For that same reason, it was not a great weapon for infighting. Defensively, one would want to dodge the swing of a Claymore, step in and strike because the wielder had next to no defense. Because of the Claymore's size, it wasn't possible to also carry a shield. So, you really needed to hit your target or you'd be in a pickle

The weight of the sword also created an issue for endurance. Five pounds may not seem like much, but it gets very heavy. You can't compare it to holding a five pound weight in the hand as the weight of a sword extends away from the body. But, even if it were concentrated in the hand like a weight, try swinging that for more than five minutes!

Another disadvantage of the Claymore was that it couldn't be used well in coordination with other warriors. For example, it would be difficult to fight in a group of three for the simple fact the Claymore was big and more difficult to control. You could lop your fellow soldier's arm off! And yes, the Claymore could lop off an arm.

Finally because of its size, the Claymore had to be carried on the back or on one's horse which made it not so easy to draw. 

So, ya gotta ask yourself what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want intimidation, heft and force or the ability to carry a shield and greater dexterity?  

Is the Claymore a great sword? Yes. That's literally the words from whence its name is derived. Is it the be all end all? No. No sword is nor was meant to be.

Here's the Forged in Fire episode all about the Claymore.

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