Monday, March 12, 2018

Featured FightWriter: Heather Titus, Surviving a Throat Cut

Our featured FightWriter Heather Titus asks: Can a

character survive his throat being cut?

That is a very good question. And, I will counter it with a few of my own: Is the attack from the front or the back? And, what sort of knife is being used?  Both of those matter because each affects the answer.  Let’s tackle the latter first...firster. I like that better. We will tackle the latter firster.  

The type of knife can determine the attack. Every weapon looks the way it does because it serves the most efficient use of the weapon. A double-edged blade can be used to slash, but it’s really great for stabbing. So, if someone has a double-edged blade and they know what they are doing, they may choose to stab rather than slash.


Single-edged blades are really great at slashing. Yes, they can stab. But, they excel at incised cuts. Someone wielding a single-edge knife might be more likely to slash. And while slashes can be long, they are not as deep as a stab. Bear in mind that any clothing around the area, the collar of a shirt or jacket, might further inhibit the depth of the slash or impede the slash altogether.

Attack from the front
The direction from which the attack comes will also affect the strike. An attack from the front, not done well, can be less of a surprise. The target may move too quickly or knock the blade away.   

If the attacker has knife prowess, it might be better for him to stab than slash. A knife can be quickly drawn and a strike delivered before the target has a chance to process what is happening and defend. The victim may not even realize he has been stabbed. But, I’m not sure the neck would be the best area to attack. It would be far easier to go straight for the abdominal aorta.

From the back
From behind, a stab to the neck is fairly easy to accomplish provided the target is completely unaware and still. But, a stab to the base of the skull would be more productive and less messy than any slash.  HOWEVER, I’m sorry about all these buts and howevers, I spoke with Heather regarding the scenario she had in mind and she was considering a throat slash from behind.

Throat cuts from the back are common in action movies.  A character sneaks up behind his victim, then reaches around and covers the victim’s mouth to stifle any scream. The knife is then brought over the victim’s shoulder to the throat where the blade is pulled from under one ear to the other. Blood pours out in a smile shaped waterfall of red. Or black if it’s a black and white movie.

Truth is, colorful and dramatic as it might be, that sort of neck attack is really not the smartest way to kill somebody. Far too much can go wrong. First, when an attacker reaches around to cover the target’s mouth, he puts his forearm near to or in the path of the coming blade. He may cut himself worse than he does the target and/or inhibit the effectiveness of the knife strike. Also the victim can bite the attacker’s hand which may cause the attacker to drop the knife and/or cry out. 

That mouth cover also gives the victim a moment to respond before the blade comes around. If the victim responds appropriately, he can guard his neck from the coming blade and/or trap the wielding hand.

For these very reasons, special forces from several countries are discouraged from performing a kill from the back with a throat cut (Grossman, 1995). Instead, they are instructed to do a kidney strike. The pain from such a puncture renders a victim mute and somewhat paralyzed while they bleed out.

But, let’s say that sort of neck strike happens. What are the repercussions? The best way to figure that out is to look at the neck and its structures.  

Yep, all of that is crammed into your neck. Here’s what happens when the major structures are injured.

Arteries / Large Veins –  This from

Cuts to the neck and throat can cause rapid, high-volume blood loss. Deep horizontal slashes or multiple thrusts to the right side of the neck can sever the right common carotid artery or internal jugular vein. Cuts to the left side can sever the left common carotid artery. Be aware that both carotid arteries are well protected by several layers of muscle in the neck and are set deeper in the neck than the jugular. Creating an effective laceration in this area requires decisive force. Severing the carotid artery can cause unconsciousness, just like when using the carotid restraint. Thrusts or slashes to the front of the throat may damage the trachea (windpipe) or larynx (voicebox). Injuries to these areas are painful and will cause difficulty in breathing. (4)

Muscles – If a large muscle like the sternocleidomastoid is severed, the head will fall to the uninjured side. The victim will have to hold his head upright.

Thyroid – Slicing the thyroid will cause a great amount of bleeding. But, I didn’t find anything that said it would be enough to kill someone. What might kill a victim is injury to the parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands regulate calcium levels in the blood. Without these glands, calcium levels can drop and cause cardiac arrest (3).

Trachea  – Cutting the trachea can disrupt the vacuum in the body that the diaphragm uses to pull in air.  With a big enough cut, the body will not be able to inhale and the victim will suffocate. Suffocation can take around three minutes but the victim will pass out sooner than that.  The cut can also cause air to leak into the neck and cause it to swell. That condition could cause a lung to collapse.

Vocal Cord Nerves – If either of the nerves that lead to the vocal cords are cut, there will be complete vocal paralysis. That doesn’t mean the victim can’t cry out. It means the voice will be breathy and hoarse.

To finally answer the question, can a character survive a throat cut: Yes, especially if appropriate trauma care and poor aim come into play.

Hockey goalie Clint Malarchuck survived a throat slash sustained by a stray skate. The team trainer reached into the wound and pinched the severed artery, effectively preserving the goalie’s life. He was back on the ice in ten days(1).

Actor Daniel Hoevels survived an on stage throat cut when someone replaced his prop knife with a proper knife. Thankfully, he missed major vessels. He was back on stage the next night because, you know, the show must go on(2).   

Thank you so much, Heather for your question! 

To learn more about Heather and her writing visit her site at

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


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!