Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Shame, Guilt and Regret

If you have read my book, Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes, you are familiar with how fighting/violence is entangled with human emotion. The former simply can't be separated from the latter. And, from the standpoint of writing, I believe the emotions surrounding a fight scene are far more important than the blocking of the moves. The emotions are what every reader can relate to in a fight scene regardless of their knowledge of fighting.  

That said, let me throw this thing into Park for a moment. Although emotions are an integral part of a fight, your character will not feel any during the altercation. Adrenaline wipes out emotion so that we can focus on the fight. Emotions will be around before the fight unless the altercation is not a surprise to the character. And emotions will definitely rear their heads after. But in the throws of conflict, no. In those moments, the mind is very robotic. Ok, shifting back into Drive...On with the emotions! 

I am fascinated by how violence affects the psyche. (Don't worry, I don't start conversations at parties like that. But only because I don't go to parties.) And, I have always wondered how the guilt of a violent act influences a person longterm. This definitely applies to the characters we write. Quite often we read on page or see on screen people who kill, sometimes with abandon, but we seldom see what goes on in their head after the fact. Is there no guilt??? Maybe there is and they just hide it that well. Is it that easy to hide feelings of guilt?

FightWrite Ramen, Rough
Draft Flavor! Now with
MORE tears!
So, I went to whom I felt was the best resource on the subject of guilt: fellow Houstonian, Brené Brown. Now, if you don't know who Dr. Brené is, I call her the Psychology Oprah! She is to psychology what Oprah is to everything else. Brené Brown is an amazing person and I suggest everyone, ESPECIALLY writers, read her work. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame. That last one was the one I wanted to know more about because, hey, guilt and shame are the same thing, right? 


After reading Dr. Brené's work (I'm still reading Rising Strong) and watching her videos and listening to her podcasts I learned that I don't know much about guilt and even less about shame. Heck, I found out I don't know much about emotions as a whole because I'm not a fan of feeling them! WOW, this went from zero to personal real fast... Anyway, I can't be the only person who doesn't understand these emotions as they truly manifest. So, if you have a character who feels guilty and hates himself because of it #1, this post is for you and #2, you're wrong. They don't feel guilt. They feel shame. In this and the next post, I will explain the difference. 

Let the shame spiral begin twirling!

Shame is a lethal, self-centric emotion. It is connected to destructive behavior and requires silence. Shame convinces the one who feels it that they are unworthy of love, happiness or any good thing at all. When bad things happen to the person who feels shame, they will believe it is exactly what they deserve.

If your character feels shame, they will not share it with others. Shame requires silence to grow. The character  who feels shame will not differentiate between the misdeed they have done or the wrong done to them and their own self. In other words, the character will not say they did a bad thing or a bad thing happened to them. Instead, they will say that they are bad. This negative view could cause them to be abusive emotionally and physically to their own self and others.  

Shame is a constant, painful crushing of the soul. Our characters will go to great lengths to numb this feeling often using what Dr. Brené calls shame shields. So, if your character feels shame, this is how they may behave as a result to lessen the pain of that shame. I will relate each behavior to a member of the Breakfast Club. 😃 

  1. Move inward: The character will turn inward, withdraw from others, hide, or become quiet. They may wear clothing that makes them feel hidden and secure. 
  2. Move toward: The character may move toward people and become a people pleaser in an effort to numb their pain with the approval of others.  

  3. Move against: Finally, the character may move against the shame they feel by trying to make others feel shame as well. They will lash out to make their target feel the misery that they feel.

Ok, in the next post we will look at how guilt is different than shame. And, we will see how guilt manifests in our characters. Again, it's not what you think.

Now, for your viewing pleasure. here's the dancing scene from The Breakfast Club and a little on shame from Dr. Brené - the Psychology Oprah and the actual Oprah. Until the next round at FightWrite™.net, get blood on your pages!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Dealing with Damage by Magic

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending and
mentoring writers at the Realm Makers Writers Conference.  If you are a writer of speculative fiction, I cannot suggest this conference highly enough. Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for works with elements outside the bounds of the natural world. So, it's sci fi, fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, dystopian, supernatural, paranormal, alternate history... Basically, if your work has anything that's weird or what is considered nerdy, it's prolly spec fic and you are prolly my type of person.
That's the adorable Millie on the left.
 I don't know who
that other weirdo is!

At the RM conference I met with authors in fifteen minute appointments to help them work out issues with fight scenes that they were creating. And, as these were all spec fic authors, the fight scenes often included magical people, objects or settings in which magic was just a regular thing. One middle grade writer, Millie Florence, asked me how could she write damage inflicted by magic in such a way that a reader could understand it and relate to it. That is a good question, Millie, and ironically, I learned about that subject at the same conference at which I now often teach.

About five years ago, before all this FightWrite business began, I attended a class at the Realm Makers conference on world building. When you have a work set in a world unlike our own, you have to create it from the ground up for your reader. Star Wars is a great example of this. From the opening scene of A New Hope - the first movie to come
out in 1977 which I saw in the theater, thank you very much -  we know that the world we are about to enter is unlike our own. Yes, the movie begins with the phrase, "Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." so we know right off the bat it's happening before now, or then, 1977, and outside the Milky Way. But, it's not until about two minutes in that we actually get what all that means. We see the first spaceship, a Blockade Runner, being stalked down by an Imperial Star Destroyer. (Oh, I just got chills.) From that moment, we as viewers know that we aren't in Kansas any more.

By the end of the movie, all the viewers understand that the world of Star Wars is very different. Yet we know that world so well we could all step into it and function appropriately. That is because George Lucas did a great job at world building. A meticulous job! My friend Kathy Tyers Gillin wrote two of the books in the Star Wars book series. She told me that before she began she was sent boxes of material about the characters she would be writing and the world in which they lived. She had to know it all like the back of her hand and not deviate by even a hair on Han's head. (Oh, Han...sigh)Why? Because to all of her readers, the Star Wars book series isn't just a bunch of fiction books. It is a chronicle of people they know in a world that exists. It's the same with the movies. Fans of both know the Star World universe intimately. Glory, some folks know Luke Skywalker's family tree better than their own. Why? Because of a little thing we all like to rebel against yet require: rules. (Insert thunder clap and ominous laugh.)

It's true, folks. In real life and story worlds, we must have rules/limits/boundaries. These create reality in unreal settings and normalcy in what is completely abnormal. In the world of Star Wars, Han Solo doesn't use the Force. Why? Because Lucas decided those limits for him. Does Yoda use the Force to destroy the Death Star? No. Why not? Because that's a rule Lucas created for Yoda's ability. Why does Leia inherently know Luke is alive after the Death Star explodes but can't sense that he is her twin???? Because Lucas decided they were siblings after he wrote that Leia knew Luke was alive. Which is way too late. Like, one passionate kiss too late. Yuck. But, regardless, Leia's ability or intuition clearly has limits. Very unfortunate limits.

If your setting is supernatural in some way, you should know the rules of it. If your character is magical, you should know their abilities and the boundaries of them. Yes, there has to be boundaries because if a character is all powerful the story is over. And, write those limits down because you might forget what they are and write a brother and sister in a lip lock. Seriously, if George Lucas can forget that Luke and Leia kissed, we can forget that our wizard can't control water fowl when the third moon on planet Hoozywhat is half red. Ya feel me here?

Now, we get back to Millie's query. If a character can inflict damage by means of magic, you as a writer must know how that happens and how to handle it. That comes by knowing exactly what the magic is and its limits. The other characters or your readers need not know all the specifics of the magical power. In fact, don't tell them. Make them wonder how it will all pan out. And, then SHOW them. Show the other characters and the reader the magic and the damage it creates by how characters respond. Make that response something to which everyone involved can relate. Look, I don't know what it's like to take a hit from a light saber. I mean, the day's not over yet but for now I don't. If George Lucas had one character tell another, "old so and so got whacked with a light saber," we wouldn't have even known the injury hurt. And, honestly, from the movies, we don't know what that pain is like exactly. But, we know that taking a hit from a light saber can, at its worst kill you. And if it doesn't kill you, it darn well hurts because we see it on the characters' faces. We also know that a light saber cauterizes its wound because Luke's arm doesn't bleed when it gets whacked off in The Empire Strikes back. That counts as a limit to that "magical" weapon. And, it's kind of an important one.

Also, show what it feels like to emit that magic. What strain does it put on the one wielding it? Does that power require a tool or outside source or is it inherent to the being? Can the being feel the magic leaving them? And, hey, that magic should come at a cost. There has to be a balance. For example, using the Force puts strain on the one using it. The greater the use of the Force, the greater the strain. Also, the Force requires one to choose sides. That's an emotional cost. You are either on the good side or the Dark Side and if someone you love is not on the same side as you, they are an enemy to your way of life. Oh, and, you have to learn to use the Force! It takes practice. Let that be a lesson for all your magical beings. Being born with an ability is not the same as knowing how to wield it well.

When coaching a writer with a fight scene, I always tell them to focus on the sensory details of a fight. I say the same when dealing with magic. Focus on the sensations created by that magic. And, those sensations must have an element of realism. Otherwise, your reader won't understand them. Also, be certain to show the ramifications of the wounds the magic inflicts. Show the mess it makes or lack of. Show swelling, frothing at the mouth, a grimace followed by a gurgle or guttural moan. Those things will show the reader not only the type of damage the magic causes, but the severity of that wound and the pain associated with it. 

Now, to do that, you will need to know a bit about injuries. And you can learn all about that in my book Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes. I've got an entire section dedicated to injuries. So, if you want to know how to show the internal bleeding or concussion caused by an energy pulse (a writer asked me about that), you just turn to the injury section in the book. Ta-da! Magic! Here's the table of contents for ya just in case you're wondering what else doth be lingering betwixt the pages.

That's it for this round at Thank you Millie for your question. You were fun to chat with at Realm Makers.

Guys, don't forget about my FightWrite podcast and for cool FightWrite gear, head to WriteAroundtheCorner on Etsy. Until the next round, get blood on your pages. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

What Writers Can Learn About Knives from John Wick

I recently did a podcast on this very subject on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play If you have a few minutes give it a listen. And hey, while you're at it, just go ahead and subscribe. 😃 

Writers, if you have not seen any of the John Wick movies, fret not. You will still understand this post. Promise. And, if you plan on seeing them and just haven't had a chance, I won't spoil anything for you. Promise, promise. 

If you are a fan of the series, and have seen John Wick 3, you know that it is the most knife heavy. However, I will only be referencing John Wick 2 in this post so that if anyone wants to see what I'm talking about, they can rent the movie.


Ok, giddy-up!

JohnWick uses a double edge knife for close quarters combat. I'm referring to the subway scene and his fight against Cassius. In that scenario, the double edge is super smart. To understand why, you have to know a bit about knives. It just so happens that I have a blog post on single versus double edge knives right here that goes in depth about the differences and purposes of each. But, in the interest of time, lemme tell ya real quick the most important thing. Double edge blades are more efficient for stabbing.

The more metal there is in the tip of the blade, the stronger the tip is. However, for efficient piercing and a deep breech (that's a nice way of saying stab) you need a bit more than strength. You also need two keen edges. (If you aren't sure what an edge is, give this a look.) While a single edge blade certain can pierce, that is not its most efficient use. A hearty target will hinder the single blade from breeching very deep.

Which brings me to the double edge. Not only does the double edge have a decent bit of metal in the point, it has two edges that go all the way to the end of that point.(You may hear "tip" used for "point". Both are the pokey end of the blade.) That allows the double edge to not only pierce with a smaller likelihood of breakage, but it also allows it to cut as it goes allowing it to sink deeper.

Why does that matter in closer quarters combat? Well, first of all, the closer a combatant is to a character, the more dangerous they are period. Also, if a blade is drawn, the assumption should be mortal harm. So, our characters have to respond in kind to not only the threat of proximity but the weapon. They will have to kill or be killed, and when it comes to dispatching, stabbing beats an incised wound. Yes, incised wounds can kill, but there is a lesser likelihood. If you aren't sure what an incised wound is or if you need a reference for stab wound shapes, here is a post. The pictures are graphic. You've been warned.

Even if a stab would is smaller than an incised wound it has a greater degree of danger for several reasons. 1. It can go through ribs. Yes, a hearty incised wound by a sword can cut through ribs. But, we are considering knives and I'm not sure the average human can put that kind of weight behind the slash of a regular sized knife. I'm not saying it's impossible. The only absolute in fighting is that there are no absolutes. But, as you can see from the linked post of incised wounds, the ribs are pretty good at protecting the vital organs. A dagger, which is a double edged blade, can get in between those ribs. Now, an incised wound can open up the belly and release the contents. It does have that going for it! And, an incised wound can open up arteries near the surface of the skin. It's got that going for it too. But...

2. A stab wound can be more lethal because you can't as easily staunch the flow of blood. Pressure can be applied to an incised wound. That is not the case if the wound is a hole that goes several inches into or through the body. (I got over those types of wounds in my book btw. You really do need it.) Yes, the hole can be packed with gauze or even a finger can be inserted to lessen the flow of blood. But, that's tougher than just applying superficial pressure.

And, let me go ahead and stop right there for now. In our next post, we will look more at blades in close quarters combat. Trust me, if your character is in a narrow stairwell, they may want a knife over a sword.  

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages. Oh, hey, don't forget to check out my book: FightWrite:How to Write Believable Fight Scenes.   

Saturday, June 8, 2019

What Writers Can Learn from John Wick

First things first, my book, Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes, hits shelves June 11!!! If you would like to be entered into a drawing for a free, signed copy, ❤️  this post on Instagram, #fightwriteJohnWick, and follow me on the same. Simple as that. I will choose a winner before June 15, 2019. If you would like to buy it in stores, go to to the writing section in any Barnes and Noble. From release until the fall, it should be on a top shelf display.

Ok, second things second, you do not have to have seen the John Wick movies to understand this post. Let me say that right (write) up front. And, I will not spoil anything for those who haven't seen any of them and plan to do so. Promise. Let me also say that John Wick movies put the OH in viOlent! If you are easily offended by physical confrontation, do not go anywhere near this movie.

If you know me or listen to my podcast, you know that I love me some John Wick. And, that is not just because I am a fighter, I love the movies as a writer. There's things that all writers, whether they write action/fight scenes or not, can learn from these movies. In this post we will focus on writing. And, everything I'm presenting here is Writing101. But, if you are like me, sometimes you need an example to help you remember things! In the next JW post, we will focus on fighting. I will do a podcast on this subject as well because it just makes me happy! iTunes Spotify

Ok, here we go..

1. Show what is normal and put your reader in the middle of it. 

Unique coins play a special roll in all of the JW movies. We see one of these coins long before we know the history of them. And, the coin itself is never explained fully in any movie thus far. But, as soon as one shows up on screen, we are shown the ramifications of receiving it. That is what is most important. Yes, I immediately wanted to know the background of the token and why it looked like it did. But, what mattered more was what happened as a result of the coin showing up. In the world of John Wick, that unique coin and its twisted consequences are completely normal. And, the characters who deal in those coins treat them as such. They do not look at the coin and explain it because you don't generally explain what is normal. It needs no explanation. Because, it's normal.

Sci Fi movies are great this sort of thing. When Star Trek first aired on September 8, 1966, there was no explanation of the science of artificial gravity, the "flip phone" style communicators or how Scotty was able to beam anyone up. Each of these things was presented as fact and viewers were simply expected to accept it and get in step.

It is very tempting to over explain to the reader why abnormal things are completely normal in our story world. And, I have a theory as to why that is. Now, this is just my opinion. Take that for what it's worth.

I think we as writers over explain what we ourselves don't quite believe. In other words, we over explain things that we don't have confident knowledge of. In real life, when we lie, we over embellish. We give extemporaneous details that are not needed in our explanation because, in truth, ironically, we are not only convincing the target of our lie but our own selves as well. 

If I ask you to describe an apple, you will likely do so quite easily without a heap of words. But, if I ask you to describe an imaginary fruit, you will go into more detail because, one, it's something with which I have no experience. Two, it's something with which you also have no experience. You're explaining it, in part, to give yourself, just as much as me, a clearer vision of the fruit.  

The thing is, if that imaginary fruit is a common food in your story world, you have to treat it like it's an apple. If your characters all stand around the fruit and describe every detail, it won't make sense and it will take your reader out of the moment.  Show how the fruit appears in the way it is held. Let the reader hear the crunch or lack of. Make the juice run down the character's chin or the fibers of the fruit stick in the character's teeth. Ya know what I mean? IT'S THE SAME WITH FIGHT SCENES btw. I will get to that in the next post.

So, the first John Wick writing lesson is this: Don't explain the coin! Just show what happens when one pops up.  

2. The difference in a hero and villain is who is telling the story.

John Wick is a murderer. Period. No way around it. He dispatches people with extreme, and often messy, prejudice. He destroys property, he endangers innocent lives. And, darn it, we cheer him on! The more felonious he is, the more get behind him. Because, to us, John Wick is the good guy even though he isn't good. That is because the story is told from his perspective. 

I have said this many times and I didn't make it up. Y'all, the only difference in a hero and villain is who is telling the story. If you ask the Russian mob if John Wick is a good guy, they will quickly tell you, Nyet! Oh baba yega! That's a transliteration that means: No, he is (the) boogeyman! If the movies were made from the perspective of the Russian mob, they would be quite different. We would hate John Wick. (Can you really hate Keanu Reeves though? It begs the question!)

We have to look at our stories from all angles. Our good guy doesn't have to be good. In fact, sometimes, the less good they are, the better. We all love an antihero. The antihero is not what he should be, but in that moment, he is everything we need him to be. That gets into the whole antihero concept which is for another post. 

On that same note, your villain can't be all bad. If he is, the world will see him coming and not fall for his schemes. And, nobody would likely team up with him so the whole "henchmen" thing won't work. Sometimes the henchmen are the best part of the story. Case in point, Minions!

Your bad guy can't be a universally hated, one dimensional blob that just oozes through town devouring things. Unless the villain in your story is actually a blob. If that's the case, ooze on fightwriter, ooze on. Send me a scene of that. PULEASE!

The John Wick writing lesson is this: John Wick is only good because he is telling the story.

3. Show vulnerability with invincibility.

John Wick's heart is very much trashed. You are introduced to this immediately in the first movie and are reminded in the following movies. In fact, in the third installment, we learn that part of the reason he wants to live is because of the thing that broke his heart.

Maya Angelou said, people will forget what you say, but they won't forget how you made them feel. As soon as we find out what John Wick's vulnerability is, we feel it. We can't help but feel it. We don't even know all the details surrounding what broke his heart. We know the bare minimum and that's enough because that scant bit of info is enough to make us hurt for him. As soon as a reader feels what a character is feeling, they identify with them. They connect.  

Why do you want your reader to connect with a character? Well, let's look at connect in the literal sense. If your reader is handcuffed to your character, they are doing what your character is doing. And, let me tell you what, justification becomes a big ole' wide blanket once a scenario becomes personal. 

Because we are emotionally handcuffed to John Wick, we justify his actions. We know that killing one person let alone a truckload is wrong. But...   

And let me stop right there.


That's the word you want your reader to say when they tell about the bad thing a character has done. The word "but" indicates that whatever comes next is going to be in contrast to everything previous. What the character did was completely wrong, BUT...  What do you mean "but"? How can there be a "but" if something is completely wrong? What can contrast something completely wrong except something right?

You know what covers something completely wrong? That big ole' justification blanket. When we are the guilty party in something, we figure out a way to show our innocence or at least give a good enough reason for our actions that we don't get in trouble for them.

The John Wick writing lesson is this: Before we see John Wick brutal, we see him broken.

And, that's going to have to be it for this post! In the next in this series we will look at what fightwriters can learn from the fight scenes in John Wick. And, I will get back to the PTSD thing. Y'all have liked that. I will also do a podcast that goes with this series. When I do, I will post a link HERE!

Ok, fightwriters, that's it for this round at Hey, thank y'all for being so loyal as readers. For reals. News of this blog is spread by word of mouth. I don't advertise much. So, I'm here because you guys tell folks about That means the world to me and I hope I bump into all nearly 100K of you at some point. Yes, that's how many of you romp these pages and that number climbs by the thousands on the regular. I'm very blessed.  

If you can, come to the Writer's Digest National Conference in the fall and see me. When you register, use my discount code WDSPEAKER19 for $50 off.

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

PTSD 3! Fear and Anxiety

First things first, my book is out in just a few weeks! Pre Order!!! 

Ok, in our last round on we looked at how the PTSD symptoms of intrusive thoughts and insomnia manifest in the behavior of our characters. In this round, we will look at fear and anxiety more closely. 

Fear and Anxiety
Fear and anxiety are sometimes used synonymously and the two are quite different. Fear is an intense physical and emotional response to an impending or assumed impending threat. Anxiety is less intense but sustained feelings of worry, nervousness or unease that arise from impending events or situations. Both fear and anxiety are completely normal. They exist to save us from harm and are in proportion to the threat or impending event.

And, then, there is panic. Panic is uncontrolled fear and anxiety that is not in proportion to the threat. Panic pulls out a shotgun to get rid of a housefly. We'll look at that in our next round. Today, let's focus on fear and anxiety. 

Physical Manifestations of Fear

The great thing about fear is that if you feel it, whatever you're afraid of hasn't happened yet. What do I mean? Well, if you are afraid the plane you're in will crash, it's because it's not falling from the sky yet. Once it starts a wild descent, you are not afraid. You are in "survival mode". And, while survival mode is a very intense feeling, it's not one of fear.

Survival mode is a jet-fueled nothingness. You are completely aware of that moment. Not the second before or after. Just the one your'e in. Though you are fighting hard, you are numb. Pain may register, but its as if you are feeling it second hand somehow. You can't believe it is you. After the incident, you may remember nothing. The memory is a blur. If you see the incident on film, it may surprise you. You may have no recollection of what you are seeing. Or, you feel suddenly remember every moment and relive the event. But even then, there's not fear so much as shock.

I mention the book The Gift of Fear quite bit when I teach self defense as well as when I teach fighting to writers. And if you only buy one book the rest of your life, you should buy The Gift of Fear. Unless you don't have a Bible. Bible, then Gift of Fear. Ok, so TWO books! Then, my book third! But, fear is a precious thing. Your character should heed it. However, when the feared thing attacks or moment happens, that fear needs to leave. Fear is a warning. It exists to spare you from what may come. It is not intended to help you survive the coming thing but rather avoid it. It creates a storehouse of adrenaline for you to use to survive the thing you fear. That make sense?

For more on that see my posts on Adrenaline, here's one and here's another, as well as this interview with an assault victim.

Also, I want to add that what you feel in survival mode is not the same as what you feel when in a sanctioned fight. When you are in a fight that you have trained for, there's more clarity. That is one of the purposes of training. You bathe yourself in adrenaline constantly so that you learn to be productive while splashing around in it. You do still feel its effects, such as diminished pain (thank goodness!) but you do not get lost in its fog.

Ok, where were we? Ah, yes, fear and its physical manifestations!

* going pale
* freezing in place
* inability to speak
* goosebumps
* rapid heartbeat
* rapid breathing
* voice tremor
* knees buckling
* fainting
* running away
* sweat above lips or on forehead
* visible pulse
* trembling all over or in regions of body
* body odor (fear makes you stinky)
By the way, according to science, fear does have a smell although, they aren't really sure what it smells like(1). However, when study participants smelled sweat of those who were afraid, the participants also felt fear. Go figure! Also, ew.

Behavior Associated with Fear 

* elbows pressing into sides or cowering to make one's self appear smaller
* looking all around and behind one's self
* clenching teeth
* keeping one's back to a corner or wall
* easily startled
* gripping something so hard the knuckles turn white
* grabbing on to something or someone to feel protected

Physical Manifestations of Anxiety  

* sweating
* fatigue
* dizziness
* headache
* edginess
* shortness of breath
* insomnia
* upset stomach
* muscle aches
* difficulty swallowing
* tingling in limbs

Behaviors Associated with Anxiety  

* rubbing the back of the neck
* crossing arms to create a physical barrier 
* wringing hands
* bouncing foot
* rocking in place
* shifting in seat
* adjusting clothes as if they are tight or uncomfortable
* rolling the shoulders
* clutching an object such as a purse
* working a small item with the fingers
* constantly glancing at clock or door

If your character is anxious or afraid, show the reader their anxiety and fear. Not only will showing these feelings make the moment on the page more realistic, but, anxiety and fear are contagious. You're reader's brain will sink its claws into those emotions and be pulled along with the character.   

For a great, exhaustive reference on the physical and mental effects of emotions, check out The Emotion Thesaurus. It's brilliant.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages! Oh, and be sure to check out my FightWrite podcast and book!


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

PTSD for Characters

In our last round at, we looked at some symptoms of PTSD. I called it PTSD for Writers because it gave writers an overview of what PTSD was so that in this round we could look at how those symptoms could be applied to our characters. That's how I saw it in my mind anywho. However, many writers wrote in saying that they thought it would address writers getting PTSD from writing. For the record that is WIENER - Writer in Inexplicably Extreme Neurosis Engendered by wRiting. Yes, I know "writing" begins with a "w" not "r". But I think the frustration felt by that spelling error makes the acronym hit home all the more.

But, I digress... As I wrote, in this round we are looking at practical applications of those PTSD symptoms. 
Intrusive Thoughts
An intrusive thought is one which pops up repeatedly in your head. Sometimes it intrudes randomly. Sometimes it is triggered by any number of things such as a particular object, sound or situation. The more one tries to not have the thought, the more attention the thought gets. It's a lot like an ear worm, a song you just can't get out of your head. The harder you try to get rid of it, the more it plays.

When a thought intrudes in on your character, it will take their body and brain back to the moment that the memory was formed. There may be a mental flashback in this moment which allows us as writers to dig up a bit of backstory without *author intrusion.

Because mentally a character is in that moment from the past, his adrenal system will respond accordingly. Emotions from the bad experience may or may not be displayed. But, adrenaline may be released nonetheless. This could cause symptoms of fight or flight

To add to the character's emotional distress, he may be concerned that he is still the person he was in his flashback. For example, if he is a soldier and the PTSD related intrusive thought is of him killing someone, he may be concerned that he will kill someone else in his everyday life. Even though he is no longer in uniform and far from the battle in time, the feeling of threat in him will be happening in real time, in the moment. Because he feels exactly as he did when he had to kill another human, he fears those feelings will cause him to kill again.

If he does insert those past memories into the present time, he may see images from the traumatic moment. The video at the end of the post gives an example of this from The Hunger Games. Katniss looses an arrow at a dear but then sees it hit a human.

Intrusive thoughts, as well as other symptoms of PTSD could cause the PTSD symptom of insomnia. If you have never had real insomnia, you cannot understand the physical, mental
and emotional impact of it. Going without sleep for too long is downright dangerous, so much so that The Guinness Book of World Records removed longest time without sleep from its achievements. People, you can swallow a sword and pull a rickshaw with your eye sockets for the title of GBoWW Holder! But, you can't go without sleep. That should tell you something. 
Insomnia won't just make your character yawn. In fact, they may not yawn at all. It will make them feel and seem drugged. Their affect may be flat. Their physical and mental response may be slowed. The character may be easily angered or trigger happy. 

Physically they will ache in their bones and their skin may be painfully sensitive. Their heart will pound in their chest and they may be nauseated and unable to eat. If you want your character who doesn't drink to be arrested for DUI, have him drive during a bout of insomnia. 

In our next post, we will look at a few more symptoms of PTSD and how they will look in our manuscripts. Until the next round at, here's a clip of examples of PTSD in the movies and the most dangerous world records.
Get blood on your pages.

* Author intrusion is a lot of things but in this case it's when an author interrupts the flow of writing to give the reader information that does not belong in that moment. It's real irritating.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

PTSD for Writers

We just finished up a series on wounds by firearms and touched on the subject of PTSD. Over the next few posts we are going to look closer at PTSD and how it affects the characters we write. This week we will look at some of the most common symptoms of PTSD. And, in the next round, we will see how PTSD manifests in behavior.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder
that can develop after experiencing a shocking, dangerous or terrifying event. In such events, the body is sent into "fight or flight" and releases a surge of adrenaline. In our previous posts on adrenaline, we looked at how the hormone aids the body in combatting threats as well as its negative aftereffects.

Sometimes the old gray matter gets stuck in fight or flight mode. The brain stays hyper aware, uber sensitive and demands the body to remain ready for another threat. When that happens, PTSD develops. If your character has been through any sort of trauma, these symptoms could easily be a part of their storyline. And, don't assume that trauma is only related to an incident that happens to the character. It could be that your character develops PTSD after witnessing an event.

Some Symptoms of PTSD 

intrusive thoughts or memories 
loss of concentration
outbursts of anger
increased startle
emotional numbness
loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

PTSD Symptoms in Children and Teens

All of the above can be symptomatic of PTSD in children with the addition of bedwetting, acting out trauma during play time and separation anxiety. In adolescents there can  be destructive behavior and self bodily harm.

Physical Toll on the Body

As you might imagine, all of these mental and emotional states can take a physical toll on the body. PTSD can cause chronic fatigue, vomiting, sensory overload - meaning the lights, sounds, smells and overall physical sensations of an environment overwhelm a person -, distorted vision and hearing, and physical sensations associated with panic attacks.

What is a panic attack? We will look at that a little more closely in the coming weeks as well as the difference in a panic attack and anxiety disorder. We will also look at film examples of PTSD. Until then, here's a little clip about the rise of PTSD in story telling. 

And speaking of the cinema, here's a video by Martial Club comparing fight scenes in the movies to reality. Enjoy. Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Wounds by Firearms Part 3: Sensations and Trauma Video

In our first post in this three part series on firearms, we looked at some statistics regarding gun violence as well as why a bullet does damage. It's not just because it makes a hole. Promise. In part two we looked at what a "caliber" is and looked at some gross pictures. In this, the final post in the series, I spoke with a Justice of the Peace/Coroner, a paramedic and a gunshot wound victim. They all
noted a few things that could add more realism to your work in progress.

Justice of the Peace/Coroner (In the state of Texas, a Justice of the Peace acts as Coroner for a county without a Medical Examiner.)
This judicial officer said that all gunshot wounds can be fatal. There's no "safe place" to shoot a character.  So, don't assume that if your protagonist is shot in the hand that all should be just fine. She also noted that most of what she sees on TV seems fake. And, if a victim is high on drugs, they can keep fighting, even with multiple wounds, for an unbelievable amount of time.

The JoP also pointed out that gunshot wounds can be very bloody. And, the more traumatic the wound, the stronger the smell. If a bullet hits the head, brain matter can go everywhere. The bullet's trajectory is one way to determine if your character's wound to the head, or anywhere else, was self inflicted.

Just as the JoP said that bullet wounds can be very bloody, a paramedic said that sometimes they aren't very bloody at all. This paramedic attended to a victim recently who had five bullet wounds. A few were bandaged with only Tegaderm, a transparent medical dressing that looks like tape. He said that exit wounds were not always the huge, gaping holes as are sometimes portrayed on screen. In fact, the exit wound could be smaller than the bullet. If a bullet doesn't exit the body and is near the surface of the skin, it can be seen through the skin and felt. And, though very injured and with multiple wounds on the body, gunshot victims aren't always screaming in pain.

Gunshot Victim
This victim echoed what the paramedic said, when shot he didn't cry out pain. In fact, he told me that he didn't know he had been shot. The bullet hit him near the knee but he went to the ground from the impact.

In the ambulance he was given IV painkillers. When the painkillers ebbed his leg felt like dead weight. It was over a week before he went in for surgery to remove the bullet. While it was still lodged in his leg, he described the sensation as "screaming pain." After the bullet was removed, the pain was less intense but still excruciating. For weeks the slightest movement in the limb woke him up at night.

Sensations Noted by Other Gunshot Victims
Many victims say that upon being shot, they felt no pain. More than the breech of the bullet they felt its impact and describe it like being hit by a bat. Some looked at the wound with confusion and shock, not quite believing what they were seeing.

When the sensations of pain set it, they are noted as a deep numbness that gives way to burning. Sharp pain may follow similar to a bee sting or as intense, stabbing pain. If shot in the abdomen, internal bleeding will put pressure on internal organs and cause intense pain. The flow of blood causes a warm sensation as well as one that is cold and wet. Cleaning the wound is noted as sometimes being far more painful than the wound itself.

 What many victims reported most about their injury is something seldom seen on pages or screens: the emotional aftereffects. A friend of mine was shot during a fight. What he endured physically paled in comparison to what he suffered mentally. If your character is shot in an assault, or even in an accident, it is reasonable for them to suffer symptoms of PTSD which far exceeds physical healing time. And, it just so happens, PTSD will be the subject of our next post. Until then, enjoy these videos of  trauma team management of gunshot wounds. The first is a from single bullet that penetrated both legs and the second is gunshot wound to the neck. You will be directed to YouTube to see the first.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages. Oh, and, be sure to check out my book with Writer's Digest set to release on June 11.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Wounds By Firearms - 2nd Shot: Explanation of Caliber and Wound Pics

In our last post of the Wounds by Firearms series, we looked at some guns statistics in the U.S., watched a video on gun safety and saw a dead pig and live watermelon take a few slugs. This week we are going to look at bit closer at why different bullets do different damage and some examples of damage. WARNING: This post has graphic photos.

BUT FIRST,  let's look at an illustration of what's going on inside the body with different caliber bullets.  As we saw in last week's post, a bullet doesn't simply puncture the body cleanly. The energy causes a gross distortion of the skin and tissue and creates a cavity. If you didn't watch that video from last week, here ya go.

This illustration (1) shows how different bullets penetrate. Sorry it's a bit fuzzy. The number beside the bullet refers to its caliber. A caliber is the internal diameter, or bore, of gun barrel. A bullet's caliber corresponds to the gun it is designed to load. Sometimes that diameter, of both gun and ammo, is measured metrically. Sometimes it is measured by the Imperial System using inches. How do you know which measurement is used? The metric will have mm and the Imperial will start with a decimal. Even though a metric caliber and an Imperial caliber are very similar, they are not the exact same diameter. You shouldn't use metric measured ammo in Imperial measured guns and vice versa. So, a 9mm gun should hold 9mm bullets not .38 bullets even though the caliber of the two are quite similar.  

Don't assume that guns with the same caliber will do the same amount of internal damage. The bore of a gun doesn't tell you how long the case of the bullet will be. A bigger, heavier case does not always equate to greater damage. Bullets work best by transferring kinetic energy to the target and that energy rippling out as a shock wave. (We saw that in our last post.) If a bullet passes directly through the body without delivering a shockwave, you won't create an internal blast effect. But, if that hole created by the bullet is in the right place and causes the target to bleed out, then lack of shock wave isn't an issue. 

For a better understanding of ballistics, read this. It's, like, a whole science and stuff. And a hole science! Get it? Hole science..bullet hole...never mind. Any who, I am not smart enough to explain it. (I don't even understand how microwaves work other than magic.) What you need to know is that to kill a character, you don't have to have a big honking gun! Also, as you can see from the illustration, the design of the bullet can lend itself to tumbling or yawing which equals more damage. If shot in the head with a .22 hand gun, there may not be enough energy created to pass the bullet all the way through the skull. But that little bullet may clang around in there and make a real mess of things.

Ok, now we come to the part of the show that you've all been waiting for: the gross pictures.  These are all very tame pictures. I will not show you a head that's been blown to bits. I'm showing you a few just to give you some ideas. I reached out to two professionals on the subject of bullet wounds. The paramedic said all bullet wounds are different. They are like snowflakes in that respect. Unlike snowflakes, they can be shockingly bloody. That's what the medical examiner said anyway. She also said that brains go everywhere! 

Before the pics, I will provide a space buffer with two videos. The first is one of my favorite people, Hickok45, showing the difference between bullets of the same caliber. The second is some awesome awful martial arts movies.

All these pics are post mortem and cleaned up. For information on bleeding out and how to measure how much blood one is seeing, go to this post.

Soot on hand
Direct contact range - muzzle imprint

Direct contact wound - gases released from firing cause charring and stellate pattern. Soot and abrasion ring present.

Powder tattooing

Intermediate wound - entry wound irregular as bullet may have tumbled in flight, powder tattooing

Entry at left, exit at right. Exit wounds can look very different
from entry wounds as the bullet distorts in the body.

That's all I can attach because my blog is acting crazy. If the outcry is loud enough, y'all know I will get more pictures. I love you like that. But, really, this is enough. You get the point: Wounds by firearms aren't quite what you might imagine them being. 

In the next installment we will ask a medical examiner a few questions and get some firsthand accounts of what it's like to take a bullet. Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

(1) Gunshot wounds infographic from Medical College of Wisconsin University, Department of Surgery
(2) photos from