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Gregg Bradley
April 9th, 2004, 02:20 PM
In another thread I saw an interesting topic come up. I didn't want to side track the main subject so i started this thread.

Another writer thought that fighting with swords is far more meaningful and courageous then fighting with guns. I understand the subject and respect their views.

I, myself am a former Army paratrooper and have seen it all and heard it all.

In my own writing I have a basic war theme with an under lining tone of anti-war. For instance, in my first book, "Red Stars", the hero turns out to be someone who is meek and refuses to use a weapon of war.

In my second book( still working on it), the hero will use both sword and gun, without a second thought. However, as the story progresses, he gets tired of the killing.

My feelings are that any weapon, whether it be a sword, knife, gun, box cutter or worst of all---death by Ninjas, the outcome is the same.
Do you think that the hero is better accepted by readers if he kills by the sword or by the gun?
Do you think that it is more honorable and courageous for heros and villans to die by the sword?
Do you think a sc-fi book can be written and accepted by readers if nobody dies in the first 15 chapters?

Holbrook
April 9th, 2004, 02:48 PM
Death is death as I am sure, you, as an ex military man know. Bitter, brutal and final.


I have done a lot, and I mean a lot of research into historical sword fighting. I have worked with re-enactors, movie stunt people, historical fencing groups (WMA).

The Hollywood version of sword play is just that, play. Clashing swords for show. Nothing more. In reality it was kill the enemy as quickly as you can, before he kills you.

Folks go on about the noble art of the sword and yes, the sword is a powerful, graceful weapon in the hands of expert and I have been lucky to see some of the best in this country "work" with blades. But death from such a weapon was a horrible, painful and sometimes lingering way to die.

Does it take more courage to strike a man with a blade or pull a trigger, I don't honestly know, you are still mentally aware you are killing another human being. If you can capture some of that in a novel, the mental, internal battle of a warrior or a man/woman forced by social or survival needs to kill. Then I think you have something.

As to the other question. A book by a well known and best seeling author, has the heroine threatened by rape nearly every chapter, when the event happened it had no power. It should have been a powerful event, a one off...

Battle/conflict could be used as a one off a horrific climax of events. Not having the story stop every chapter for the "sword fight"

Kelhanion
April 9th, 2004, 03:12 PM
"Do you think a sc-fi book can be written and accepted by readers if nobody dies in the first 15 chapters?"

I certainly hope so, because my novel is basically like that. Well, one character is killed pretty early on, but not by the hero. In fact, it is the event that causes sorrow and makes the hero to run away. I think that the "kill-free" theme can be a strength (yes, even in fantasy). That adds realism and the reader can relate to the hero better, since in our society the guy who runs around killing "bad guys" with swords or axes would be considered mentally ill or at least a bad, bad criminal.

The more killing is avoided, the stronger its effect becomes when it actually takes place. In my novel the hero hurts other human beings only twice. In his spiritual pains he shoots a man with his crossbow hitting his leg. After that he feels like the worst scumbag in the world (and readers can relate to him since he didn't slaughter hordes of monsters and baddies on the previous page). The other time the hero is provoked by a drunk and he kills him from behind with a broken bottle. Not a honorable kill by any means, but it makes it even more significant.

My point is, that killing when over-used starts to numb the readers (at least me). The less you use it, the more it affects when you actually need it. Be it then a sci-fi book of a romance story, you should "ration" its typical themes - laser guns and killing in SF&F, suicides because of love in romance etc...

JRMurdock
April 9th, 2004, 03:34 PM
My views on death in writing Fantasy and Sci-fi.

Death is personal. If the hero kills someone, how does that person deal with it? If it's by the sword, it's a personal contact were you MUST look in the face of your opponent. By gunfire, it's less personal. Can be done from a distance.

It depends on your writing as to how personal the character takes the killing blow -- delivered or taken. If it's just killing enemies in a large scale battle, you probably don't want to get into each person's head. But if it's one on one, there's repercussions. As Kel put it, a death made his 'hero' run away. Will all characters react like that. Possibly not.

In my story I've a dwarf who goes into a frenzy when near a battle and death is very impersonal to him. But his gnome friend has a much more difficult time with each death on his hands. A third half-elf character enjoys doing in people as he's a thief.

Now let's dig into death and monsters. Just because the opponent isn't a human (or humanoid) doesn't mean it's any easier to take it's death. My gnome is a trapper and hunter. Death has meaning to him; life and profit. But killing in battle is quite differnt. He knows the rules of combat, but has a difficult time killing for the sake of killing (unlike the dwarf and half-elf).

Does this create a great chance to explore the psyche of each? Hell yes! Three radically different views on death. Of course when writing you can just put out there "I think killing sucks." "I think killing is fun!" "who's dead?" it's got to be much more subtle. IMHO.

When it comes down to it, Hol said it best, Death is Bitter, brutal and final. Doesn't matter if by sword or gun. What you must do is explore how the character(s) deal with it and deliver it. Or in some case it, take it.

ironchef texmex
April 9th, 2004, 04:22 PM
Originally posted by maus99

When it comes down to it, Hol said it best, Death is Bitter, brutal and final. Doesn't matter if by sword or gun. What you must do is explore how the character(s) deal with it and deliver it. Or in some case it, take it.

After nine years of police work and witnessing a variety of gunshot and melee weapon injuries I would agree that this is basically true.

As to how the reader views the sword/gun slinging hero it depends on how the action is written. A skilled writer can make even the most impersonal killing seem brutal and even the most savage murder seem blase. Whatever suits his or her purpose.

One thing to remember though is that (should the writer ever decide to be truly realistic) there is no comparison between the level of suffering on the modern battlefield and the medieval one. The reason is that before the introduction of field hospitals and morphine most soldiers died from infections well after the battle was over. These were long, agonizing deaths. Modern warfare is still brutal, of course, but if fantasy writers ever decided to 'get real' virtually every one of their heroes and heroins would have already died a dozen times over from gangrene.

KatG
April 9th, 2004, 06:21 PM
Originally posted by Gregg Bradley

My feelings are that any weapon, whether it be a sword, knife, gun, box cutter or worst of all---death by Ninjas, the outcome is the same.
1) Do you think that the hero is better accepted by readers if he kills by the sword or by the gun?
He's probably better accepted by readers if he doesn't kill at all. If he is going to kill, killing someone using an unconventional weapon like a drinking straw may be more interesting to readers than sword or gun. If he is going to use a sword or a gun, it's a good idea to do it as realistically as possible (unless you're writing a comedy perhaps,) as those readers who know something about swords and guns are otherwise likely to complain. (Of course I don't care if they complain, but some writers do.)

In a science fiction story, killing with swords would be unusual because usually, far more technically deadly weapons such as guns exist. While there would be hobbyists, fencing athletes and military folk trained in hand-to-hand combat, most people in a future setting, just like today, would not know how to fight with a sword. In fantasy stories, a lack of industrialization is common, helping magic to have an advantage. There aren't any guns, violence is more likely to be in your backyard, so people know how to and fight with swords. (Although realistically, peasants wouldn't know much about swords either.) However, fantasy is moving on from the medieval history set-up and many fantasies are set in a Renaissance-style world where at least rudimentary guns are available. But Errol Flynn is still alive and swashbuckling in fantasy.


2) Do you think that it is more honorable and courageous for heros and villans to die by the sword?
It depends on what they are dying for. A hero who throws himself in front of a bullet is probably going to be seen to be as courageous as a hero who throws himself in front of a sword blade. Unless you blow the person's face away from a bullet, you can have a nice, noble death scene from sword or gun wounds. Let's go to films -- in "The Fellowship of the Ring," we see -- oh blast, I forgot his name again -- the other human guy take on a bunch of Ur-orcs to save the hobbits and dies bravely not from sword or gun but from arrows. In "Aliens," two Space Marines sacrifice themselves to buy others time to escape the alien monsters by detonating a hangrenade. In both scenes, you'd call them brave warriors.


3) Do you think a sc-fi book can be written and accepted by readers if nobody dies in the first 15 chapters?
I certainly hope so, since in a large number of sf books, nobody dies in the first 15 chapters. In fact, in many of the earlier, shorter sf novels, there are only 15 chapters altogether and quite often, nobody dies in them at all. A lot of sf stories are about exploration, and while such exploration can lead to death, frequently such deaths are caused by accident, not by violent attack.

What I think you're asking is, is it okay to have a "military" sf story in which no one dies in the first 15 chapters. And the answer would be yes. What might be more important to ask is, is it logical and believable that no one has died from violent attack at this point in the story, given the plot. And the only one who can answer that is you, since you're the one putting the thing together.

Ouroboros
April 9th, 2004, 07:32 PM
This thread brings up interesting questions about the differences between what a professional soldier or someone with experience of actual violence might perceive it to be like, in contrast to what a readership might expect or want it to be.

The truth probably isn't glamorous enough for some, too gruesome for others, and not gruesome enough for still others.

PaxNoctis
April 9th, 2004, 09:07 PM
Interesting thread. It kind of parallels my latest story idea.

Untitled (an older one) has guns all over the place, and the death I describe is a realistic, horrible kind of death that removes any 'John-Wooesque' glamor from the killings. The reader never, for a moment, lapses into the 'action movie' mindset where it's all guns blazing and the good guy winning. Each death is, in it's own way, gut-wrenching.

My new one is set in the modern world, but with a fantasy flavor. It's about a family of immortal occultists, and the majority of them still use swords.



In a science fiction story, killing with swords would be unusual because usually, far more technically deadly weapons such as guns exist


This is why this story is interested. These guys live in a world of guns, but are still clinging to a past spent fighting wars with martial weapons. Due to their power and skill, they're MORE a match for just about any gunman with just a sword. The underlying theme is old vs. new, and how progress isn't always a good thing, and isn't always a bad thing.

In my personal opinion, killing with a gun is not necessarily 'softer' than killing with a sword. Killing is killing. But shooting someone with a gun is different than besting them in combat, fencing, and ultimately scoring the headcut. One is murder, and the other (while still being murder) is a form of honorable trial.

Gregg Bradley
April 9th, 2004, 09:27 PM
In real life--death comes in many forms.

There is very few instances of noble or courageous death today. However, in science fiction we can make them happen and as much as we imagine.

I can still understand how on the field of battle, a man facing another man with swords has control of their destiny. They also have control of their physical prowness and have the opportunity to show mercy.

On a modern battlefield, mercy is very rarely shown to your enemy. Even after they surrender.

One man or woman on the modern battle field rarely comes out as a renown hero.

Men with swords can exploit heroism and can become legends for centuries to come.

To die by the sword is far more horrible and painful then by a quick bullet. There is no glory or honor in warfare. A hero can die bravely, though, and will always be remembered by his comrades that survived. Only in fantasy and science fiction can we make a Luke Skywalker or Frodo or Count Ulric or Elric. (hey, KatG, i can't remember the human hero of Lord of the Rings either!)

So we all fantasize and write the most noble and courageous character that comes to mind.

I believe, that it is possible, like KatG commented, that someone could write a sword and sorcery novel where nobody dies in the first few chapters. Unfortunately, it would not keep the readers attention unless some type of human or alien conflict enters the plot later on.

My German wife said it best tonite. "I'd rather die of old age in bed."

Would we still like to read a book where the hero died of old age at the end?

drw
April 9th, 2004, 11:52 PM
The cause of death is irrelevant. You want a hero, tell me WHY he killed his victim. You want honor, tell me how he feels about killing the victim, how he _really_ feels about the act, and why the murder was acceptable/unacceptable.

In 'A Time to Kill', the character Carl Lee Haley is a hero. A murderer, but the circumstances and his reasoning make him a hero. He uses a gun to commit the murder, and inadvertantly cripples a police officer, and is no less a hero because of it.

If your world has guns and swords, consider this. If you have a sword and a gun readily available, but stand across a room from a sword wielding assailant and reach for YOUR sword.. that is an act born of stupidity, not honor. The "come face me like a man" taunt, forcing the maniac to drop his gun and pull out his knife, only works in Arnold Swarzenegger(sp?) movies. In a real life-or-death situation, _maybe_ one in 10 million people would really make a decision based on his honor.

A spec-fic. book can be successful without a death early on in the story, or ever for that matter. A death is an easy opening into the central conflict, or a drastic enough event to end the opening stasis. - I personally think that an early death is on it's way to becoming a cliche story opening, at least in the spec.-fic genre.