Common Fight Myths in Fiction: Busted!

By T. Trian

Here I’ve compiled the Dirty Half-Dozen, six common fight myths frequently encountered in fiction. How many have you spotted in books/movies? How many have you written yourself? I know I’ve been guilty of a couple, but luckily I met people who succeeded in pulling my head out of my ass. Enjoy the read and if you find you’ve written some yourself, don’t get your panties in a bunch, just choose whether you want to be fantastic or realistic.

1. The Flying Weapon Myth

We’ve all seen them in movies, we’ve all read about them in books: something happens, the character gets hit, stumbles, sneezes, whatever, and the weapon, be it a knife, sword, or gun, goes flying. Usually this is used to create suspense, but really, is it absolutely necessary to rely on something so cheap to make a scene exciting? Because in real life, yes, sometimes weapons do go flying, but not nearly as often as the entertainment industry would have us believe. Here’s why:

Imagine that you are in a combat situation. You’re holding a sword or perhaps a pistol. Someone is about to kill you and you have no way out of the situation except by fighting. Yeah, it can be a rough ride: you may stumble, you may get hit, you may be struck with a corny line delivered by your attacker. Whatever the case, you are in mortal danger. Do you really, really grip your weapon loosely enough that something as simple as being struck or falling over makes you relinquish your grip on the one item that might help save your life or the lives of your loved ones? I don’t think so.

Grab it like it’s a Lego!

I’ve trained martial arts/combat sports for, oh, about 25 years and some of it has been with weapons (I’ve been shooting guns for about five years), and I can assure you, even when I’ve been punched, kicked, or slammed on the tatami, my training knife or pistol has never went flying (unless I was knocked unconscious or someone disarmed me [no, nobody’s ever managed to kick a training knife/gun out of my hand]). Why? Because I was gripping it like you’re supposed to grip a weapon! Hard! Sure, not with white knuckles but you get the idea: no spaghetti fingers.

So please, when you’re writing your next combat scene with weapons, do reconsider if you were planning to make your character’s weapon fly off because a mosquito happened to bump into them or something equally stupid.

2. The Heavy Sword Myth

Okay, this one concerns swords. Again, Hollywood and fantasy books are filled with swords as heavy as the anvils they were made on, things only inhumanely strong men or amazons could wield effectively. Bullshit. Here’s a novel notion: swords are weapons! They are supposed to be light and fast so you can actually fight with them!

If it looks like it’s made of stone… might be heavy AND musical!

Don’t take my word for it: go to your local historical fencing school and pick up one of their real swords, actual historical replicas of real medieval swords. Chances are, it’s going to be light and it’s going to be fast. A girl of twelve could easily wield a longsword and carve her initials on the supposed muscle man/woman with the anvil-heavy sword before her opponent could deliver even one blow.

3. The Musical Sword Myth

Yeah, you’ve heard the satisfying “zzzing!” when the hero or heroine draws a sword in a movie or a book. Bullshit. When do swords make sounds like that? When they’re drawn along a hard surface like metal. Now, why would anyone line their scabbard with metal? Furthermore, why wouldn’t every single swordsman/woman line their scabbards with something soft like wool, fur, or leather in order to make it actually possible to draw the weapon without alerting the entire kingdom? You know, in reality, they probably did. “But then I can’t write in the zzzing!” someone might whine. Well, tough luck. You just have to choose between realistic and stupid.

4. The Street Karate Tournament Myth

A street fight that looks like a point karate tournament. Again, if you strive for realism, unless you want to consciously write an exception to the very strong rule, I have one tip for you: don’t do it. Real fights look nothing like karate tournament bouts. In fact, they usually don’t even look like an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout either. If you want to know how to describe a real fight, go to YouTube, search for street fights, brutal knock outs, whatever, and you’ll see what real fights look like. Pretty? No. Cool? No. Ugly? Yes. Realistic? Yes.

Still more realistic than some fight scenes.

5. The Fantasy KO Myth

All too often we see a character knock out somebody or get knocked out for an extended period of time. Usually just long enough for the KO to serve its purpose as a poor plot device. But take into consideration that if a person is unconscious for over six hours, that’s considered a state of coma. If someone has received a blow hard enough to make them pass out for that long, there’s also a good chance of post-traumatic amnesia often conveniently ignored in fiction when the hero wakes up and springs into action with no signs of disorientation, memory loss, or even barfing.

Knock outs in general are very convenient in fiction: want to get rid of a guard without killing him? Whack him on the back of the head with a club, rock, or the butt of a gun. The guard goes down, unconscious, and later wakes up with a headache. Try a broken skull. And he probably won’t be waking up.

There’s another convenient way to use knock outs: a character can take all kinds of punishment, dozens of punches and kicks smack on the melon over the course of a fight, yet they just shrug them off. Then when it’s convenient for the plot, all it takes is one punch and the same, previously indestructible, granite-headed character turns into a glass jawed wimp and gets KO’d (but just for long enough for the plot to get to the proper point where it’s convenient the character wakes up… without any additional trauma than perhaps a headache, if even that).

If you want to be realistic, please, please research the subject you’re writing about! Ask doctors, MMA referees, boxing coaches, and more often than not, they will be more than happy to share what they know about KOs and their effects on people.

His knees and back were also pretty sore when he finally woke up six hours later.

I have gotten KO’d and I can tell you, it’s no fun. But I can also tell you, most people wake up within seconds after getting knocked out. Granted, they’ll likely be disoriented, dizzy, have a massive headache, even throw up, but unless it’s a case of more serious head trauma, they won’t stay down for minutes, much less hours on end. Unless you want to write an exception to another strong rule. Generally such exceptions are a bad idea.

6. The Veteran Rookie Myth

Have you ever wondered why the world is a mess? I’ll tell you: it’s because soldiers, police officers, guards, and the like are so stupid, they can’t even put their pants on the right way. Or so you would think judging by all the stupid things they do in movies and books (unless they are the main character). We’ve all seen books and movies where the hero or heroine wastes dozens and dozens of enemy soldiers/guards/what have you. How come this doesn’t happen in real life?

Simple: soldiers, police officers, and guards are actually normal people. With normal brain capacities. They can think for themselves. They generally know what they are doing at least to the degree that if there are many of them, one guy or gal doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell against them.

Too many times I’ve read a fight scene where the lead hero is fighting against professional assassins. And yet these supposed professionals make mistakes even rookies wouldn’t. Why? Just so that the hero can actually survive and not get his ass kicked across the street and back. I mean, if you’re, say, a professional soldier, you probably can shoot at least a little bit. This means the hero trying to dash across the room into safety has a low chance of survival and an even lower chance of getting out without a serious, debilitating injury.

I always wondered in movies why people shoot at what they don’t see? I mean a scene where the hero is behind cover, say, a truck, and the bad guy is behind cover, say, a rock, and they take turns at shooting at… what? Each other? No. They shoot at the truck and the rock. All this while common sense would dictate that they would try to hit each other, not their covers. So why, oh why would any supposed professional waste precious ammo shooting at a rock when the bad guy is crouching safely behind it? What good does it do? Sure, the exception is when the hero is trying to buy time for him/herself or another person to reach safety while keeping the bad guy down. You know, laying suppressing fire. Well, aside from this, no pro who knows his shit would just shoot randomly at the cover of the bad guy because it accomplishes absolutely nothing except wasting ammo. And contrary to popular belief, most pistol magazines contain 7-16 rounds, not 1000.

Guards or cannon fodder?

So please remember: soldiers, cops, guards, they are humans. Just like you and me. So it’s unlikely they would be so stupid as to just run at the hero to get shot and up the book’s/movie’s body count.

Oh, one more thing: there are authors who write about guns as if they know what they are talking about when in reality they know jackshit. Do us all a favor: if you don’t know a shitload about guns, about how they work, about how to use them properly in combat etc. do not write about them as if you did! Nothing screams “dilettante” like an author writing a supposedly professional combat and firearms expert spewing bullshit like “plastic is for Tupperware, real guns are made of steel,” or perhaps “9mm is for pussies, 40S&W stands for forty short and weak. The only real man’s caliber is *insert any caliber between .45 ACP and .500 S&W Magnum*.” The thing is, real professionals know that the best tool for the job is the one that gets it done, whether it’s a family heirloom custom 1911 or a stock Glock 19, and that effective combat shooting stems from shot placement, not caliber as long as the caliber is big enough to do the job required (be it killing a fly or punching through two walls and a Kevlar vest).

Peace out,

T. Trian

You might also like:

5 Ridiculous Gun Myths Everyone Believes (Thanks to Movies)

5 Myths About Military You Believe (Thanks to Movies)

Most Common Myths About Basic Training


5 thoughts on “Common Fight Myths in Fiction: Busted!

  1. Ah, should’ve expected I’d be guilty of every one of these myths! Well, this was a big eye opener. Great article – I’ll be sure to remember those facts. I think you told me about the unconscious thing once before. I haven’t knocked a character out for more than a minute since then. (Well, aside from the ones with serious head trauma)

    Also, those articles you linked are cool. Good stuff. : )

    • We’ve also had the zinging sword, and there was one heavy sword in our first fantasy attempt as well, so yeah, live and learn 😛 anyhow, not meaning to be a spoil sport, fantasy is fantasy and our intent is not to kill the magic, it’s just that there are a few things we, especially T, are nitpicky over 😛

      • Good point! I, too, aim to be realistic while preserving the magic. Stuff like that make sense, though. I told my friend about the zinging sword, and he said he already knew about that. I wanted to strangle him for not telling me after he’d read me doing that so many times. xD

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