Cullen’s Whiplash Writing Recommendations: The Dirtbag’s Arsenal

I’m not even going to apologize for the drought this time, because that’s a bit old, isn’t it? It’s been too muggy here in this apartment without air conditioning, and I don’t think well when my room is hotter than 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Look, let’s just walk over to this table and- ha! Say goodbye to your hamstrings, wretch!

And so opens our (my, let’s be honest, you’ve no voice here [barring comments, of course]) intimate discourse on the proper weapons for that asshole of a villain everyone writes at some point, mostly because they’re such good fun. You know the one- snappy dresser, bit of a dandy, likes to flay people to death slowly. You’re probably picturing a lacey, smarmy boy in a puffy shirt and colorful leggings. Does he have a rapier? Yes? Well, let’s consider some alternatives before we dive straight for the cliche. I have nothing against rapiers, though if reach is your thing I recommend a nice, long spear instead. They are, quite simply, overdone. So is the katana, but I give it a pass by virtue of being just about the only type of sword used in Japan for a thousand years; the Wakizashi and Nodachi were just differently sized versions of the same thing. At that point, the sword industry is going to be unavoidably oversaturated. That, and I have a fetish for them. Everyone usually goes one way or the other on that.

I’m personally more inclined towards cutting weapons, so all my fops carry sabers. It’s just a personal preference- that, and a man with his chest opened by a vicious stroke makes for a much more disturbing image than a man stabbed neatly in the heart. Villains should kill people dramatically, at least if they’re doing it for fun. In view of this, you should remember that a fop is defined by a set of traits involving his appearance, mannerisms, and the company he keeps- just the fact that he’s a fop doesn’t inherently make him a bad fighter, or afraid to get his hands dirty. Readers also have a natural aversion to ego, so making one of your antagonists a puffed-up jackass with a quick sword is a sure way to make everybody hate him, thus prepping him for a hefty comeuppance later down the line.

You also may not need to put your pretty boy puncture-putters in lace as much as you’d think. Depending on just what era/world/cosmic loophole you’re writing in, it may be better to put some filigreed armor on the man; in this case I’d also recommend you swap out the saber for a longsword. The longsword, assuming we use the correct historical definition of a two-handed sword still agile enough to wield with one hand, is a good weapon of choice for the man who thinks he’s better than everyone else- conveniently, it occupies the same niche in European culture that the katana did in Japan. Using a longer blade both enforces some distance from the opponent, which is a great way of saying ‘Piss off peasant!’ and will convince the uninitiated that the bearer is more skilled, since we all know that controlling a longer blade is harder and so on. This actually depends on the balance of the weapon, but it’s the perception that counts.

In the ranged weapon department you’ve got more choices to work with, since all of them have the bonus of keeping blood off those nicely polished pauldrons. Matched pistols are a great starting point, if you’re writing in a gunpowder-enabled culture. Not only does this scumsucker have enough money to have pistols custom made for him, but he’s got so much damn capital he can pay to make sure the engravings are perfectly coordinated on both of them, and then he’s got a little extra to make sure the pistols can actually hit targets. Next up after this, a rifle is great if you’re in the Enlightenment, in the days preceding precise machinery that could add rifling to a barrel reliably. Having a gun that reliably plucks eyes out at a distance where the competition are lucky to hit the broad side of a small lake (historically accurate inaccuracy!) gives a pretty significant advantage, and that’s what you’re really going for: the man who has the best weapon, not necessarily the best skill.

This probably accounts for the prevalence of rapiers. While they’re not actually lighter than most swords, they are balanced precisely inside the handguard, which allows them to handle very quickly, even in relatively inexperienced hands. Again, however, I’d rather the saber because of that lovely slicing action. Yes, you could prick a man repeatedly in the shins until he’s too weakened to fight back, then stab him in the face, but you could also toy with him for a second before opening his entire arm from the elbow to the wrist, cut both his legs off, and stab him once he’s down. A rapier makes for a very dignified death, and that’s exactly the opposite of what your dandy should be trying to give people.

Also, cutting swords are just scarier. Let’s be frank, and elegance be damned- if one swordsman killed twenty men in a day with a rapier, and another bifurcated a single man with a two-hander, which do you think would make for a more visceral fight scene? And the first one is a perfectly valid opinion, but you’ll have to hide that every killing is effectively, ‘Marconi stabbed the man really fast.’ And if you want elegant, people should die in their sleep, because violent death tends towards the undignified.

And seriously, nix the puffy sleeves. The German Landsknechte made a point of wearing slashed jerkins, but the people who got slashed tended to be on the ones who laughed.

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