DragonCon 2016 Report: Fightin’ and Writin’

To begin with, I did not get fancy with the title of this panel. This is how it’s spelled out in the DragonCon listing.

In this panel

Never make a foolish mistake in a fight scene again. These pros will enlighten writers in weaponry–past, present, and future–and hand-to-hand combat. Additional Panelists: John Robinson(Moderator)

And while the list shows 6 writers, the only two people we needed were John Ringo and Kevin Dockery. In fact, while all 6 authors spoke, only Ringo and Dockery gave anything resembling original answers. I’m certain that if he could, Matthew Bowman, who was with me at the time, could correct me on this, but his problem was he couldn’t even hear the others, since they weren’t speaking half as clearly as Ringo and Dockery. Everyone who spoke after them (and they always spoke first), gave no answers of their own, but only served to expound and elaborate on the replies of Ringo and Dockery. So if you’re wondering why no one else is mentioned, it’s because no one else was worth mentioning.

On the idea of how to show fighting in character point of view, Ringo noted that he tends to spend 35,000 words focused on the primary character of the story. This person is on the level of a LT or a sword swinger. The secondary character, upon which Ringo would spend some 25,000 words, is a higher up, perhaps a Captain, giving you an overall viewpoint of the battle itself. Of course, the reader would be introduced to this secondary character by interactions with the primary character.

Dockery noted that, since most of his experience comes from dealing with SEALs and other SpecOps, he writes primarily from the individual point of view. And since anti-terrorist missions are single missions, strategy really isn’t as big a concern from Dockery’s standpoint. The command structure is there for tying everything together. But at the end of the day, battle is always personal.

Also, one of Dockery’s major complaints about fighting is what to do with the bodies of the dead. Killing terrorists all over town and just leaving the bodies lying around just makes it look like Chicago on a Fourth of July weekend. That was one of the things he liked about John Wick, with the “cleanup service” Wick called.

Next question: What do you do when the hero is unarmed and the enemy has ammunition?

John Ringo: Does anyone watch Supernatural? See how the Winchesters hold guns? That’s not how to do it. They always have the finger on the trigger, and they stop short of scratching their ears with the muzzle of the gun. And they suck at holding guns. The monster always knocks the guns out of their hands. Every single time. No one has that lousy gun discipline. Get a lanyard!

When I do it, I prefer that my hero runs out of ammo, not have the gun knocked away. There was one marine unit on patrol in a town in Afghanistan, and ran into Taliban moving into town. They caught each other by surprise. The Marines ran out of ammo, and their resupply was ambushed, and while their was hand to hand fighting, they and the Taliban eventually had to get the hell out of there.

Dockery: There are occassions where there is hand to hand fighting. There was this one time a Gurkha ran out of ammo. The last Taliban he beat over the head with the tripod of the machinegun.

[Ringo mutters something off mic]

Dockery [To Ringo]: Don’t steal my line.

Dockery [To audience]: Don’t f*** with the Gurkha.

Ringo: As Hemingway said, good writers create, great writers steal. Steal from reality. At Waterloo, the most vicious fighting was in a farmhouse. The fighting was vicious and went all close range by the end. They were strangling each other. 20% of the casualties at Waterloo were in that farmhouse. Why? Because when soldiers are that close, they do not break contact. Anyone remember, in the 80s, martial arts schools said the best defense was to run away? But at short range, you turn your back, you die. You can’t do that. Read John Keegan’s Face of Battle or Sharpe’s Waterloo. You’ll see what I mean.

Question: Best in show? What would you hold up as the perfect weapon or fight.

Ringo: Wow, that question is so open, that’s 5 panels. Anyone who knows Katanas knows that they are made to cut through flesh and bone. In the hands of a competent swordsman, a five-soul blade will cut off an arm and the guy won’t even notice it’s gone. But if you put it up against plate mail, it’ll just bounce off. It all depends on the context. No weapon is perfect. Not even the 1911.

Dockery: Of course there’s a perfect weapon. Nuke them all. End of story. At the end of the day, the most powerful weapon on the battlefield is a guy with a radio calling in other guys to drop more firepower on the enemy.

Question: If you’re in a time machine, and are left in the past, what weapon and one item do you want to carry?

Ringo: An e-tool. Dig with it. Kill with it. You’ll look like a sorcerer.

Dockery: My go bag.

Ringo: That’s not a thing, that’s a whole bunch of things.

Dockery: Okay then, my .45 and my Wakisashi.

As you can tell, you didn’t really need more than these two on the panel. In fact, there was another panel, “Arming the Written Word” with just Dockery and Ringo, but, alas, it was missed due to concerns of breakfast having turned into lunch (Long story).

And now, I suppose I should note that  you can get my Sad Puppy and Dragon Award Nominated Novel Honor at Stake by clicking this link. Heh.

And … enjoy.

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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