Life and Plotting: Best Block, Don’t Be There

If you’ve seen The Karate Kid, you probably recognize Mr. Miyagi’s piece of sage advice: The best way to block a hit is simply to not be in that space at the time it lands. This may be played down in comic books and shonen manga, but if your story shades more toward realism, your characters ought to try to avoid getting hit. Even if they have super-healing, it still hurts.

There are many levels of don’t be there. First and foremost is not getting into a physical altercation in the first place. There are many, many nonphysical means of avoiding violence. None of which, unfortunately, are foolproof. Drat.

Information is your best tool for winning a fight; and winning can mean never having to lift a finger in the first place. Savvy characters should know, or try to learn, where the bad parts of town are. What surroundings lend themselves to an ambush. What behavior is normal for an area, and what stands out and makes you a target. Who is most likely to be a dread dacoit or footpad after your purse, your virtue, or your life.

Some of this info should be easy to get listening to locals or casually walking around. (Preferably in broad daylight.) But if you’ve been isekai’d, or stumbled into the bad part of town courtesy of a flat tire or some other such inconvenient Plot Device, you may not have the time. Then what?

Manners are the grease that eases the squeaky wheels of social interaction. Being polite can, under the right circumstances, de-escalate an incipient fight or riot and let a character walk (or limp) away in mostly one piece.

Running is also an option. Tricky, though. It’s best done if you can grab the element of surprise. And hopefully be faster than the other guy, or able to use the terrain to your advantage to slip out of sight quickly. It’s even better employed before any face-to-face confrontation can happen. Ask any gypsy or Traveler clan; moving on before someone cranky at you can wind up for violence is a good survival strategy.

A character could, of course, just jump straight to fighting their way out. And maybe a Greek hero cut off in traffic would do that. (Oedipus, oi.) But if you’re trying to write a hero rooted in American culture, what’s valued is controlled violence, only as a last resort. So heroes generally try some kind of de-escalation first… and if someone still tries to tear them apart, then you get to write the massive beatdown of the unlucky villain.

BTW, let it be massive. As maximally effective mercenaries might say, if violence isn’t your last resort, you didn’t resort to enough of it the first time.


…Just some stray thoughts, partly spawned by the move. Which was a way of avoiding potential fights – now I’m behind a door I can lock and warn someone they’re trespassing if they show up anyway. As opposed to a tenants-in-common situation with unpleasant Relatives threatening to show up for holidays. Those suck. Big time.

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15 thoughts on “Life and Plotting: Best Block, Don’t Be There

  1. “As maximally effective mercenaries might say, if violence isn’t your last resort, you didn’t resort to enough of it the first time.”

    Or as someone suggested the Marines say: “Whatever doesn’t kill me had better start running.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Admittedly, that’s one of the few things that gets me whenever I watch anime: the heroes tell the villains how they figured out a way to stop them. Doesn’t happen all the time and they don’t *stop* their enemies from making a mistake, but it doesn’t necessarily seem like a good idea to tell the bad guys how you blocked them. Unless there’s a cultural reason for it which I am missing, it just doesn’t seem like the most tactically safe thing to do.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Half Sherlock Syndrome– gotta show how awesome you are, right?– and part cultural, like attacking one at a time.

        And not, oh, just poisoning their water and waiting for them to drop.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Ah, I see. That makes sense. Hmm, now that I think about it, American comics have pretty much the same weakness…..

        Just to clarify, it’s not that I mind the exposition itself. It just seems tactically unwise to do it, especially in a battle. Saving the exposition for the audience and/or allies seems safer.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Oh, I agree, it’s a terrible tactical choice, and I appreciate those times when it’s been believably used to screw things up. Counting eggs before they’re hatched, and all..

        But I’ve also had to work out a mental morality where I wouldn’t shoot a medic on a real battle field, but I will take out the healer first in a video game, based on the speed with which the video game healers get/keep an immediate threat aimed at me (thus shifting to the “they’re a gunman with medical knowledge, not an unarmed doctor”) and at me, so I’m very much not a normal perspective on this!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Aaaaah, moving out. I’ve never been happier than I have been this year. I hadn’t quite realized how badly the relationship between myself and my mother deteriorated until I finally got my own place. Then I realized that part of the reason I had spend so many days off lazing in bed wasn’t because I was lazy, per se, but because I was actively avoiding any part of the house where I might encounter her. Which was largely any part that wasn’t my bedroom.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Manners are an option – if you have the right ones. I’m not much of a traveler but I’ve read enough to know that what is considered “good manners” in one place, can be considered anywhere from rude to a deadly insult somewhere else.
    In an isekai situation, your protagonist may be trying very hard to display good manners and de-escalate a situation, only to get him/herself into even more hot water.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s relatively rare for the isekai protagonist to make a subtle misstep.
      Mostly they offend people by loudly announcing how much they hate various social institutions, religions, food, etc…
      Usually without asking for any form of clarification or details.

      In a lot of cases it gives the impression that the author has never traveled to a foreign country.
      Start with assumption that you don’t know what’s going on. See how things work out for the people there, then decide what you want to do about it.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. There used to be two different messages for arrivals in at least one airport in Japan- “Welcome Home” in Japanese, and “Welcome to Japan, please follow the rules” in English, etc.

        Though, foreigners normally don’t have to worry about any problems caused by inadvertent or ignorant violations of “the rules”, thanks in part to the culture of avoiding open conflict/confrontation.

        But if foreigners insist on being disruptive/confrontational, things can get sticky quickly. If you end up coming to the attention of Authorities in a negative sense, they have no humor whatsoever, and will use their bureaucracy to make your life unpleasant.

        If you should lose your ID/Visa, JR pass, etc, it’s recommended to take the first opportunity to seek out the nearest police presence, because then you’ll be treated as someone to be helped, rather than as someone causing a problem…

        Liked by 2 people

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