Friday, February 25, 2011

Welcome Guest Blogger, Rayne Hall


The Writer's Most Useful Weapon

For historical fiction, a dagger is the ideal weapon: plausible in many scenarios, and loaded with emotional connotations. Yet, its under-used, because few writers grasp the dagger's fiction potential.


Many authors write sword fight scenes where a dagger fight would be more plausible. Swords are large and heavy, cumbersome to carry, slow to draw, and almost impossible to conceal. In many situations, it's unlikely that a protagonist happens to carry a sword with him. By contrast, daggers are small, lightweight, quick to draw, and easy to conceal - perfect for quick responses, spontaneous action, brawls, suicide bids, self-defence and assassination.

While only people of wealth and rank can afford a sword, owning a dagger is feasible for all but the poorest. Wielding a dagger requires only moderate strength, which makes it plausible weapon for a lady. Even an injured person may be able to summon the strength for a final defence with a dagger.

For almost every scene, the dagger is a better choice than the sword (the exceptions are horseback fights and battle scenes).

The concealment offers exciting fictional opportunities. Typically, a dagger is carried in a leather sheath on the belt, easily concealed under a cloak if required. For secrecy, it can also be hidden in a boot or in a bodice. Indeed, during the renaissance, it was quite common for women to carry a dagger between their breasts (the sheath was sewn into the bodice). A dagger can also be concealed in the back of the bodice or in a hair ornament. The heroine, preparing to fight off a lecherous advance or to assassinate an enemy, can pretend to twist her necklace anxiously, or to fidget with her hair, and quickly draw the blade. Bodice daggers hilts without cross guards.

Here's a picture of a bodice dagger:


Besides its many practical uses, the dagger carries a lot of emotional and erotic symbolism.

To stab someone with a dagger, the fighter has to get close, which makes it one of the most intimate weapons. When the dagger penetrates the flesh, the hand almost touches the victim. This is very different from a bullet or arrow, which can be shot from a great distance. The closeness creates an intensely personal connection between attacker and victim. Daggers (and knives of all kinds) are often used in fights where emotions are running high: gang warfare, hate crime, vengeance.

The shape of the weapon and the fact that it's typically worn on the belt make it a symbol of male virility. In many cultures and periods, men demonstrated their manhood by displaying ornate daggers at the front of their hips, the bigger, the better.

Sometimes the hilt rather than the blade was exaggerated: Many daggers from 1200 to 1800, especially in England and Scotland, had huge, stiff, upwards-pointing wooden hilts with balls on either side. They were unblushingly called a 'bollocks daggers' (or 'ballock daggers'). Here's a picture of a ballock dagger (be prepared to gasp):

In addition, the motion of sliding a dagger into or out of the sheath can be highly suggestive. Talk about daggers lends itself to suggestive dialogue, with comments like 'Nice weapon. Are you any good at wielding it?', 'Want to see my other dagger, babe?', 'Does your dagger need polishing?', 'So you like swordplay, Milady? How about daggerplay?'


Book cover designers love daggers, especially when depicting the hero. They adore the chance to imply male virility. The elongated weapon on the hero's belt - or in the heroine's hand - hints at other things.

A dagger on the cover may increase your book's sex appeal, so it's worth telling your cover designer about it. However, many cover artists get carried away by the concept, with cringe-worthy results. I've seen covers where the hero wore the naked blade in his belt without sheath: a prelude to self-mutilation!


All fight scenes are fast-paced, and dagger scenes are the fastest of them all. Use all the fast-pace techniques you know, e.g. short paragraphs, short sentences, short words. Focus especially on verbs: cut, stab, pierce, act, slash, thrust, target, push, drive, force, press, duck, poke, kill.

Words with 'k' sounds are especially effective for dagger fights: duck, poke, cry, hack, kill.

Daggers are stabbing weapons with sharp points, usually with long, thin blades. When describing a stab wound, show blood spreading or oozing. The aim in a fight is to stab a vital organ. Stabbing directly at the chest seldom works, because the blade may glance off the ribs. If the fighter has dagger experience or anatomical knowledge, she will position the dagger below the ribcage and drive it upwards (through the diaphragm into the lungs). This is lethal and works from the front or from behind. If she knows her anatomy well (e.g. if she's a professional assassin), and if the dagger is long enough, she can aim for piercing the heart, which leads to a quicker death. Trained assassins know additional spots where a stab is lethal, e.g. under the armpit or under the chin.

Some daggers are designed for slashing as well as stabbing. These have one or two sharp edges. When describing a slash wound, show a lot of blood, streaming or even spurting. The aim in a fight with this type of dagger is either to slash the opponent's throat, or to disable him by cutting tendons, muscles or ligaments (followed with a deadly stab). Fights with slashing daggers are very bloody. The point-of-view character's hand may grow slick with blood, and her grip on the weapon may become less firm.

If you're aiming for a sanitised, gore-free version of a dagger fight - e.g. for a romance novel -, you may want to stick to pure stabbing daggers.


For an assassination scene, give your assassin stealth and knowledge of human anatomy. An assassin will plan in advance how to kill the victim, and carry out the killing with calm efficiency. It will be with a single stroke, probably a determined thrust from below the ribs.


An attacker who is motivated by intense feelings, such as outrage or hatred, will stab the victim repeatedly, and keep stabbing, perhaps even after the victim is already dead. If the motive is long-held hatred, the attacker may stab or slash the victim's face, disfiguring it.


If both fighters are armed with daggers, the fight may include wrestling-type moves as each tries to restrict the other's weapon hand.

They will also try to disable each other's weapon arm, for example by slashing the inside of the elbow. Such fights are often fuelled by emotions, intense, irrational, very bloody, and fatal.

You can watch a demonstration of dagger fighting with wrestling moves here:


If a fighter expects a fight, e.g. in a battle, he may use both sword and dagger. He fights with the sword in his right hand and the dagger in his left. This was common during the renaissance.

You can watch a sword&dagger demonstration here:

The versatility of the dagger, combined with its symbolism and connotations, makes it a perfect weapon for historical fiction.


Rayne Hall writes dark fantasy and horror. She has published more than twenty books under different pen names in different genres, and her stories have earned Honorable Mentions in 'The Years' Best Fantasy and Horror'. She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing, and teaches online classes.

Even if you've never wielded a weapon, you can write an exciting fight scene. Rayne will show you how, in her workshops on 'Writing Fight Scenes'.

The next workshops are:

March 2011:

June 2011:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Coming February 18th...Moon Bitten

Jared turned to go, but for some reason, the hairs on the back of his neck chose that instant to stand on end as if the air had taken on an electric current.

“Jared Scott?” a husky female voice said from behind him. Not Gloria. Another woman had arrived.

He turned back. “Well, finally.”

“I told you she was perfect,” Gloria chirped.

Amanda didn’t appear to appreciate that assessment any more than he did. She scowled at the receptionist for a second and then gave him the once over.

He did the same for her. Nearly as tall as his own six feet, she stood straight, her chin lifted, as she stared at him out of eyes the color of dark sapphires. Pale skin and black hair done up in a rigid twist completed the picture of someone formidable, even severe. The two of them likely wouldn’t do any giggling during their relationship.

Relationship? She’d design the execution of his wish. No more.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Jared,” she said.

No formalities, indeed. “I forgive you, Amanda.”

She flinched at that, but only just barely. Someone who spent less time than he did reading people would have missed the slight narrowing of her eyes. Either the forgiveness bit or the pointed use of her first name had irked her. Fine. Only his few friends called him Jared. No one here counted as his friend.

“Well, then. Let’s get on with it.” She headed down a corridor, her long strides taking her away from him and forcing him to catch up. He took his time doing it. For one thing, she could damned well wait for him for a bit. For another, hanging back gave him a good view of her ass.

Though more slender than the pixie-cat, Amanda had her own curves. She wore leggings underneath a bulky sweater, and the movement in there sent his imagination into overdrive. Every swing of her hips, no matter how subtle, suggested the rounding of her buttocks.

By the time she stopped in front of one of the offices, he’d measured her breasts from memory. Small but firm. And when they’d entered and she’d taken her seat behind her desk, he’d already begun to have a very male reaction to her.

She bit her lip and shot him a gaze that went right through his chest and down to his groin. Recognition. She already knew what was happening between them.

“Please, sit down.” Her voice came out as deep as before, but now it had a hint of breathiness as well. She had a husky way of speaking. Something that made her linger for a millisecond on the vowel sounds. Sweet. Seductive.

Before his anatomy embarrassed him completely, he sat and watched her sift through some papers. She didn’t make eye contact, but a flush to her cheeks told him she was as aware of his presence as he was of hers.

After a moment, she picked up one sheet and studied it for a long moment. Her eyes widened as she stared up at him. “This is your wish?”

“To hunt a werewolf. Yes.”


“I suppose you’ve read my dossier,” he answered.

“Everyone in R and D becomes acquainted with the histories of our clients,” she answered. “You’ve served as CEO of a number of companies. Now, you have your own.”

“Government contracts. Top secret much of it.”

She set the paper down and studied him. “Military?”

“Intelligence mostly.” In fact, his agency contacts would take a dim view of his coming here and an even gloomier one if they knew what he’d come here for. None of their damned business. “So, you can see why confidentiality is so important.”

“We never give away information of our clients.” There was that deep tone again. The slow downward inflection on clients.

“Then, we understand each other,” he said.

“Not at all,” she said. “What does your history have to do with your wish?”

“Human beings… ordinary people… how shall I put this?”

She stared at him evenly. Assessing him the way he normally did with others. He had no reason to doubt her intellect, but he seldom encountered an equal. Given that and what her body did to his, she might present a real challenge with more than a little pleasure on the side. Right now, she obviously wasn’t going to help him explain himself.

“I want to hunt the greatest predator on Earth. You’d think that would be a human being,” he went on. “But average people are motivated by only a handful of things. Once you’ve figured out what they want, they’re really rather boring.”

“And so, your interest in werewolves.”

“What a creature. Imagine. The speed and keen senses of the wolf combined with the mind of the human. What kind of opponent one of them would make,” he said.

“Your wish is to hunt one.”

“You can’t hunt big game these days, and honestly, I have no interest. Animals are dumb beasts, and they belong in the wild.”

Another woman might have applauded his kindness. Amanda sat and stared at him out of her startling blue eyes.

“I don’t think the authorities would like me hunting people,” he continued. “But if WishLabz could create a werewolf for me, I could hunt that without breaking the law.”

The room fell into complete silence, and the woman sat across from him like a sphinx, not moving, hardly blinking. After a moment, she leaned back in her chair. “Create a werewolf?”

“You can make magic here, at least according to the people who referred me. I don’t know what sort of technology you have. If you can’t design a credible werewolf for me, you can refund my money.”

“And how would you kill this creature?” she asked. “Shoot it with a high-powered rifle from hundreds of yards away?”

“I didn’t say kill. I said I wanted to hunt it.”

“Killing the target’s the whole point of hunting, isn’t it?” she asked.

“One or both of us might die, I’ll admit,” he answered. “It’ll be dangerous sport.”

“Sport,” she repeated. This time her accent suggested more than a hint of derision.

“I don’t expect you to understand.”

That got a definite reaction -- one eyebrow arching. “Because I’m a woman?”

“Because you’re not in a position of command. I fought like hell to get where I am. Now that I’ve arrived, I miss the fight.”

She nibbled her lower lip for a few seconds. On another woman, the action might have suggested uncertainty. On her, it suggested she needed to gnaw on something and she hadn’t decided if he’d be worth the effort.