Things Writers Get Wrong About Bladed Weapons

Whether in sword 'n sorcery fantasies, slasher horror stories, or even in stories set in the ordinary, modern world, bladed weapons turn up a lot... and there are a lot of mistakes made. Here are a few of them addressed so you can avoid making these mistakes yourself.

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"This fancy/wicked-looking sword/dagger/knife would be a GREAT weapon!"

A weapon that has an especially ornate or fancy design is probably designed for ceremonial, formal, or decorative use rather than combat use. (And depending on what it's going to be used for, it may not even be sharpened - EG, the athame.) Bladed weapons used in combat were often badly damaged, and would need to be extensively repaired, reforged, or even replaced afterward, as any object that encounters an object of equal or near-equal hardness with enough force will dent, deform, or even break.

Even if cosmetic modifications (EG, engravings, gold filigree, jeweling) didn't adversely affect the function of a bladed weapon, there's still a risk of it being lost, damaged, destroyed, captured in battle, or even stolen by unscrupulous subordinates or rivals - thus making the pretty additions a waste of money. While some functional bladed weapons were fancied up, many of them survived to be placed into museums nowadays simply because they weren't used in battle, instead being reserved for ceremonial or dress purposes.

The cheap (EG, ten dollars or so) knives and swords that you can pick up at weapons shows or at the mall are designed to be decorations, not weapons. Once subjected to any kind of stress or strain, they'll quickly start falling apart. Even just waving one of the cheaply-made swords around can be enough to break it.

Likewise, most reproduction weapons are designed to look pretty rather than to be used in actual combat - subject them to any real stress, and the blades will dull, bend, and break before long. What's more, most fantasy weapons are designed for visual appeal more than actual functionality, so even if they were well-crafted, most would still make inferior weapons.

If you do an image search for "demon sword," you'll see a lot of swords with serrated edges. Serrated edges are really only useful for sawing through something, whereas swords are supposed to be for slicing and/or stabbing. Likewise, these fantasy swords are frequently designed with barbs or "teeth" facing back toward the handle. The only thing this would do is make the sword harder to pull out of anything it had been stabbed into, which in turn would mean that its wielder would end up wasting valuable time and energy in battle. Likewise, it isn't uncommon for fantasy swords to have other toothy protrusions from the side of the blade or other drastic changes in width (the Force Stealer from Final Fantasy VII being a pretty good example of both), which would only make stabbing needlessly difficult.

Many fantasy weapons have poky and pointy ornamentation in the handle area, which could potentially hurt the wielder. Many are also lacking guards between the blade and handle, which would mean that the wielder's hands would likely get cut while using it. Very often, fantasy weapons have features that make them look nasty (eg, split or forked blades, or spines along the back of the blade), but in reality wouldn't actually make them any more effective.

So basically, most of the nifty-looking weapons you see out there, particularly the fantasy weapons, are pretty much worthless.

You can cut through anything in one blow so long as your blade is sharp enough.

Sharpness is good, but it can only take you so far. Let's say the sharp side of your sword comes down to the width of a single atom. (This is actually impossible, but we'll use it for the sake of our thought exercise.) You give a big ol' rock a big ol' thwack with your sword and... yeah, maybe your single-atom edge can make a nice little scratch, but that will be about all it can do because the rest of your blade (which is considerably wider than a single atom) probably can't push the atoms comprising the rock aside as it goes down, and there's probably not enough strength behind the blow to simply shatter the rock.

The same would also go for wood and bone - it doesn't matter how sharp your blade is: if the material you're trying to cut doesn't have enough give that the rest of your blade can fit through the cut it creates, it's not going to cut any further than the surface. And what's more, if you hit as hard as you can and the the object it's hitting has a little give (EG, wood or bone) the blade will probably just get stuck. If it has no give (EG, stone), at best it'll bounce or glance off and at worst bend or break.

On the chance that you're dealing with a superstrong person with an unbreakable sword who delivers a perfectly-aimed blow, an object with no give would probably break asunder due to the force of the blow... which likely could have been achieved with something no sharper than a chisel, anyway.

Throwing knives are an effective way to kill someone.

Nope. First, unless a knife is designed for throwing, you don't want to throw it - it's not designed to have the right weight distribution for throwing. If you go throwing a knife not designed for throwing, odds are you'll just be tossing away your weapon for nothing, and what's more, your enemy can potentially pick it up and use it against you.

Secondly, it takes a lot of practice to be able to hit something even with an actual throwing knife - newbies and novices will find themselves hitting things with the handle or even the broad side of the knife often as not.

Thirdly, even if you are well-practiced, the odds of hitting anything vital (let alone anything that would get you an instant kill like in the movies) are slim to none. Because of its small size and light weight, a thrown knife doesn't have a lot of kinetic force behind it, let alone enough to bury itself in to the hilt. If the knife hit a bone (and the human body is full of them) or a tough piece of clothing, it could simply deflect or glance off. Sure, throwing knives might make an impressive show in the Cold Steel knife demonstrations when thrown into melons, pop bottles, and Tupperware, but none of these have the same resistance as human bone. Even in the wooden sticking targets, the blades rarely go in very deep, and these are knives thrown by martial arts professionals. And finally, hitting anything as small as the eye, neck, or face in general of a moving target while under pressure and combat stress is nigh impossible.

In fact, throwing knives aren't really designed for killing at all. Their intended purpose is to distract or slow someone down. Nowadays, they're mostly used for sport or performance entertainment.

Other misconceptions addressed.

Chef's knives are good stabbing weapons. Not really. Chef's knives are designed for chopping and slicing, which means that the weight of the knife is distributed so that most of the force ends up focused on the bottom of the blade, not the tip. Plus they lack guards between the handle and blade, so anyone who uses a chef knife as a weapon will probably get cut, especially if blood gets on the handle and makes it slippery. Basically, anyone trying to stab someone with a chef's knife would have it working against xir the whole way.

Sleeping with a bare knife under one's pillow is a good idea. Unless the knife is sheathed or the blade folds or retracts into the handle, someone with a knife stashed under a pillow risks getting cut if xe puts xir hands under the pillow while asleep or wakes up in a panic and goes grabbing for it wildly.

Katanas are invincible swords of infinite awesome. Katanas are all right what they're designed for, but like any other weapon they have their limitations and drawbacks. For more information, see Hype... As Ancient An Art As Sword Making.

Scythes make awesome weapons. Scythes are farming tools designed for cutting down hay and the like, not thick objects like the human body. Furthermore, they're designed so that the force is focused on the bottom of the blade and not the tip, so it would make a pretty bad stabbing weapon. Now, the scythe did inspire an actual weapon - the war scythe - but its blade is positioned so that it faces parallel to the handle, not perpendicular to it.

The sai is a type of dagger/knife. Nope. They have blunt tips and dull sides.

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Assassins: Tips & Guidelines To Write & Play Them More Believably
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Tips 'N Stuff To Create, Write, & Draw Better Female Action Heroes
Basic Tips To Write Better & More Despicable Villains
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