Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I'll Take A Knife for Their Back, Please


I love to kill people, er, characters. I’ve bumped them off via parasites, magma baths, poison, flails, garrotes, and the ol’ neck snap. My favorite weapon? Nope, not the broadsword.


I already know from my fencing days that size does matter. Shocked, aren’t you? Yeah, yeah, I’m a girl, I discovered that truth early. Here’s why it matters in combat: I am never going to be stronger than the boys and I’m rarely the tallest one on the field. It means I stand the greatest chance at success by getting under and inside someone’s guard. Big weapons that require lots of space to wield are my foes’ weaknesses. Knives are close-combat weapons. The foe strikes. I evade. Before they can recover, I’m under, I’m in.

Blam. D-e-d.
(or at least spurting)

Wait, wait. You thought this was about killing off characters. It is, but every grand fantasy has a nugget of reality – one that goes beyond holding a knife ala Psycho shower scene or emulating Rambo at a dinner party. Knives are the go-to weapon for heroes and villains of fiction and real-life. Ask any cop, soldier, covert agent, or hunter and they’ll tell you it’s a hell of a lot easier to conceal a knife than most other weapons. They don’t require a big trench coat to hide (sorry, Highlander). There’s no large guitar case (sorry, Desperado). Best? You can carry more than one.

Knife fights happen anywhere.

Once I’ve grasped the gist of the combat skills and the feasible portability, I can set my characters in a plethora of locations. Big weapons or weapons that require a lot of space to maneuver restrict confrontations to open places. How suck-tastic would it be to have your hero swing his broadsword and get it stuck in an overhanging branch? The heroine winds up her flail and ends up with it wrapped around a fire-escape? Nah, those are the weapons for the secondary characters or the bad-guys. Knives can do their damage in the crush of a crowded street or up on the yardarms. It’s about the element of surprise and invasions of personal space – bodily and mentally.

Knife deaths are intimate.

There is a play upon the psyche of the characters and the reader when the knife is used – even if no blood is drawn.  No one escapes unscathed. The confrontation between characters can be face-to-face or the victim can be facing away; still there is a moment of unity. The killer has to be close enough to smell their victim, to feel the heat radiating from the body. The victim is aware of the proximity of their attacker and the feel of the blade. There, in that instant, the victim and the killer share a hyper-aware moment. If the killer actually penetrates the flesh of the victim, there is no escaping the spatter. Intimate? Yes. Emotionally twisted? Absolutely.

I claim the knife as my weapon of choice for the emotional connection it demands among characters and reader. What other weapons have left an impression for the way in which they force a reaction from you? Which authors do an exceptional job at drawing you further into the tale with an act of fatal violence?

Photo: ThinkGeek "The Ex" Knife Rack: http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/kitchen/86dd/


  1. Very nice - I loved what you said about the knife being an intimate weapon. There are certain types of crimes that are very "personal" - like strangulation - that suggest a high degree of emotion.

  2. Ah, yes - either at least three feet away or up and inside their guard. Anything else and us little gals are, ahem, screwed.

  3. I'm with Laura, I like what you said about the knife being an intimate weapon. I think some of the most powerful death scenes are the ones where the fight is personal, where the reader can picture two people fighting face-to-face. If I had to choose my favorite weapon though, it would have to be claws. Yeah, I'm a shapeshifter lover and I think claws and teeth are the most intimate weapons o' war in a fight scene. *think* Trying to figure out if there's a hidden meaning in that.

  4. Oh, yes, strangulation is definitely an intimate crime, as is a good shifter-mauling.

    At three feet away, I'm hoping the hairy-eye will keep the foe at bay.

  5. I'm with danica - you can't get more intimate than teeth and nails, lol. Mine wouldn't accomplish much though. There is of course the thumbs in the eyeballs move. Strangulation with bare hands. Ahem. In reality - I don't know if I could even shoot anybody. Unless, of course, they were threatening my kids. That would be a no brainer.