The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Okay, I'll take a stab at it. Knives in Your Plot Line: Info for Writers with Hannah Jayne


Fiona - 
Hannah Jayne
Hi Hannah, can I just say that it's not every girl who lets me stab her at the first meeting.

Hannah -
And it's quite rare that I let anyone stab me! We have a rare kinship!

Fiona -
Thank you so much for coming on ThrillWriting, let's get right to the point. Ha! Today is all about knives in fiction.

Can you tell folks about your more dangerous proclivities and why no one should ever leap out at you on a dark night? (or a clear day for that matter...)

Hannah - 

Early on in college, I decided I would take tae kwon do. I enjoyed it and liked feeling empowered, but it never completely clicked for me. I kept up with some martial arts and street fighting training for years when an author friend of mine said, "hey, you want to learn sword fighting with me?" because that is the kind of questions authors ask each other. We actually missed the first class and ended up in a beginners daggers class. I fell in love. It was so fun and so much action. The next day I came back for long swords, then added side sword training... and I've been stabbing things ever since.

Under a Spell by Hannah Jayne
Handmade knife by Baird Tarr

As for sneaking up on me... just the other day I considered leaving a note on the door for the boyfriend that said, "if I am asleep when you come home, please wake me from a safe distance."

Fiona - 
As well he should.

I have some bad stories of friends who (are out of their minds) have thrown a play punch at me and my pull back was just shy of... well it would not have been pretty.

Hannah -
Why would someone punch you?! Idiots! But I did mistakenly put my next door neighbor in a chokehold when she sneaked up on me at 5am. It wasn't a pleasant scene, and it was quite an awkward. "Hey, sorry about the whole...choke hold..."

Fiona - 
So tell me, since this is such a part of your background, do you often put knives in your heroines' hands?

Hannah - 
The Dare by Hannah Jayne
Handmade knife by Baird Tarr
Sophie Lawson, the heroine in my Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles books fights with everything from an enchanted sword to a bejeweled dagger--both because they are the necessary for (her) story and because she's afraid of guns. There is also a quick fight scene with a plate full of Boco burgers but that is neither here nor there. When choosing your character's weapons--particularly if there is no magic/lore involved and she's grabbing something from the counter--keep in mind the heft of the knife and the part of the body where the blade will be thrust. It's not as easy as you see on TV. Also note that blades bend, break and--worst of all--hands slide down blood-slick blades. Gross, but true. 

Fiona -
One of my favorite knives has a holster that goes on my upper arm or around my calf in my boot. Let's talk about NOT putting a knife in your heroine's purse. Where can a cute chick stick her knife so it's accessible?

Hannah - 
Under the Full Moon
by Hannah Jayne

Handmade knife by Baird Tarr
I have a thigh holster and I love it! It does take particular knives (with flatter handles/grips rather than rounded ones) to wear on the person but they are definitely more accessible. The one on my thigh is an actual holster that's been rigged for one of my knives; I also have a hip sheath but I have a deep love for everything deep fried or chocolate covered, so it's tough to have enough room around the waist/in the jeans for a sheathed knife.

Fiona -
Let's kill some bad guys.

Hannah -
I've got one in mind... (Ok, that should probably be edited, lol)

Fiona -
* grin

First, what does not work when your heroine has a knife in her hand and is trying save her life from the maniac? Ineffectual strikes that have you rolling your eyes?

Hannah -
Crazy, over the head 
Psycho-type strikes kill me!  

If you're doing an overhead strike you are more than likely going to stab someone in the head or shoulder, the blade will likely bounce off without piercing. 

I also hate when a heroine is described as meek and waify yet she drives a knife "through his heart." I always want to scream, "You know the heart is well covered by the ribs, right?" 

The best way for that to actually happen is for your heroine to make the blade horizontal (--) rather than vertical (I), but that is never mentioned.

Fiona -
So let's say your heroine has had some training and is not a waif. There is no way in this world that that Zombie is going to get his chompers on her lovely skin. Tell us how to take down the monster. How does she hold the knife? And where does she aim her strike?

Hannah -
First, she'd make a fist with her fingers facing down, thumb pointing toward her, right at about her belly button. That way the handle of the knife is close to her gut and the blade is extended (horizontal) toward Mr. Deadmeat. 

From that position she can do any easy gut-cut (plunging the blade just above his right hip and pulling across). Gruesome but effective.

Of course, if she's a crazy psycho over-hander that can keep her range in check, she can do a vertical plunge in the little mushy "V" where the base of the neck meets the collarbone. Of course, if it's a traditional zombie, she'll need to move the gut-cut to the base of the throat to cut the head off. That's the zombie-stopper right, head off?

Fiona -
Mr. Deadmeat, LOL

Hannah -
I'd also like to point out that we're having this conversation while I'm wearing pink pajamas with sheep on them and watching Jessie on the Disney channel...

Fiona - 

So you're trying convince me you're a marshmallow? Hardly.
Let's talk about stabbing. It's probably not what people make up in their minds. 

We, for example, trained on hanging hams. Putting that knife into someone should not come easy for your heroine if she is not trained. 

Can you tell us about the cringe factor?

Hannah -
Haha! Cringe factor--definitely! You see people stabbing on TV and it goes in so smoothly...then your crazed killer kindly slides the knife out and goes again. 

In real life, there's junk there--bone and fiber, muscle, fat, sinew, etc. Going in is easy if you're naturally strong or the adrenaline is pumping, but it's not always easy to get the knife back out--and rule number one is never leave your knife! 

Actually, rule number one is don't get in a knife fight

People also don't realize that knife blades are relatively thin pieces of steel/metal/etc.--they bend. They break. They release from the handle.

The ew factor is pretty big, too, because there's the...oozy...feeling. That's the best way I can describe it--the knife goes into cold meat (the hams), and it's just...oozy. 

Then the juice spurts and that's gross. 

Then you're dealing with something slippery on your handle. 

Knife work is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Fiona -
Ooze. Exactly. 

So there you and I are at a cocktail party, and we're chatting about knife techniques. I am telling you that when I'm all dressed up, I'd opt for stab technique "A" versus "B", because I don't want to get blood-squirt on my pretty dress. 

If our author is writing a scene to leave the biggest visual impression where would they aim? 

Where is our heroine's go to jab and run place? 
And while I'm on the topic - can you please talk about why people always write a throat slit and why that's not practical?

Hannah -
I'm a big fan of the plunge and twist, especially at the jugular--but you have to know where it is! Throat slits sound nice and slick and quick--but they are none of those things. Think of the length of a throat--about 4 inches from chin to chest, let's say. Not all of those 4 inches will cause a kill. The slice has to be deep enough, long enough, and in the right place to actually accomplish the fake movie kill. If it's done wrong, it can be completely ineffective, or take hours to achieve a kill. And the part I do hate about the jugular shots is that they are squirters. Absolute dress ruiners unless your fast.

I also like eyeball popper-outers for ease, but they will only slow, not kill attackers.

Wow. I sounds straight up depraved, huh? I'm not! I have kitties and bake cookies! lol

Fiona -
That's so gross. Did you use knife work in your latest novel?

Hannah -

In the last Underworld novel, yes--not a ton, just a single quick knifing scene. In my latest young adult novel (called THE ESCAPE and will come out from Sourcebooks in 2015), the knife is used more for intimidation purposes. Like I said, for knife work to be effective, you have to lay out a character with some sort of skill or training. Otherwise, your killer will look like one of those training hams! 

Fiona -
Let's talk about that - it's a big point (ha!) that I keep pressing. 

Your heroine CAN NOT suddenly have skills. There must be a reason for them. How did your heroine gain skills? What are a few easy ways that a normal everyday kittie-loving cookie-baking girl could gain skills?

Under the Gun
by Hannah Jayne

Handmade knife by Baird Tarr
Sophie Lawson actually learns to knife and dagger fight from her teenage vampire deadbeat roommate Vlad in UNDER THE GUN; he was taught in Paris before he was turned. 

As for a sweet, unassuming cookie baker? I was lucky enough to have Davenriche School for European Arts in the 'hood. 

If you're not one of my neighbors, there are training programs all over and if you're just at it for the literary aspect, study the human body. Figure out where good target spots would be. Actually hold a knife in your hand. And yes, when ready, plunge it into a ham. Or a vegan ham if that's your thing.

Fiona - 
What should a character do if she is stabbed? 

Hannah - 
Grab the knife, not the attacker. Keep the knife wherever it is and run. 

***Rule of thumb, each time you give an attacker back his knife, he'll give it back to you--pointy end first. 

Also, keeping a knife in a mortal wound can save your life as it keeps the blood in!

Fiona -
Oh good one!

Hard to run while holding the knife steady though.

Speaking of stab-and-run, can you tell me your favorite scar story?

Hannah -
All my really gnarly scars are cooking related rather than fight related! I got six stitches from a wine glass and half that from a mandoline! I'm pretty safe with my weapons!

Fiona -
Lastly, for getting the knife away (before it goes in) do you prefer kick or hand work?

Hannah -
Hand work. If the knife is close enough to go in, it can be hard or nearly impossible to get a kick in, especially with long, elegant gams like mine. (I'm totally lying because I have Vienna sausage legs) But I really do prefer to dislodge a knife with my hand so that I end up with the weapon accessible to me.

Thank you so much for visiting , Hannah!
If you would like to read Hannah's master knife work in action, you can get a list of Hannah Jayne's books  HERE
Catch up with her on Facebook HERE
Her Twitter handle is @Hannah_Jayne1

Also, If you want to read about how I use the knife in my work you can read my novel Chaos Is Come Again 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


  1. Great post! And Hannah is a fun interviewee! I take note!

  2. This response was from ThrillWriting contributor Rock Higgins - check out his wonderful articles and find his blog VIPA tactical on the right sidebar.

    Interesting read. Funny comments.

    As a trained professional I too would not employ the Ice Pick Grip unless the tactical situation on the ground warranted it.

    The untrained person picking a knife off a counter will have to use it as it appears in the hand, during high stress situations they may not pick it up cognitively but in panic. Unlike a professional who would / should cognitively make the decision to pick it up in a certain way.

    In teaching the knife the overhead stab has to be practiced for defensively

    There are though lots of attacks, predominantly to kill using this downward stabbing motion, these are though against seated victims or once stabbed and lying on the ground the downward motion, Ice Pick Grip allows for more forceful stabs. Never seen it used as a threat though in a robbery situation.
    Also never really seen specific target areas chosen. Stabs are random on the torso, as long as it's stabbing the better in the eyes of the attacker.

    Reason military teach the twist after stabbing in bayonet fighting is because of the bayonet sticking in the body. That's not to say it's going to stick every time. More likely to snagged on clothing.

    Good points from Hannah about the knife position, horizontal or vertical. I'd be more worried about somebody holding it horizontal, shows competence, slide through the ribs to puncture lungs or heart.

    I enjoyd the post.

  3. This is CANDY! One of my demented Marine uncles was a life-long "filario," and instilled his love (if not talent) for knives in me. Sounds like Ms. Jayne could teach Thomas Harris a thing or three. Thanks, as always, for sharing.