FightWrite™: Knife Fights, Part 1

In this article, author and trained fighter Carla Hoch explains the basics of various types of knives and the implications a knife fight may have on your characters and plot.
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Knife fights. As someone who knows nothing, how do they work? It is a fight at all or just an attack? Defense options? What do novices need to know first? What do experts know that the rest of us don’t? Most pressing medical concerns? What can be handled with first aid and what requires the ER?

—Brenda Carroll


Ooooh, knives... What a keen way to begin 2021. I can tell you right now this post will be a two-parter. I can go on for days about blades. Also, you asked a lot, Brenda. I love that.

I love knives. They are my everyday carry. Not only are knives fairly easy to wield and conceal, but they also don’t require a license to carry—for the record, not all knives are legal—can be used in close quarters, and serve as tools besides. And, yes, you can bring a knife to a gunfight and win. Police officers do not allow a knife-wielding assailant closer than twenty-one feet without drawing their gun. Why? Because the one with the knife can close the distance faster than some law enforcement can draw a gun.

(FightWrite™: Crime Fiction and Violence)

Picking a Knife

Before we write our characters in a knife fight, we have to give them a knife. The knife you choose for your character should suit their needs and fit the setting of your work. Not all characters should carry a dagger. That seems to be a common choice, and I get it; daggers rock! But they may not suit the needs of the character. So, before we get into knife fighting basics, let’s choose a knife. To do that, we need to know a few knife basics.

Knife Basics


All knives fall into three categories of mechanism or lack thereof.

Fixed blade: This knife is one fixed piece; there are no moving parts to break or fumble with before use. These blades are strong and have a good lifespan, holding up to even centuries of use and sharpening. They are used in cooking, hunting, and camping, and are perfect for survival scenarios. They require a sheath when carried or the blade is just out there naked, which can be dangerous. Most naked things are. Am I right?

Folding blades: The sharpened portion of a folding blade, or “folder,” folds into the handle. Folding knives can be quietly opened by hand or with a flick of the wrist and may have a mechanism that aids in revealing the blade faster. These blades do not require a sheath and are great for keeping in your pocket because you don’t have to worry about getting cut. Pocket knives are folders.

Automatic/Out the Front (OTF) knives: These knives, such as a switchblade, reveal the blade by means of spring activation. If the blade appears out the front of the handle, it is, you guessed it, an out-the-front knife. These blades are safer to carry than a fixed blade, faster to open, and a handy secondary defense blade. They also have an intimidation factor. Unfortunately, they are also easier to break, louder than a folding blade, and generally more expensive. And, just in case you wondered, no, you can’t stab somebody by activating an OTF knife against their body. The spring activation is only enough to reveal the full length of the blade so the locking mechanism can hold it in place.

(5 Minutes to Writing Better Guns and Knives)

Types of Blades

The business end of a knife is the blade. The sharpened portion of the blade is the edge. All knife blades fit into three categories:

Single edge: These blades are only keen on one side. Single edge knives can be handled more safely than double edge and have a wider utility use. A bare hand can be used to put pressure on the spine (the unsharpened portion of the blade), and the spine can also be struck for tasks such as wood splitting. Although one can stab with a single edge, a double edge does so more efficiently.

Double edge: Both sides of the double edge blade are live. While double edge knives can certainly slice, they excel at piercing. If your character fights in close quarters and needs to get through thick clothing or chain mail, a double edge knife is a solid bet. Double edge knives are also harder to take away from someone as there is no safe place for the one disarming to grab or push. Double edge knives don’t quite have the utility use of a single edge.

Double edgish: This is a term I use to refer to blades that have a keen false edge. A false edge is an additional bevel on the back of the blade that enhances the point (tip) of the blade. So, on the spine of the blade, toward the point, there’s a little bit of an edge. It may or may not be sharp enough to cut on its own. This bevel gives the blade the utility use of a single edge and piercing ability of a double edge. Unfortunately, that false edge can make the tip of the knife subject to breaking. These blades are great for skinning animals and doing finer knife work.


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Implications of a Knife Fight

To your question, Brenda, is a knife fight a fight at all? The implications of a knife fight are mortal. When a knife is shown, the assumption should be that life is on the line. So, is a knife fight really a fight? Heck yeah! It has to be or somebody will wake up dead!

Our characters should never use a knife simply to intimidate because the presence of a blade immediately ups the stakes. What might have been a fistfight, where a few punches are thrown then everyone goes home, would become a fight to spare one’s life. That’s a very different “why” for fighting. And, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know when you change the “why” of a fight, you change the fighter. So, as far as our characters brandishing a blade, if they show, they better go.

(Blade Magazine: Market Spotlight)

Oh glory, I’ve hit my word count here. Yikes. Ok, in the next post, we will look at the basics of a knife fight. If you can’t wait until next month, check out my WD book, Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes. There’s an entire chapter on blades vetted by an edged weapons expert. You can also head over to the index of my blog, for blade posts. I have a gracious plenty, some with injury pictures. Subscribe to the blog and you will get handy guides for injuries and a discount code for my course with Writer’s Digest University.

Writers, may your 2021 be healthy, productive, and less gross. I am thankful for you all and challenge you to write a little something about last year and your goals for the new one. And, 2021, so…help…me…, I hope you’ve had therapy and don’t have the issues of your predecessor. 2020, please talk to someone. For reals.

Until the next round of FightWrite™ with Writer’s Digest, get blood on your pages.

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Using historical examples and real-world expertise, Carla will guide you through the entire process of determining why, where, and who—essential elements for the writer to understand in order to make the scene work properly.

Using historical examples and real-world expertise, Carla will guide you through the entire process of determining why, where, and who—essential elements for the writer to understand in order to make the scene work properly.

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