Every body has it’s natural limits.
It sounds simple but many a writer has forgotten this. Say it with me; every body has it’s natural limits. Can your character still run with a dislocated knee? I’m going to hazard a no, mainly because the dislocation of a joint destabilises it i.e your character does not have that leg to stand on.
Another uncomfortable fact for you; It takes roughly 1000lbs of pressure and the drop of the body to break the neck when hanging a person.
With that in mind ask your self this; is it realistic that my (badass) character could do such a thing with their bare hands? Just another one of those questions that will draw strange looks for others if you utter it aloud but, trust me, it’s one you should ask. Nothing will undermine the realism of your story more than characters that, while being apparently unremarkable, suddenly sprouting super powers.
Don’t get me wrong, you most definitely can have a non-hulking man do such things or, further still, a tiny woman besting such feats but you must account for it.
Consider the following;
- Is your character male or female?
- How old are they?
- Are they healthy and fit? (in this category also consider weight, previous injuries, senses and psychological factors. E.g a healthy, fit young woman who regularly weight trains and takes self defense classes would have more of a chance of fighting off an attacker than an overweight, older man who was partially blind.)
- What size are they; weird question I know but think about it; a very small man has different combat/maneuvering options compared to his larges more muscle bound compatriots.
I wont bore you with the facts about how much damage a body can take before it becomes incapacitated (though there are resources detailing this at the bottom) instead we will look at the active capabilities of the human body in practical terms. Lets stipulate, first, that for now the character in question has no superhuman abilities whatsoever; we’re taling entirely tabula rasa. No training, no powers. there will be alot of things they simply cannot do but this doesn’t mean they are not impressive.
Consider this example;
Four subjects are locked in identical rooms and need to escape; the rooms have one door (locked with old, shaky hinges), one window (not locked but high above the ground with only a rickety series of ledges to descend by), one ventilation shaft (covered) and a steel framed bed. They are all equally intelligent; what matters here is physicality.
One is a large man (perhaps six foot fours, weighing two hundred and thirty pounds) he is well muscled and extremely strong (and heavy!). he has bad knees. He cannot shimmy through the ventilation shaft to freedom as he is too physically large, neither can he exit the window as, though it has a small ledge, his size makes it unlikely it will support him. Bad knees make it unlikely that he can kick the door down, despite his strength, for he could well hurt them further. This leaves him two options; pull the door from its hinges (if it opens inward) or use the bedframe to put pressure on the hinges and pull them from the door frame.
The second character is a large woman; maybe five eleven and one hundred and eighty pounds she is also strong but less so than her neighbour. She has an old shoulder injury. The likelihood of her pulling the door open with brute force is very small; even if we discounter her shoulder injury…unless she were a veritable Goliath then this is unlikely, though possible! She might however kick the door down as the legs are often much stronger than the upper body. She too could put pressure on the hinges with the frame. However her size may prevent her from using the grate or the window.
Character three is a smaller man (five ten, one hundred and seventy pounds) missing his left hand; though still too big to fit through the grate he could also use the bedframe, kick the door or pull the door (though pulling a door off its hinges requires so much force that I would say this is unlikely, though not impossible). He could not realistically and safely, however, drop down the ledges to the ground.
The final character is a small woman (five four, one hundred and thirty pounds) relatively agile but not overly well conditioned. This character could use the grate and stands a fair change of applying enough leverage with the bedframe to escape though her chances of using brute force to break the door down are slim. She, however, stands most chance of using the shaky ledges being small, light and more agile.
All characters are capable of being formidable if put under enough pressure, they simply have different capabilities which leads me to an important point; bigger is not always better- a character need not be a powerhouse to be remarkable.
Next time - characters who do more than they are (technically) capable of.
The limits of the human body
Some basic physical limits
How much punishment can your body take?
A useful video on the limits of the body