My question is, is this even realistic?

She's a woman in her early twenties who specializes in torture, only working on her victims when they're tightly strapped down and confined so she can go about without disruption. Another thing that I want to be central to her character is that she's physically weak, like she tires easily if she lifts heavy objects, comes short of breath, and such.

Is this considered realistic? For her to be a professional torturer and lacking in physical durability at the same time?

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    You can torture people by letting water drop on their forehead constantly, also, (have the character) ever considered the use of sedative drugs or tranquilizers? Sep 1, 2017 at 12:27
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    Also, try and ask that question on WB: SE, it is kinda off-topic here. Sep 1, 2017 at 12:28
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    Torture has nothing to do with physical strength. And yes, this question is not really pertinent to this SE.
    – FraEnrico
    Sep 1, 2017 at 13:42
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    This question is kind of gray, though it is asking about specific content to their story, it's generic enough that others may find the information interesting. Also it isn't asking what to write more so if it is realistic. We shall see how the question moves but this might be on that is "allowed".
    – ggiaquin16
    Sep 1, 2017 at 15:50
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    @Michael As a frequent user of WB.SE I'd like to note that the 'reality-check' tag is in the process of being deprecated there. It could be on-topic there if it were phrased as something like "How could a physically-weak person torture someone", but don't take that as fact.
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 1, 2017 at 16:10

9 Answers 9


Torturers don't need to be fit or strong, they need to be possibly scary, knowledgeable, and competent at what they do. There are a lot of kinds of torture and "beating someone senseless" is just one of them, maybe the simplest.

You don't need to be strong to break a finger of someone - you just have to bend it in the wrong direction or use an hammer. After all there are a wide variety of tools that can allow you to inflict pain, or terror, with little effort (pincers, nails, fire ...).

Torture is mostly dealing a controlled amount of pain, be it physical or psychological. The psychological part is maybe more important, if your character does this not out of pure sadism but to get some kind of information. The sooner she can get a mental breakdown from their subjects, the sooner she can question them.

As reference, there are forms of torture that doesn't deal with strenght at all: Chinese water torture, sleep deprivation.

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    And Bamboo Torture Sep 1, 2017 at 12:34
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    Thanks! This was really helpful. I had this stuck in my mind that she absolutely HAD to be a torturer, but I also wanted to subvert the misconception that physical brawn equals strength of character and was kinda hoping to hit two birds with one stone. So thanks for letting me know it can happen! Sep 1, 2017 at 12:41
  • I had a character once in an RPG who specialized in interrogation by using his surgery skills. I think that could be a good angle.
    – Michael
    Sep 1, 2017 at 16:58
  • @Michael Good thing you mentioned surgery: another critical point of torture is damaging your target without him dying.
    – Liquid
    Sep 1, 2017 at 20:31
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    Many people, especially those trained for it, can withstand a lot of physical pain. It's the psychological import of that pain and the situation which renders it many times more effective. As @Liquid states, inflicting psychological pain may require almost no physical strength at all and can wound far deeper than any knife or sword.
    – Joe
    Sep 6, 2017 at 9:12

I don't see that this is a conflict.

A torturer is almost never in a position where the person they are torturing has the option of fighting back in anyway. The fact that the victim is physically (or possibly mentally) constrained is pretty much a pre-requisite of it being torture, and not just a fight.

In fact you could certainly develop it to become part of this character's personality. Presumably you know why she is physically weak - does she have an illness? Is it something she was born with? It shouldn't just be that she's averagely weak - interesting characters deal with extremes.

So perhaps she's had to deal with this frustrating physical disadvantage her whole life and that's what has led her to become a torturer - to give her the feeling of physical superiority that she usually lacks.

As an aside, other questions I'm curious about are whether she does this for fun / money / the government or what. I assume you know the answer to this already, but if not that's the next thing I'd pin down.


As Many others have already said, physical strength only is required if you are talking about beating someone with their bare hands.

There is a whole realm to torture that also is not tied to physical aspects. Emotional torture is a very strong weapon. Chinese Water Drop has been proven to be highly effective at making people crack within hours. You already have half the job done by having them strapped. It just takes a source of water to slowly drop water onto their face for a few hours and boom no physical stamina required.

Also torture is a slow and painful process. It isn't something at 200% for 4 hours. It's applying JUST enough and walking away, leaving them on the edge of pain without fully killing them or making them break. Please look up Edge Play for more details (will not provide a link as this runs into the BDSM world) for ways that it is done in a controlled environment.

Also look up sadistic mentalities to help you with the mindset. Knowing just how far you can push a finger to make it painful to no end without actually breaking the finger (to keep hurting it until you decide to break it).

Torture isn't torture if you just walk up to someone, break their finger and then say okay you can go. Torture is a psychological element induced by mental and physical attacks over a prolonged period of time.

She can walk in spend 5 minutes with the victim and walk out to rest up again and come back every few hours and still have just as big of an impact of someone who spends 20 minutes straight beating someone.

Hope this helps!


One thing you may want to consider it that unless she is a "lone wolf" type of person she may have an assistant, a big dumb brute she keeps around to do things like hold down her victims while she ties them up, or carry them to different machines or back and forth from wherever they are being held to her work station.

If you assume she is a state sponsored torturer it wouldn't be hard to believe that she conscripts guards from her facility or soldiers in the field to do any real heavy lifting and restraining until the victim is tied down. If she is a criminal she may have an assistant or apprentice who just enjoys being involved in the torturing process and hopes one day to be as good as your character.

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    The muscle in the relationship doesn't even need to be dumb; they could just be of a like-mind with a strong bond. The muscle may not like performing torture but derive something from observing torture or derive something from the torturer. "Every kettle has its lid" is a maximum that applies here. Tho an apprentice is plausible, but the Master must have a hold over the apprentice. "Arsenic and Old Lace" is a fun and dark play that covers this ground from a couple of angles.
    – CloneZero
    Sep 5, 2017 at 21:21

Yes, this is plausible.

There are many ways to work around the lack of physical prowess of the torturer, with many of those solutions also serving to highlight their skill, or cruelty, and the overall horror of the act.

I'll focus my answer around a particular example, Sand dan Glokta from The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. Minor spoilers follow. He is one of the main characters of those books, and his primary calling is that of a torturer. What makes him interesting is that he himself is a cripple as result of being captured and tortured by the enemy in the past. His left leg is useless, he is missing half his teeth in a way that the ones above do not line up with the ones below, and he is in constant agony as a result of his scars. He is an absolute terror to look at, which makes his character all the more potent when he shambles out of the dark corner of the room during a torture sequence, and then leans over the victim to smile with his half empty mouth.

His appearance adds to the feeling of powerlessness that the victim is depicted in. Any healthy person would easily be able to over power Glokta if they were freed, but when they are bound, this disparity in physical ability only highlights their own weakness. The backstory also adds a nice touch, since Glokta is never shy about explaining his appearance to his victims. He himself has experienced many of the tortures he inflicts upon his subjects. He knows exactly what it feels like, and he does it anyway. And this is noticed by both the characters and the readers, adding an extra level of mental horror to the actions.

Of course, as a physical cripple he cannot work alone. He uses a number of physically imposing goons to capture and restrain his prey before he begins his work. Your character will need some similar construct to explain how they get past the capture part of the process. Perhaps they are very devious, and lure people into traps. Or use some poison to render their target unable to resist. But once the person is in their control, physical strength matters little in the process.

The character I described above works nicely in the role of a torturer, because he subverts the audience's expectation of what a torturer should be and what they should look like. Your character has the same potential. No one would expect a twenty something woman to whip out the torture implements and know how to use them, yet that is exactly what occurs. Let your character use this expectation in their work. Play up her weakness, implement it into the scene, and just run with it. You want her to be frail and often short of breath after a physical task? Stick a comfy chair in the middle of the torture room for her to retire to for rest, while the poor soul she was working on gets to stare at her from wherever they're restrained.


Here are some things you may need to think about:

  1. How does she catch them? How does she stop them fighting back before they are restrained?
  2. How does she move them (including the disposal of bodies)?
  3. How does she plan to recapture them/overpower them if they escape?

It's certainly not impossible. Hannibal Lecter is arguably the most terrifying of villains because he does not use physical strength to dominate his victims. To answer the list above:

  1. He is charming, cunning, manipulative, and lithe. He is good with a knife and knows exactly where to cut. He is tactical and attempts to distract or incapacitate by any means in order to overwhelm a stronger opponent. He occasionally uses drugs or other means.
  2. For disposal, well, he chops them up and eats some of the parts.
  3. He's not really in the business of torture, so I'm not sure they will ever last long enough to find out. But probably same as (1)

I'm sure your character will be well aware of her physical incapabilities, and yet she still chose this line of work. She's a professional, so she must be 100% confident that whatever happens, she will be able to get the upper hand. While it is entirely possible for her to torture someone strapped to a table, think about how they got on the table to begin with and where they're going next. She certainly will have considered every possible hole in her plan, and you should too!


Yes, it is possible

This is very reminiscent of the Japanese movie The Audition It is one of the scariest things I've seen and it is exactly what you say: a small japanese woman torturing the protagonist. Her small size and the type of tools she uses makes it...

Oh... I'm shuttering now...

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    The villain in the film Brazil is a government torturer, but he's a physically average guy with a mild personality. But we frequently see him wearing medical garb which is splattered with blood, with a body strapped to a chair in the background. He's terrifying.
    – El Cadejo
    Aug 26, 2019 at 22:14
  • @ElCadejo I have not seen that one. Seems terrifying Aug 27, 2019 at 12:45

Use surgeons for reference.

If your character specializes not in serving limbs, but more err... subtile torture, I don't see why she should not.

  • If you forget what hospitals are supposed to be for and just look at them for what they actually do, they can appear quite similar to concentration camps and torture facilities. The only big difference is that almost all the practitioners are convinced that they are actually helping people.
    – Joe
    Sep 6, 2017 at 9:30

Your physically weak character doesn't need to do the "actual" torturing. All she needs to do is to direct her assistants, "stick this instrument in there," and "twist it that way," etc. What she mostly needs is a knowledge of human anatomy, e.g. where the most sensitive nerve endings are, and the best ways to attack them.

If she is working with the actual torture implements, her physical weakness may actually be an asset in prolonging, or dragging out the torture. It took two blows of the axe to kill Mary Queen of Scots because the executioner was "too weak" to chop off her head the first time.

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