Monday, November 7, 2011

The Right Fight

So, one of the things that my novel is going to have quite a lot of is fight scenes. I’ve already written one and, without going into detail, it was not what I would call good. And yes, I know this whole exercise is all about writing poorly with abandon, but it still takes a lot of effort to leave the scene alone when its suckitude drips down on the pages like rancid meat sauce. But I digress.

Wanting the next one to be at least slightly more readable I did a little research on how to write a fight scene. Have you guys all done this? It’s pretty interesting what advice other writers give you.

Study an actual form of fighting so you have some ideas for moves. Being a relatively advanced black belt I can honestly say that knowing the ins and outs of a particular form of fighting has not actually helped me in writing a fight scene. I mean, at least not that I’m consciously aware of. When I do try to remember a sparring match that I took part in I can never remember any detail that would be helpful. It happens too fast, your focus is too centered in the moment and more often than not when it’s over you don’t really remember the details of who’s foot went where or what move you did that got your instructor to say “yes!”. You just remember that you got that one enthusiastic response so you’re not as bad of a fighter as you think you are. No details or vocabulary that would be helpful comes to mind.

Know how it feels. Another piece of advice I don’t particularly ascribe to? That in order to know how to write what the character felt like when they got hit you should go out and get hit yourself. Really, one site I read said “get someone to hit you in the guts”. Now, due to the above mentioned activity I have been hit a number of times in a variety of unpleasant ways and again I can honestly say that this has not helped me. Besides the fact that, for this particular novel, knowing how it feels for me to get hit will not help me describe how it feels for my MC to get hit because, as I’ve previously mentioned, she is a centuries-old vampire. I’m assuming that her sense of pain is very different than mine.

There are some pointers that I think will be very useful, however. And I will sum them up here whilst recommending that for more comprehensive guides you check out some other resources.

Stay in the moment. Several sites stated how truly disappointing it is to read a fight scene the author obviously didn’t care enough to write and therefore summed up with one sentence. I.E. “He mowed down the angry mob with flaring fists and spastic kicks” or something like that. They all say to stay in the moment, describe the action blow by blow and try to get the reader to feel how crystallized the fighter’s focus is. This, I think, is great advice.

Build tension by using short sentences. The idea here is that since you are doing a play by play you want the timeline broken down to seconds and since your descriptions are only good for one second at a time they have to be short, direct and to the point. This is not the time for long, elaborate descriptions of setting or other visual details. Nor is it the time for thought or even emotion. This is action- physical movements, instantaneous reflexes and abrupt events. Again, I could see this being very important if you have any chance of the reader buying into the scene.

Don’t use fight scenes frivolously. Most of the sites have been recommending that fight scenes serve a very important purpose: to either move the plot forward or illustrate facts about your characters without directly stating them. This, to me, seems kind-of obvious. I mean, if fight scenes are so difficult to write then why would you go out of your way to use them if you didn’t need to? But then I realized: if I was a more aggressive person or were writing without thought-out intent I might start writing fight scenes just cause they look cool on tv or I like describing body parts being dismembered. So I could see this being an important point to make.

Like I said, there are a lot of other tools and advice out there, this is just a sampling based on my experience. For my part, I’m trying to figure out how to make a fight scene believable when I’m writing about a character with superhuman speed, agility, strength, healing ability and reaction time. If anybody has any pointers on that specific context let me know.

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1 comment:

  1. I think at worst knowing a martial art gives you clout for when somebody says your fight scenes are garbage. It's superficial, but expertise lends authority, and authority has the irrational power to terminate arguments.

    Interesting point you found about short sentences. Currently my beta readers are split on my usage of short sentences; either it helps, or it makes everything seem too plain.


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