Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Writing Good Fight Scenes: Part One-Hand to Hand with Various Weaponry

This is a series of articles I have been wanting to write for a long time. I just thought of it again as I was talking to someone about a lamentable fight scene in a certain book I will... not mention. So I decided to write these articles for new writers, or writers who may need some help on the matter. There are many different kinds of fight scenes you may encounter while writing, especially if you do adventure, historical, fantasy, or whatever. Even if your story only has a small fist fight between the protagonist and a bully, it still counts as a fight scene. The first kind I am going to talk about is the most common: the simple, man to man confrontation.

First Fight Scenes:

Everyone knows that the final confrontation in a story is a very important part of the plot line, but this may not be the only fight that you see in a book. If a hero and a villain are at odds (as they obviously should be) there will probably be more than one confrontation between them in the book. The first one should be not quite so epic as the last fight--you should never outdo your last fight with the first one. The first fight in a story is usually to introduce the readers and the characters alike to the character's style and endurance. A scrap, a touch of the blade, an interrupted duel--any of these might work for the first fight of your villain and hero. Perhaps, the hero gets beat pretty badly and he's wounded, thus giving the villain confidence that he is fighting a "weakling" and that the next time they meet, he'll do away with the hero once and for all. This gives the hero the opportunity to train and get better than the villain, thus vanquishing him in the end. Or perhaps, it goes the other way, with the hero vanquishing the villain and he seeks revenge through the whole book and vows to end the hero (it's still the same plot, you just get to it in different ways.) However it goes, you just need to make sure, as I said before, that this fight scene is not one that will override the last confrontation. That is the one the readers look forward to through the whole book and you need to write it to their expectations. There is nothing worse for me than a fight scene that does not meet my expectations.

Friendly Fight Scenes:

All right, no fight scene is really friendly, but sometimes friendships come out of them. Some characters (mostly male characters) need to punch each other around a bit before they can earn respect from each other. A good example is Will and Horace in the first Ranger's Apprentice book (by John Flanagan). It starts out with the two somewhat at odds, but after certain events, they become really great friends. Characters like this might start off as not liking each other and always being at the other's throat, but after they have a confrontation and beat each other sufficiently, they will most likely respect each other and become really good friends and back each other up in the hero's quest to vanquish his/her villain.

Final Fight Scenes:

This is the climax of the story, the final confrontation between the good guy and the bad guy, the scene that the whole book builds up to and the reader is on the edge of their seat waiting for...no pressure though, really; the final fight is not as hard as you might think. To write the last confrontation, you're going to have to take into consideration several things which will be listed below. This is the scene where you pull everything out of the hat; all the tricks you've been saving--and your characters have been saving. The villain is at his worst, the hero is either at his best or worst, depending on his character type ( see the Grey Areas article) and you get to decide whether the hero actually gets to kill the villain or *sequel!* he escapes! The death is another thing to consider, but see my other article for that.

Considerations:

First of all, how long do you make it? If your two characters are experienced fighters and have a great amount of stamina, the fight might last longer than one with somewhat inexperienced characters. Different types of fight scenes also last longer than others, but I'll get into that later. Secondly, you also have to decide how bloody you should make a fight scene. This is typically personal preference. I like a bit of blood myself, because it's more realistic. Again, this depends on the type of fight you're going for. If it's a swashbuckling rapier duel, there will probably be less blood than if you're going for a realistic Medieval broadsword fight. Wounds are always a bit of a tricky thing when writing a fight scene, especially if they are given to your hero; you may want to keep a medical advisor on hand to make sure that your characters shouldn't be dead by rights. You don't want to wound your hero so badly he can't carry on the fight, but you also need to add that suspense where the reader might think for a minute he's not going to make it. He might be backed against a cliff, or he might have received a hard hit, and the reader is hanging on every word to make sure the hero gets out alive! Oh, the power of being a writer!

Different Methods:

You have to match the right method to the kind of story you're writing. If you're writing a Western, you're obviously not going to have the characters pull swords on each other, and if you're writing a Medieval novel, they're not going to have a Smith&Wesson shoot out. (Not that I would expect anyone to write anything THAT inaccurate unless it was an alternate history ;) Fighting styles also depend on the type of characters you have (see my article "Hack and Slash or Dash") Some will depend only on their swords, some may love their firearms, and others might just enjoy brute force and boxing. It all depends on genre, time period, or character types. This is mostly up to the writer.

Ways to Research:

Watching the style of fighting you want to portray in a book is a good start, but be careful! You can't always trust movies to portray anything accurately. I can speak highly of The Princess Bride though, because they used all real techniques in that movie and it looks great. My best advice is to watch reenactors. They really know their stuff. DO NOT watch modern fencing for a historical fiction book and expect it to be right. Those people don't know a thing about real fighting. Their bouts last less than a minute and all they do is stare at each other before that. D'Artagnan would die laughing. (No real offense meant, but the fencers I saw do a demonstration offended reenactors by saying they didn't know what they were doing and there was a reenactor in the audience who stood up for them as do I. In short, fencing is a sport, it is not a fighting style, and it is certainly not historically accurate.)

While watching is good, an important thing to remember when writing a fight scene is just that, you're writing it. This is, I think the problem with most fight scenes that don't quite go over well. You need to read some really good fight scene writers. Brian Jacques, who writes the Redwall series does a wonderful job, though his characters are animals. He has probably every different type of fight scene except gun battles seeing as there are no guns in Redwall. For hand fighting/boxing scenes, read Louis L'Amour. This is how I learned to box. He goes move to move and you can picture it perfectly in your head. He's a master at that art (and also gun fighting). In short, if you plan to write westerns, don't do so unless you read Louis L'Amour. He is the master of the genre.

I'll be posting several other installments for this series. The next one is going to cover battle scenes which is a little trickier.

I hope this was a help to people who might be having problems with their fight scenes! I'll be back soon hopefully with more blog posts.

Slainte, Hazel

(By the way, Samuel Pepys is sad no one has written into his advice column. Someone has to have a question about something?)

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