When I begged for a topic online (I’m shit for coming up with topics) someone mentioned action and fight scenes. I’m down with that. I love writing some action and fight scenes! And it’s not even on my own day! Woot!!
First a bit on my philosophy in employing action and fighting as a device:
- Action and fight scenes are primarily OBSTACLES. They often aren’t even indicative of the major conflict but are there to stand in the way of the protagonist getting what s/he wants.
- Thy often are FORESHADOWING. In a book I just finished, there is a fight scene between my antagonist and protagonist early on. That foreshadows their conflict and what is to come. It does a bunch of other things, too, actually: makes the antagonist and protagonist curious about each other and gives them a reason to resent each other. It builds tension between them. They don’t know each other and sparing puts them in conflict, even vaguely friendly conflict, right off. This doesn’t work with every character, but with my particular characters, this fight was the best way to launch their relationship.
- Fight scenes need lots of other things happening to work as the CLIMAX. I think it’s fine to use action and fight scenes as climactic scenes, but it’s worth noting that at the end of the climax, most of the other issues had better be resolved.
- It’s boring when your fighter is SO GOOD s/he can’t be beat. It’s not a crime for your hero to run away in the middle of the book.
- Real fights are quick and deadly and messy, especially close fights, like with a knife, especially if your fighter is good. If a fight goes on longer than a page or two, I’d better have a damn good reason.
Keep the fighter’s skill commiserate with their practice. Even Neo had to download the apps.
As far as actual blocking of scenes, don’t write every blow. First, you’re probably not competent enough to describe every blow, all the feints, defensive maneuvers, shifting of weight, balance, forms, etc. (I’ve certainly never fought with a sword though I’ve seen lots of fights in the SCA and on film). But mostly, writing every blow is as boring as writing about each button when someone gets dressed. Like in sex scenes (also action scenes, btw) too much specific action kills the tension.
That said, the specific blows and actions you do employ had better count and they had better be right. Well-placed detail lends credence and guides the reader, so get up and move. Block scenes out with someone. Use Barbies or kids or whatever. Make sure your choreography is physically possible. Fights involve a lot of physics, especially a sword fight. If someone is outreached, they have to work out ways to work around it. If the opponent is taller or heavier, how does your protagonist defeat him or her? Everyone makes mistakes; is your fighter good enough to spot them? Or will s/he miss opportunities?
It’s also a good idea to get some help from a professional. I have two reference people who know fighting: one who is a swordsman and another who is a fight expert. They are my go-to when it’s time to write action and fighting. You’ll see me ask the hive mind from time to time, especially when it comes to weapons. I take it for granted that I don’t know. And if I do know, then I’m probably re-purposing an old scene without realizing it.
I treat action scenes as learning opportunities.
(Really, that’s how I treat all of writing.)
(Which sounds totally pretentious, y’all. My apologies.)
Action is…active. It’s heavy breathing, adrenalin, and roaring blood; grunts and cries; sore muscles; fear and its close cousin hate; blood and sweat. Fighting is messy and loud. Hurt and dying people scream and beg. If you cut someone’s throat from the front, there’s no escaping the blood. You’re going to taste it. When someone dies their bowels and bladder void. The scent of too much blood and bowels makes us physically ill. Action stinks. It tastes bad. It makes even hardened warriors throw up. And if they do, or if they don’t, what does it mean to your character? I think action scenes work best when they concentrate on CHARACTER. I approach fights and action scenes with MOOD, which is driven and shown by SENSATION and REACTION, which is intrinsically linked to your character. It’s a neat little circle there…Read More...