Monday, June 21, 2010

“I want a hero not a weapons shop with pecks....”

1. Violence: what is it good for....

Answer, a lot more than sex is.

Last week was about sex, so violence had to be next.

I have heard multiple answers to the question: “Why put fight scenes into a novel?

David Drake, author of dozens of sci-fi novels, and Vietnam Veteran, has said that he puts fights scenes in to honor those that served, who had been there, done that.

That is a great, good, and noble answer.

I can't say I'm any of the above.

My answer is: “A is trying to stop B. B will not be stopped with words. Time to incapacitate B. Chaos ensues.”

I will not say that violence is always required. If you watch cable television, the series Burn Notice is practically built around a limited use of violence—tricks, blackmail, lying cheating and stealing, yes, but rarely violence. It is like Mission Impossible, or MacGyver for the dark side. Like with sex, violence can be a cheat, a substitute for a plot. This is more obvious in the novels where the violence is more about brutality than anything else. When you consider that the average fight may top out at around five seconds, a long, drawn out, Steven Seagal-type battle royale is more of a dance routine than anything else.

In A Pius Man, violence is used like in Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's novels were part of a war story. In the current day and age, much of warfare has been / can be done with Special Forces troops. A war waged with SpecOps is still a war.

And, the bible aside, there are few audiences that will allow a book to get away with something as simple as “The two of them struggled, rolled towards the edge of the roof, and the enemy fell off.” Right there is a failing grade in any creative writing class.

Jackie Chan pointed out that there is a difference between violence and action—it's hard to think of his action films as overly violent when you consider that he came out of a ballet company. When one observes the original A-Team, one of the running jokes among tv watchers is that there were thousands of bullets fired, but no one was shot. Like with Burn Notice or MacGyver, guns are tools, not solutions.

In the case of my books, I try not to have fight scenes—more like action sequences. Have two people stand there and pound on each other is boring at best, gratuitous at worst.

In A Pius Man, every fight scene serves a function. It leaves a clue, tells the audience something about the enemy, their motives, and their identity. Why would X group attack Y person? The level of force and determination can indicate the enemy's strength of numbers, the weapons they have access to, what intelligence they have access to, etc.

I tend to overthink things in my day to day life, so fight scenes occasionally get the same treatment.

I also try to have action sequences and fight scenes serve character... granted, in some of the oddest ways imaginable. For example, one thing they all have in common is that the only fair fight is the one they win. Letting the bad guys draw first is for suckers and dead men.


Matthew Kovach: Appears briefly in A Pius Man, but is a primary character in the second novel, he's interesting in terms of fighting style. His thumbnails are grown a little long (“the better for gouging, my dear”) and his main weapon—his pens. He knows twelve ways to kill someone with a ballpoint, and several more ways to disarm and incapacitate them. When things get really nasty, he has his fountain pens. He also spends most of his time running, so he can hide and get into a good position to attack from. He's basically an academic with an odd past; as he says, violence finds him.

Sean AP Ryan: being a former stuntman, his fighting style is a little... psychotic. “Why are you using moves out of the Matrix?” Answer “Because I can do it without the wirework.” And he carries a tactical baton around with him at all times—because there are occasions when he needs to take someone alive. I only recently started taking a self defense system called Krav Maga, which is more about practical defense than anything else. Krav Maga even disdains the title “martial art,” if only because there is no art here. We practice eye gouges, train for anti-weapon tactics, guns, knives, long guns, uzis.... and any other weapon added to the itinerary. There is supposed to be a defense against a machete, but I haven't seen it yet. In the case of Sean Ryan, he has an “expert” level in Krav Maga—which means he can face multiple attackers with multiple weapons. However, he uses moves that most Krav practitioners look at and say “No. Flipping. Way.” When he is outmanned and outgunned, Sean tends to become even deadlier. There's a reason he lists his resume by property damage.

Giovanni Figlia: as a former soccer player, Giovanni prefers a good solid kick to the groin, or headbutt to the face. As well as the occasional suicide dive into someone's stomach. “SCORE!” Also, being a former cop, he believes in the power of handguns and body armor.

Maureen McGrail: elegant and deadly. For reasons undisclosed, she started taking martial arts from a relatively young age, well before she got into double digits. MMA for the dark side, she has used bits Krav Maga, some have said Kung Fu, as well as penjakt silat (an Indonesian fighting style where punch defenses equal lethal force). She doesn't carry weapons, she is the weapon. The only people she needs to kill are the ones who just won't stay down any other way. And in A Pius Man, a stake to the heart may be required.

Hashim Abasi: He is, at heart, a street cop. A street cop from Egypt, but a street cop nonetheless. While he has some experience with a sword, that's not exactly practical for carrying around in the street. He prefers using his bulk for a standard kick-punch-elbow combination, and knows most ways to disarm someone. Think of it as an abbreviated Krav Maga.

Wilhelmina Goldberg: as a 4'11” technical geek, she generally has no need for fighting skills that go beyond a punch to the groin. Though there have been instances involving a bladed weapon and ankles....

Fr. Francis X. Williams, SJ.... A Jesuit priest with fighting skills. That should look strange enough.

Scott “Mossad” Murphy—a brilliant spy, but his philosophy is that if he needs a gun, his job had failed. Also, the last time someone gave him a handgun, he nearly blew his foot off. In a fight, he prefers to use his innate ability to blend into a crowd the shadows, and anything else available. On an intellectual level, he knows how to fight. On a practical level, it's a good day when he doesn't kill himself during practice drills. When possible, he prefers improvised weapons that he can launch from a distance—the further the better. If he must go up close and personal, he prefers a heavy object he can deliver to the back of someone's head.

Manana “Mani” Shushurin—An operative from German Intelligence, she's better at fighting than the average spy. She also caries a gun, with scores on the target range that make snipers want her for her rifle.

As I said above, I tend to overthink everything, and at points, so do my characters. I have yet to have one novel that did not have a scene of analysis immediately following an action sequence. The protagonists examine the weapons used (local? Foreign? Military? Civilian? Homemade?), the tactics (professional or amateur? How many operatives?), and, if there are any survivors, the people themselves (accented? Languages spoken? Do they respond to interrogation?). You can see why a two page fight scene can be broken down into a three page discussion about the implications.

So, not only is A Pius Man a mystery with too many suspects... it's a novel where even the fight scenes are a clue.

1 comment:

  1. Without conflict we get the first three seasons of Star Trek Next Generation - going nowhere fast.


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