Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fighting and writing workshop, Day 1: fighting, your characters, and your world

As I mentioned, two weeks ago I said I was going to host an online forum workshop in writing fight scenes -- it was loosely based on one of my own blog posts. It just spun out of control.  Karina Fabian had managed to draft me ... or I volunteered, I'm not entirely certain.  Either way, it was an interesting little experience.

Since most of you folks have been with me for a while, I'm going to give it to you.

Don't worry, I wasn't paid for this, so giving this away for free will hurt no one. And, few to no people wanted to show up and play with my workshop, even though there were over 25 viewers for each post.  But, I've been told few people showed up anyway for the forums, something to do with schedule confusion.

So, since this workshop screwed over my blog posts last week, I figure that I should get some use out of it.

This was the first day.

Day One: Fighting, Your Characters, and Your World.

Before one even gets to writing a fight scene, you have to answer multiple questions, not only about you character, but about the world s/he inhabits.

For example: if your main character is a civilian in the modern world, not only do you have laws to contend with, but a question of training.

Start with a situation. Your character is mugged. Some strung-out druggie who needs a fix wants your character's money. This character has a feeling that things are going to end badly no matter what s/he does. It is time to resist.

But then you have a problem before you even get to the technical aspects of writing a fight. Why would your character know how to fight?

Family – is fighting in the family business? Mercenary, samurai, knight, military family?

Culture – does your world resemble Sparta 2.0? Are there laws against fighting? For fighting? Is dueling outlawed or celebrated?

Profession – is your character a SEAL? An enthusiastic reservist?

Sports: Does your character like MMA? Wrestling? Target shooting? Hockey? Soccer? Any of these can be adapted to create the realities of a fight scene.

Hobbies: Your character may be nothing more than a smart, reasonable person who believes in self defense. S/he may also be a ballerina who can launch a nasty spin kick because that's what s/he did in Swan Lake – don't laugh, it works for actresses Jennifer Gardner and Summer Glau. S/he may have taken capoeira because s/he thought it was only a dance class. If s/he likes to fire off a hundred rounds a week at the local shooting range, why not? Even the basics of handling a gun can be useful.

Now, fight scenes do not necessarily require fisticuffs. Running away is a good, reliable tactical maneuver. Your character can always run.

Why does this matter? Establishing your character's own style of fighting is perfectly reasonable, otherwise, you have fight scenes that you've stolen from action movies … Yes, I've done that. Then I took a real self defense system, and I'vesince rewritten every last one scene.

Assignment #1

1) What are the cultural rules/legalities of your world when it comes to fighting? In modern settings, these laws vary by country, and even by state. In New York, if you defend yourself against an armed mugger, laws can be used to prosecute you. In Texas, if you defend yourself, you get a medal.

2) If your character had to fight, how would they do it? What is the style of fighting your character uses? It can be straight up punching and kicking, or furious punching and gouging, or something more informal like Krav Maga, or much more formal, like Tae Kwan Do. Does your character fight with improvised weapons, or instead use traps and trickery to dispose of the adversary? Or (also acceptable) do they run away until they can find a solid position to fight from?

3) Why does your character know that system of fighting? If you're writing the character of a Navy SEAL, that's one thing. If it's the civilian offspring of a military family, that's another. Does a family member teach the fight system? Was it something they thought was cool when they were twelve? Did they read too many thrillers growing up? Did they take ballet, or soccer, or football – something with a lot of kicking?

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