Monday, April 2, 2012

Fighting and writing workshop, day 3: Writing Fight Technique

This is my online workshop in writing fight scenes that I did for the Catholic Writer's Conference.  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, here is day three.


 Day Three: Now, Let's Talk About Writing Fight Technique.

There are a lot of basic moves that you don't need to describe too much. Most kicks and punches are like that, for example. You don't necessarily require a full description on a “forward vertical defensive kick” (as seen in the article on how to throw a stop kick) – you can just write “X kicked Y in the chest the way a fireman would kick down a door.” It's the same kick, just a less technical way of writing it.

Speed of attack: keep in mind that most fights don't even last for five seconds. A kick to the groin, a punch to the throat, and it's game over. Even a fight with a weapon can only last so long. Fighting over a knife will ensure that all sides get cut, and someone will be hurt in short order.

And, keep in mind, fighting is hard work. Even something as simple as punching is going to take a lot out of someone. If you don't believe me, go hit a punching bag for a minute. Punch it, kick it, headbutt it if you like, but do it at full speed, as hard as you can. You're going to find that it is very, very hard work. After the initial burst of energy, you're going to slow down after thirty seconds. Stamina should not be important in a fight, because most fights shouldn't last very long.

Another element to keep in mind: the enemy is also reacting. We don't need three-dimensional chess with hand-to-hand combat, but we also have to remember that (for example) kicking someone between the legs (even if they're feeling no pain), will still force the body to lean forward, and that opens up possibilities. If we punch someone, their head will go back. If we feint, they become defensive, preferably where we don't want them to be.

If you're going to have a long fight scene, it should be for a good reason. Either it's a war—in which case it's perfectly understandable—or there are multiple attackers, or both participants are very, very well-trained.

Yes, you can have a half-page of description for something that takes only a split second. You can have all of the technical details down cold, but you must at least convey to the audience the speed. And, even if you don't go into exacting, excruciating detail for your audience, you should at least know the mechanics, so you know what you're doing. Don't be insulted – trust me, I used to do that a lot.

If you like, look at the fights scenes of Lee Child's character Jack Reacher. He'll give a half-page dissertation on something like the tactical usefulness of a headbutt, or he will work out a fight, chess-like, before the first punch is thrown. He then does it, writes a few lines of the enemy's reaction, and keeps going.

Note: If you have formal training, or have practical experience in a self-defense system or martial art, realize that high kicks, spin kicks, or any kick that goes above the hip can pose a danger in a real fight. In a real close-combat situation, there are no rules, and there is no tapping out. This may sound patronizing, but trust me, there are plenty of people who try to use fancy moves they learn on a gym mat and try to use the same moves on concrete. It doesn't end well, sometimes.

Assignment #3: Writing Hand-to-Hand Technique

Look at the various articles assigned here: Choose at least one technique. Do not worry about plagiarizing; there are only so many ways to describe some moves. All that I require is that you use one element of one described technique over the course of your fight scene.

Step 1: Set up the fight, be it a mugging, or something with a minor villain, what have you. Write out a full technical description of what your character will do – not only with the technique, but most importantly with what comes next. (Continue to fight, to run, et al). How does the other combatant react/reply?

Step 2: Give reasons for their actions, and how it fits with your character.

Step 3. Repeat step one, only take the entire technique and condense it. Boil the technique into only a paragraph, at most. Now that you know what your character is doing, there's no reason to belabor the point for your audience. You can go into great detail, if it's an obscure method, or if you have a style similar to Lee Child, described above. You don't have to do one or the other in your writing, but you should at least be able to do both.

Please note: when writing your fight scene, be certain that you, and your readers, can keep track of what side everyone is on. Even professional writers of military fiction, like Bernard Cornwell, will occasionally leave out details like “Character Y is blocking with the sword and hitting with the empty hand, and kicking someone else …. what direction are all of these people coming from!!!

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