Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fighting and writing workshop, day 5 and 6: military fight scenes

This is the 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 five and six.... Day five was merely an assignment. Day six was more interesting.

 Day Five: Putting It Together

At this point, you should have an idea of what you're doing. Take assignments three and four, and put them together. Whether you start from a weapon and go to hand-to-hand, or vice versa, is up to you. This is the assignment.

Like with most writing, practice makes perfect. So don't be discouraged if you're not writing full-scale battle choreography by now.

Day Six: Writing For Military Fights

Writing a military fight scene is no different from any other, when you get down to it. Do some research on terms, maneuvers, etc., but don't overstress that part. It's mostly just a matter of vocabulary.

But, seriously, there's little difference from warfare fighting.

Character: In describing filming for Lord of the Rings, and the Battle of Helm's Deep, director Peter Jackson discovered a basic law of fight scenes – Jackson had hours upon hours of stuntmen beating each other to a pulp, but the battle was boring when the camera was not on the primary characters.

The important thing you need to know is, no matter what, you need to focus on the individuals involved. The more modern your setting, the more things are done by groups of individuals, squads and fire teams, and not massive lines of fire, one against another.

However, no matter how many people you have fighting whatever enemy, you need to have individuals the audience can focus on and care about. Writing about a line of tanks is boring. Writing about someone the audience has met, and is invested in, is much, much better.

For great examples of this, read the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell – he has, on average, about six players in any battle that he focuses on, as well as a massive, historical battle taking place.

Setting: If you want to focus on a full-scale battle, in whatever age and setting, one thing you'll want to focus on is the field of battle. You're going to want to focus on the sounds, and the sights, perhaps even the smells. You want to recreate it as though the battlefield is a character. A loud, monstrous, messy, rampaging character, with lots of property damage.

The best I've ever seen of this type of recreation is John Keegan's The Face of Battle, where he recreated the battlefields of Agincourt, Waterloo, and Verdun.

Hand-to-hand combat and weapons: Depending on the scenario, military battles do not start with close combat, unless it's a type of covert infiltration, where getting in close and killing people silently is important. And, let's face it, the use of weapons will vary wildly depending on what time period and setting you're using. For the most part, it boils down to individuals.

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