In today’s rummage, I’ve come up with ‘ fight scenes’. In 3 of the 4 stories I’ve written so far (one being a work-in-progress), there are fight scenes. I tried so hard not to have fight scenes as I’ve never been in a physical fight in my life. Ever. I am very aware of my lack of knowledge, and very worried that it will show.
When Jennifer read and edited 2 of the stories – 'The Cursed Gift' and ‘Lilyrose’ (a retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’) – she said that the fight scenes seriously let the stories down. At first, I was reluctant to agree, but had to admit that she was right. As I’d made Leah, the protagonist of ‘Cursed Gift’, a warrior, I felt I had to show her in a fight scene. I lost count of the number of times I rewrote the fight scenes, trying to make them believable.
I turned to my good friend, ‘Google’, and trawled the ‘net trying to find helpful pointers. I was surprised that there were so few articles on the subject … Mind you, this was a few years ago, things might have changed for the better since then. Regardless, I shall share the advice I gathered that I liked.
First, thepractical aspect. The first 3 points I got from Gordon, from when he was doing karate-training:
- When punching, the correct way to make a fist is to have the thumb on the outside of the fist. Wrapping the fingers over the thumb will cause the thumb to break.
- Balance is the key. A person cannot deliver powerful strikes if they are off-balance.
- Stance is also important. A strong base will ensure a person’s strikes and punches are strong.
- Punching, especially in the face, is bone hitting bone. It hurts. In reality, people react to the hurt.
- Realistic Timing. People are not robots, they are physically unable to punch repeatedly with no rest. They need time to get into position to line up another hit.
- In an intense fight, when people are putting their all into it, the fight will, most likely, last less than a minute. If they are using weapons, even less. An adrenaline rush does not last forever, and people get exhausted.
Second, theplanning of the fight scene. I don’t do this as often as I should – laziness, basically – but it is a good idea to plan the movements of the characters. It can be as basic or as involved as you want it to be. Personally, I just do a basic sketch of the setting, be it open ground or a room, and use different coloured pens for each character. Others have suggested using coins or even chess pieces – might try that one day … though I can just see myself getting distracted, playing with the pieces!
Third, the actualwriting of a fight scene:
- Short sentences + short paragraphs. “ The stop and start of a short sentence jolts the reader, keeping them always on-edge.” (Shannon Crose) Keep the structure simple – try to limit it to subject and predicate, with as few adverbs and adjectives as possible.
- Description – keep it basic. Focus on the peril. A character in a fight is no longer focussed on his surroundings, on the weather or the eye-catching décor of the room he may be in. His world consists of him and his opponent; his awareness narrows to his breathing, his straining muscles, the sweat, the grunting of him and his opponent …
- Show the character reacting to being hurt, at the time and, especially, afterwards.
- When writing a fantasy fight scene with the usual ingredients of magic and ‘unnatural’ elements, it is still imperative to stay grounded in reality. For example, however strong a magic-user might be, a punch to the face is still going to hurt. Also, regardless of how physically strong or magically powerful the protagonist is, do not make it easy for her to win. Ratchet up the tension by throwing an unexpected spanner in the works; show her struggle to achieve her victory.
To finish, I’ll quote an example from Fred Saberhagen, who I believe to be one of the best fantasy writers ever. This is from one of my favourite books, ‘Empire of the East’:
‘Quickly [Chup] was up once more, holding his captured dagger. But Rolf too was now on his feet, sword drawn and pointed more or less steadily at Chup’s midsection.
Something he had almost forgotten began to grow in Chup: his old happiness of combat. “At least,” he observed, “you have learned how to hold a blade since last we fought.”
Rolf was not minded to talk or even listen … He lunged forward, thrusting. To Chup, his own response seemed horribly slow and rusty; but still his hand had not forgotten what to do. It came up of itself, bringing the knife in an economical curve to meet the sword. The long steel sang, shooting two centimeters wide of Chup’s ribs. Then quickly the sword slid back, to make a looping swing and cut. Chup saw it was coming downward towards his legs. They had no nimbleness to save themselves. He let himself drop forward, reaching down with his short blade to parry the stroke as best he could. He caught the sword blade in the angle between hilt and blade of his dagger, caught it and tried to pin it to the ground. But Rolf wrenched the sword away again …
Rolf closed again, and struck, once, twice, three times, with greater violence than usual. The blades rang, rang, rang. Ah, thought Chup, it was too bad, a good man wasted as an enemy. Chup would have to kill him.’
[My main sources – Erin Flynn and Shannon Crose]