Monday, June 6, 2011

Fight scenes

If we assume for the moment that a topic's relative importance is indicated by the relative frequency with which people discuss assumption clearly invalidated in today's news by counting the relative frequency of mentions of the economy versus Sarah Palin's knowledge of Paul Revere's ride, but let's just go with it for now...if we do, then we know that writing fight scenes is one of the most important aspect of literary pursuits.  There seem to be hundreds of pages out there where people tell us how to tell them the story of a fight.  The advice varies in scope, too, from a detailed discussion of planning and mapping the fight out (including figuring out how high the ceilings are if weapons are involved) to "go read R.A. Salvatore's fight scenes." Not that there's anything wrong with Salvatore's fight scenes, of course, but the advice is a bit anti-helpful.  Unsurprising, really, since quite a few of those sites describe fight scene prose creation as a difficult task. 

With as many experts as there seem to be on the topic, though, how could anybody still think it difficult?

OK, that was a bit snide.  Any writing is difficult.  Creating effective fight scenes?  Difficult.  Creating effective sex scenes?  Difficult.  Creating effective dialogue scenes?  Difficult.  Creating effective difficult scenes?  Difficult!  But what I don't understand is why it apparently seems so much more difficult to write fight scenes.  They really don't seem too hard compared to any other writing.

Come to think of it, most of the instructional sites read much the same as sites detailing other aspects of writing.  "Show, don't tell," is a common mantra in both groups of sites, for example.  Don't use the same word or sentence structure over and over, either, unless that word is "said."  Those two suggestions seem to pretty well set up most effective writing, really.  Some of the forums I saw in my research for this post had people complaining that their fight scenes read like this: "He swung.  Then he swung.  Then he swung.  Then he swung...."  If you focus on describing the scene, rather than just telling about the swings...thus, showing, not avoid the repetitiveness.  One site had a very effective combat-specific way to think of prose generation: each action in combat has a reaction.  The hero swings, the villain blocks.  The villain swings, the hero goes down in a heap of gore and blood.  Or whatever.  But fighting isn't just a matter of "I hit you, I hit you, I hit you," unless you're fighting a punching bag. 

So what about rhythm?  I used to, as a kid, read fantasy books with battle scenes, imagining a sort of rhythmic dance that the combatants get into.  It makes good fantasy, I guess, doesn't really happen like that.  Granted, I'm not the world's greatest expert in actual combat.  I'm a Combat Veteran, thanks to my participation in Desert Storm, but as far as I know I've never had a real bullet fired at me in anger.  I've been in plenty of mock battles, though, and I have to tell you that peering down the wrong end of the main gun on a tank belonging to your foe is an emotional moment, even if the foe is what the Army calls OpFor, for Opposing Force, in training exercises.  I've also stood toe to toe with guys (and girls) in the boxing ring, the wrestling ring, and close quarters combat stations.  One key observation: girls are mean, man.  Don't fight them if you don't have to.  But more to the point of this post: combat doesn't have a rhythm.  If it does for you, then you're about to get beaten because the other guy is gonna recognize your patterns. 

That said, the writing about combat must take on a rhythm of its own, to a certain extent, but that's true of all writing.  Specifically with combat, you as the writer want to build suspense and keep the action going, and the way to do that is with short sentences.  Thus, combat writing has to, as much as or more so than other writing, be lean and crisp.  The fewer words you can describe an action in, the better you'll be. 

And...that's about the extent of what I know of combat writing.  Hopefully I'm up to the task of doing it well.  None of my reviewers have really complained about the combat, though, so I guess if nothing else I do it better than sex scenes...which really isn't saying a lot. 

Till later! 

1 comment:

  1. it could help if you describe the impact. instead of just the badguy hits the hero, badguy hits the hero and he flies backwards, his head slams into the road sign and it snaps in half... (the road sign, not the head).
    in vampires fighting, they leap forward so fasst it creates a rush or air that results in the opponent's hair to bellow backwards.
    there's the smell of blood, the feel of blood, the sounds of punches and shattering bones...
    sounds like fun. perhaps the best thing is to read a combat scene in a real good horror book and see what's the thing that scares you the most, and use the idea behind it. did the book mention the fear in the gangsters' eyes, when they realize they're dealing with rambo here, and how they stop fighting and get very humble and frightened? perhaps you can write about badguy's hands shaking, his screaming, panics, and then running away so fast he's kicking dust?
    it's the same idea, really. it's all about the opponent's fear.