Keeping It Real - Writing Fight Scenes
I write a lot of fight scenes. What can I say? I like fights! Some are hand to hand, some with swords, some with guns. I've even written battles between spaceships. It's fun, but it can be a challenge, especially for someone like me. I don't take martial arts. I don't know how to shoot a gun and I've never used a sword except with a Halloween costume.
For my fight scene in Indian Summer, I was still inexperienced in writing such scenes. My boys were taking Aikido at the time, so I went to Sensei Tom for help. I told him what I wanted in the scene and using his son as an opponent, he acted the scene out for me in slow motion. I wasn't sure how to get my character out of particular hold, he gave me a suggestion which I used. His help was invaluable.
Not everyone has access to a martial arts expert. Unfortunately, my boys don't take lessons
anymore, so I've had to figure this out for myself.
With that being the case, how do I write convincing fight scenes? I watch a LOT of movies and action packed TV shows. Let me repeat that A LOT! I love shows like "Alias" and "Nikita". I love watching Jackie Chan and Wesley Snipes. I could sit here all night and tell you how many action movies or TV shows I've seen, provided I could remember them all.
Watching isn't enough. While you watch, you have to examine the moves, analyze them and figure out how to express those moves in words. As a visual medium, film can portray a fight scene eloquently, since one picture is worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, an author doesn't have that advantage. We have to use those thousand words to express a clear picture of what's happening. So, we watch, analyze and express.
A martial artist will attack differently from a brawler. And depending upon the martial art will determine whether the person attacks, defends, grapples, tackles, kicks, punches or chops. Someone who is a black belt in Aikido is more likely to take a defensive stance than one who's skilled in Krav Maga. A bar brawler may break a bottle, use a chain or hit with a chair. Then we get to the super special guys like the assassins in "The Bourne Identity". They use a mixture of styles, disciplines and weapons. Their entire approach is to kill the other person before they can be killed. Another type character may be more likely to disable than kill.
Once the style has been decided, the environment enters into the picture. Are the characters outside? What kind of terrain is under foot? Are they inside? How big is the room? Are there obstacles? Is there cover?
Are the characters using weapons? If so, what kind? An exchange of gunfire moves differently from a martial arts fight. Sword fights are nothing like guns or hand to hand. The attacks and defenses aren't the same, nor to they sound alike.
Some authors go into great depth laying out a fight scene. With that, like everything else, I play it by ear. The scene unfolds before me like a movie. I see the movements and listen to the words in my head describing them.
Not everyone uses this method, but it works for me. I enjoy writing fight scenes to my stories. They add an interesting dimension to the novel. Experiment with them and find what works for you. In the meantime, I'm gonna go watch "Burn Notice".