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Monday, December 12, 2011

Keeping It Real - Writing Fight Scenes

As an author, it's important to feed your imagination. What do I mean? I mean that you need to read and watch what others have written. This sparks your own ideas and helps you in your own writing.

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.

I've been told a time or two that I write good action scenes. Thank you. I try very hard to do so. It's not easy. A lot of action has to occur in a short space of time. Rapid exchanges of punches, ducks, feints and kicks have to have a rhythm and musicality to them. It's like a dance, only people are trying to kill one another. Unfortunately, not all punches are the same. There's a distinct difference between a front punch, hook, uppercut and elbow punch.

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".

4 comments:

Virginia Llorca said...

I only wrote one in LAWMAN and it was of necessity short. It still reads true to me and I have gotten no criticism of it. Otherwise an occasional punch here and there.

Ruth said...

Love the article, Dellani. Action in film and writing are different creatures, to be sure. I agree that finding a rhythm that works right for each author is key. I love Jackie Chan too! And, fortunately my hubby not only loves martial arts movies, but was training in Kung Fu as well as weapons combat(while the funding lasted anyway), haha. He helps me out with fight scenes from time to time, and poses for my artwork too!

Dellani Oakes said...

Ruth, that's awesome that your husband can help with your fight scenes. That's really great! I wish mine could, but I can't have everything!

Virginia, not all books need fight scenes, but I'm glad yours left you happy. It's fun to re-read something I've written and be proud of it.

writerchick said...

i end up with a lot of car chases in my series s i watch alot of cop shows and action movies most of my fight scenes are verbal battles of wit but i would have like to have seen laura ad leena go toe to toe in a puddle of mud.