A couple of days ago I posted about my inherent lack of ability toward planning the overall scheme of a story, but I think, inadvertently, I suggested that planning overall is out of my grasp.
It’s not. No, seriously, it’s not. I do have the ability to plan some things in my story. Just like I can research parts of my stories before I begin them. It’s the long haul that causes the hiccup, the distraction, the issue. Short term planning I’ve got down to a science…for some things.
There is one aspect in particular that I have mastered the art of planning, though that’s actually the wrong word for it. The better word is blocking out a particular aspect of writing. Want to know what it is? I know you do, you’re begging me to tell you…right?
Disappointed? Don’t be, if you’ve ever written a fight scene (a detailed one folks, not the they got into a fight, fists flailing, hoping to get in a good hit type of scene) you know what I’m talking about. That bastard is a hard and demanding piece of work. First of all, it has to be believable (remember, suspension of disbelief). Second, it has to be visual…or as visual as only words can make it that is. Third, it has to move at a good tempo.
Now, most people (I hope) have never been in a real fight. In this I don’t mean pulling on your sisters hair or pushing someone back because they pissed you off. I mean full-out throw the fist, kick them in the shins, blood, teeth, hair flying as you fear for your health if not for your life type of fight. If you’re a professional fighter then you know what I’m talking about. If you were a bad seed as a kid, you know what I mean also. Someone who has studied martial arts sort of knows what I mean if they have only used it in the ring instead of on the streets. Kids that stood up from being bullied and pushed around have an inkling as well. But, I hope, most people don’t. Just saying.
If you’ve never been in one, it’s hard to picture the pace that it flows at. In reality, the fight tends to be a blur. Those who have not had the experience like to believe that you can think strategically between each swing. Sorry, not so. You can do so before the fight starts, try to plan for contingencies and so forth. You can even pretend to be like Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes and think you’ll do the same. Hate to burst the bubble, but again, not so.
But, as writers, we can because the fight is in our head. Now, I wouldn’t suggest that if you’re planning on throwing in a hand to hand fight scene that you go pick a fight so that you can experience the visceral nature of it. Mostly because after the fight you wouldn’t be able to type or hold a pen for a few days and as a writer, that’s worse than a broken foot. (At this point, I should mention that I have an inherent belief that even if someone doesn’t know how to fight, throw a punch, or whatever so I’m assuming that when you throw that punch because someone in your family is in danger, you do it well enough to cause you hand to swell up and hurt)
To capture the motion, the pace of a fight, I’m more inclined to suggest you put on a pair of roller skates, hook a leash up to a medium to large size dog, ensure that you’re not going to find yourself in traffic all of a sudden then release the hound. Not only is it fun, but you’ll get that visual feeling of “Whoa!” and “Oh, Crap.”
*Disclaimer: If you do attempt this and find yourself wrapped around a tree or a broken skull, don’t blame me as you choose to do it. I didn’t actually say do it, just that I’m more inclined to suggest that over picking a fight.*
So anyway, if you can manufacture some way to generate that blur concept, good for you (but be safe about it). If you can’t, you have an imagination so use it. Which also plays into the second issue, making it visual. This is harder than it sounds. As writers we are, or at least should be, fairly talented at descriptive writing. Part of the whole package you know. That tends to make a writer a bit too…arrogant perhaps…in believing that they can pull it off. Most probably can without having to do much, I am only halfway able to. I need, at least for some parts, an actual visual reference for what I want the characters do.
Because of this, I have a few friends that love helping me out because they get to show off what they do know and then there is the grappling, even in play, can be fun if done safely and correctly. Others just accept my request with resigned need and step up to the plate…like my husband. He’s such a good sport though (and the only one always available) even the few times my mock hits were more on the real side than the mock side of the equation.
This is where the planning has to take place because in a true, no rules, fight every part of your body is fair play in that it can be a weapon or a target. Think girl fight in middle school and you’ll get the idea. Guys in school were too busy trying to be cool and masculine to fight dirty. Girls, we don’t care. It’s all fair game because we don’t have the upper body strength that guys do.
With this thought in mind, blocking out each hit from both sides, each action and reaction becomes a vital part of not only making it believable but also making it visual.
To give an example: Alex, main character of Memory Lane, finds herself forced to fight seven men in the hopes of freeing some of the other hostages with her. The catch is that her hands are tied behind her which automatically suggests she’s going to get her ass kicked. It should be too… except she’s highly trained (ex-government assassins always are, it’s in the hand book, honest) and she manages to get herself in a position to cut her arms free and go full-out. She takes out two men in a period of ten seconds because she’s just that damn good. Ten seconds, on the page, is a long time, in real life it’s not. So I had to literally dance my way through ‘killing’ two people with a boot knife.
I was at a disadvantage though. I’m 5’5”, Alex is 6’ so you can imagine that not being easy. Plus, I didn’t have that rush of adrenaline in my system to heighten my reflexes, nor nifty government Assassin training either. I managed to poke my husband with a pen in the stomach, the lower end of the rib cage and up against his sternum. My target was between two ribs so you can imagine how that went. The knife cut was easier though because it was just a matter of swiping the pen against my husband’s neck… (have I mentioned that I’m really glad he puts up with me? If not then I should… remind me to do that later will you?)
And before the exclamation of alarm that is certain to come, yes, I’ve played the part of the dummy as well. During a blocking exercise a friend of mine who is only a little taller than me managed to nail his elbow to my temple enough to make my eyes cross. It happened because he was showing me the fastest and easiest way to get someone to let you go. It’s amazing how effective that was as I dropped like a rock…
Anyway, there is a balance to creating the perfect fight scene. It’s tempting to either flub through it was fists flying and hoping to get in a good hit or to go overboard with the description. While I would never claim to be an expert at this, though I will say that in 70% of my stories a fight scene ends up smuggled between scenes in one way or another. Not all of them are trained in martial arts or fighting in general, they haven’t had any training except their own instincts which is a different animal than Alex. So when you find yourself throwing in a fight scene, don’t flub it if you don’t have to. Block it…enjoy it.Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I am providing an example of what I think is a quality fight scene between two men, George and Mark.
His right fist flew straight and true to its intended target, nailing George in the nose followed by a sickening crack echoing in the room, causing blood to coat Mark’s knuckles, making it slick. It didn’t stop him as he pushed forward, throwing his left in a low cross to contact with the George’s side which wobbled at impact, but did nothing to discharge the force of the blow to the lower kidney. George’s grunt sound gurgled due to the bubbling blood rolling out of his nose as he tried to throw up an arm in defense. Mark ignored it and focusing to drop to a knee just before throwing his right upwards to the inside of George’s thigh. The impact caused the George to fall to his knee so that he was face to face with Mark. Mark, ready to finish the job, prepared to let his right fly when George threw his head forward, cracking Mark’s forehead with his.
Stars lit up Mark’s vision as he pitched backwards, causing it to blur as he saw George stagger back to his feet. Anger distorted his face, which looked even more demented as usual with the blood smeared along his lower face. He reached down to grab Mark’s shirt, hauling to put Mark on his knees. “Idiot,” George’s voice was a growl, “did you really think you’re the first one to try to fight back? The first one to hit me?” George’s fist crashed into Mark’s cheekbone, causing the blur to remain as Mark’s teeth rattled. “The first one to think that because I’m a big man that you had the advantage over?” Another hit caused Mark’s hearing to go hollow. “Mr. Carlson wanted me to just mess you up, but now,” George brought his face closer, looking more like an enraged bull, “now I’m going to f___ you up.”
*Due to this being a PG blog, I removed the swearing that comes natural for this type of scene.*
The scene would go on to have Mark nail George in surprise and until one of them would win. Do I know right as of this moment who would win? Nope, I was just going with the flow, but this gives you an example of the level of detail that I believe should be included with any type of fight scene, or in this case, a beating.
Now, with all this to bolster you, I have an assignment for my readers. I’d like to see what type of fight scene you’d create between Mark and George. You don’t have to make it like mine in that George works for Mr. Carlson. You can make it where they are fighting over a girl, fighting over money, hell, they can be boxers training. Whatever, the floor is yours, use your creativity and imagination.
Ohhh, I can’t wait to see what people write. Good luck!