Monday, February 22, 2010

Fight Scenes

I was thinking about fight scenes. 

I'm not about to write one just in the next week, but I will need one near the end of JUSTINE.
So I am pondering the physical aspects of violence in the back of my mind.

You got yer 'one guy attacks another guy' kinda scenes. 
These do not tend to be fair fights because if you want to 'attack' somebody, you bring a gun and shoot them or you pick up a baseball bat and jump out and hit them over the head.

An attacker doesn't walk up bare-handed and say, "Ok. Let's fight,"
because you get hurt that way.
Despite the legends, most of the men killed in the Old West were shot in the back.

So when I have had my heroes confront attacking villain or villains in the past, I've had the villain armed to the teeth. 
Then I try to show that weapons are stupid and people are smart and the most deadly thing you can carry around with you is what's in your head.

One could write a scene where the baddie approaches his prey unarmed and face-to-face, but we'd need a pretty good fictive reason he's doing this.

Like . . . You could have a huge disparity of strength.  Fr'instance, if I were a vampire, I might expect to overpower a human with ease.
OTOH, if I were a vampire and I wanted to dispose of a vampire slayer, (Joss Whedon forgive me,)  I'd buy a gun.
You have to be a superlative storyteller indeed,  like Whedon, to make the reader forget that baddies do not actually walk up and fight fair.

So in my JUSTINE confrontation between the powers of good and the powers of evil, I'll arm the ebil.  Guns, I think.  Though frankly I wouldn't want to go carting around C18 firearms upon my person. 
(I'd have the guns hidden in something I was carrying ....

The other thought about fight scenes is that real violent encounters probably happen very quickly.
 Like those horrible candid shots of prisoners stabbing another prisoner in the exercise yard.

So what about writing that fight scene in JUSTINE?  Can I make it go on for a bit, with dialog?

I'm pretty sure that in a genuine fight the first time somebody gets kicked in the head or the groin he goes down and that's the end of it.  No getting up with a brave and blithe comment and running back into the fray, fists swinging.
The twenty-minute 'cage fight' wrestling or the 'kung fu match' that chases up and down three blocks of Hong Kong or the Errol Flynn sword fight that fills the whole castle are silver screen hokum, using hokum in the most complimentary sense.

But . . . but . . . this IS fiction.  The world would be a poorer place without, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

The long fight scene, I think, partakes of a fictive convention. We step away from realism the minute we, like Rostand, insert dialog.
So when I consider and plot out and draft a significant violent episode, I'm not only asking -- "What would actually happen here now in this place with these people and these  weapons?"
(i.e. a half dozen people would get shot.)

I'm also asking, "What can I get away with?" and  "What's the best way to make the irrational and improbable slip past the reader's realism filters?"


  1. hand to hand combat! Cause nothing is sexier than a man unleashing his anger and because he is bruised and sexy, will lead to the heroine kissing his boo boos in some nice ways.

  2. It occurs to me that I haven't DONE any binding-up-of-wounds scenes with the hero and the heroine. And they can be so powerful.

    I will have to do one sometime. Yes. I will keep this in mind.

  3. When I think of realistic fight scenes, Raiders of the Lost Ark always springs to mind.

    You know the scene I mean? The one where the baddie pulls out the huge sword and lashes it about in an oh-so-menacing manner, and Indie is about to engage...and then a "f*ck this sh*t" look comes over his face, and he pulls out his gun and just shoots the bad guy. I love that scene. *grin*

    Don't know how well it would work in a book, though. I think you need the visual impact to pull it off.

    Whatever you go with, I'm sure it will be perfect for characters and the situation they're in at the time. :)

  4. @ Linda --

    One of the all-time classics. I love that scene.

    As I understand it . . .
    The story is that Harrison Ford was slated to film a long action fight, but he was sick with tourist tummy.

    So he said, "I'll just shoot him."

  5. I love writing fight scenes. Mine tend to be pretty short if we're talking about real-time. Written, they usually go on for two to three pages. I think the reader will go with you so long as your hero isn't getting shot, kicked in the head, stabbed in the back, etc. but still gets up and wins the fight. A longish fight scene has to be plausible.

    This might be a cheat, but I have had my heroine comment on a sequence of events taking no more than a few seconds. I think it works for my story because it's first person and it's something my heroine would notice and comment on (in her head).

  6. @Sandy --

    It's this whole thing about how time passes in the fictive world. We take a page to write a visual impression that must have been caught in an instant. The reader feels an instant has passed.

    But in the same single page we could show fifteen minutes passing if we followed the action.

    I think description somehow takes up less 'mental space' than action. We know a visual impression or a thought is swift and intangible. We read about it and don't nudge the fictive clock forward in our minds.

    We know it takes a minute to wash our hands, so a single line saying the character did that nudges the clock forward a minute or two.

  7. I stumbled upon your page quite by accident, which is ironic since I just finished writing a fight scene between my hero, a British spy, and the villain, a really bad guy. :)

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. Imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered we write about the same time period - 18th c. France!

    Serendipity led me here, I believe...

  8. Hi Leah Marie Brown --

    Oh. Utterly cool. I want just dozens and dozens of writers to swarm to this period and make it popular. Such an exciting time.

    I have some posts on historical costume that might possibly be interesting, though all my research is for the last decade of the C18 and the first two of C19. Click on 'Historical Costume' in the right sidebar to find them. I have a few more posts on costume still in draft form, almost ready to go. I WILL get to them. I just never seem to get the time. *sigh*

    Have you seen Catherine Delors' blog? Fabulous reference.