Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Writing 101 - The Fight

Scene from Blade Dancer

Mikial held her cannon high as she leapt with Feren down the sloping sides of the gully the stream spilled into. In the same instant, three Minnerans burst from cover, heading in the opposite direction. They were far smaller in stature then any Datha, their khaki uniforms making her think more of field workers than soldiers. The five of them met at the bottom of the gully in a confused rush.

Mikial used her forward momentum to smash the butt of her cannon against the head of the nearest wide-eyed Minneran soldier. Spinning, she caught the other with a kick to his groin before crushing his larynx with a chop of her free hand. Mikial did not see what had happened to the third Minner­an, but Feren's dripping claws were indication enough as she joined him in a run up the other side of the gully. The only thought Mikial had was one of amazement at how fast the Minnerans had died.

The subject of fight scenes came up in one of the forums I frequent, and I found it enough of an interesting subject to add to my "Writing 101" segments. Some writers feel that they need to understand every aspect of a fight - the correct stances and moves. The exact way to block this or unbalance that. In one case, a fight scene was provided that went on forever, it seemed. Certainly well past my interest as a reader. It was an excellently choreographed fight from start to end, and in this case that was the scene's problem.

For me, there is no hard and fast rule on writing a fight scene because you first have to look at the scene's goal. What is it trying to accomplish? Answering this question will certainly impact both the detail and length of any given fight. Is this the culminating scene between the hero and antagonist, or simply (as in the example above) a passing rush of action meant to mark the point in a protagonist's life where they first took a life?

You first have to ask whether or not the intended fight is the focus, or by-product, of your story, and proceed from there. For example, a person who has to use their karate training for the very first time may involve more technically described actions in the fight. Why? Because the person is themselves involved in using these techniques and it is important to them. This is when all of that training pays off for real.

Then we have Mikial up there, who has already been trained to the point where her moves are instinctive. She won't be thinking technique - her assailant will be dead long before the thinking starts. Mikial catches up to herself only after the encounter has met its fatal conclusion. This brings up the point that most fights will be swift and brutal affairs, and not a drawn out dance. Not unless the fight itself becomes the focus - which it is not in the scene I presented. The awful realities of combat are the focus here.

So lets say that your fight scene is important - it is the climax of a story fraught with persecution where even the reader wants to see a good ass kicking of the antagonist. This is where you draw the fight out and make each impact of fist or foot a satisfying resolution. Even still, you need to be mindful that too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Repetitious blows, recoveries, and attacks can pile drive your reader into disinterest. There was a magnificent end-fight scene in an old Western where the battle between two men did go on...and on...and on. What the director did to make it interesting was to change the venue - the two men fought from one end of the town to the other, and many stops in between. There was even a moment where the antagonists paused for a drink. The point here is that the director, like the writer, was well aware that two guys just hitting each other for twenty or thirty minutes straight was not going to stay entertaining forever. So, unless you have a town to brawl through, you might want to keep your epic fight down to a couple pages.