Monday, January 18, 2010

You got a problem with that, punk?

By Steve Weddle

At the moment I am writing this, 27,873 fiction blog posts in the last 365 days have been devoted to discussing the writing of sex scenes.

Coming in a close second is the fight scene.

As Dave is the self-appointed DSD expert on fictional sex (see his earlier posts), I’ll take a shot at fight scenes.

Mostly so that I can deduct this month’s $93 innerweb bill, I researched fight scene writing.

Here are some tips I found >> Use as many kicks as you do punches. Have the fight move from one room to another. Always use at least one weapon. Vary sentence length. Only use short sentences to keep the action quick. Pause after a punch to describe the scenery in order to slow the action.

Heck, you could read pages of these tips and feel like you’re really learning something. I don’t know how helpful it is to your own writing, though. Or to mine.

What I’m thinking often happens is that writers want a fight scene, so they choreograph some moves. They write the scene, not the character.

I’ve read stories in which the protagonist, as the page turns from 73 to 74, magically picks up the ability to fight for a couple of pages. This might come as a shock to many in the noir community, but most private detectives are not seventh-degree black belts. They’re not former Army Rangers who have retired to a small town to fight their bad dreams and alcoholism.

Not to get into Dave’s specialty of fictional sex, but remember that Elvis Costello song, “Mystery Dance,” with the line: “So both of us were willing but we didn’t know how to do it”? Why is it that everyone in noir is a good fighter? Don’t tell me it’s just the genre. That’s a crap answer, and you know it.

Maybe the reason is that writing fight scenes is fun. Active. A nice break from all that exposition junk and placing clues around and having to write a convincing explanation of how your protagonist knew that the colonel was the real murderer just because he’d gone to Notre Dame with the victim’s brother.

If your protagonist is a stand-in for you – whether you’re the reader or the writer – the fight scenes are fun. Punching someone in the nose with no consequence. Let me tell you, you pop someone’s nose back into his skull, there’s gonna be some blood.

You know what happens in most fights? They end up on the ground. At the dojo where I trained, we spent a considerable amount of time working with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, a style of fighting pushed by the Gracie Family who knew a thing or two about ground fighting. How many fights in that novel you just finished ended up on the ground?

I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong. I’m certainly not saying that I know which is which. But I’ve written a few fight scenes that just don’t quite work. And I’ve read some like that, too. Too long. Too many people. Too much standing toe-to-toe.

If the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club, let's make the first rule of fight scenes that we talk about fight scenes. OK?


Dana King said...

Good points in here, mostly unthought of on my part. Now that yo got me thinking about it, I guess I do focus somewhat through the character, as I write either in first person or close third, and there's always something about how this feels, or what the POV character is thinking while the fight is going on.

Thinking more, the fight scenes I remember best do focus on the character's GERMANE thoughts. (I hate it when a guy is ass deep in antagonists and thinks of his girlfriend or mother or glimpses something through the window that reminds him of something he needs to do later. If these guys don't kill him.) Lee Child is great at it; Reacher has the best fights, as we're inside his head watching him resolve how best to handle the situation.

Kieran Shea said...

i've always been torn about reading/writing fight scenes. the long, drawn out one--yeah, they're cool and all, but it's no secret that fights are pretty much over in two-to-three seconds. unless, of course, it's equally matched with people who are trained and ready to do anything---or the desperate. then there's the kicking that always seems to get left out of fight scenes! gah! people using bare fists like they're John Wayne and Victor McLaglen without totally ruining their hands. bullshit. i've worked in bars, seen a few on the street, first one connects, done...fight is OVER. And always bet on the scrappler who's been on the mats, knows a thing or two about speed and takedowns. not the freaky teetering brawn in the wifebeater gulping his protein shake. always been a huge fan of the krav maga school, by any and all means. yeah, this taco-ed, rusty bike rim looks good for ruining your eye, jerk...

Steve Weddle said...

Dana -- I hadn't thought of the fighter thinking about other stuff, but, yeah, that's freakin annoying when they do that. My thoughts in a fight are more like: "Ohcrapohcrapohcrapdamnowohground"

Kieran -- I love me some krav maga. My favorite line from krav maga instructor: "You wanna kick someone in the head, fancy boy? Kick 'em in the crotch. When they go down, then kick 'em in the head."

Bryon Quertermous said...

Ack, I hate writing fight scenes and don't much prefer to read them either. The ones I like best are quick and over in a half a page or so at the most. Every fight scene I write ends up being the weakest scene in the book.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't love violence. I do. And my books tend to be quite violent, but I like when it springs up out of nowhere and disappears almost as fast. Quentin-Tarantino style violence if you will.

Chris said...

I think of the advice my dad gave me. "If anyone ever wants to fight you, you have to hurt 'em. Don't mess around, hurt 'em. Pull their hair, kick them in the balls, whatever, but don't mess around with fighting fair."

I've never had to put that advice to the test, thankfully, but I keep it in mind. Unless it is big, over-the-top pulpy type fisticuffs. But for real life, most people aren't in good enough shape to last more than a few seconds without huffing and puffing and puking anyway.

Travener said...

Funny, because I just finished re-reading The Maltese Falcon and the fight scenes...well, they're not so much fight scenes as Spade blasting a fist out at a chin and/or grabbing a woman by the shoulders and giving her a good shaking. Very sparing. But of course we know Spade is a combustible badass, a smoldering volcano, so the sudden eruption of violence doesn't seem out of character or contrived.

Fortunately, the only fight my protagonist gets into is a gunfight. Which has its own problems, especially if the outcome -- every other gunsel in the room dead or incapacitated, the hero untouched -- seems completely at odds with the situation five seconds before. I think I pulled the scene off in a credible way but it was the most daunting episode to write.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just wrote a scene where a woman takes down a house, room by room. Does that count? A lot of fish and plants die. I'd go back to it and have her use her feet more. But all those slimy plants and fish on the floor probably make it better to stick to the bat she's carrying. Unfortunately the humor you see here--bad--has ruined the scene as well. Some days I can't resist attempts at humor.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Beetner said...

Interesting. I agree that most fight scenes suddenly result in a miraculous fighting ability by the characters. Much more in the movies. Guys beat the hell out of each other, bare knuckled, and barely get a shiner. Only a so-so film but I worship the fight in They Live just because the two guys are bruised, out of breath, sloppy, slow and REAL.
I wrote a lot of fighting in my novel both in the ring and out of it so I know the pitfalls. I hope I avoided them. There is something much more interesting about a fight that is a little sloppy, unexpected things happen, etc. No one can take shot after shot to the chin and still be standing. A little knock down, drag out is more fun and more real.
Steve, your copy of the book is in the mail so when you get it, tell me if I succeeded or wrote a bunch of formulaic crap.