Friday, September 26, 2008

Them's fightin' words...

Whee! Open topic week...

Think think think...

Right. How about something on a subject that is dear to my heart but probably not one that my fellow Novel Girls here have had to deal with a whole lot (correct me if I’m wrong, ladies!).

That is, writing (and reading) a good fight scene.

Perhaps I’m just bellicose by nature, maybe I’m overcompensating for being little and blonde, or maybe I just carry too-vivid memories of those nights growing up spent punching and getting punched in the arm by my dear older brother as we argued in the kitchen over who would wash and who would dry...

But, the fact is, there’s nothing I love so much as a really awesome fight scene.
A duel. A bar-brawl. A full-scale battle...
Bring it on!

I frequently get to work with a group of actors who are specially trained in stage fighting. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch these guys and girls build a fight from the ground up, working the choreography, adjusting the angles and the timing, baking in plot elements and character motivation as they do so. Polishing and perfecting it until you don’t see the choreography anymore. What you see is part of the story.

It’s like that when you write a fight scene, too.

You write down the bones of the thing: the moves, the moments, the winner and loser. Then you flesh out the details: dialogue – if there is any; pain – and there should always be pain (and if you have no idea how much it hurts to get hit in the face or have your fingers whacked by the flat of a sword blade, that’s a really hard thing to get right); tweak the setting and figure out how it impacts on the action of the conflict (a battle in the rain on a muddy field? Not the same as in a sunlight meadow), all that good stuff.

Then you pare. You edit and sculpt and polish. Just like my actor friends until you can no longer see the mechanics behind the action. Less is almost always more in a fight scene. I once had a fencing instructor tell me that he’d love to have me on the team, but I’d have to give up stage-combat. I was always going for the ‘pretty’ parry. Not the fastest. Not the most efficient. My theatrics bogged me down. Interesting lesson, there.

Also, consider this: a fight, even the coolest fight ever, shouldn’t just exist in a story for it’s own sake. It had better tell me something about the characters. And it had darn-well better have something to DO with the story! A great fight scene in a vacuum is not a great fight scene. I just don’t care.

You may think to yourself that you have this amazing idea for a knock-down drag-out, but unless you can absolutely convince me that a battle between arboreal ninjas and assassin tree-nymphs swinging from vines is utterly germane to either plot or character development, then what you’ve actually written is probably going to come off as just as pointless as the scene in that last Uwe Boll movie. You know – that scene between the ninjas and the nymphs... oh wait... right. You see what I mean?

And one last thing: sometimes the greatest moments in a fight have absolutely noting to do with actual fighting. In Parke Godwin’s Arthurian retelling, FIRELORD, there’s a moment when the tide of battle turns in Arthur’s favor, and it’s all because one of his men starts singing. Not fighting heroically, just singing. That scene still raises the hairs on my arms every time I read it.

So that’s my ‘this and that’ for the week, then. Remember kids, think before you punch. Then punch wisely and well!

Cheers, Lesley

9 comments:

Jessica said...

Awesome post! You should teach a course on "battle writing!"

Lesley Livingston said...

Thanks, Jessica!

I'm gearing up to write a bit of a brouhaha in my WIP right now and it's sooo much fun even thinking about it!

Maureen Lipinski said...

You're right--I haven't really ever written a fight scene.

BUT.

Revising my latest WIP feels like I'm beating the hell out of myself--does that count? :)

Jillian Cantor said...

Great post, Lesley! I have never written a battle scene either, but now I really want to :-).

Adrienne said...

Excellent reference to Mr. Boll. Tree nymphs . . .oy.

If I may I have another suggestion in writing fight scenes, get a certified stage combat instructor to do it for you. That's what I always do . . .lol!

But no, seriously.

Tracy Madison said...

Lesley, what a terrific post! I've never written a fight scene, but now I know how to do it if and when I need to! Thanks :)

Lesley Livingston said...

Thanks, guys!

I highly recommend taking a stab at it (heh - pun actually not immediately intended but appropriate, nonetheless) it's an interesting and enjoyable exercise IMO.

Much more enjoyable than watching Uwe Boll's In the Name of King, as Adrienne and I discovered MUCH to our chagrin.

And Maureen? Savor the beating. Remember it! Then duplicate!

lisapatton said...

I loved your post. and you're right. No, I've never written a physical fight scene. Now a husband and wife fight scene, with words flying - heck yeah. But you've got me way beat girlfriend.

The Compulsive Reader said...

Fight scenes are amazing to read! I get so excited when a good one comes up!