Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Wanna Piece 'a Me?

I'm an action junkie. And I won't lie, I like violence. There's something primal about two opponents facing off, no weapons, just fist against fist. Let's be honest, 99% of writers have never actually been in a blood-thirsty, nasty, violent fight. And what you watch in movies and TV is not accurate at all, and there's such a huge difference between choreographing a fight and writing about it.

Writing about a fight is much more difficult.

I studied martial arts, and yes, I've put on the gloves and headgear and had the crap knocked out of me. I've had my knuckles slammed with escrima sticks or wooden swords (bokken). So hopefully I can provide a little insight as to how to make a great fight scene.

*Make it emotional. Use dialogue, get inside at least one of the character's mind, and unleash the fury or fear or both. Is he surprised by the violence and the quickness of an opponent's blows? Show it. Lets get into the mind of a character.  Is he so scared he can taste the acid in his mouth? Does his fist throb from making contact with the opponents face? Allow the reader to feel what's going on, and you'll have an engaged reader for sure.

Don't just describe the choreography of the fight and use ordinary overused terms like, "threw a swift jab to the face" or "avoided the punches with deft movements." Don't tell us. SHOW us.

*Make it realistic. Getting punched in the face hurts. It hurts bad. In the movies, getting rawked in the jaw is no big deal. You know what? That's bullshit. You know how in the cartoons they see stars after slamming into a wall? Dude. You REALLY do see stars. Remember Rocky's blurry vision. Holy crap, that's for real. The slow motion, not so much.

If your characters takes a rocket to the head, made it real. Make them woozy. Make them dizzy. You don't see double, but it's like putting on really powerful glasses when you have perfect vision. It's out of focus. You will see these little sparks of light floating around in your field of vision.

*Make it make sense. This one's very common. If a fighter unloads on a roundhouse, she's not going to be able to suddenly leap in the air after the strike. It's physically impossible. In fact, unless you're describing a martial arts duel, most people do not kick in a fight. In real life, if you try to kick someone and you miss, you will pay the price. Nothing says "slam your first against my testicles" or "break my pelvis in half, please" like throwing a weak kick. It leaves you so completely vulnerable. Don't believe The Matrix. (Unless you're writing about zero gravity or a setting that defies such laws).

Real fights last just a couple minutes at the most. In the movies, you'll see two guys brawl for 20 minutes. No way unless they're both patsies. All it takes is the right strike - a blow to the temple, a chop to the throat, kick to the groin. And it's over. That being said, take your time too. Wallow in the moment. Let it simmer before the first strike is unloaded. A fight might last only 30 seconds, but savor all the details of the fight.

*Maybe get a partner and act it out so you can get some of the physical possibilities down. You'll notice that if you have two fighters close together, elbows and knees can suddenly become effective weapons.
And if you don't have a partner to act out a fight scene, go get some action figures. I find GI Joe works very well.

Happy writing, and happy fighting!


Tiyana, aka "Yoyo" said...

Lol, that video was awesome.

Great post, Jay! You give us some excellent things to consider. I'm one of those writers that hasn't gotten into fights (not real ones, anyway). My lil' sister is the black belt in this house, heh (tae kwon do). Even so, her spars were all padded and protected, and she generally hasn't had to fight anyone outside of the MA school.

But the "seeing stars" I can relate to. Made plenty of crash landings in gymnastics. Oy.

Anyway, thanks for sharing!

J. Noel said...

Even with the pads, it hurts!

Yeah, I'm thinking the seeing stars phenomena is the brain misfiring after getting jostled.

delmer said...

One of my college roomies was in a fight once. And then, he said, it was barely a fight. The other guy hit him hard someplace around the ear -- after that he fell down and his balance was so bad he couldn't get back up.

J. Noel said...

It's a scary feeling, Delmer, when your balance and vision are cloudy. Can't get your bearings, and I'm serious when I say you just want to curl up in a ball and cry for your momma.

Anonymous said...

Good article, J! I'm no fighter, but I've studied it a bit, and keep meaning to write about it. (Tangent: What's the quote? "The best way to survive a knife fight is to never get in one"?)

If I may indulge in a geek moment:

Close your eyes and rub them. You should see some weird patterns of light. These correlate roughly to where your optic nerve is pressured (so if you press on the top of your eye, the "light" should be on the bottom, opposite the pressure); the pressure translates to light sensation. Those nerves are firing, and the brain is used to interpreting that as light, not "ow, I'm being smooshed!"

I'm not sure if "seeing stars" is the same thing, but it wouldn't surprise me, as fighting tends to pressure some of those cranial nerves.

Mr. Shife said...

I have been in 2 fights, and I think the grand total of actual fight time was about 30 seconds. Both times I was so amped up by adrenaline it took a while for me to calm down. One of my favorite fight scenes from the movies is in "Dazed and Confused" when they are at the kegger at the moon tower and one of the nerdy guys starts a fight because he thinks everyone will break it up and pull them apart. His logic is sound but everyone stands around to watch and he gets his butt kicked. Thanks for the birthday wishes for my wife.

Jay Noel said...

Tesh, I think football players talk about seeing stars when they've had a head injury. I'm thinking there's a part of the brain that has something to do with sight that smacks up against the skull. It's not fun, believe me.

Shife, It does take a while after a fight to chill, as you feel like you could bite through steel. And we all know that high schoolers enjoy watching a fight, and will gladly be a willing audience to an contest. I broke up at least a dozen fights as a high school teacher.

Phats said...

Never been a real fight before, kind of hope I never am in one haha :) I am not sure I could accurately write about it.

Brackets are up, thanks again for playing this year!!

Jay Noel said...

Yeah, there's nothing good that can come out of fighting unless you're defending yourself.

Let's see how I do this year in the bracket challenge. I picked some upsets!

T.S. Bazelli said...

Escrima sticks on knuckles? Oh that hurts bad, even if it's an accident. I did martial arts for years, but I still hope I'll never get into a real fight, because even practice can hurt. I think it helps with the fight scenes, but also can be a drawback if you get too caught up in the technicalities/mechanics, rather than the plot/emotional aspect of the story. Good reminder that these are just as important when it comes to writing.

Jay Noel said...

Probably MORE important T. A description of choreography is boring. Have the reader feel the hate, the fear, the pain...that's what keeps 'em engaged.

Anonymous said...

Mano e Mano is a great art form to observe (a la Jet Lee or Donnie Yen). Weapons are a delight to watch as well (e.g. Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I have learned that in writing action, the scenes need to be short and punchy. One does not need long dragged out sentences to describe action. Great post!

Jay Noel said...

I just watched that sword fight scene in Crouching Tiger. I'll watch that one and the fight scene in the trees. Poetry in motions.

Thanks for stopping by, Hero.

Phats said...

I came here to apologize for my Boilers haha :) We just got outplayed tonight.

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