Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Extraordinary Fight Scenes

The Magnificent Seven

One of the best ways to amp up the tension in the big climatic scene of your novel is to have the hero or heroine end up in a physical confrontation with the villain.

The Scarlet Pimpernel
I read a regency once in which the hero,  a well-built, smart man, who was skilled with swords, pistols and boxing, was forced to fight the villain to save the heroine. The scene included a few well-places punches and kicks, and ended with a fight over a pistol in which the hero accurately shot the villain in a desperate, well-aimed shot.

While the scene did have conflict, how much more tension would have been added if the hero’s usual weapons hadn’t been available, or he had been injured, or the heroine had been forced to save him? The point being, consider taking your fights from the expected and predictable to the surprising and unusual.  Increase the anxiety of your readers, by taking your hero and heroine out of their comfort zone.

Instead of a strong warrior hero, what if your hero was a tall, nerdy, bookworm, suddenly thrown into a life-threatening situation with a brawny, no-neck thug? How will your hero escape now? Your readers will have no idea and that will keep them reading as they try to figure it out.

Look at each character’s back story. Think about, size, weight, age, gender, skill, and experience. If your character plays baseball, he or she knows how to step into a swing, using their shoulders and hips to add strength as they slam the bat against the ball. If this character picked up an iron bar, he or she will probably inflict injury. If your character is smart, use that to outwit an opponent.

Think about ordinary things that might be used as weapons.  Your heroine may get attacked and only have the items in her purse to defend herself. How could she use her keys, her cell phone, a paperclip?

Most people lose a fight because they are surprised by the degree of pain and not necessarily the degree of injury. Smash an apple or cell phone against the temple as you would a rock. Unfold a paperclip into a U-shape and hold it between the fingers of your fist, with the prongs sticking out and jab.  Self-defense instructors, police officers, and military people are good resources for help.  Google self-defense against a gun or knife and you will find a wealth of articles and videos.

Remember that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If your heroine fires a gun remember there is a kick. If she never fired one she wouldn’t be prepared. There is also the distraction of the noise and the haze of gun smoke. And guns are unreliable stoppers. Unless she is lucky enough to drop her attacker immediately, he will still be coming for her.

If your hero is in a fist fight, unless he hits his opponent someplace vulnerable like the nose, he will probably hurt his hand. In a bare knuckle fight the wrist will buckle slightly on impact. When your nerdy hero hits the brawny thug (supposing they are of similar height and arm reach), in the jaw or well-conditioned abs, he will probably sprain his wrist. Instead let him fight smart, use the villain’s over-confidence against him. Let him use ordinary items to smash, stab or distract.

Remember, great fight scenes involve someone not trained to fight. Take your hero and heroine out of their comfort zone, force them to use their wits to save themselves in fresh and unexpected ways and your readers will thank you.


My notes from, Writing Fight Scenes, a workshop presented by Jonathan Maberry at the Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, 2011

Suggestions from police and military friends, and critique partners


Barbara Mountjoy said...

This is awesome! I remember a workshop where Jon Maberry was talking about how to fight with a pencil, or an apple, or just what you have in your living room....you're right that it really gives a shot of adrenaline when you don't know how someone's going to save themself. Not everyone is D'Artagnan, after all. :)

Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Kathy. I caught The Magnificent Seven last year on cable. Awesome movie. :)

Debra St. John said...

Great post. I've had one of my characters punch another, but never thought about the consequences for the punch-er. This will remind me to dig a little deeper next time. Thanks for the tips!

Your nerdy bookworm reminded me of Noah Wyle's character in "The Librarian" series from TNT.


Karyn Good said...

Excellent post! Thanks for the great tips and things to think about when writing those all important fight scenes.

jean hart stewart said...

Fantastic post and just what I needed. Am about to write the climatic scene in my newest book and will definitely try to be more original...Thanks a bunch...

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Babs,
Yes, I did credit Jonathan's workshop at the bottom of my post. I loved his idea of the apple and the paper clip. My daughter's boy friend is in the army and he said to keep track of height, weight etc. I remember some stuff from my son's karate class too.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Tina,
The Magnificent Seven is my favorite western movie, and of course I loved the theme song.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Debra,
I've been a fan of Noah Wyle since ER and I really enjoyed him in the Librarian movies. Great unassuming Beta hero. I don't much care for his new show though.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Karyn,
Thanks so much for stopping by. I'd like to think my fight scenes have evolved as have my other area of writing craft. My earlier fights were more predicable and with my new book, I'm trying to step outside that box.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Jean,
Good luck with your fight scene. It is a challenge to find ways to use ordinary things in a fight.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

A most excellent post, Kathy. I like that you advised uping the anty by taking away the weapons of choice or comfort. I also like the idea of a nerd faced with a "no neck thug" and having to use his wits to best the dullard.
Fight scenes are not easy to write. It's good to research the use of weapons beforehand.
I wish you all the best.

Kathy Otten said...

Thanks Sarah,
I appreciate your comments, you're always so supportive.

Nancy Jardine said...

Hi Kathy, very useful tips. It sometimes does annoy me when reading historicals where the hero uses what you expect him to!

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Nancy,
Thanks for stopping by. I'm guilty of being predictable as well, but I am trying to increase the tension in unexpected ways.