Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fight Club: Guest Blogger Jay Noel

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!
Jay Noel likes to mash science fiction and fantasy together, and he's heavily influenced by all kinds of ancient mythology and the classics. Jay's debut novel, The Mechanica War - Dragonfly Warrior is set for release by Otherworld Publications on July 20, 2012.


  1. Thank you for this - so far I've written three fight scenes from a position of total ignorance - you've given me a lot more pointers to bulk up the veracity

  2. Thanks for this. This is excellent advice.

  3. Nice, Jay! I've got a martial arts background too, and I agree, bad fights are always disappointing.

    I took a stage combat course a while back. The instructor was a fight coordinator, mostly for stage, but he'd had some film experience too. They are selective in what aspects of fighting they want to show. Two mandates come to mind: one, they talked a lot about carrying your wounds. If you get your knee taken out in the first exchange in a fight, don't suddenly start running or jumping.

    Two: look cool while fighting. This is where Hollywood fights fall down in terms of realism, I think, and where fiction has the advantage. As you point out, working how much a fight hurts is a great advantage.