Tag Archives: fight scenes

Keeping it Real

What I love about teaching the occasional karate class , particularly working with newbies, is explaining and instructing basics. Good basic form and technique are the keys to strong skills later on. They are the foundation to a house of cards or the stock to a good soup. Form and technique also enable a small student able to generate more power and hit harder than someone twice her size.  So, if you want your smaller heroine to land a strong blow to your big, bad villain, it’s possible. But writers have to keep it real. This isn’t TV.

Martial arts employs the use of physics. Here are three ways to generate more power when striking.  Good use of one of these natural forces allows a small person to hit very hard. (Bruce Lee was not a big man, but he could deliver incredibly fast and powerful blows!)

  1. Gravity – Your heroine can stomp on your villain’s instep, ankle, or knee. If she does it properly, gravity and body weight will add considerable force to the kick.
  2. Momentum – She can shift her body weight forward while striking, using her forward motion on the horizontal plane to increase her power.
  3. Torque – A roundhouse kick is  one example of using torque to increase power. The kicker uses the turning motion of the body like a golfer or baseball player.

There are forces karate students learn to maximize their strengths. Size, strength, and conditioning are factors as well. But every student can use correct form to increase his or her personal power.

I leave you with a clip of Bruce Lee. Yes, it’s a choreographed scene, but he is still amazing to watch. Notice the tight efficiency of his body. No wild swings. No unnecessary motions. Incredible speed, power, and grace. He is economy of motion in action. Enjoy!

Fight Scene Technicalities

How technical should an author get when describing fight scenes?

The answer may depend on who your readers are. Fans of military thrillers might have a different level of fight knowledge than fans of women’s fiction or YA. An author would be wise to take reader expectation into account when writing.

Regardless of genre, though, I would advise against getting too technical. You don’t want your fight scene to read like a training manual. Describing your fight choreography in minute detail will also slow down the action and pacing.

Karate-Kid-CraneIf you want to showcase a particular technique in the final battle scene, explain it or refer to it earlier in the story; perhaps in a training session. For example, in the original Karate Kid movie, we saw Mr. Miyagi practicing the crane technique, Daniel asked about it and we learned that, “If do right, no can defend.” Daniel practiced it on his own, and when he got into the crane stance in the final scene, we knew this awesome move would make him a winner. How about the five-point palm exploding heart technique in Kill Bill? If these techniques weren’t explained until they were used in the story, the pacing would slow, and the significance would be lost.

Fights are fast, so fight scenes should be quick reads. You want the reader to feel they are a part of the fight or at least watching it, not reading a commentary. This will help elicit the correct emotional response from the reader. He/ she should feel the excitement of the fight, not confusion over the words used to describe it, or boredom from it taking too long.

Do you have any favorite techniques from books or movies you’d like to share? Have you read any books where the fight scene reads like a how-to manual? How about books with awesome fight scenes that were handled flawlessly? I love hearing from you. Please leave your comments below.

~K.M. Fawcett

Fun with Unusual Weapons

Today, I went to karate class looking for the usual, an awesome workout that forces me to pay 100% attention to what I’m doing and therefore clears my head. But I got more, so much more.

Just like any other class, we started with a thirty minute kick-my-butt workout.  Sensei thinks of the most interesting ways to make my muscles hurt for days.  After the conditioning part of class was over, sensei brought out some weapons.  I know! Fun!

He made a pile of wooden sticks, knifes, and holy smokes – a machete.

The beautiful thing about kenpo karate is that everything a student learns builds and is used in other ways.  I’ve never trained with a machete before, but we train in Modern Arnis (stick fighting) in our curriculum.  The reason? Techniques and movements that work in stick fighting transfer to other weapons, such as knife and machete. So, even though this was my first time training with machete, I did much better than I expected.  Here is a short video of Modern Arnis. Pay attention to the weapons. You’ll see single stick, double stick, stick & knife, plus machete used with similar movements.

Now one question remains. How in the world do I work a machete fight scene into a book? Any suggestions?

Writing Fight Scenes

I’m deep in edits right now so thought I’d share a post I wrote 2 years ago on writing fight scenes. Enjoy! I’ll let you know how the revisions go when they’re over.

A few weeks ago a writer friend asked me for some help with her fight scene. She gave me her chapter, minus the fight, so I could get an idea of what was happening in the story. The chapter was good, but I couldn’t help her with the scene just yet. I needed more information.

To begin with, I had to know what she wanted to accomplish with the fight. Did she want the hero to knock out the bad guy? Maim him? Kill him? What are the hero’s and the villain’s experience and skill as fighters? We’ve already learned from a previous post, Perfection of One’s Character, how important characterization is. Therefore, knowing the Hero’s background is key. A boxer fights differently than a karate man. A karate man fights differently than a grappler. A grappler fights differently from (insert your style of choice here). Do the characters have police or military or combat training? Know your characters!

I also wanted to know what kind of an exchange she wanted to have happen. A quick exchange of a few blows or an all out brawl? If she wanted to knock the guy out quietly, the hero might put the villain in a choke hold until he passes out. If she wanted a lot of action and movement, then she could choreograph a fight scene with punches, blocks, kicks and throws.

Was there a weapon involved? In this case there wasn’t, but remember in a fight anything can potentially become a weapon, even dirt in the eyes to blind the other guy, sticks, garden gnomes, you name it. Just because there is no obvious weapon like a gun or knife doesn’t mean you can’t improvise one. More on improvised weapons in this post.

What is the setting? Is it day or night? Are they indoors or out? What is the lighting? The weather? The terrain? Take all these things into consideration when planning your scene. If your characters are outside a home, they can throw each other into the side of the house, a tree, a car parked in the driveway, the rose bushes, a swing set. This is your chance to create an exciting and unique fight scene. Have fun with it.

Pay attention to the character’s distance from each other. If they are further away, they might use kicks (See Melinda’s post on different types of kicks). When in striking distance, they can punch and block and slug it out (See Melinda’s post on punches). If they are in very close, they can uppercut under the chin, into the neck, into the solar plexus, or into the groin. Maybe a character takes the other guy down and they start grappling (wrestling). Arm bars, locks or chokes can be used either on the ground or standing. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Just remember that a fight scene needs to be important to the story, not gratuitous. The fighting must be within character and believable. And if you aren’t sure something will work, get out of the chair, find a willing partner and experiment with your fight choreography together.

~KM Fawcett

What Does it Feel Like to be Hit

Recently, we at ATP were asked what it felt like to be hit. Here are our answers.

Punches to the face:  While none of us are prize fighters, we do spar in karate. Even an accidental blow to the face HURTS. Eyes water reflexively. Noses bleed an extraordinary amount. When hit in the eye, even lightly, vision is blurred or cloudy for while afterward. Blows to the jaw can result in loss of consciousness (boxers refer to this as the “glass jaw”). In a street fight, the damage would likely be much worse as the person isn’t trying to score a point. His intention is to hurt his opponent.

Hard blow to the stomach:

Melinda: It effing hurts. Vomiting is common. Breathing will be difficult as the air is “knocked” out of you. I took a solid kick to the solar plexus in my sparring test for my 1st degree, through a padded rib guard, and had to bow out for about 5 minutes. My lungs felt like they wouldn’t expand. I returned to the mat, but my knees were shaky and I felt winded for the remainder (about 30 minutes) of the test. I was so glad to limp home and ice everything.

Kathy: Earlier in my training, my husband (who is also my teacher) kicked me in the right side and I swear it felt as though my midsection shifted two feet to the left (like you’d see in a cartoon character) before returning to normal.  It hurt for a while but I was ok.  Last year I got kicked really hard in the ribs and thought they were broken it hurt so bad.  They weren’t though.

Fighting Q&A

The three of us here on Attacking the Page were recently interviewed by Angela Knight for her class on writing fight scenes.  For today’s post I thought I’d share one of those questions and the answers that each of us gave.

I’d also love to know some ‘sneaky’ tricks/punches a woman could pull on a man who surprises her with an attack since not all my female protags are warriors, just strong women with strong self-preservation senses.

Melinda’s answer:  Chops or punches to the Adam’s apple, palm strikes to the nose, knees or kicks to the groin, thumb gouges to the eyes, boxing the ears. Generally, the soft areas that run from a man’s face to his groin are all good targets.

Kathy adds: Kicks to the knees could take a guy down as well.

Rayna adds: I’m a fan of elbow strikes, at least for in close fighting. I can hit someone harder with my elbow then my hand. I don’t want to hurt my hand, my elbow can take more of an impact. Plus a quick shot to the gut or chin can stun someone just long enough for me to get away or at least put enough distance between us so I can use my legs, which is my stronger weapon.

I thought I’d also share this interesting instructional video on different types of elbow strike.

Fight Scene Questions?

Do you have questions about your fight scenes? Or about writing action? Or how to create believable martial arts characters? Maybe you’re wondering what your heroine would do if the villain grabbed her from behind.

I’d like to dedicate today’s blog post to answering any questions YOU may have about your fight scenes. Leave your questions in the comments section.

~ K.M. Fawcett

Fight Scenes and Love Scenes – Seven Tips to Writing Action by Virginia Kantra

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Virginia Kantra credits her love for strong heroes and courageous heroines to a childhood spent devouring fairy tales.

The author of more than twenty books, Virginia is an eight-time finalist in Romance Writers of America’s RITA awards and the winner of numerous industry honors, including two National Readers’ Choice Awards. After writing her popular “MacNeill Brothers” and “Trouble in Eden” category series, Virginia turned her hand to single title romance. Her new series, Children of the Sea, continues with Forgotten Sea in bookstores now! Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of three kids, Virginia is a firm believer in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling, and the power of love.

Her favorite thing to make for dinner? Reservations.

Fight scenes and love scenes involve two (or more) characters in the grip of strong, basic emotion grappling at close quarters.  These are action scenes, larger than life moments that evoke our readers’ emotions and propel our stories forward.

Understanding the similarities between fight scenes and love scenes can help us identify strategies to make both kinds of action stronger.

1. Action springs from character.

What our characters do reveals who they are.

How your characters act and react in action scenes will depend on their

Level of skill

Experience

Emotions

Because our fictional characters are often larger than life, we can choose to make them exceptionally well-endowed or talented.  We can write kickass heroines or sexually skilled heroes.  But to avoid writing generic fight and love scenes, keep in mind what your characters know, how they learned it, and what they bring to this particular encounter, at this moment, in this mood.

The more aware you are of your characters, the more they can surprise you and the reader.  Think of Indiana Jones pulling his gun to shoot his sword-wielding opponent in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  His action is credible and in character, yet it’s also a wonderful surprise.

2. Players in an action scene should be well matched.

Tension springs from conflict.  In fight scenes, your antagonist should be strong enough to defeat the hero, to put the outcome of the fight in question.

Your lovers should be equally matched.  While the hero and the heroine in a love scene don’t threaten each other physically (well, except for that wonderful scene in the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are rolling around shooting at each other), you can increase the tension by making them vulnerable to each other in other ways.  Again, put the outcome of the scene in question.  Will the skilled rake seduce the well-brought-up virgin?  Or will she turn the tables by taking control?

3. Every character in an action scene should have a goal.

Unless your characters are drunk or otherwise judgment impaired, they should have an objective, a desired outcome, going into the scene. Whether that goal is to avoid a confrontation or to start one, to establish intimacy or distance, your characters shouldn’t jump into a fight or into bed without some kind of purpose.  What do they want?  What are they prepared to do to get it?

Remember what I said above about tension springing from conflict.  Your character must have a stake in the outcome of the scene.  Which brings me to my next point.

4. Action scenes should impact the plot.

Fight scenes and love scenes should impact both the characters’ emotional arc and the development of the story.  Scenes should not be stuck into the story because sex titillates or violence sells, but because the action of the scene changes things for the participants.  Maybe the fight clears the air.  Maybe sex changes the balance of power.  Maybe somebody gets hurt.

As with any other scene, fight and sex scenes should advance the plot and either complicate or help resolve the conflict.  The action should be significant and relevant to the rest of the story.

5. What’s going on?  Choreographed action and emotional progression.

How much detail you include in your fight and love scenes will depend in part on your story, your style, and your subgenre.  Lengthy descriptions of scenery will slow your pacing, but a brief depiction of setting will establish both the mood and the “field of battle.”

You don’t need to choreograph every movement. But the action should

Be possible

Be plausible

Flow

Fighting and making love are ultimate physical expressions of intense emotion. Your characters and your readers should be plunged into the scene, not outside watching it.  Use visceral detail: pounding hearts and sweaty palms. Sensory description can add to the immediacy of the action, but focus on how each touch, each scent, each sensory trigger makes your characters feel.  Dialogue can increase either the intimacy or the conflict, but it should be brief and to the point.

6. Actions have consequences. 

Even if the fight is won, even if the sex is great, action scenes often end in unforeseen disaster.  Now the bad guy knows where they are.  Now the hero is injured.  Now the heroine is emotionally vulnerable or pregnant.

Ask yourself, how are things better or worse as a result of this action?

7. Both fight and love scenes should escalate throughout the book to the climax.

Your characters should grow through the course of the story.

The villain should get stronger.

The stakes should get higher.

The tension should mount.

And all that pulse-pounding emotion, all that evocative detail, the pain and the ecstasy, should be that much more.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, here are two brief excerpts from Forgotten Sea, the intro to a fight scene and the intro to a love scene.  These aren’t full scenes.  But as you read, see how the different elements discussed above come into play, the way the characters’ objectives and emotions, the setting, stakes, and visceral details help bring the action to life.

THE FIGHT, p.185

Black birds ringed the parking lot like spectators at a boxing match. Or vultures.

Justin’s heart jack-hammered. The three men from the diner had Lara trapped between a big rig and the Jeep.

At least this time none of her attackers was possessed by a demon.

That he knew of.

A chill chased over his skin. Briefly, he met Lara’s gaze, blazing in her pale face. “Get inside.”

She opened her mouth to argue before she figured out his order was for the benefit of their audience. Pressing her lips together, she took two jerky steps toward him.

Tattoos took the toothpick from his mouth and pitched it to the ground. “I say she stays.”

“Let her go,” Justin said evenly.

The stocky man with the weary eyes met his gaze. “Or what? You’ll call the cops?”

Duck into the diner, leaving her alone? Risk having the cops run a make on their stolen Jeep?

“We don’t want trouble,” Justin said again.

Tattoos laughed.

The man in the red bandanna crossed his arms over his chest. “Then call off your spies.”

 Spies?

 “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Justin said.

“Call ’em off, or your girlfriend’s going back to Heaven ahead of schedule.”

But Lara was easing between the Jeep and the truck, retreating toward the diner, securing herself space and a wall at her back. Smart girl.

Justin started circling with Bandanna Man and the stocky guy, hoping to buy time to let her get away, get inside, trying to keep an eye on Lara and another on his new dance partners, watching their hands, watching their eyes. Hoping nobody had a knife or, Jesus, a gun.

Tattoos realized Lara was slipping away and made a grab for her. The flock of birds burst from the ground, a feathered explosion of black wings and raucous cries.

Lara dropped out of sight behind the Jeep.

Shit.

#

THE LOVE SCENE, p.204

Iestyn’s blood drummed in his ears like a roaring wind, like the crashing sea. Lara should have left him when she had the chance. Instead, she was putting herself in his hands. Literally.

What the hell was she thinking?

“Take me,she’d said.

Heat surged in his veins. A cold sweat trickled down his spine.

For seven years, he’d drifted, a nobody answerable to no one, responsible for no one but himself. Because of Lara, he knew who he was. What he had been. Her choices had gotten them this far.

But they had left her world behind. With every mile, they traveled closer to his.

Where they went from here was up to him. She was his responsibility now. Her safety, her satisfaction, depended on him.

He looked into her misty gray eyes and his vision contracted suddenly as if he were sighting the stars through a sextant, plotting his course by her light. All he could see was Lara.

He was no angel. Maybe he would never be what she needed. But in one area, at least, he could give her what she wanted.

Sex was part of his world. He could take responsibility for sex without any problem at all.

#

What are some of your favorite action scenes from movies or from books?  How much detail do you want in fight scenes?  What about love scenes?

Virginia will be giving away a copy of FORGOTTEN SEA to one lucky commenter!

http://virginiakantra.com

http://www.facebook.com/VirginiaKantraBooks

IMMORTAL SEA, 2011 RITA Award finalist for Best Paranormal Romance

“Shifting Sea” in BURNING UP, 2011 RITA Award finalist for Best Novella

FORGOTTEN SEA, Berkley, June 2011

TIPS FOR WRITING ACTION

Make sure your action or fight scene moves the plot forward. If it doesn’t, cut it!

Action – Reaction: An action should come before a reaction. The cause is followed by the effect. The reader must see what is happening first so that they can have an emotional response and react to it along with the characters.

Example 1 (Reaction first)  Blood gushed from his nose when she decked him.

Example 2 (Action first)  When she decked him, blood gushed from his nose. Or She decked him. Blood gushed from his nose.

In example 2, the reader experiences the action as it’s unfolding.

Clarity and Pacing: Be straightforward and to the point. Describing your fight choreography in minute detail will slow down the action. You want the reader to feel they are a part of the fight or at least watching it, not reading a commentary. Use short and medium length sentences rather than long, complex ones. However, keep in mind not to structure them all the same, as a lack of variation could lead to choppy, robotic and monotonous prose.

Emotion: Don’t forget to write the emotional aspect of the fight. If the character has no emotional response to the action around him, neither will the reader. Emotion creates more suspense. It connects the reader with the character and makes them root for their success. Be warned. This is a balancing act. Too much emotion or introspection can slow your pacing.

Expressive words: Use strong action verbs to make the scene more interesting and more specific. For example, compare the following sentences:

The drunk walked into the house. (Not very specific)

The drunk staggered into the house. (This gives the reader a better mental picture.)

The drunk crept into the house. (Also a better mental picture with a different connotation. This guy is being sneaky. Is it because he doesn’t want the wife to catch him or is he there for nefarious purposes?)

I hope these were helpful. Please feel free to share your tips for writing action scenes in the comments section.

Remember…Details about how to submit to the action scene critique will be posted on Thursday. Polish those scenes and spread the word!

~KM Fawcett