I'm a pacifist at heart. Nonviolent by nature. I rarely raise my voice. It's been decades since I smacked my sister. I don't watch sports that involving grownups smashing into each other. I mediate disputes and try to smooth other people's ruffled feelings. If people around me start yelling or shoving or throwing punches, I run in the opposite direction.
Yes, I do my best to avoid conflict. Except on the page.
Conflict is the heart and soul of fiction. The writer's job is to cause a heap of trouble for the characters. The reader's enjoyment comes from watching them struggle and wondering how they'll go about getting out of that mess. Conflict and the effort to overcome--that's what creates the plot.
So it stands to
reason that sooner or later any author of fiction is going to have to write a
fight scene. Even me. Most stories have two or more characters, and it's simple
1 conflict + 2 people = 1 fight scene.
It may be that writing fight scenes provides a handy outlet for sinister or aggressive tendencies that lurk hidden in my psyche. But I never look forward to writing them. That old saw, "Write what you know," fails me here, because I have so little personal experience to drawn on.
Actually there are two kinds of fight scenes. I think of them as fisticuffs, where the fighting gets physical, and verbicuffs, where the weapons are words.
I can manage the verbicuffs pretty well. I know how to use words, including some that are sharp and pointed.
But the physical fights leave me flummoxed. How do people fight? What does it feel like to land a blow in someone's stomach? On their jaw? How does it feel when you're on the receiving end, and how quickly can you regain your balance to fight back? I understand that a physical fight creates physical pain, but I don't really know the specifics. Nor do I want to do firsthand research.
The choreography of fisticuffs scenes quickly gets tricky. It's hard to describe this kind of action so that readers can follow it. I know this because I've read plenty of good book where the fight scenes bewilder me.
This is especially true where the fight unfolds in one long paragraph. I assume writers do it this way on the theory that the lack of a pause creates the sense of a continual flow of rapid movement.
But as a reader and a writer, I prefer to set out actions in short, quick bursts, with each character's movements set in its own paragraph. It's like watching a tennis match, where I'm constantly turning my head to see if the guy on the other side of the net is going to hit or flub the ball. On the page, with each head turn I want a paragraph break so I can shift my attention from the first player's serve or volley and focus on the other player's response.
It's been fun this week to read my fellow LadyKillers' takes on fight scenes. They all seem to have more experience in this area than I do, acquired in various interesting ways. I'll bow to their wisdom on the subject and follow their good advice.
And how about you? What's your advice on writing fight scenes? As a reader, what works and doesn't work for you when you're following a fight on the page?