Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Art of Fighting (a continuation of "Thems fightin' words")

Okay, slightly back on track after a busy week of running around and beating deadlines over the head until they rolled over. Got more deadlines coming up, so let's jump to it...

As previously promised, an example of the numerous issues which occur in writing a typical fight scene. Here's one I wrote about 10 months ago (as usual, copyright 2006 Corey Brotherson):

'Ketch moved almost as a blur, his axe appearing from the darkness of his cloak, blocking Teral's weapon, hooking it and sending the steel spinning away, clanging noisily off a distant rock. Before Teral could react, the full force of Ketch's handle caught him in the mouth, and then his throat, sending the man reeling in a staggered and broken gasp for air.

The two who had previously fought at the side of Ketch were already bearing down with their swords. No more questions. Incapacitation first.

As one, Fuller had pitched the flat of his sword high, while Gandasa swung hers low, the latter catching Ketch painfully on his hip as he arched his head backwards away from the former. He pitched a short kick downwards against the shin of Fuller, forcing his former partner's body to lurch downwards in response. Ketch went for a follow up kick to Fuller's stooped head, but was caught again by another flash of Gandasa's blade, this time drawing blood as it sliced up and nicked his chin.

Ketch immediately stepped back, bringing distance between him and the two, and allowing a vital second to bring his axe to bear. His tired eyes gazed over the spots where his opponents' armour was absent.

"Go home, Ketch," breathed Fuller. "Whatever you're going through, whatever's going through your mind, you're not thinking. Go home. Don’t throw your life away."

Teral had already struck before Ketch had realised it was a distraction, fists slamming hard into the back of his head, knocking him forward. Straight into the handle of Fuller's sword, drawing blood from Ketch's mouth as the tape-wrapped metal rammed into his cheek. He fell, but faster than anyone expected, thrusting his legs outward to bring down both Gandasa and Fuller, while using the length of his axe to trip Teral. With all four fighters in the dirt, Ketch turned and mounted Teral's chest, plunging the grip of his weapon hard on to the side of his victim's unprotected head. Teral's neck shunted and smashed into the ground. Consciousness left him with a crunching wet squelch.

Ketch tucked into a quick roll, straight over the limp body of Teral, and spinning around to correct the distance between him and Gandasa who was only just to her feet. He swung his axe towards her midsection, forcing a quick block with her sword, but leaving her vulnerable to a swift kick to the side, then back of her leg, buckling the Ranger to one knee. Fuller went to assist his partner, swinging his blade in a low arc to cut Ketch's exposed thigh, but Ketch spun his axe and swung, catching the helmeted Fuller squarely in his uncovered face with the joint and flat, jerking his head to the side with a damp crunch and sending him staggering backwards, clutching his nose which had exploded from the impact.

With Gandasa rising to her feet again, Ketch jabbed his fingertips hard down in the exposed area of her sword-arm, just below the elbow where no armour rested. Her hand spasmodically jerked open, forcing the immediate drop of her weapon.

Then he thrust his axe into her back. '

I wrote most of this on the fly, knowing how it starts and how it ends, but little idea of how it progresses. I just let the scene play out as naturally as I could, with the characters acting as I thought they would given the constantly changing circumstances. It made for fun, but slightly chaotic writing. I wish it were as easy as one person hitting another until one fell over, but there's all sorts of things to consider (on top of making it even more difficult by having 4 combatants in a 3-on-1 scrap):

-The hands they hold their weapons with (and whether they're ambidextrous or have a bias),

- The equipment used, how they use the environment, how each action creates a reaction (cause and effect),

- 'Fight logic' (for example, most people would use a weapon over their fists, not be thinking too much and reacting on instinct, if they have training, the relationship they share, how familiar they are with the rival, various fighting styles and how they match against each other, etc)


...all while trying not to bog things down too much as to keep the speed of the scene up.

It all turns into one giant virtual chess board, planning moves in advance and then watching the characters play them out, while you hope it works and entertains, all while keeping the story moving.

The main thing I wanted express was motivation. The scene revolves around Ketch wanting to do something that the other three don’t want him to do. But that's layered by the fact that one of those three (Teral) has no love for Ketch while Fuller and Gandasa are comrades-in-arms to him and are more willing to give him a chances to stop. That said, all are willing to forgo familiarity for practicality, knowing wounds and broken bones can be healed and the quicker you get the aggressor unconscious -something they are all willing and able to do- the quicker the fight will be over.

Having three-on-one was tricky, but there were obvious factors that made it easier. Teral is a closet maniac and harbours jealously tinged aggression against Ketch, which makes him less likely to hold off, while both Fuller and Gandasa work as team, so really it's a two and one vs. one situation. Notice that Ketch disarms the loose cannon first (closest in proximity) and tries to incapacitate him by going for his air-ways. When that doesn’t work, he just goes for plain ol' blunt trauma to the head. Same with Fuller, with an air-way strike to his nose – he doesn’t want to kill them, but follows the mantra that if a person cant breath, stand or see, they can't fight. Ketch also makes sure distance is his main weapon when he gets on the back foot and starts taking hits, particularly from his team mates.

Further to that, I personally feel that the fight has to mean something beyond it being a fight. It's often suggested that whatever you write, when you start a scene something has to change by the end of it or it's a waste. By that same respect, I always want a fight scene to involve mental/spiritual violence, as well as physical, to underline a change. In the context of the story, Ketch fights to release a prisoner that goes against his established principles. The fight is a flashpoint because he's:

a) Fighting his friends

b) Defying his superiors

c) Defying his social standing and the Establishment

As such, once the fight is over, nothing in the story will be the same for him. He either loses and is taken in to be questioned over his lack of loyalty, destroying everything he's worked for in society,

or,

he wins and loses his friends and high ranked place in society in a quest to discover his true history and background.

Having been forced into the fight in the first place, both outcomes now push the plot forward, but also render the character changed from herein, so the fight is everything to the progression of the story and will affect the characters for the rest of it. Which in turn means I have to be careful that nothing happens in the fight to contradict potential developments later on. I'm not against spontaneous plotting (I do a lot of it), but things can spin in unexpected directions very quickly without restraint and this story had (at the time) a tight word count to keep things in check. Tricky.

There are a ton of other factors as well, such as:

- It's raining during the fight and they're in a forest, so wet surface tension makes it difficult for them to strike as hard as they would under the circumstances (it also makes a cool dramatic visual for the reader).

- Weapons are used non-lethally at all times (erm, despite the last paragraph of the sample, which isn’t the end of the fight)

- To portray a modicum of realism, talk is kept to a bare minimum, only used for what appears to be distraction (or did Teral just take advantage of the situation?)

- If one move is done, the fighter does the best to follow it up, for example, a kick to the shins brings a person's body language down, at which point a knee/kick to the now bowed and lowered head would follow. As we're dealing with known and experienced warriors, they're likely to move in smooth motions where combinations are maximised to make their opponent move in the way they want. A vital element of fight training is prediction of your enemy's moves, part of which is forcing them into mistakes so you can capitalise.

It's all a bit crazy and makes me wonder just how long some of the more famous fight scenes took to organise (Lord of the Rings, anyone?). It's hard not to appreciate them once you realise the sheer amount of thought that goes into working out how one person can physically hurt another in the most interesting way possible.

Kinda sadistic, really. But isn’t that why we love the fight scene in the first place…?

2 comments:

emma said...

As I've said before, you've made me as a reader sit up and realize the work that really does go into creating such a scene. I can't begin to imagine the time and effort on extravagant scenes like that in LOTR.

Having read the fight scene you used as an example in its entirity from your story, I know how well it is expressed to the reader.

Writing Gaijin said...

I didnt even realise the problems/complexities until I started to write them and was suddenly hit by a million questions that stopped me writing until I figured out the mechanics. Good thing is, it gets easier each time ;)