Filling in for SensibleShoes.
Reduced to it's essence, Plot is all about conflict. Man vs. Nature. Man vs. Himself. Man vs. A Big Ugly Guy with a Baseball Bat. And while this conflict does not need to be resolved physically, and while there is much truth to Isaac Asimov's dictum that Violence is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent; still it's hard to get more basic than a good boot to the head.
I had a couple of other ideas bouncing around my head when I offered to do the "Write On!" piece this week, but then it occurred to me that I could recycle a bit from the "Dark Redemption" story I've been posting on my other blog.
So with that in mind, I thought this week we could explore that common element of the adventure story, the Fight Scene. Or more importantly, Choreography.
Of course, not every story will have bare-knuckle brawling or flashing swordplay or even exploding Nazis in them. But they usually have some kind of action; and the writer has to determine what the protagonist does, how the other characters react, and how the whole scene resolves. It's like an elaborate dance, which is why I call it "choreography".
Although I'm talking about this in terms of a mano-a-mano fight, you need to do the same type of choreography in describing, for example, a football game, or a chess match, or even the cut-and-thrust of repartee between two finely-honed wits. It doesn't even have to be competative action either. A sex scene, if you're writing that kind of story, needs the same kind of description.
This sort of thing is also called "blocking", because the great playwright and liberettist W.S. Gilbert used to use wooden blocks of varying colors and shaped, coded to represent the lead characters and the different voices of the chorus, on a scale model of the stage in order to plan how the performers were to move. The blocks helped him visualize how he wanted the performance to go.
Visualizing the scene is important, because if you can't visualize what's happening in the scene, you can't expect the reader to follow it either.
The great temptation in writing a fight scene is to describe it blow-for-blow -- which is understandable, if you've taken the time to choreograph the thing; and moreso if you do what I usually do, which is to ask myself, "What does the hero do next" and then "What does his adversary do in response" and build the combat one step at a time. But laying out the fight in this way risks reducing it to mere hack'n'slash:
"I attack with my vorpal letter-opener."That's not a fight, it's a ping-pong game. You can't get away with merely saying what each combatant does; as with other aspects of the story, you need to engage the reader's senses so that they can imagine they're participating, and give us insights into what is going through the protagonist's mind as he fights: his emotional state, his strategy (if any), his distractions, what he's fighting for.
"Roll to hit"
"You hit; roll you damage. Now the orc attacks..."
I've never been terribly good at drawing fight scenes, which is something of a disadvantage for an aspiring comic book artist. I college I once drew a handmade comic titled "Arizona Schwartz the Lost Archaeologist", parodying a popular movie about a certain archaeologist-of-fortune. To avoid drawing fight scenes, I used a gimmick of having every fight take place off-panel. The panel would show Something Else, and the reader only "heard" the sound effects of the fight. In retrospect, I realized I'd done something clever, because in the movie, during every fight scene, there is Something Else going on which actually advances the plot; and, largely by accident, by avoiding showing the fight, I was directing the reader's attention to the important plot point.
In the latest chapter of "Dark Redemption", Strephon, the protagonist, is just leaving a restaurant with Cassandra, an intrepid reporter and potential romantic interest. It's not exactly Dashiel Hammet, nor even Lester Dent; but it's brief and serves well enough as an example.
The wolves attacked; three of them, coming from three different directions. They were lean, scruffy beasts with glowing blue eyes. Strephon swung his sword cane at one, drawing blood and a startled yip from the leader. Obviously it thought a woman and a man in a wheelchair were easy prey. Another leaped onto Cassandra, knocking her down and biting the sleeve of her coat. That one got a face full of the pepper spray. It yelped and retreated to a safe distance. A third wolf lunged at Strephon, bowling his wheelchair over on its side. He whacked at the wolf visciously with his sword, keeping it at bay.
Suddenly, a bright light shone in Strephon's face and a loud automobile horn sounded. A taxicab came roaring through the fog, squealing to a halt right next to Strephon and sending the wolves running. Tobias leaped out of the cab, brandishing a tyre iron. "Here now! Shoo! Go home!" he shouted.
The wolves did not care for the change in the odds. They melted into the fog; all except one.
As you can see, I didn't follow all my rules. The scene is told mostly from a third person point of view with very little of Strephon's POV. There are some sensory details; (the description of the wolves, the bright headlights and sounds of the taxi) but I could have done better. When I wrote this scene, I had little definite in mind other than to follow Dashiel Hammet's dictum about when things grow slack to have a werewolf with a gun walk into the room. I wanted to introduce a bit of danger, and to establish a connection with the werewolves from another part of the story. In retrospect, I also gave my protagonist a chance to demonstrate that, although wheelchair bound, he is not without resources in a fight; and I Put the Girl in Danger, which admittedly is a cliché, but considering that my protagonist has a Victorian mindset, it is a cliché that would motivate him.
On to tonight's exercise!
For Tonight's Exercise: Let's You and Him Fight. Your protagonist finds him or herself in a physical confrontation. It doesn't have to be a long, drawn out, John-Wayne-in-The-Quiet-Man brawl; nor does it have to be conclusive; just give us a little action. Remember to evoke the senses, and to make the fight matter to the protagonist!
- The Callow Youth is really, really close to the Jewel of Togwogmagog this time; no, really! But first he must defeat the Jewel's Dreaded Guardian: a dire demon/sorceror/snoligoster/grebe.
- At the Ambassador's Ball, Belinda confronts her arch-rival Adelaide, who is becoming much too familiar with Lord Postlethwaite-Praxleigh (pronounced Puppy). The catty remarks escalate until one of them does something upon which Society will not look favorably.
- Private Investigator Cielia Spunk has been asking questions that someone doesn't want' answered. Now a seven-foot gorrila named Ambrose intends to teach her not to stick her nose where it's not wanted.
- Ukulele Bob, the singing cowboy, is waylaid by a bunch of owlhoots sent by Sidewinder Phil to keep him from getting to the radio station before the big broadcast.
- International Secret Agent James Buns is seducing the beautiful enemy spy, Mata Machree because he wishes to learn the location of the Terrorist Training Camp and this seems the most interesting way to do it. At the same time, Mata is trying to get her hands on the Top Secret Launch Codes James has hidden somewhere on his person