1. Ultermarto
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    Ultermarto Member

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    Re-using words frequently, and issues with writing about combat.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ultermarto, Apr 8, 2012.

    My novel is largely based around war and combat. I use it as a literary platform for struggle and excitement and such. It serves as a brilliant place to flesh out the characters, and I think it adds extra weight to the rest of the plot. However, from what fighting books I've read, the battles tend to be dreary and confusing. You have a difficult time grasping exactly what's happening, who's doing what, the pace of it all. Maybe this is just my stupidly minute coverage of other novels, but surely if these experts have difficulty with combat sequences then I certainly will.

    Another issue which makes itself especially known in chapters about fighting is the issue of re-using words. What I mean is, many punches are thrown in a fight. I cannot write "He punched her, she punched him, he punched her...". The best I can do i try and get creative with the way I write these things, even with a simple punching sequence. "He landed an offensive knock sharply into her cheek. She stumbled back, taking a moment to wipe blood from her now bleeding lip, before charging forward again with a furious posture. She made no hesitation to punch him back, in his shoulder, with all the strength she could fathom. But he did little more than shake her fist away, almost repelling it before it had landed, and threw another hit." You imagine writing paragraph after paragraph of this. You start to run out of vocabulary. And that's just for punching. I have three adequate words for 'helicopter'. 'Helicopter', 'chopper', and 'vehicle' if it has already been referenced of course. Writing up a scene with a helicopter fight can be an exhaustion headache.

    I could easily just look these sorts of words up in a thesaurus, but somehow I get the idea that I'd be using words that nobody would recognize, and it would come across as unnecessary pretense on my behalf. Besides, I'm convinced that solving your problem with a thesaurus is bad writing, because surely the problemn is something to do with my style, my context. Does anyone else suffer from this problem?
     
  2. michaelj
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    michaelj Senior Member

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    Stuff like:

    "He punched her, driving the air out of stomach. She retaliated by smacking him on the jaw, dazing him."

    Rather than "He punched her, she thumped him, he punched her back"

    Try and make a sentence a time out of your sequences. Don't worry about repeating words at a time, just don't do it consistently. In a sequence like that, you're bound to repeat words now and again. Perhaps show what they are thinking? Like "Damn she is tough for a bird". Perhaps add conversation? "is that the best you can do?" If you do things like that, the words you are bound to repeat will seem far away and less noticeable. Don't relie on the theasoras for every different word or it will look odd.
     
  3. Squeakyfiend
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    Squeakyfiend Member

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    This is something I come across a lot as well. Sometimes you just have to repeat certain words in close proximity, it can't be avoided. I've seen it done in numerous published novels.
     
  4. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I can usually think up varied words for describing machinery, it's the concept of "said" that throws me.

    I've used: intoned, gesticulated, snapped, cried, grinned, etc.

    I have a Thesaurus and dictionary where I work, and even then I have to think up something creative to fit the unique circumstances or bizarre conversation.

    If you ever think of ways around these issues, write to me.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Often, if you find yourself stuck with the same words over and over again, it means you have more redundancy problems than just a few words. You rarely need blow by blow descriptions. Take an objective look at what you're writing, and see if the repetition is truly necessary.

    Sometimes, you want to emphasize the repetition. In that case, use the repeated word to strengthen the repetition.

     
  6. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    However, it is important not to make your writing look like you've been holding hands with your thesaurus during the writing of that particular section of your story...
     
  7. Floatbox
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    Floatbox Member

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    -- Fifty Grand Ernest Hemingway

    I think the most important thing to keep in mind, I think, is space and time. 'Jack put the left in his face' is different then 'Walcott covered up and Jack was swinging wild at Walcott's head' is different than 'Walcott hit him twice.' The other thing to keep in mind is that a fight is an arc - there is change in both fighters constantly, and significant beats and emotional moments. Focus on that; like someone else said, the repetition of words is only a symptom of redundancy.
     
  8. NeedMoreRage
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    NeedMoreRage Member

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    Try to skip over combat scenes when they are not necessary. If, for example, you are writing about a war, don't describe every battle the characters are involved in. And sometimes just briefly summarize a battle and the impact it had on characters. There is no real reason to describe a battle if there is no major character growth or a major plot development. Combat isn't a very interesting thing to read, so it's best to avoid getting into detail when it's not absolutely necessary.
     
  9. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    To the contrary, I think combat can be very interesting to read. It just depends on how it's done, and the weight behind it.
     
  10. Boomage
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    Boomage New Member

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    If you want to write a good fight scene, I think you should write with short, action-packed sentences. Don't use padding words like well, sort of, a little, etc. -- these draw out your writing and make it seems less actiony. Write from cause to effect: "Jimmy whacked Bob square across the jaw, and he staggered back over the pavement," not "Bob staggered over the pavement as Jimmy punched him." I find that a lot of confusion in fight scenes comes from the passive voice -- the passive voice has no place in fighting scenes!

    Those are just a few suggestions. I hope they help.
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is just my opinion, but in real life , physical fights between two people who know how to fight, are often over really quickly. Someone knocks someone out or kills them, fight over. A good quick fight can sound awesome on page, so I tend to stick with these.

    Protracted fighting scenes as we see on television are good visually, but they don't work well in books. In terms of chopper fights, I suppose they can last a bit longer, but if you incorporate the dialogue inside the chopper, thoughts here and there of the pov character, actually if you tell everything just from one pov, it should make for a more coherent narrative.

    @Floatbox: that's a good tip, that every fight is an arc :)
     
  12. Amsterdamatt
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    Amsterdamatt Member

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    Obviously we don't know exactly what sort of fighting you are writing about (you mention "war" then give examples of fist fights) but one thing I think is worth remembering is that fights, at least on a large scale, are confusing. In the thick of battle, with comrades or enemies pressing around on all sides, the screams of men and animals (or the sound of heavy machinery/artillery) in your ears, the ground slippery with churned mud and other things, it's difficult enough just knowing whether you're facing in the right direction, let alone have any clear idea how the overall battle is going! Even the generals at the back often can't see what is happening; add in poor or slow lines of communication, misunderstandings, and the overwhelming need for self-preservation in the face of idiotic orders, and it's going to be beyond any one person to "grasp exactly what is happening".

    All this comes back to the basic principle in writing of only describing what your protagonist could conceivably know about. In war, confusion is everywhere. Embrace that.
     
  13. Ultermarto
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    Ultermarto Member

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    @Boomage
    Thank you. That's very useful.
     
  14. Ultermarto
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    Ultermarto Member

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    Yes and this is not the kind of book in which I can just snip out the combat. Every battle is a plot point.
     
  15. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I think that you might have a tendency to write down every detail, which is not only unnecessary, but quite often boring to read. There are quite a lot of books on war/combat/fighting, I suggest you peruse them to see how their action scenes have been written and glean from it what you can.

    Real combat, by the way, is often quite confusing and due to the adrenaline surges a fighter experiences, it's often difficult for the combatants to recall in detail what they've done -- it's one way to distinguish the blowhards from the real fighters, the liars have more details in their descriptions...
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great tip and example from floatbox.
    Also, in a fist fight, it's often in one char's POV. Well, if you've just received a punch in the jaw, you aren't likely to go into loads of detail about the other character and his moves, you would be in too much of a daze to notice.
    "Overview" writing of a fight is fine and necessary sometimes, but can get dull if it's always omniscient with no idea about the feelings of the characters. I like Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, lots of general varied by personal battlefield experiences there.
     
  17. Langadune
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    Langadune Member

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    Remember most fights are not reduced to trading blows. Unless both combatants are skilled in some form or martial arts, or are seasoned in hand-to-hand (in which case you'll see alot of counterblow, deflections, blocks, dodges, etc.) a "fisticuffs" fight won't go much beyond the first swing. You'll see more grappling and such.

    There are several terms for the kinds of punches/blows you're probably looking for. Don't forget about "right hook" "jab" "uppercuts" etc.
     
  18. ShortBus
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    ShortBus Member

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    A good exorcise for writing combat is to watch a fight scene on youtube (or you favorite video hosting site) and basically write what you see. It doesn't have to be exactly in tune with the video itself, as you need to fill some of scene with some descriptions of what surrounds it. You should make it your own and add character names and explain the setting and whatnot, but really focus on the action itself. The more frequently you do this, the better you'll be at writing pure action sequences. That and it's pretty fun to do.
     
  19. Lasers123
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    Lasers123 New Member

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    In some battles, you can just describe it vaguely. The reader will picture the scene in their mind - you just have to outline the basic areas of the fight without repeating too much and different readers will picture the fight differently. But they will all know the basic concept of the fight; Who is winning?, How long is it?, How does it end?.
    So you don't have to repeat the actions of the characters precisely. Also, write in short sharp sentences, and leave describing to a minimum- have minimal long sentences. Dont have too many sentences with commas or additional clauses. You want a string of sentences with just enough detail so the reader can picture it in their mind.
     

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