1. Taillin
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    Taillin Member

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    Action Writing Combat: personal and beyond

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Taillin, Nov 2, 2013.

    Hi there,

    Okay the first thing is I apologize if this is posted under the wrong forum, I wasn't sure if I should post it here or in word mechanics. The second apology is that I may not be familiar with literay terminology (first person, third etc.) to the same extend to most of the community so I will say what I know and try to teach myself as I go

    Question 1
    How do you write in a way that combat doesn't actually become boring to you? I realize it may in actuality not be boring for another to read but I get bored writing it. even as I try to expand my vocabulary, and my writing style, I feel that saying he/she slashed him/her skillfully/sloppily gets dry. The fact that it bores me makes me actively try to limit fights (which isn't a bad thing because quality over quantity).

    Question 2
    How do you write for external combat, between spaceships for instance and not get bored writing about flying, shooting etc.

    For both the above questions I try to really go into what characters are thinking, feeling on the outside and inside (whether its a human body or ships with crew) and most importantly what actually happens in terms of movement, damage. I can say that all of my writing for this type of work is done in the third person so that I get can a more distant perspective between the combatants

    Question 3
    How long are your action sequences (maybe i'm trying to stretch out of work over to much, how long (in words or pages) would you guess you allow your 'fights' to take place?


    Thanks for answering my questions, I'd love to hear your opinions, discussion and ideas.
     
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  2. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Have you ever been in an actual fight? If so, were you bored? If you have first-hand experience of real-world violence, try transferring the things you felt onto the pages. If not, you need to put in some effort since you could be a great writer but if you don't understand violence, it will show.

    The main thing, for me, is not what actually happens in the scene, the techniques or weapons the characters use (although I do pay attention / describe them too, usually anyway) but the emotional charge it gives you / the reader. This means you pay attention to how the characters feel while in the situation, how they feel before it (when they are facing a threat but the fight hasn't broken out yet), and how they feel afterwards (do they get the shakes, do they cry, are they hurt, are they remorseful for hurting / killing somebody else etc).

    It's the same with all scenes: I want the fight scenes to make the readers afraid or angry, I want the sex scenes to make them aroused, the comedy scenes to make them laugh, the tearjerkers to make them cry etc. That's because that's what I want, as a reader. When I read a book, I want to feel the things described in it. If it doesn't stir any emotions in me, I lose interest pretty quickly and stop caring about the characters, whether I want to or not.
    I think the trick lies in transferring what the characters feel onto the reader and, to me anyway, the effectiveness of a scene is largely measured by the intensity of the emotional charge that it gives you. This, of course, isn't the way to do it / look at it, just a way.

    If you want to understand violence, read some of Geoff Thompson's material (e.g. Dead or Alive: The Choice is Yours, Watch My Back etc). Training martial arts definitely helps too (preferably "hard" ones like MMA, krav maga, muay thai, Judo, BJJ, boxing, wrestling etc). The harsher martial arts combined with research of real violence are just about the next best thing after actually experiencing real violence yourself.
    Also, if you're writing a medieval hack'n'slash, training medieval fencing (on foot and horseback) is always a good idea (as is learning to ride if your story includes horses). First-hand experience has always given me new ways to look at things, tiny details I would've otherwise missed but which make the story feel more realistic.

    The length of action sequences varies so much depending on the fight. It can be over in one sentence if it's just one guy walking up to another and shoving his glass into the other guy's face, i.e. the fight is over even before it begun, or it can be a long riot scene that spans several chapters and dozens of pages. Or it can be anything in-between.
     
  3. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you writing a transcript of an RPG session, or are writing a story? You don"?'t need to write down every move, slash and hit, declare damage and how many steps any acter made...
    Hav le you ever read an interesting description of a ballet cjoreography? I don't think so.

    Think about this: interaction. Why is this battle important? What are in stakes for combatants? And how do this scene, and the next, and the next play out... And of course, find some good examples in literature you like. Compare, mimix, change and improvise.

    And if it really bores the hell of you - write something else for God's sake!! :)
     
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  4. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    Tailin, I think the trick to not getting bored is not to repeat yourself. I agree with Burlbird, you don't need to record every action in the fight. Just enough to get the sense out of you need. Every movement of a spaceship gun isn't going to be necessary to your reader's understanding, unless of course the thing jams up in a specific position and takes out of the fleet's best fliers. This would be important to the plot and to your reader.

    Considering your character's emotional reactions are important to the development of your character but that doesn't mean it necessarily has a place in the scene. Before and after definitely. But the scene itself can just a short burst of action, especially if you don't feel confident writing such scenes, with all the development afterward.
     
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  5. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly; everything has a time and a place, it all depends on the setting, the characters, etc. Some people don't even bat an eye at knocking someone's teeth in, so it would be pointless to focus on such a person's emotions when there are none. It also depends on what you want to achieve through the scene, what feelings and reactions do you want to stir in your readers.
     
  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    TLDR: don't focus on the actions that the people are taking, focus on the people taking the actions and how the actions change things for them. What are they fighting for, and how do the things that happen in the fight make that goal easier or harder?
     
  7. Taillin
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    Taillin Member

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    Thanks for the replies guys. After reading your responses I actually kind of realize that I do put a lot more context into my combat works, the main problem I seemed to be having was finding value in context and simply boredom.

    Thanks for the other advice, I'll take it to heart and I will look into some other works with fighting


    Thank you
     
  8. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    Questions 2 and 3 i dont have an answer for, but question 1 do, and here is my advice. take a look at martial arts, i personally used to practise Shotokan Karate, and that has helped me with writing combat sequences, because, having at least some understanding of defence helps... i dont mean go out and join a club, but you can easily find all the videos you need on video websites to fill that need, and you can then use that to help your descriptives, oh, and looking at different martial arts helps

    because Shotokan Karate is nothing like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, likewise neither are like Bojutsu or Battojutsu
     
  9. D-Doc
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    D-Doc Active Member

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    Used to box as an amateur when I was younger and I've been in a few fights in my time. Tough luck of a white kid growing up in Las Cruces. My experience is that the most powerful aspects of combat are the emotions that you feel directly before and after the fight-especially before. That's something you should try to incorporate into your writing. The apprehension that a man feels before a fight is something else-it can make you stiff, nauseous, and even feel like you have to shit. For the most part, the fight itself will be chaotic and confusing, and you'll probably only remember bits and pieces of what happened (keep in mind that there is huge mental difference between controlled sparring and an emotional street fight). That's something I try to incorporate into my writing and something that I respect when I see it done by other authors.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2013
  10. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Very true. There's even a big physical difference between a street fight and an MMA bout because the presence of rules changes everything: in a cage, there's no fear of your opponent suddenly pulling a knife mid-tussle, you can be sure his mates won't boot you in the face while you're wrestling on the ground etc.
    Also, tactics vary a lot. Street confrontations usually begin verbally and escalate from there, so deception plays a far bigger role outside of the ring. Sometimes a participant is even unaware of being in any danger: they think they're just having words with someone when suddenly they get KO'd with a sucker punch or the other guy's girlfriend breaks a bottle on the sucker's head from behind.

    And then there are the legal issues: self-defense laws vary a lot, to say the least, from state to state and country to country. In Florida, you have your stand-your-ground, in Finland, the law protects the bad guy more than it does the defender. In Vermont, you're allowed to carry and use firearms for personal protection. In Sweden, you'd likely go to prison for shooting the three guys attacking you on the street because carrying a gun is a huge no-no even if the situation was dangerous enough to warrant its use.

    That being said, if you live in a less permissive environment, you might worry over not just your physical safety, but your future while the verbal part of the situation is still on-going (especially if you're sober). You might lose your job and have great difficulties getting a new one if you get sentenced for assault (can easily happen in many European countries if you happen to hurt your attacker), if you practice sports shooting, your guns will be confiscated and you won't be getting any new permits, ever again, so there goes that hobby etc.
    Of course you have to focus on the issue at hand, especially if it's more dangerous than a tiny drunk threatening to punch you in the nose, but worry over legal repercussions does often play a part, especially while dealing with all the post-fight emotions and possible feelings of guilt and remorse.
     
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  11. D-Doc
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    D-Doc Active Member

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    I like this segment, in particular. A damned good point, and part of the reason that the development from hostile behavior into violence can be so nerve-wracking on the street. You could even be a minute into a fight, watch a guy run away and think you've got him, only to see him grab a fucking steering wheel lock and turn around to chase you. Things can change drastically in mere seconds, and your often not aware of what's going on until after it has happened.
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Whenever I decide to do an action scene I play it by ear. When it starts to sound too much I go back and tweak it. I also
    vary the sentences - a lot of short ones to show tension and quickness and some long ones to keep up the variety. Everyone
    above gave great advice. I'm learning stuff myself -:)

    The only input I can add is perhaps find some of your favorite action packed scenes in a similar style
    of novel and see how long they carry on a battle - take notes make criticisms - circle areas that you find are unnecessary, or
    that you don't like or that go on too long. Maybe add something that you'd like the scene to contain.
    That way you can develop your own style and spin on it by working from someone else's base. A kind of trial run.
     
  13. Luke Andrew
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    Luke Andrew Member

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    Question Number One
    I love writing combat scenes and I love reading them too. I think one of the most important things to remember though is that most fights are short. They shouldn't be long or drawn out, but instead be quick and fast paced. I could send you a combat scene or two that I have written if you would like to take a look at them.

    Question Number Two
    I think that focusing on the characters is always a good thing. The captain could be giving orders about what weapons to fire or one of the ships ensigns could give a damage report if you wanted to show a bit of the ship vs ship combat.

    Question Number Three
    Once again I suggest that you keep your fight scenes short. I reenact European style medieval combat and the fights generally last under a minute. Another great tool to help you write better combat scenes is books. Look at fight scenes you really liked and find out what made you like them then put that into your writing.
     
  14. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    I'm getting a lot of great info from this thread as well, so thanks a lot for that!

    One question I'd have on this subject though is the following: a lot of people say you shouldn't describe every move a character makes (i.e. "he ducked under the blade and stabbed at his opponent with his dagger. He deftly moved out of the way and retaliated with a swing...") but I can't seem to find any middle ground. So, it's either the above or something along of "he chopped off an Orc's head then spun around and stabbed another through the heart." Not every fight is a character walking up to his opponent(s) and taking a swipe with his sword/fist/whatever and taking him out, then rinse and repeat. The only middle ground I can seem to think up is "he ducked a blow from his assailant then ran him through. Letting him drop to the ground he spun round, blocked an axe swing and retaliated with..." and so on. It seems alright (and is it?) but I find myself using the same vocabulary over and over again.

    tl;dr, either I add too much description to my fighting, or too little, making it seem like characters are walking up to opponents and taking them out, one hit per opponent. My middle ground is too repetitive and I don't think it's good enough.

    Sorry to hijack the thread, there's just so many great ideas going on here!
     
  15. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't have much experience in long fight scenes, but can't you zoom in and out, so to speak? That way, you can decide when you want to go in to detail, and by how much.

    <zoom out> Hunter fought his way up the grand staircase, his shield arm grew sore from blocking the orcish blows; he was grateful of their predictability. <zoom in> At the top of the steps stood one orc carrying not the standard spiked club, but instead a red-tinted sword. Yana had always told him that she would die before parting with her fire sword, and so she must have.

    The orc prematurely thrust at Hunter, he dodged left and swung down at the orc's blade, forcing it to the royal carpet.

    The green warrior held the enchanted sword tight and brought its fist around at Hunter's head, he withdrew his blade and stepped back. The orc had put its weight behind the missed blow. It stumbled forward, Yana's sword at its side, then looked down and grunted in surprise. The contact between the fire sword and the carpet had finally brought flames, and they were now licking the orc's feet.

    Hunter lunged forward at the opportunity and brought his blade down once again, this time on his distracted foe's head, "For Yana," he said.

    The orc slumped and rolled down the stairs.

    <zoom out> Hunter ignored the flames and walked on. He felled three more of the orcs on his way to Mary's chambers, growing more fatigued with each fight. Finally he reached her door, it was guarded by two orcs, but one's bad eyesight coupled with the other's clumsiness let him dispatch them relatively efficiently.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2013
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You could do a lot worse than read Joe Abercrombie. He EXCELS at fight scenes, making them feel real, making us feel along with his characters, makes the scenes gritty and sometimes gory, without being gratuitous. He's realistic too, considering he's a fantasy writer. He can do hand-to-hand combat, a small group fighting a large group, big battle scenes, whatever. He's a masterclass in this sort of thing.
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm the same as you - I dislike action sequences, but I hate battle scenes even more. I limit battle scenes - by battle I mean like war, sieges, that kinda thing. I find it very hard to make it sound realistic and not for everything to just end up as caricatures that blend together. As for action/fight scenes, those I'm all right at - I focus on character emotions and I try to keep it short. Not much detail, short sentences. I don't think my fight scenes last longer than half a page or max 1 page. It might be longer if I add bits of dialogue or use a lot of fragments as paragraphs. It's definitely within a few hundred words.
     
  18. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I agree. The Heroes is worth reading just for the fight/battle scenes alone, not to mention the quick-switching POV's.
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yes, he can really write fights, even though they are typically drawn-out fantasy fights with realism thrown out the window (only historians seem to be able to write realistic medieval fighting and battle, but they often lack riveting story-telling abilities), so read his novels and dissect how he pulls off the action.

    I can tell you, though, when I was a teenager and started writing my first awful fantasy stories, I also found the fights something I really wasn't looking forward to writing, but that's because I couldn't, I knew jackshit about, e.g. h2h. After I started practicing certain disciplines, I got really interested in learning how to write an effective, realistic, non-gratuitous fight scene. I'm still learning, of course. I find them similarly challenging as sex scenes, heh.
     
  20. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    Me personally, I like reading combat that gets specific about the actions that are being performed. It's not just: "Jack slashed John with his sword!" Amongst other barely descriptive sentences.

    I like to get solid descriptive imagery of how the characters are moving their bodies in unusual ways, how they're defending themselves, their primary focus in their minds, their thoughts when they take hits and any other relevant emotional responses that may take place during the scene. I think the problem with most authors, is that they've never been in a serious, brutal fight before. And let me tell you, they're intense.
     
  21. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    I've read Abercrombie's books, though not The Heroes yet. I haven't really felt like I've learnt anything from them though, perhaps I'll just go back and re-read the fight scenes again.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I also like specifics, but when writing combat, it's challenging to keep it realistic and specific but at the same time not jar it with details.

    Chris Ryan, an SAS op/soldier turned novelist, writes enviably well, too. He puts in just the right details without slowing down the action. You don't always want to write "she lifted her rifle against her shoulder, peered through the scope, aimed, drew a deep breath, listened to her heartbeats, let her trigger finger gently press the trigger to its breaking point, pulled the trigger, and felt the recoil," or whatever. Sometimes you can just say she shot the bad guy.
     
  23. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    I agree. I guess it's a delicate balance between giving enough detail for the combat to feel real and as if you're there. Yet, keeping it at a good pace, and not destroying the enjoyment for the reader by overkilling the descriptions.
     
  24. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    Exactly. Plus, if there's one thing about writing, and life in general, is that you'll never be able to please everyone. Perfection is impossible in this industry.
     
  25. Snapshot084
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    Snapshot084 Member

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    In my fight scenes, I spend a lot of time physically acting out whatever's happening on the page. Maybe it's unnecessarily technical, but I want to make sure that everyone's moves are actually possible with the regular amount of joints a person tends to have. Outside of that, they're very chaotic. Mine tend to be on the long side, but most of it is spent either getting away from someone or chasing them down. It's rare that an actual physical confrontation between two characters lasts for more than a paragraph or two without being resolved in some fashion. I've written chapter long confrontations, but I wouldn't dream of trying to stretch an actual fist-fight for that long. Mostly because my characters have guns, and those end fights pretty quick.

    I apologize if someone's already asked, and this has already been answered, but what weapons are your characters going to be using. Because that determines a lot, I think. A sword fight will just last longer than a gun fight.
     

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