1. naruzeldamaster

    naruzeldamaster Senior Member

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    How do I get better at writing combat?

    Discussion in 'Descriptive Development' started by naruzeldamaster, Oct 20, 2021.

    I always dread these scenes, because the way I write them feels a bit well...jumpy.
    Even when the transitions between actions are smooth, it feels like I'm writing a checklist rather than a fight scene. You know, character A did B then character B did C etc. Even when I try to write down a scene from a movie or something (especially hand to hand combat) it feels off somehow.

    I dread these scenes as much as I dread 'romantic' scenes, that's part of why I try to write stories that require a few of these scenes throughout. I won't get better at writing them if I don't get around to constructing them.
     
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  2. Joe_Hall

    Joe_Hall I drink Scotch and I write things

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    I find if you want to describe a fight in technical terms, you are going to want to study the martial art you are trying to portray. I have a background in HEMA so European sword fighting is more my thing.

    Dirk's rapier shot toward Martin's chest with the speed of a striking snake. Martin quickly parried the thrust and reposted with a quick flick of his sword-point drawing a thin line of blood on Dirk's chin.

    But you can also describe a fight in more simplistic terms.

    "You stole my girl!" Tom yelled and lunged at Jim. In a moment they were throwing blows at each other, standing toe to toe, neither willing to back down.

    Notice in this last example there is no technical speak describing the kind of blows (no uppercuts, right hooks, etc.) Either style works, it's really up to your preference for which you use.
     
  3. Night Herald

    Night Herald Malfunctioning clockwork person Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty tired, so forgive me if I proceed to blather. I'm not great at writing these either, but I can at least offer my viewpoints.

    If you wanna get good at writing combat scenes, there are two things you should do: read lots of them, and write lots of them. Study the scenes you like, and figure out what makes them work. Study the ones you don't like, and figure out why not.

    When you go about writing a scene, take into account the nature of the combat and the combatants. Are you describing a duel between trained swordsmen, as in @Joe_Hall's example, or a bar brawl between drunks, or an MMA match, or two warriors facing off in opposite shield walls? What are they fighting for? Where is their focus during the scene? Are they fighting out of anger, for revenge, because they find violence fun? Are they fending for their lives, or to protect someone or something? For money or fame or ego? Are they trained and/or skilled? Are they calm or desperate?

    I would generally write these scenes in short, punchy (hah!) sentences, lots of active verbs and words with oomph, light on precise jargon—unless another approach is for some reason appropriate. It's often fitting to make combat scenes a bit chaotic and choppy, because fights tend to be that (at least if your character is the party getting clobbered). I'd personally weave in some longer sentences, though, moments of relative calm where, say, the combatants size each other up or "reset". Also, I would overall put less emphasis on the exact strikes and techniques being performed, and more on the impact they have on the character, whether that impact is mental, emotional, or physical.
     
  4. naruzeldamaster

    naruzeldamaster Senior Member

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    Is it weird for a pair of characters to find time to flirt?
    They already have established tension of 'I kind of like this person' from earlier in the story.
    It's not like a long discussion either, it's like, one quip, character A asks question character B answers and character A points out that 'now isn't really the time for this' and the scene moves on from there. It is very, very brief.
    It happens when they become entangled rather than during the actual fighting.
     
  5. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    Nah, I'd say that's a time-tested trope, right there. Not weird.

    When it comes to writing combat in general, I want to focus on what the combat is there for. Sure, on a plot level, it's happening because there needs to be a physical conflict of some kind, but that makes it sound kinda perfunctory, right? What else can you get out of it? Write it in a choppy way to show that the POV character is disoriented or confused; write it in a smooth but distant way to show that they're experienced and unbothered; write it in a bombastic, graphic way to show they really love the fighting. That kind of thing.

    Personally, I don't enjoy fight scenes as much as I used to, so I've taken to abbreviating them a lot. I think it works because most scraps are pretty brief anyway, and when I go into them with the mindset of "get all the information in as few sentences as possible," that makes those sentences really carry their weight and it gives the whole thing a lot of immediacy. For my style, that's what works the best for me. I tend to focus more on what the character is paying attention to and them figuring out how they're going to win (or lose!) the fight, and minimize the blow-by-blow with only a few visceral details -- a crunch, a dark blood stain through clothing, a struggle to keep moving, etc.

    (I'd apply this to "romantic" scenes, too, by the way. Less focus on what's physically going on, more focus on what it means and why.)
     
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  6. Joe_Hall

    Joe_Hall I drink Scotch and I write things

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    In movies and books, no. In real life, very weird. Trust me on this: even when you get into binds (when blades are more or less pushing against each other) it’s very temporary in most circumstances and you are usually trying to find a way to pummel out before your opponent does. You will never sit in a bind and have conversations like you see in Princess Bride. If you give your opponent that much time, you are probably going to be tripped, punched or elbowed and as soon as they create the space, you are going to be hit with their blade. In any case your adrenaline is going so much and you usually have so much focus on the fight that I can’t think of a single HEMA match, even sparring, that I have done where I would have been thinking about flirting even if my opponent was hot and naked. You are much more worried about not getting hit.
     
  7. naruzeldamaster

    naruzeldamaster Senior Member

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    Yeah, though it's not really flirting, it's more of a brief exchange.
    Female lead gives him obvious bedroom eyes (though I don't say it explicitly in the narrative, the context is certainly there) he asks her if those are bedroom eyes, she asks who's asking (as a joke) he admits that it's him and she says 'I'll think about it' and then he makes the 'now's not the time' comment and the fight resumes.
    I should point out that they're entangled in an awkward way at this point (as in weird angles with their arms and legs) so they have time to talk before they 'reset'
     
  8. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill in something like a James Bond universe.
     
  9. Joe_Hall

    Joe_Hall I drink Scotch and I write things

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    In grappling exchanges yes, you can talk. I think my favorite was in the UFC when Khabib Nurmagomedov was fighting Michael Johnson. The whole fight, which he was dominating, he was like "give up Michael Johnson, just give up, you know I deserve this win". So I suppose if they are tangled up and making eyes at each other that is plenty of time to make flirty talk.
     
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  10. naruzeldamaster

    naruzeldamaster Senior Member

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    I mean it's a fantasy universe where spies and thieves exist on that level of uh conflict. Things have been peaceful for some time but there is a lot of untold nonsense like that.
    And the idea of this story is to kind of poke fun at spy films while having fun with the thought of Kitsune existing.
    The fact that they were grappled is what prompted me to put that dialogue there in the first place (in fact I procrastinated the scene a bit cause I had no idea where I could logically shove that dialogue there) she also landed on her back pretty hard which made her 'feel' something (I didn't want to directly say she was turned on for some reason no idea why lol) which prompted the eyes.
     
  11. Night Herald

    Night Herald Malfunctioning clockwork person Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that, or Kevin Holland at any time at all :D
     
  12. Travalgar

    Travalgar Active Member

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    Have you watched videos from these kinds of series yet? Seems relevant to your interests (that is, fighting + anime).

    What you need is a commentary/review/analysis of fights. Having experts do breakdowns and analysis of each components of a fight (like how keeping one's hip as close to the ground as possible ("sprawl") in wrestling is super important for avoiding takedowns) greatly helps in understanding them.
     
  13. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    One thing I do to keep a good flow is to characterize parts of the fight, something like this:

    He launched a rapid flurry of attacks to keep her off balance, constantly pushing her toward the corner. She eluded each new attack with lithe agility, flipping and twisting away fluidly, but overall his aggression kept her on the defensive and pushed her back.

    This is telling used to orient the readers to what's happening, so they understand the overall shape of the fight and how it's going. It's sort of stepping briefly away into meta-awareness, to show things as if from a long shot or an overhead camera. Then you can go back in close or tight and show those important details.

    I used Attack twice, and also Pushing. Now that I see that I'd edit to fix those.
     
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  14. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    IMO fight scenes are always making language do something it can't do. Fights aren't made out of words. That's why "Best of" wrestling compilations come out as videos and there isn't a corresponding book version (even of the voiceovers, which can be cleverly verbally constructed). There are the real autobiographies, Chris Ryan stuff or ones from the sporting world, but that material leans hugely on its true-storyness and pre-establishing technical terms so they don't interrupt the pace.

    • Knowing what role the fight has in the story's structure is important. Can it be removed, or the story better served in another way?
      Setting up the characters' emotional build-up, and the consequences of winning or losing, or being injured.
    • Most fights are over very quickly but feel like they last longer: which is a problem for narrative pacing. Reflecting on the fight, or reporting it, afterwards might be more words than the actual fight.
    • Accuracy is important, since it's easy to write something silly and break the immersion: and most authors have limited battle experience. This points toward brevity and intense research, since it's better to write a short fight that reveals one true experience of an expert, than a long fight that is mostly inauthentic. Youtube has become an amazing resource, but take re-enactors with a pinch of salt: because they don't fight to the death. Try to get first-hand accounts from a library wherever possible (but through most of history most fighters, and ninjas and spies, weren't writers).
    • There's room for surrealism and allegory: anything that lets you displace description away from the characters' physical worlds (which in writing are false) to their psychological or artistic ones (which in writing are true). One common device on these lines is to establish the names of moves or kata-like sequences of moves, so someone does "Parting the rushes" and the opponent counters with "Holding the spindle", which helps shift the nuts-and-bolts descriptive stuff out of what's supposed to be a fast-moving or intense scene.
    • Is the fight in step with the zeitgeist - or the prevailing cultural sensitivities around us? Prince Protagonist can't thump Princess Love Interest round the head until she falls for him - but it's easy when we are caught up in writing to produce long and intricate material that on closer inspection collapses (or can be construed to collapse) into something tawdry or absurd.
    • If possible, fight scenes should increase the character's problems not resolve them. It's not that "violence is never the answer", it's that we usually want to increase the pressure on characters, since pressure reveals them to the reader, and the reader's interest is in a character's being revealed - more than some fictional events unfolding.
    • The Iliad has tons of fights. Most are only a couple of sentences long. e.g. "A throws spear at B and it pierces his bladder." (which helps build up how deadly the weapons are). Some use the "look over there" trick and when you think you're getting a fight a couple of gods will pop up and have an argument about it, or you'll get a nice description of where someone's helmet came from before they get stabbed. Virtually anything to avoid blow-by-blow "thrust-parry-feint". In Book VII though, there's a big set-piece of Ajax vs Hector, and it uses lots of these other tricks to make a blow-by-blow fight exciting. But it reduces to them hitting each other with successively bigger rocks, and the battlefield heralds call it off before... it gets boring: the blow-by-blow format was already parody-fuel by the dawn of Western literature. The climactic fight in the Iliad is Achilles versus the river Scamander - because it's a metaphysical conflict: pure art.
    In your scene, I feel the key words are "now's not the time". Is that you saying to yourself that the fight scene isn't the time when the characters would discuss this, and that they would discuss it afterwards. Or want to. He might think "You fight divinely" will be a good way to strike up a conversation, but when he gets to it maybe less so.
     
  15. Keongxi

    Keongxi Member

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    I don't know if this helps or not but you should try reading some English translations of Jin Yong/Louis Cha novels online. Maybe it won't help much cause the fighting parts are located in a Chinese historical wuxia setting while your story isn't set in the same setting and also because the fights are too fantastical . But still better than nothing. There is an English language translated novel called Legends of the Condor Heroes which comprises three(?) books currently. That translation I believe is only one of the few legal translations . Be warned though;other online fan translations could be illegal so it might make you feel bad reading them.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
  16. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I suggest you read Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicle series. You get not only what the fighters are doing but the sounds, the smells, and emotions that the fighters are experiencing. I don't think anybody has done that better.
     
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  17. MartinM

    MartinM Active Member

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    read any Lee Child book
     
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  18. RandolphB

    RandolphB New Member

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    Late to the game....but: Don't depend on movies for realistic fight scenes. A sword can kill you in a 1/70 of a second. That's so fast that it would get lost on the border around frames during filming. People no longer have a clue about fights (Outside the martial arts/ HEMA/ Fencing worlds..), so being accurate doesn't matter.

    The Maestro I studied under in LA for years was an actor from youth and a Fight Director. When I talked about exactly this decades ago, he told me fight scenes have nothing to do with fighting. Think of them as character interaction to drive the story. They illustrate the friction between characters. The closer they are to each other, the more intense the scene. The farther apart, the danger is less. Dialogue has to match that. In other words, decide what point needs to be made in a scene, the arguments and resolution and dialogue. THEN structure the fight around the important framework.

    As stated above, you don't need deeply accurate details in this day and age. Nobody knows what one means if your character "Fights in the style of Destreza" or "attacked with the point in line, only to be parried and be struck with a glissando to the chest".

    Best fight example used in a story I know: the movie "The Duelist". They bash away at each other, as is real. The scene in the stable with sabres and complete exhaustion is my favorite choreographed fight in history. It shows the characters THROUGH the actions.

    One might also become involved in HEMA for a better grasp of the actions, or to have somebody to beat with a hunk of steel to rid oneself from writers block. Of course, they beat back....
     
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  19. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Which is why the violence in the Coen films is so impressive... it comes at you out of nowhere, with any of the dramatic build-up one comes to expect from films. You blink, and it's over.
     
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  20. folklore

    folklore New Member

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    Dont forget that in a fight you describe things using more of the senses than normal to make things seem more intense. Most just do the whole what they saw or heard but the smell of sweat, the coppery taste of blood or the feel of their throat going dry and heaviness of limba that are getting tired from swinging...these are how you up drama.

    Also, unlike in film where you can storyboard every action, dont get too specific on complicated maneuvers. Less is more and more is less. Quite often accurate descriptions turn into hard to understand overly convoluted messes. Grab wrist, step in under opponents arm, pivot and throw works but is about the limit in technical stuff imo. You delve further into specifics for a martial arts move and it turns into a mess for the reader. Centers of gravity, shifting into someones center of gravity to overbalance them and force them to tip or swing...these things you dont fully get unless youve done them. Best at some point to just call a throw a throw and focus on the senses.

    Throwing, swinging, launching, striking, clubbing, wildly lashing...these are useful descriptors that imply both the control and force behind a move. No need to focus on the move itself when all you need is what it felt like for the tone of the fight. Was it desperate? Was it confident? Was it controlled or wild? This is how you pace a fights momentum going one way or the other.

    Fights are tricky. Dont think like a storyboard.
     
  21. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Another thing, which I think I posted long ago:

    If you're writing about medieval combat, with sword and shield or spear, it might be worth your time to show the finished product to somebody in a medieval re-creation group like the Society for Creative Anachronism. They have people who could tell you what's realistic and what's not, and perhaps suggest different ways of portraying the action.
     
  22. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I tried to answer a question like this a while ago. I won't paste it here because it was stupidly long and if you saw it already then you don't want to see it again. Here's a link back to it though. It's a fun technique I use to improve at certain scenes. It's an approach to practicing that works for all types of troublesome scenes: high-action, romance, deep emotional confessions, dramatic opening paragraphs, etc.

    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/how-to-make-good-battles.171041/#post-1937464

    Basically, you write down words and phrases from each sentence. Then you put away the original and practice by putting those phrases into your own sentences. You create your own paragraph that serves the same purpose. It will be different and somewhat in your voice and the original author's. It's like inverted MadLibs. Because the approach lines up the content, you can go fast. You'll find that you can write a paragraph quick. Your pace will probably be well over 1000 words per hour. Not that you'll write that much, but once you get to the writing step, your paragraph will go onto the paper with that speed. Maybe much more.

    You've got to find the masters and practice with what they've done. That's how the reader is judging you. They're comparing your work to the perfect ideal, to their favorite authors. So you imitate those ideals until you absorb their approach. It twists into your voice. Find many high-action examples. That's probably the slowest step. You can always go back and redo an example too.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2022
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  23. dbesim

    dbesim Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How about watching a two minute scene on youtube and then trying to describe it?
     
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  24. KiraAnn

    KiraAnn Active Member

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    My suggestion: start writing some scenes, then post for critique on this forum.
     
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  25. Some Guy

    Some Guy Manguage Langler Supporter Contributor

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    I plead guilty to writing two fight sequences. One was an 'octagon challenge' fight, the other was subduing an attacking bully.
    Fights are short, especially for the combatants. There may be grunting, yelling, and cracking of jaw, but little dialog, if any, between them.
    But, fighters have flashes of thought or feeling, observers have reactions, and trainers yell constantly in a contest. You need to sell a lot in a tight space, and there are tricks. Just be quick, or time it well. Don't overdo.
    Pivots on an action can suspend a few beats and allow a moment of thought; "A towel flew into the octagon." There's a brief chance to do anything because the reader wants to know 'what's with the towel' or who reacted - even if it's only a distraction.
    Talking of distraction, that's your powerful writer's advantage, a playground if you can pull it off simply and quickly.
    A reaction can trigger additional reactions that create an opportunity to shift around in or near the octagon, "The Challenger took a kick to his leg and went down to the mat, as the old man flew over the enclosure in one leap."
    Sometimes it's the hit that merits drama instead of the thousand moves to launch a strike.
    If you've invested in your setting, use it. There's more than just the two fighters in the space. Some of that space belongs to the reader as well. Put readers in a seat, stand them outside the ring, or at the bar watching it on TV.
    Somehow, the reader is there.
     
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