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TheIT
08-25-2005, 03:13 AM
We've got a great thread going about Battle Scenes (wonderful info - keep it coming!), but that thread is focused on larger scale battles with casts of thousands. What about individual, one-on-one combat? Does anyone have any advice on how to portray fights for those of us who've never punched someone or picked up a sword/gun/club/whatever in anger?

DaveKuzminski
08-25-2005, 03:52 AM
What I've read and been trained is to get it over as quickly as possible. Evaluate your opponent and go for what looks like his weakness. Don't waste time and energy trying to be fancy.

Leanan-Sidhe
08-25-2005, 05:42 AM
I think we have to keep in mind as authors--and sci fi/fantasy authors in particular that we're not writing in reality. You watch movies with fancy, choreographed fights that last several minutes. In reality fights usually last only seconds. And you don't necessarily have to knock out your opponent or beat him or her senseless to win. Just kick them in the knee and run. My style of karate emphasizes low kicks. They can't be blocked and you can't see them coming. If you can't walk, you can't fight. The question is whether it would be more entertaining in your novel to have your character do a flying double kick followed by a backfist, several cartwheels and a takedown all the while bearing several bleeding wounds, than do a simple yet effective technique. I'm sure a good author could make either option work.:Thumbs:

fedorable1
08-25-2005, 04:17 PM
We've got a great thread going about Battle Scenes (wonderful info - keep it coming!), but that thread is focused on larger scale battles with casts of thousands. What about individual, one-on-one combat? Does anyone have any advice on how to portray fights for those of us who've never punched someone or picked up a sword/gun/club/whatever in anger?

It depends on what you mean...

The first meaning could be one-on-one combat in the midst of a fight, such as the main character coming face-to-face with his nemesis, or a specific opponent. A good example of this was in the movie Troy in which - even the heart of battle - Hector and Achilles found each other. Such an event, wherein the other soldiers would probably recognize the two combatants, could set up a very dramatic scene. You could describe the chaos of the moment, yet the concentration of the one opponent. Blow-by-blow descriptions could possibly be used well here, but a little summarization could go a long way, too.

The second is a strict mano e mano fight, i.e. a Traveller with a Quarterstaff comes across a Bandit Swordsman on the road. The situation dictates the response here. The Traveller then would probably be afraid something like that would happen, and thus be prepared for it. However, any time you get into a fight there is always the sense of fear, especially if you have never met your opponent. In all reality, that opponent could - and may really want to - kill you.

How to handle the scene? First of all, establish how the two opponents percieve each other. Is the Traveller reluctant to fight, but feels he must? Does the Bandit laugh at the fool with a stick? Is the Traveller cunning and calculative, searching for weaknesses such as that mud slick between them, or the noted gimp in the bandit's leg?

Secondly, fighting without emotion - such as fending off a bandit, taking out a guard, or otherwise fighting a stranger - requires a LOT of concentration. It's a thinking game. You must be quick to percieve an opponent's moves, his style, his weaknesses, etc. As said before, fights in real life only last maybe ten seconds before someone gets seriously hurt. For dramatic effect in movies and literature, however, these fights can last longer.

Which brings us to the third element: Emotion. Say your Traveller and Bandit are brothers. Totally different story here. There could be reluctance ("I don't want to fight you, brother"), caution ("I know you're quite skilled"), or perhaps anger ("You killed pa!"). These will not only set the framework for the emotional content of the scene, but also influence how they fight.


:flag: A reluctant fight is very defensive. You just want to survive, you don't want to hurt your opponent. There may even be some dialogue in there. It's very logical, and you are looking for ways to evade or just stop your opponent from hitting you.

:box: A cautious fight is both offensive and defensive. You know the opponent is good, and you do NOT want to let them get the upper hand. You just want to incapacitate them quickly - however possible. The example of the fight(s) between Hector and Achilles would be considered "cautious." They both knew about their opponent's reputation and skill, and they weren't about to go head-first into battle. Even when Achilles was angry the second time around, he was very calculative about it.

:mad: And obviously the angry fight is mostly offensive. You want that person to DIE. You would block what you can, but your adrenaline whispers murder and mayhem in your ear. There would be a lot of speed and fierce strike - some of which may not be logical. Logic is gone now. You just want to hurt somebody.

So to answer your question, again, it depends. I hope I've given you some ideas or at least answered your question in some way. :D

TheIT
08-25-2005, 08:18 PM
Thanks, this helps. I don't think my fantasy novel will have any battles, but it begins with a one-on-one fight and will have a couple others. I'm not even going to attempt giving a blow-by-blow account since I wouldn't know where to begin. Advice I've been given elsewhere is to describe the combatants and their attitudes toward the fight, relative sizes and equipment, what they're trying to achieve (i.e. survival vs. slaughtering their opponent).

DaveKuzminski
08-26-2005, 06:28 AM
If you want to build up your character's reputation quickly, stage a fight where your character disables the opponent very quickly. I did that with one character which then cast her in a position where none of her hosts who were reluctant to have her in their city would object. She blocked the opponent's blow and twisted so that her sword cut through the wrist tendons of her opponent's blade hand on the down swing. Over in a grand total of about five seconds, if that long. And yes, I tested out the moves in slow motion with dummy blades to make sure it was not only feasible, but practical. The hardest part was relating all of that in text.

preyer
08-26-2005, 04:31 PM
sans military or martial arts experience, two relatively experienced guys fighting can drag a fist fight out for several minutes barring any devastating knock-out punches or unusual damage, like ripping the guy's ear off. some glancing blows tends to result in a wrestling match. overmatched, the weaker of the two will wind up on the bottom getting wailed on while curled up defensively most of the time. at the same time, one country hoss landing a direct blow that breaks your nose (rather a misnomer here as the nose technically has no bones to break, but it's just an accepted phrase), can lead to reconstructive surgery and, obviously, ends the fight right then and there.

most fights are fairly sloppy affairs. people swing and just miss, which you hardly ever see in a movie, where every blow lands somewhere (except in boxing movies). people trip over a bar stool. sometimes it's just comical (like whenever i felt so compelled to fight, i'm just glad it never made it to 'america's funniest home videos'). most people *can't* fight for very long simply because they aren't in that kind of shape. seriously, try punching a bag: it won't take long before you're wheezing. shadow boxing prit near gives me a heart attack.

i've always loved seeing a guy run two hundred yards into battle carrying a broadsword and fresh and ready to fight to the death. absolute rubbish. even if you're highly motivated, imagine carrying a ten-pound piece of steel that throws off your running balance at full speed for about thirty seconds (not taking into consideration the type of shoes they had to run in and whatever constricting clothing they've got on), and see how well you perform. anyone with a lick of sense will conserve their energy better than that.

that reminds me: just because someone is strong as an ox doesn't necessarily mean they're in great shape.

just my experience there. i've seen lots of fights, liking the company of people who like to fight. what can i say? lol. granted, most of the fights are over quick, well under a minute, but not always. ask any bouncer and they'll probably tell you they'd much rather break up a fight between two guys than two women.

writing a fight.... hm, i can't recall any extended fight that was detailed blow-for-blow. that would be rather boring to read. i follow the lead of what i've read by starting the fight off with a little description, noting anything other than 'exchanging blows' (simplified there), and describing the blows that end the fight. a sword fight where maybe five blows happen, well, i might say that, might not. probably not if those five blows aren't interesting.

attitude is important. two guys who say 'i'm gonna kick your asss' and mean it, that could be a good fight. if one of them is just frontin' for the ladies, he's gonna get beat down.

as an aside, i've always wondered how long big sword battles lasted. during the 100 year war, 10,000 men armies were large. that's a lot of soldiers. could take all day to wipe a force that size out. but, by the end of the 16th century, war was mainly powder and shot, the day of the feudal knight with a twenty foot lance was gone. i tend to think that with swords, though, even large scale battles were over in time for tea, though i've read where some would last until the next day, which i imagine was rare and there may have been extenuating circumstances.

TheIT
08-26-2005, 07:55 PM
Thanks, all, this is helpful. What about opponents who are greatly mismatched? Is it plausible for the lesser skilled fighter to survive without getting creamed?

My WIP begins with a squire facing off in a sword fight with a mysterious dark knight who has decades of fighting experience. After one attempt to attack which fails miserably, the squire switches to pure defense both to survive and to allow someone else the opportunity to escape. He's able to defend for a short time, falls, and avoids getting skewered because the fight is stopped by an outside force. I want to make sure how it's written sounds reasonable to people who know how to fight.

Zonk
08-26-2005, 10:17 PM
Read Robert Howard. (Conan, etc.)

:D:D:D

DaveKuzminski
08-26-2005, 11:52 PM
When I was young adult, I was unavoidably in several fights. At the time, I weighed at most 125 pounds. I was always up against someone bigger or heavier, usually both.

However, I was fortunate. I had enough sense to evaluate my opponents in the last few seconds before the fight began and succeeded in guessing how they'd fight. As a result, I either beat the hell out of them or ran them off. I do not have any scars or injuries to show for those fights, either.

So, the answer is yes that a smaller individual can defeat a larger opponent.

Lenora Rose
08-27-2005, 01:40 AM
Just as a point.

Once the fight has started, if you're thinking consciously about what move to make -- you're probably slower than your opponent. Conscious thought takes time, and slows reflexes. That's what a lot of the training is about; getting your muscle memory so well attuned that when you see a blow coming at you, your body is moving to the correct block before you have to think. You'll hear fighters talk often about not having any idea that they'd made a particular shot, or deflected a blow, until after the fight, when they hash it out in talk with friends and/or opponents.

Even a fighter I know who describes himself as a thinking fighter, whose mind starts working in battle to see and recall all his opponent is doing, to catch patterns and spot weaknesses and fighting styles as Dave describes, and who can assess and analyse both performances later -- even he admits that at the moment of the fight, he's just moving.

TheIT
08-27-2005, 02:09 AM
That's interesting about reflexes. Ever read a novel called Emergence? I can't remember the author right now. The main character is trained in martial arts. At one point she kills someone because her reflexes are so honed, but later questions whether she should have struck with lethal force. Because of the moral dilemma she tries to retrain herself to strike with non-lethal force, then is paralyzed when she gets into a life or death situation and can't decide how to attack.

DaveKuzminski
08-27-2005, 04:14 AM
In my experience, the fights were just too brief for much more to happen beyond the initial blows. Once I had the upper hand in a fight, reasoning returned so that I wasn't just reacting then, but it was rather moot at that point since the other guy was either down or on the run.

preyer
08-27-2005, 06:52 AM
a squire against an experienced dark knight will be smashed in seconds, lol. imagine yourself fighting a five year old. or yourself stepping into the ring with a champion boxer. you'll be pulverized by the end of first round. okay, in about fifteen seconds, depending on how much you run around.

there's such a thing as a lucky shot. it's possible, not very probable. usually, 'lucky shots' are borne from desperation of the weaker opponent and over-confidence by the stronger.

bear in mind, too, it's been a long-standing axiom that the smaller oppenents tend to be pretty scrappy individuals and shouldn't be underestimated. this is in real life and with fist fights. pulling a sword is like pulling a gun-- don't do it unless you plan on using 'em. in a life-and-death situation, who's to say what's right and wrong? at the risk of being mortally wounded even by a completely incompetent fighter, that black knight probably won't just rush in. indeed, he'd might want to fight someone with *some* experience who thinks they can fight, thus be more predictable than someone who's never swung a sword around before and you can't predict the way they'll fight. still, it should be a totally one-sided affair barring any special occurances. so, in that example, i wouldn't have the squire able to fend off the killing machine for more than the few blows that it takes for the knight to feel his opponent's skill out. maybe the knight slips or something, which is pretty believable (you try looking out the slits in a metal helmet and see how much *you* can see, lol), which would prolong the fight.

personally, i love seeing fights where the inexperienced good guys is desperate to fend off the attacker and resorts to throwing lamps or whatever at him. the fight scene in 'f/x' was great (though ridiculous in the end where the robot thing starts fighting) and pretty much reflects what most of us would do given the idea we're not weekend bar rowdies and the killer isn't some ex-s.e.a.l. with jungle ninja skillz.

one thing i grow continually bored of is the bad guy falling backwards onto a ten inch spike conveniently sticking out of a board behind him (or a sword or a pointed gate). bah! that's just the height of lazy writing. okay, having the villain slip and break his neck as he's getting out of the tub ain't no better, but relying on these old saws to explain away how a totally outmatched dude can kill the evil bad guy with all the experience in the world is just uninspired and a great way to kill an ending. (also, having someone come up from behind and shoot the bad guy just as he's about to kill the good guy is pretty lame, too.)

arodriguez
08-27-2005, 01:58 PM
ive been in fights that lasted up to an hour. what dave says is all well and good, but in an all out BRAWL not everyone is TRAINED. most of the time when it comes to blows there is a lot of grappling, and two emotions shine through--anger and desperation. a guy could grab someone and knee him in the face, the other grabs the leg knocks him to teh ground and punches him in the face, they roll mfor a few minutes alternately punching each other and kicking. they might even seperate, breathing hard, looking disheveled, wiping the blood from their mouths. around them people are screaming, girls crying, but they are just staring at each other, hating each other at that moment. finally they convince themselves that they are so pissed they could kcik that other persons *** and they go at it again.

ive been in group fights where ive got the hell beat out of me by a big dude, but im tuff like an alligator bag so i got up and found a new person to fight. id pull people off my friends and start fighting with the guy i pulled off. by the end of the night i was sitting on a park bench bloody, swollen, drinking beer from a 40oz, and laughing with teh gang as if we'd just had a great time.

zornhau
08-27-2005, 03:04 PM
If you want to build up your character's reputation quickly, stage a fight where your character disables the opponent very quickly. I did that with one character which then cast her in a position where none of her hosts who were reluctant to have her in their city would object. She blocked the opponent's blow and twisted so that her sword cut through the wrist tendons of her opponent's blade hand on the down swing. Over in a grand total of about five seconds, if that long. And yes, I tested out the moves in slow motion with dummy blades to make sure it was not only feasible, but practical. The hardest part was relating all of that in text.

Ho ho. You just discovered hende drucken, a genuine C15th longsword technique. Well done.

Vomaxx
08-28-2005, 05:25 AM
I thought it might stimulate further discussion if I reprinted, verbatim and in its entirety, a description of single combat from a fantasy novel.:


"The man's blade flashed, impossibly quickly. Yet, in scarcely moving her own blade, Isolde somehow deflected the attack.
Flttt...
...hsssttt...
...hsssttt...
Blades caressed, never meeting directly, edges sliding against each other.
Clank...
Thud...
The Duke's champion lay face down on the pier separated from sword and life."

:guns:

So what do you think? Anyone know the book or the author? (It was published in 1992.)

preyer
08-28-2005, 07:43 AM
hm, not sure the book or author. isolde... wasn't she tristram's babe? i'm going to say... parke godwin... 'beloved exile'? though i know i'm wrong on this: godwin writes better than that.

zornhau
08-28-2005, 03:49 PM
I was going to say...it seems there are two ways of narrating combat:


Evocation (as in the above example). Disadvantages: violates time, distances reader from fight, weaker sense of jeapordy.
Blow by blow. Distadvantages: can be really boring if done badly, you have to know something about swordplay.
I think a mix of both is effective. If your protag is carving down the lesser people, you can evoke that. However, when they face off vs the bad guy, I like blow by blow, or - for extended fights - a mix of evocation and blow by blow.

It does depend on to which sub-genre the story belongs. Fantasy Romance probably would't bear a detailed narration of combat.

preyer
08-28-2005, 05:35 PM
that example is something i'd probably not even include in a story, instead arranging it differently to where there's no description of the fight itself. 'fzzt' 'thwock' 'zzzp' all sounds a little batman/adam westy to me. is there really anything exciting about this piece of combat whatsoever? does it work for anyone? well, maybe i'm being too harsh on it. the prose itself i really like (well, the last two sentences, anyway), though the scene itself seems suppliferous.

as a model of a good action scene, i don't think this is it. were it football, the bengals might use it, but the patriots would scoff at it: if this is the author's A game, they won't be going to the superbowl this year. vince lombardi may not be rolling in his grave, though i wonder if he'd buck a little bit.

my only problem with people who know swordwork is sometimes they insert technical terms in italics as if i'm supposed to know what a *sacre bleu tuette du jour* is. hey, i'm an idiot: dumb it down for me. i find this more in non-professional writers trying to impress the reader rather than letting them know what's going on. i have a problem every time a writer says 'flange' or 'champhored' (sp) because it makes me stop to think, so maybe it's just me. :) whenever i use some term like, say, 'motte and bailey castle,' i try to work in a reminder for the reader what that is. sorry, a little off topic....

zornhau
08-28-2005, 09:10 PM
Agreed. My characters fight in authentic German style, but the only time you'll hear the technical terms is if/when they describe what they've done.

preyer
08-29-2005, 04:35 AM
what happens when that authentic german style comes up against a roman soldier (or whatever)? sometimes style is all well and good as long as they're fighting people of the same style. what would d'artagnan do against a samurai? it might be comical, sloppy, and very unpretty.

if you've been trained to fight a certain way and in your first battle the enemy is fighting *differently*, i'd think that that would be very disquieting. suddenly it's like, 'oh, crap, he wasn't supposed to do that! he was supposed to move to the right, not the left! now what do i do?' just something to think about, no?

zornhau
08-29-2005, 01:27 PM
what happens when that authentic german style comes up against a roman soldier (or whatever)? sometimes style is all well and good as long as they're fighting people of the same style. what would d'artagnan do against a samurai? it might be comical, sloppy, and very unpretty.

if you've been trained to fight a certain way and in your first battle the enemy is fighting *differently*, i'd think that that would be very disquieting. suddenly it's like, 'oh, crap, he wasn't supposed to do that! he was supposed to move to the right, not the left! now what do i do?' just something to think about, no?

Well, 1-1 the Medieval German kills the Roman because he outreaches him. There's a reason why, historically, longswords and big shields don't really co-exist as equipment for individual fighters.

Against a samurai... ah we've had long debates into the night on this one. We could only agree that it would be short. If the German survived the first attack, he'd probably bury the other guy.

Which is to say, German Longsword is a practical martial art rather than just a set of stereotyped moves. The principals apply no matter what the other fellow has, and the training probably included dealing with weapons other than the longsword.

TheIT
08-30-2005, 12:30 AM
I thought it might stimulate further discussion if I reprinted, verbatim and in its entirety, a description of single combat from a fantasy novel.:


"The man's blade flashed, impossibly quickly. Yet, in scarcely moving her own blade, Isolde somehow deflected the attack.
Flttt...
...hsssttt...
...hsssttt...
Blades caressed, never meeting directly, edges sliding against each other.
Clank...
Thud...
The Duke's champion lay face down on the pier separated from sword and life."

:guns:

So what do you think? Anyone know the book or the author? (It was published in 1992.)

Personally, I dislike reading sound effects in writing. Since it isn't a word, hitting something like "hssttt" immediately takes me out of the story while I try to puzzle out what the <bleep> the author meant. In this example, one might as well put <insert sword fight here>. Much too much is left to the reader's probably limited memory of other sword fights they've seen in movies. IMHO, this example would work better without the sound effects and with a little more description of what happened. Describe the sound (if necessary) rather than come up with some sort of shorthand.

Vomaxx
08-30-2005, 02:29 AM
The excerpt is from "The Magic of Recluce" by L. E. Modesitt.


(If you think those sound effects are annoying, try reading the whole book.)

TheIT
08-30-2005, 02:42 AM
I read several of the Recluce books a couple of years ago but didn't remember the style. If that's the one I'm thinking of, every time something odd happened it was prefaced by a sound effect, something on the order of:

Pfft!
The arrow struck the side of the barn.

I liked the story well enough to finish, but I started skipping the sound effects and had to quash my annoyance.

zornhau
08-30-2005, 12:24 PM
In case you're interested, here's a combat snippet from what I'm writing.

This is the middle section of a mass battle scene from Chapter 2. The characters and magic etc are already established: 15th century tech, but with rune-enhanced swords & armour.

Sir Ranulph Dacre, the protag, is one of those death-on-two legs knights who could give Conan a run for his money (he needs to be, in order to survive the rest of the novel!). His greatsword is called Steelcutter.

I'm trying fine tune the mix of evokation and blow-by-blow. Does it work?

* * *
At last, Ranulph plunged into a mass of knights and, whooping, unleashed his swordsmanship.

Steelcutter wove through the swords and axes, deflecting blows and wreaking destruction in economical strokes, each driven by a well timed step or twist of the hips.

Somebody shouted a command. The knights backed away leaving Ranulph ringed by steel.

He turned slowly, deciding where to make his rush. It hardly mattered, except for form’s sake. Now the enemy had their discipline, the end was near.

A single knight stepped through the ring.

Ranulph recognised the golden armour – he’d once turned its un-runed doppelganger into so much scrap metal. “Sir Lionel Clifford – always a pleasure to see a friend from the tournament circuit.”

Sir Lionel raised a twohanded sword over his back shoulder. The sunset picked out its runes, turning them into livid scars on the smooth diamond-sectioned blade. “Save your breath, Dacre.”

Ranulph mirrored Sir Lionel’s stance, then, like a trap ball player, let Steelcutter rest on his shoulder. The blade of Sir Lionel’s twohanded sword was a foot longer than that of Ranulph’s greatsword, but that probably mattered less than the youth thought.

Ranulph dropped his voice so the other men wouldn’t hear. “Are you sure you want to do this again?”

“Last time, you had the advantage of experience. Now I have the advantage of training from Meister Gerhart Onehand.”

“Really?” Ranulph stepped into distance then aimed a simple diagonal cut at Sir Lionel’s shoulder.

Sir Lionel pivoted away and cut down at Ranulph’s head, relying on the greater reach of his twohanded sword.

Ranulph raised his fists, pointing Steelcutter to the sky.

Sir Lionel’s two handed sword grated down Ranulph’s blade in and explosion of sparks, and slammed into the crossguard.

Ranulph stepped in, let go with his left hand and shoved Sir Lionel’s hands up and out of the way. Then he hammered Steelcutter’s pommel into the young knight’s visor and willed him to go down.

Sir Lionel kept his feet, but stumbled back a few paces. He cut down wildly.

Ranulph pivoted forward into the attack, shifted his left hand to Steelcutter’s blade and blocked the twohanded sword just over his own head.
Now he was toe-to-toe with Sir Lionel, sword aligned with the other knight’s visor.
Ranulph drove the point into Sir Lionel’s eye slit.

The youth recoiled and clutched at his eye.

Ranulph brought Steelcutter back to his shoulder. His gaze flickered to his brothers’ remains. “You should have asked Onehand who it was that maimed him.”

Steelcutter caught Sir Lionel just under the helm. The runes cancelled each other out but the cut was perfect.

The throat guard split. Helm and head hit the cobbles with a dull clatter.

Fountaining blood, Sir Lionel’s corpse staggered back three paces then collapsed against the circle of knights.

Another order, and into the ring stepped four armoured men. Each took position at a point of the compass...

MadScientistMatt
08-30-2005, 04:24 PM
The fight seems to work, Zornhau, but what's with the bit about runes? The runes seem to have an obvious significance, but I can't tell what it is. I presume they're explained earlier?

zornhau
08-30-2005, 05:12 PM
Yes, it's a key point of the novel. Nobles tend to have rune-enhanced weaponry and armour, which cancel each other out pyrotehnically. However, it's not much fun for those without runic armour.

preyer
08-30-2005, 06:14 PM
yeah, that sounds all right. :)

there's a term for those sound effects, though i can't think of it at the moment. i tend to avoid them except for certain things, for instance, 'the arrow thwocked harmlessly into barney's wooden shield.'

action is hard to write for me. that's why my action sequences don't tend to revolve around blow-for-blow style things that i can't rather blur over. i suck at action sequences, so what do i do? write a 400 page indiana jones fan-fic, of course. most of the combat, such as it is, is mainly socks to the jaw or pistol-butts to the base of the skull kind of things. because i've never found a method i care to write, my action veers away from detailed individual combat and centres more around situational things.

for instance, i might have a hand-ful of punches tossed around, but you forget them (hopefully) pretty quick because the hero is on top of a burning roller coaster, sledding down a mountainside in the yukon on a tent which turns into a hang glider (yeah, i know, don't need to say it) while a bear is rolling down after him and the mountain behind is exploding, or after leaping from a motorcyle onto an orient express-like luxury train's observation car and taking on the flamethrowers and grenadiers (for good measure i threw in a gypsy witch) resulting in that car getting totally fubar'ed, or trying to escape the island as it's being melted into gold (i called it 'indiana jones and the island of gold'-- nice cheesy title).

in all this mess, there's not much physical interaction between the two adversaries beyond a quick exchange. (hm, i should dig that story up: it actually had some decent stuff in it. one person commented that quite a bit was movie-quality stuff, which was the intention. my weakest action scene, i think, was indy escaping via a hot air baloon, bouncing off other hot air baloons. he punches an obnoxious italian guy in the face when their baskets collide. one scene i liked the idea to but it came out bad was when indy had to descend into a well, while eels came out from their holes to try and take a bite out of him. i thought it would be funny to do a bit that's totally not possible in real life, so i gave him an air hose, which a person can only suck air into up to about 13 inches, so if you go deeper than that you're dead, or at least out of air. one other thing i remember doing but i've since learned is impossible is the bad guys shoot into the water as indy is still under, and i think he might have been grazed. truth is, according to 'mythbusters' (great show), virtually every single calibre bullet you shoot into water with be worthless as a killing piece of lead after just a few inches, a foot at most, so when you see bullets zipping through the water at deadly speed, that's just bunk. anyway, i won't y'all with the other action scenes, i just wanted to mention that because that's how i try to avoid the issue as much as possible. :)

even when i do blow-for-blow action, i make it short so i can add in some reaction and 'f/x' just so it doesn't read like a laundry list.

zornhau
08-30-2005, 06:35 PM
even when i do blow-for-blow action, i make it short so i can add in some reaction and 'f/x' just so it doesn't read like a laundry list.

I think that's the point. Not more than a few blows, or else the sense of jeapordy vanishes.

The choreography of the example fight reads (trans in brackets):

L: Twohanded sword, Vom Tag (Sword at shoulder)
R: Greatsword, Zorn Haut (sword cocked back over shoulder)

R: #1Zornhau (Diagonal cut pivotting forward)
L: #2 Shietelhau! (Downwards cut while pivoting back
R: #3 Cron -> pommel strike (Raise sword as if kissing a cross, block with the guard then strike with the wrong end)

L:#4 Zornhau (Diagonal cut pivotting forward)
R: #5 Zwerchhau>Thurst (Hight lateral reverse cut, intercepting zornhau and putting point in position for thrust.)
L: KIA

I make that 5 blows total, really just 2 exchanges.

Minister
08-30-2005, 09:22 PM
A major key in description of personal combat, as in description of any activity, is your point of view character. You are seeing the combat through his eyes, interpreting it with his experiences, thoughts, and tendencies. Thus, a fight seen through the eyes of an ex-S.E.A.L. may look completely different than a fight seen through the eyes of a seventeenth century ninja, a backwoods lumberjack brawler, or an inner-city gang member. Keep in mind that different people will view and remember a fight they are in with different levels of awareness. To some, time seems to slow down, and they observe every nuance of every position. They'll remember for days exactly where on their opponent's face their knuckles struck. To others, everything is a blur; training, reflex, and adrenalin take over, and they barely notice or remember anything until they are down, their opponent is down, or the referee blows the whistle. I'm personally somewhere between the two. In a six minute wrestling match, I'll have a clear memory of maybe twenty seconds of the action. Usually, those are the crucial seconds of the match, the points at which I either hit a big move, or my opponent scored on me. The rest, although I'm lucid and aware of what's going on at the time, blurs together.

For long fights (and some fights between opponents who are almost equally matched can be very long indeed), this is actually a good guideline. Only give a blow by blow of the most significant few seconds of the fight. This becomes especially important if you have a seemingly inferior fighter beat his opponent. To maintain suspension of disbelief, you have to give the reader a reasonable way in which your smaller/less experienced/weaker/otherwise disadvantaged fighter defeated his opponent.

The fight scene described above seemed very appropriately handled. While the knight is hacking through inferior and insignificant opponents, the action is blurred over. When he stops to face a more significant individual (at least I assume that this incident is significant to the plot; it probably should be, to be described in this level of detail), the story slows to give us the details. The details that are given are consistent with the POV of a combat experienced, well trained, thinking warrior. The blow-by-blow that would become tiresome if the fight were prolonged is appropriate, since each exchange is significant to the outcome of the fight, and the fight is brief. Enough terminology is used to maintain the feel for the setting, but the descriptions are not obscure and are easy to follow.

One of my favorite examples of a well-crafted single combat scene is from Heinlein's Glory Road, towards the end of the book, when the protagonist faces the final challenge to recovering what he's after. Swordfighting jargon is sprinkled carefully, used to let us know that the guy is a trained and experienced swordsman. It never obscures the action, though. The fight is long, but only the most significant points in the fight are described blow by blow, which was essential, because at the beginning of the fight, it looked like he was overmatched. I'd strongly recommend it as an example of superbly handled description of personal combat.

zornhau
08-30-2005, 10:59 PM
Utterly agree re perspective. Later on, I have a non pro watching Ranulph in action - it's a much shorter description!

Though actually, I dropped back from Ranulph's head somewhat once the blades crossed. His flow of consciousness would be much closer to the text of the choreography, if he's having any coherant thoughts at all! The mind of a swordsman is a very boring place mid fight (write about what you know).

Minister
09-04-2005, 02:21 AM
Though actually, I dropped back from Ranulph's head somewhat once the blades crossed.


Very true. But although you changed your level of penetration, I don't think you ever violated POV. You backed out enough to give uninformed readers a clear description of the events taking place, but you never left your point of view character, described anything he wouldn't have seen or noticed, or used terminology he wouldn't have understood or used. Although you described that part of the fight in terms that were not necessarily what he was thinking at the moment the fight took place, they were very much terms that he might have used later to describe the fight to a person not familiar with that style of combat. Besides, flow of consciousness writing usually drives me nuts. I thought it was largely very well handled.

zornhau
09-04-2005, 09:50 PM
:) That's very kind of you. You pretty much describe what I was intending to do. Though I tend to write "in the flow", I plan my technical approach with great care.

Just for interest, here's a draft of how he later describes the fight for the benefit of fellow cogniscati. (The POV character listening in has little or no idea what he's talking about!)


.... "He was hardy but a fool." He gulped from his drinking horn. "Stood we he in Roof Guard, I in Wrath Guard." He drew the drinking horn back to his shoulder, as if clutching a sword. "I assayed a Wrath Strike, he a Parting Strike, the which I took with a Crown and replied with a Plunging Strike." The drinking horn twitched forward and tilted. "From thence, with a foyne, I thrusted his sites and Steelcutter pierced his braincase. With a Thwart Cut, I took his head." He shrugged. "I had no worship from the deed."

Minister
09-04-2005, 11:10 PM
Yikes! I hope you don't do that much, 'cause I've hardly any more idea what's going on than your poor POV character!:Shrug: :)

zornhau
09-05-2005, 12:18 AM
Yikes! I hope you don't do that much, 'cause I've hardly any more idea what's going on than your poor POV character!:Shrug: :)

Indeed. That's the desired effect. It's very much a one-off. Funny, though, if it were karate or judo, that level of terminology might be acceptible.

preyer
09-05-2005, 05:28 AM
as conceit, i'd leave it in. all it shows is the author's seeming familiarity with the subject. it's all just showing off.

which is okay used once. if the rest of the story is good, who cares? will an editor want it snipped? who cares? burn that bridge once you come to it. probably won't be much of an issue unless you're pressed for things to brutally decapitate with a thwart cut. you're probably technically 'wrong' to leave it in according to all those 'how-to-reduce-your-story-to-crap-for-mass-consumption' books, but i don't go by those anyway. :)

Minister
09-05-2005, 05:40 AM
Oh, I don't mind it in that quantity, if it's not done often through the book; shucks, by comparing the two descriptions of the fight, I might actually learn something -- one of the reasons I read, after all. I suspected that you weren't going to make the entire book an impenetrable mass of medieval jargon, based on your other posts.


Indeed. That's the desired effect. It's very much a one-off. Funny, though, if it were karate or judo, that level of terminology might be acceptible.

I've never liked it in those settings either. I like to be able to picture action, and a grocery list of terms with which I'm not familiar don't often do much to help. Even if the terms are ones I know, I'd often rather see the description, because the same move can look quite different when done against different opponents/defenses and in different settings/terrains. When an author gives a list of named moves and countermoves, it sounds like they just picked up a book on the featured martial art and picked some cool-sounding moves, rather than actually thinking through the fight and how it might really unfold with the combatants involved and the setting they are in.

zornhau
09-05-2005, 12:33 PM
Minister - you read my mind.

As for the issue of the device: it's in just once for very specific reasons, including: showing off my credentials; and demonstrating to the scene's POV character and the reader that the swordplay is a martial art. In light of this discussion, I'm considering truncating it further.

I certainly wouldn't use the device more than once, though I do have a later duel where I jump between Sir Ranulph's detailed POV, and that of an untutored observer. Sir R experiences all the nuances of combat, observer just sees the swords clash and blood spray... all over in an instant.

TheIT
09-07-2005, 04:23 AM
Minister - you read my mind.

As for the issue of the device: it's in just once for very specific reasons, including: showing off my credentials; and demonstrating to the scene's POV character and the reader that the swordplay is a martial art. In light of this discussion, I'm considering truncating it further.

I certainly wouldn't use the device more than once, though I do have a later duel where I jump between Sir Ranulph's detailed POV, and that of an untutored observer. Sir R experiences all the nuances of combat, observer just sees the swords clash and blood spray... all over in an instant.

Zornhau, taken out of context I don't see your snippet where Ranulph describes what happens as the author showing off. Instead, it seems to me Ranulph might be showing off. The story question is how does the person Ranulph is telling react? Is he impressed by all the technical jargon, or does he think Ranulph is trying to puff up his reputation? If Ranulph is talking to a fellow swordsman who knows his reputation the laundry list of names wouldn't be out of place. It takes on different meaning if he's talking to the barmaid.

Also, how does the POV character react? In my WIP I've got two POV characters, both of whom would react very differently at hearing Ranulph's comments. One is training as a swordsman, so he'd be impressed at Ranulph's knowledge and expertise and would try to pump him for as many details about the fight as he could. The other is a street thief who knows nothing about fancy fighting other than staying alive, so she'd be outwardly flattering but laughing inside at the apparent arrogance and figuring out some way to take advantage of this man's ego (while also making plans to stay away from the sharp end of his sword).

zornhau
09-07-2005, 01:03 PM
Since you ask, Ranulph is - with some prodding - relating his victory to an appreciative expert audience. If he were chatting up a barmaid, he might just say something like, "Four times we swacked our swords, then I smote him down, and his head flew to the field" (Sorry for the cod Middle English - I haven't got time to trawl Le Morte De Arthur for the right wording)

The POV character is a time-traveller, hence R's archaic English. (Stuff from his POV is in normal, slightly formal English). Her reaction is pretty much: Oh, gosh, it's a martial art.

It is me showing off since I chose to include the scene: Characters don't tell stories, writers do!

TheIT
09-08-2005, 12:59 AM
Sounds like an interesting setup, Zornhau, though I hope your time-traveller character is also thinking, "I don't want to get this guy ticked off at me."

This opens up another line of questions. The choice of POV character will greatly influence how a fight is written. So the possibilities are:

1) POV character is fighting. From what others have posted, the POV character is going to be concentrating on not getting creamed and so will have little attention for outside events. What sort of details are likely to be noticed?

2) POV character is watching the fight. What they describe is going to be based on how well they understand what they're seeing. What would an expert look for when watching a fight? What would a non-fighter notice?

Smashfiction
08-04-2009, 07:00 PM
wondering if it's a little late to revive this topic for my own needs, but here goes anyway :) I have been reading the discussion here and trying to apply the techniques described to my own action scenes. I am wondering if the first fight my MC gets caught up in is too description focused, too 'blow-by-blow', especially when I'm not exactly an expert at martial arts. Then again, neither is my MC, he just knows how to hurt people from a lifetime of experience. I could cut the entire thing if totally neccesary, but the scene displays his attitude towards violence, his fighting prowess and places some crimes on his head. anyway, here it is:


A second that lasted an eternity seemed to crawl by as the hunters exchanged glances across the tiny square. A mix of comprehension and fear dawned on their faces, and almost simultaneously, they struck.

The man to Valnyr’s right was the fastest; he plunged a hand into his coat and tore a sharpened stake free of its bindings. He stabbed with surprising speed, but to the vampire his arm moved as if through treacle. Valnyr stepped back and clamped down on the man’s wrist with his left hand; he struck hard with his right at the joint and felt bone shatter satisfyingly beneath his fingers. The attacker’s eyes widened in shock and his mouth opened in a scream, but Valnyr didn’t give him the opportunity. He snapped his arm back and slammed his elbow into the man’s face, releasing his grip at the same time. The hunter was lifted off his feet by the force of the blow and flew several feet, trailing blood from his broken nose and landing heavily on the cobbles. He didn’t get up.

The man to his left was already bearing down on him, a second stake held above his head. The hunter brought it down in a mighty two-handed blow, which Valnyr blocked with a single palm of his own. Wresting the stake from his grip, Valnyr kicked the man heavily in the chest, splintering ribs beneath his boot and propelling him across the square. A gun cocked, the noise like an alarm bell in Valnyr’s ear. He spun with superhuman speed and the stake left his grip like a quarrel from a crossbow, shearing the pistol from the quivering hand of the furthest hunter. They outnumbered him still, four to one, but they darted away, fingering their wards and muttering curses.

Valnyr felt adrenaline surge like lightning through his veins, a savage grin split his face and the men recoiled further at the sight of his curving fangs. They dared to hunt him, when they were the real prey. He took a deep breath to steady himself, keep his battle-lust under control. That was a path he and his fellows had abandoned long ago, though they were still accused of it. A flash of torchlight from the corner of his eye brought him fully back to himself. The mob of angry townspeople was still on his heels, aided and urged on no doubt, by more men playing vampire slayer. He had not the time nor the inclination to fight every one of them; they were only victims of propaganda and terror.

He straightened to his full height and stared down the remaining footmen, retreating into the shadows of the nearest unguarded alley. Once engulfed again in darkness, he span on his heel and fled deeper into the labyrinth of streets, a potent blend of fear and anger spurring him on.

Soscen Felix
12-30-2009, 09:48 AM
wondering if it's a little late to revive this topic for my own needs, but here goes anyway I have been reading the discussion here and trying to apply the techniques described to my own action scenes. I am wondering if the first fight my MC gets caught up in is too description focused, too 'blow-by-blow', especially when I'm not exactly an expert at martial arts. Then again, neither is my MC, he just knows how to hurt people from a lifetime of experience.

I don't think it's too description focused at all. I think it has a pretty nice pace, actually. I might've worded some things differently myself, but I think you've done a good job. :)

Liosse de Velishaf
12-30-2009, 07:50 PM
Well, I felt you were using a few too many words when Valnyr attacked. The hunters are supposed to be slow, but he's supposed to be fast. You might try upping the pace when you're describing him fighting.

rockhazard
01-03-2010, 05:49 AM
A common technique is not necessarily to shorten the wordcount (though that can help, of course), but to shorten the paragraphs and sentences. Breaking things up makes for faster reading, and thus faster pace in-story for your audience. However, I'm not so sure you need it in this scene. I think the slowness is all in the vampires perception, and since the story is being told from his perspective, the slightly longer paragraphs seem to fit for me. I don't think either way would actually hurt the effectiveness much, though.

Now, if he comes up against an equal, then I really think you should quicken the pace, shorten the sentences, add more short paragraphs. Speaking as a martial artist, I find that people significantly less skilled than I am do seem slower, even if I'm actually naturally slower than they are, because technique and timing count for quite a lot.