I wasn’t a kid who grew up wrestling with brothers, tackling dads in impromptu football games, or even shoving a bully out of my way. The worst I had to contend with was an older sister who’d pin me down on the floor and tickle me until I peed in my pants.
I didn’t like fight scenes in books either. Part of this aversion was a lack of understanding; I couldn’t visualize the reality from the words on the page. But an even larger reason was my idealism. I just didn’t want to think that people really would hurt each other in those ways. I didn’t like the idea of glamorizing violence through literature.
Pollyanna and I had a lot in common then.
But writing about murder has a way of changing one’s perspective.
Wanting "to get it right" does too.
I tried the armchair pugilism route and realized quickly that it couldn’t work.
My first real fight scene was in The Clovis Incident. It was an amateurish attempt, but works — I think — because my protag, Sasha, doesn’t have a clue about physical fighting. Neither does her assailant.
Neither did I. But I did realize that I had to get up and actually try to sense what the fight would feel like. I didn’t punch myself in the stomach, but I did tap it hard enough to leave a little bruise . . .
Today, I no longer can pretend not to know. Since I’ve become a more serious martial artist, I been slammed in the solar plexus by a fist twice my size of my own. I understand what a well-placed kick to the front of the knee can to do someone who weighs a good 100 pounds more than the attacker. A palm strike to the chin or nose, an elbow strike to the jaw, both can take a person out. I also know how to fall well and poorly, how to think in terms of offense and defense.
As I’ve learned more, I’ve also become a much more attentive — and critical — reader of other writers’ fight scenes. There are those that contain reams of information; the author obviously knows a tremendous amount about the logistics and effects of the techniques. But after a page or two, I tend to get bored for some reason. Maybe it’s because when you’re in a fight, time passes so quickly and the description doesn’t convey that urgency. Other scenes don’t have enough information to help my imagination flow; these frequently assume the reader has the same specialized knowledge the author does — that everyone knows what a tornado kick to the head means. I usually skip ’em too.
And then there are the writers who seem to get it right every single time. Dick Francis comes to mind. I bleed and ache with his protagonists. I can feel the dull thud of a fist connecting with the hard muscle under flesh. I can hear the crack of a broken rib.
Do you have any favorite fight-scene writers? Can you share a sentence/paragraph of what you consider to be an excellent example?
I passed my pre-test for my black belt in Tae Kwon Do last Friday night and have been invited for the formal test on August 2. Hold a good thought for me. I’ll post the results on August 4.