Wednesday, August 23, 2017

An excerpt from my upcoming Fight Scene class

Hi! I wanted to give my fellow writers a taste of an online class I'll be teaching on Fight Scenes beginning Sept. 4, 2017 for Savvy Authors. You'll find information here about signing up for the class,
This class is designed to help people get a handle on writing fight scenes. It will include 12 lessons taught in the month of September on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Students are invited to post sample fight scenes on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my critique.
Now, here's the class introduction: 

by Angela Knight

First I would like to thank you all for taking my class on writing action sequences. This is one of my favorite topics, since there are two types of scenes which I enjoy writing the most: love scenes and fight scenes.
This may seem an odd combination, but they have more in common than you might think. 
Both are scenes in which two or more people engage in physical contact as an expression of strong emotion.  In one, it’s the love between your hero and heroine, while in the other, it’s the hate between your hero and villain.  But both are the passionate expression of a relationship. The more passion you can bring to each type of scene, the more effective it is.
You create that sense of passion through vivid, clear descriptions of both the physical action and the emotions of the characters.
For someone who wants a career in genre writing, being able to write a good fight scene may be an even more important skill than the ability to write a good love scene.  There are a number of genres where you may never have to write a love scene at all, such as science fiction, inspirational romance, and mysteries.  Almost all genre fiction requires writers to be able to pen a good fight. 
My objective in this class is to share the writing techniques will keep readers on the edge of their seats – and editors begging for more.
Classes will be posted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I will also upload the classes to the files section of this group so you can download the completed file to keep.
Note I often find that students’ questions raise new issues, and I may decide to do additional classes to address those issues.
Here’s a rough list of the lessons I’m currently planning for the class:

  1. Introduction
  2. Characterization: Handling heroes, heroines and villains in fights
  3. The importance of motives and high stakes in a fight. Without this, there's no tension.
  4. Setting: Choosing the best location for the fight you have in mind
  5. Choreography: Planning a fight
  6. Violence levels: How to avoid turning the reader off
  7. Pacing: Escalating the tension through fights
  8. Language and description in fights
  9. Types of combat: The differences and techniques of sword fights, fistfights and gun flights
  10. Genre and fight scenes: How do you create a fight tailor-made for your particular genre
  11. Climactic fights: Avoiding an anticlimax
  12. Summing up
Now let’s examine the question of why fights are often so difficult to write.
I think there are some fairly simple reasons for this.  One is that many of us were brought up to believe that ladies don’t fight.  People get hurt, and they sweat and bleed, and other unpleasant things happen which we would prefer to avoid. We’re supposed to be society’s nuturers.  Violence is the business of men.
At the same time, the very definition of the word “hero” implies combat: heroes are people who fight and win, often at great personal cost.  So to show that our hero (and heroine) is heroic, we must show him or her fighting. 
Yet for many of us, the last time we were in a physical fight was in grade school.  You’re supposed to write what you know, so how can you write about fighting?  It’s like a nun trying to write a love scene.
I have an advantage when it comes to this problem, because I took fencing in college.  It’s been 20 years, but I still remember what it’s like to fence competitively.  I vividly remember the intense concentration, the effort and exhaustion, the desire to avoid pain and to defeat my opponent.  (Getting poked with even a dull foil leaves nasty bruises.) 
I've found I can apply that experience to the fights I write.  How much more intense would the experience have been if those swords had points?
If you’re serious about writing, you may want to take a martial arts class to give you some idea of what it’s like to fight.
But if you can’t take martial arts, there are other alternatives. 

  • My go-to these days whenever I need an idea for a fight scene is YouTube. In a book I wrote recently, I had two paranormal characters similar to eagles, who were locked in aerial combat. I obviously know nothing about fighting in the air, so I started watching YouTube nature videos. I discovered that eagles don’t use their beaks when they fight, but lock their talons together and whip in circles around their joined claws as they fall to the ground. The centripetal force rips at them, and the one who gets pulled loose first is the loser. This gave me all sorts of cool ideas. I also researched all kinds of other cool fighting techniques for police officers, soldiers, etc. Give it a shot.
  • Check Hulu or Netflix for films with particularly dazzling choreography.  I became a big fan of the Highlander TV series because the sword fights were amazing.  Make lots of use of the pause button to get a feel for the attacks and blocks.
  • You can also find books on various styles of fighting, but it’s harder to get a sense of physical action from a textbook. You need to be able to visualize the fight in order to write it clearly. And clarity can make or break a fight. You don't want to confuse the reader.
  • If you go to a movie and see a fight scene that’s particularly striking, consider sitting through it again.  Analyze what made that scene so exciting.  Can you create similar effects with your writing? A lot of the recent crops of films like Captain America: Civil War and Wonder Woman have featured stunning fights. Atomic Blonde also had some of the most brutal fights I’ve ever seen. I found them particularly striking because periodically the heroine and her opponent would collapse, panting, until they could regain the strength to go at each other again. It made the film seem more realistic and added to the heroine’s sense of peril.
Another film I found inspiring was QUANTUM OF SOLACE, one of the 007 series
There’s very little dialogue in the Daniel Craig fights, unlike some of the older Bonds.  There’s just a raw savagery that sends your heart into your throat.  It gives you the feeling of what it must be like to fight for your life, to fight to kill.
Those scenes also tell a lot about what the film makers are trying to say about Bond as a character.  He’s a ruthless man who doesn’t let fear or pain stop him.  He is powerful, he’s agile, he’s a very skilled fighter.  And he’s insanely brave and dedicated to serving his country.
Which brings me to the topic of the next lesson: characterization.  Fight scenes are a great way to reveal the inner truth of your characters. It’s said you never really know what’s inside someone until you see them in danger.  What will they do when their lives are on the line?  Will they fight or run?  Will they risk their lives for the people they love? 
A character can talk a good game all he wants, but until he shows what he’s made of, the readers won’t really believe he’s a hero until he proves it. 
Too, there is no better way to create sympathy for a character than to show him in pain, in danger, and fighting for his life.

Thanks for reading! I hope you'll join me Sept. 4.

Angela Knight