Thems fightin’ words…

You can count the number of actual, physical fights I’ve been in on one hand. With fingers to spare.

Throughout my life, when things have nearly come to blows but didn’t, I’ve been one of those people who have been lucky enough to either have the other person back down, talk my way out of it, or experience some miraculous event that changed the circumstances making the fight response in the other person to disappear. It’s all a bit weird, but I’m not going to argue with whatever divine force keeping me upright.

So, what’s this got to do with my writing?

Well, as I’ve started to write more, I’ve found that the more ‘expected’ things in life that I’ve little or no experience in, become an instant challenge when writing about them. It’s an obvious point, but it’s a huge one when faced with it. Not that real fights have much bearing on fictional, orchestrated ones. We’ve all seen the fight scenes in films, where most of the time, the participants have some form of martial arts training, give each other time to set up stances and perform whirling, majestic feats that make them look almost godlike in their aggression. We all know that rarely ever happens in real life. Hell, real fights are swift, nasty and extremely ugly, designed for putting down a person as quickly as possible before running off (or, if you prefer, strolling off arrogantly. Or worse, having someone pull you off them).

But naturally, there’s very little of ‘real’ in fictional fight scenes. They may LOOK simple, but The Fight Scene is often one of the most difficult things to pull off well.

In film, a 5 minute fight scene (5 minutes! Think how many real, spontaneous fights you’ve seen last that long) can take weeks to get right, with planning, choreography, training and staging. Thankfully (?) I don’t have to do things to that extent, but it still takes a stupidly long time to plan and write something that you’ll read in a quick several minutes. It’s especially difficult for books and comic books because you’re having to work out how long is justifiable for the fight without it leaving a sense of ‘the realistic’ – and by that I mean what the audience expects to be realistic for the medium, rather than real life realism (a book fight scene rarely lasts longer than a few pages if it has props like magic or weapons, a comic book fight can last across whole issues if there’s cut-aways to other scenes and larger props like vast powers involved, same with anime – see Dragon Ball Z‘s several-episode-long fights). There are exceptions, like wars and such, but generally speaking if you’re not cutting away from the fight at any time in the narrative, a fight will usually be fairly short as to not wear the reader out and stretch suspension of disbelief too much. An audience will happily accept graceful, slow motion, clean fights, but will start to get annoyed if the fighters are going at it for ages and not even breathing hard by the end.

I’ll go through an example in my next post.

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