Writing Fight Scenes: Introduction
This month’s SF Novelists post is a bit different, because it’s the launching point for a series I’ll be doing over here on LJ for the next indeterminate amount of time.
At Sirens this past month, I did a workshop on writing fight scenes, and promised those who weren’t able to attend that I’d be posting the material online. That begins today, and will be continuing for a while. Check out the aforementioned post for sort of an anecdote-cum-mission statement, then head behind the cut for a bit more about me and why I’m interested in this subject, plus an outline of how I’m going to approach this.
It probably goes back to seeing The Princess Bride at the tender age of six. Inigo Montoya was always my favorite character; I pretty much don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to learn fencing, and it’s also his fault I studied Spanish. For years the only “fencing” I knew was what my friends and I figured out with wooden dowel rods, but in high school my local rec center offered a free class, and me and several of those friends started taking it. The instructor attempted to teach us FIE style, but we wouldn’t stay linear for love or money, nor would we leave our off-hands out of it, so finally he said “screw it” and began teaching us period rapier-and-dagger styles instead. (Which is what most of us wanted anyway.) He also taught us the basics of stage combat: how to slap and punch and kick someone without actually doing them harm.
This all fed into a pre-existing fondness I had for fight scenes, both in books and in movies. As a teenager, I was a big R. A. Salvatore fan, with all those lovingly-detailed duels, and also a fan of action movies. Learning to fence, and learning to do stage combat, got me thinking about what makes such a scene cool. And, as detailed in my SF Novelists post, I made use of it when I got to college. Getting down into the practical guts of fight choreography fed back into my writing, especially the doppelganger novels (the first of which I wrote while in college), and it’s informed my thinking ever since.
So that’s where I’m coming from: my background in the topic is as a writer, a fight choreographer, and a fan. Because of that, I’ll be drawing from a wide range of examples as I write this series, including my own novels, plays I worked on, and books and movies that illustrate my points. Examples go better when you the audience are familiar with them, though, so here are a few key ones I’ll be bringing up more than once:
- The Princess Bride. I mentioned imprinting on it, right? The duel between Inigo and the Man in Black atop the Cliffs of Insanity is a very useful example for fight scene structure; I may also reference the fight with Fezzik, and Inigo’s confrontation with Count Rugen. If you have for some reason never seen this movie, drop everything and go watch it now, you poor, deprived soul. 🙂
- The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett. It contains the single best third-person omniscient fight scene I have ever read in a book. Hands down. It is also a fantastic book, one I’m loathe to spoil for people, but as it makes a very good illustrative example for how to do a fight scene on the page, I’ll probably be referencing it during this sequence. I highly recommend the series. Her prose is a little opaque — she tends to write around things, and you have to read between the lines to see what she isn’t saying — but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
- My own first novel, findable either as Doppelganger (the old title) or as Warrior (the new title). I include this because, as the author, I know what I was trying to do, and why I used certain techniques to do it; I can go “behind the scenes” in a way that isn’t possible with the previous two sources.
What I’ll do, in all likelihood, is divide this series into three rough stages. The first will be theoretical in nature, talking about the role a fight plays in the story. The second will be about the structure of the fight itself: practicalities of deciding what happens, and how. The third will be about getting the fight onto the page: craft-level issues of what to say about the combat. Each of those stages will probably have multiple posts. We may or may not have a running “sample scene” that gets developed during the course of the series; I did that for the workshop, and may repeat it here.
I’m not sure how long the entire series will take — how many posts, and how often they will happen. Two a week sounds like a good thing to aim for, but we’ll see how that fares through the holidays. Anyway, I’ll group them all under a tag, so you can find the whole set easily if you want.
You are welcome at any point to ask questions, offer examples, correct me where I’m wrong, or hash out any scenes you’re working on yourself. I’m more than happy to give any help I can.