Now I don’t profess to be a dance choreographer (unless you count ‘Dad Dancing’ which I can and will do, don’t tempt me!) or a fight choreographer unless it is within the pages of my novels and that is what I wanted to offer my thoughts and advice on today. Bare in mind that I am a fantasy adventure writer, my fight scenes might have a different ‘feel’ or ‘atmosphere’ to yours if you are, say a crime thriller writer but the basics still count.
As I near the end of Dark Magic (Book Three of the Camelot 2050 Trilogy) I find myself working a number of personal conflicts for my main characters which can only be resolved by a violent confrontation, now, let me say at first that I really enjoy writing fight scenes. For me they flow much easier than interpersonal interactions because I can ‘see’ the action in my minds eye and I’m not always rereading to make sure I haven’t included any unintended meanings that the reader might misconstrue but, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think them through.
Choreographing a fight scene, or any action sequence, in a book is a balance just like anything else. The pace requires to be fast but that doesn’t mean that things like atmosphere and detail must fall by the wayside albeit any ‘thoughts’ the character might have during combat should be very concise (getting distracted by daydreams or personal philosophies during any kind of combat will likely make for a very short fight).
The keys to a successful sequence are making sure you know what’s going on. Block it out on paper, watch examples of similar combats that you enjoy, research some technical terms to scatter about especially if the fight is going to have martial arts elements (just be super sure you know what you’re referring to in terms of moves). Always remember to use active vocabulary and show, not tell the reader whats going on;
‘Stephanie kicked Joel in the head.’ – flat and kinda dull.
‘With a savage cry Stephanie launched into a spinning crescent kick, her foot carving through the air until she felt the satisfying ‘Crunch!’ of gristle as Joel’s nose broke under the impact.’ – much more engaging.
With that example in mind, remember Batman. Not the modern movies but the 70’s TV show. It might’ve been somewhat silly having sound effects flash up in bubbles on the screen but you can use sounds in your prose to elicit a visceral reaction to injury or impact. Even written, sound is a tool for you to put to use.
Don’t however, get to caught up in where everyone’s standing, how they’re standing etc, etc. Blocking and atmosphere (although, as I said, still necessary) are a garnish to the action, add them as you go or fill them in later, you can add more or cut back during editing but the scene should flow easily and give the reader a very clear idea of what’s going on. Check your continuity, an error here is going to throw your reader off more than anywhere else when you want the action to be fast and easily followed.
Another thing to remember is that, for every action there is a consequence. A landed blow might cause a character to see stars a missed swing or shot might open them up to a more devastating attack or give away their position. Dramatic doesn’t mean every blow connects, you’re building tension, who’s going to win? What state will they be in at the end and how will that effect them going ahead?
From a one-on-one, hand-to-hand confrontation, all the way up to panoramic space battles with entire fleets involved the message is pretty much the same.
Pacing, continuity, atmosphere. Try to have a little fun with it along the way.