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Author Topic: Fight Scenes...  (Read 19450 times)

Offline Overlord

Fight Scenes...
« on: January 27, 2011, 04:41:47 AM »
OK... so three questions:

1. What makes a good Fight Scene?
2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?
3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?
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Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
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Offline Tiffany Kysis Tackett

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2011, 05:06:25 AM »
I can only answer two of those, sadly.

1) A good fight scene is one where the reader can see everything which is going on without being confused, and is face paced enough to really emulate the quickness of everything happening.  It needs to make the reader's heart pound.  The protagonist should win some and lose some.  If the reader isn't worried about the outcome of the fight, they'll just skip it anyway.  And, if the fight isn't important in some way, if it doesn't set up something bigger to come, it can be told in exposition rather than fleshed out totally.

2) A bad fight scene is so sparse on description that you can't tell where anyone is or who is doing what, OR two heavily described, to the point that it slows down the pace of the prose, making the fight scene feel like it happened over half an hour rather than five minutes.  It is a difficult balance to get right, making it very, very easy to get wrong.  A bad fight scene can also be extremely one sided.  Either the protagonist is completely getting decimated, or the protagonist is pwning the hell out of thirty enemies at once.  Both are weighed too heavily towards one side.  There needs to be give and take to keep the reader hooked, worried, and turning the page.

3) *shrug*  Can't think of any off the top of my head.  If I find one, I'll let you know.

Offline The Mad Hatter

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2011, 05:18:23 AM »
OK... so three questions:

1. What makes a good Fight Scene?
2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?
3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?

1) Quick. You stick a sword into someone, they go down. Oh, they might flail around a bit, but they go down. Most fights don't last long, no matter what Hollywood thinks.
2) Detail. Get rid of the intimate detail of each sword stroke. Zelazney could manage it, he took epee. If you don't, avoid the sodding detail.
3) Glen Cook. He gives the right level of detail, and he gets it right.

Wayne aka The Mad Hatter


Offline ganstream1

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2011, 06:29:42 AM »
1) Simple. A few parry and slash and done. Nothing too detailed.
2) Too long or too detailed. No matter how heart pounding fast it is, if it takes too long, it'll bore me.
3) Heart pounding. With a bit more detail than a good fight scene. 

Offline Overlord

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2011, 07:51:12 AM »
I like the fact everyone likes quick fight scenes... I shouldn't really say this as a reviewer... but... fight scenes over a page long I skim read because there is only so much : I swung, he dodged, he swung, I parried, I stabbed, he jumped back, he stabbed, I moved the the left... etc, etc I can take.
Founder: http://fantasy-faction.com
Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
Host: Fantasy-Faction's Grim Gathering

Offline professional-liar

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2011, 01:24:48 PM »
I think a good general rule would be:  The fight shouldn't take longer for me to read about than to watch.

For extended battles, just the highlights please.
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Offline TankSpill

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2011, 03:44:11 PM »
I think it depends on a couple different variables.  For instance, if we're talking about Large Scale Battles, or if we're talking about Mano-a-mano fights.

Large Scale Battles
1. What makes a good Fight Scene?

Frantic activity, tension, and a little bit of confusion (but not so much that you literally cannot tell what is going on). The right author can nail a battle scene by showing multiple points of view from key characters, with vivid description and imagery of the destruction taking place.  Tension should be mixed with the confusion, so that the reader (and the characters) are not sure who is winning until the last moment.  It doesn't have to be from multiple POVs, but that helps.  If from one POV, it helps if that person is not in God-mode, watching over everything, but rather only hearing and seeing bits and pieces, and not sure what is going on.

Examples:
Dumai's Wells, Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, book 6)
Battle of Armengar, A Darkness at Sethanon (The Riftwar Saga, book 3)

2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?

Telling the battle from the point of view of an onlooker instead of someone in the battle.  It doesn't matter how tense the author is trying to make the battle, unless you're there in it, I've never seen this kind of battle description done successfully.  Usually it is filled with questions and answers between two people viewing the battle, such as "What's going on now, I can't bear it!" answered by, "On no, the Blockities are ravaging the Bloos, the cavalry charge was horrifying!"

Example:
The main battle between the forces of good and the forces of bad in Enchanter's Endgame (The Belgariad, book 5)
The first part of the Battle of Naglimund, The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, book 1), told from Father Strangyeard's POV.

3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?

So far, in my reading, Robert Jordan has (had? :( ) it down.  I accredit this to his war veteran-ness.  He was great at bringing in combatants few at a time, like trickles of water, until the battle overflowed like water over a damn.

Mano-a-mano, aka Battles Between Just a Few People

1. What makes a good Fight Scene?

Descriptions of what is going on without too much sword/axe/staff/whatever-play.  Metaphors.  I like to feel that a fight scene is even - I don't really care when a Champion fights a N00b, unless it's there to advance the plot, but even so, I don't care about the scene itself.  Either even matches, or slightly uneven matches that could really go bad for the hero if he's not careful.

Examples:
Rand taking on Toram Riatin, A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time, book 7)
Josua taking on the Thrithingsman (can't remember his name), Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, book 2)

2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?

Two much description or too little description.  I want to know what happens, so telling me "Bob slew Greg," doesn't do much for me.  On the other hand, I don't need to read seven pages about every flick of the wrist, every angle of the sword, or every breath the fighters take (I'm looking at you, R.A. Salvatore). 

Examples:
Every Drizzt fight ever.
That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?
Robert Jordan gets this again, Tad Williams does a good job, GRRM is pretty good (though I don't enjoy his writing style), Brandon Sanderson gets the job done (and improves with every book he writes).
We play in another house, what should we fear?
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@TankSpill

Offline Funky Scarecrow

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2011, 04:41:14 PM »
1. A good fight scene is like a real fight. Nasty, brutal, short, as bloody as it needs to be and won by luck as often as skill.
2. A bad fight scene usually contains at least two of the following qualities. It's either; over described, over choreographed by the writer, uses too many technical terms if swords are involved, the most skilled fighter is automatically the winner, ANYONE indulges in any kind of ridiculous acrobatics. If a character tries to somersault over an opponent's head, I want that character stabbed in the kidney as they take flight.
3. The best fight scenes are written by David Gemmell, Joe Abercrombie and, surprisingly, Terry Pratchett, as anyone who's been involved in an actual street fight will attest to.
I am NOT short. I'm further away than I look.

Offline professional-liar

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2011, 02:17:54 AM »
Excellent stuff TankSpill.  Can you provide page numbers from your examples?  Just kidding .
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Offline MTMaenpaa

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2011, 12:34:00 AM »
As a writer I like to keep my fight scenes short and punchy.  It should have an impact, both in the plot and the pacing.  It's okay to have your hero decimate overwhelming odds so long as he loses now and again.  The challenge is that I'm prone toward being extraordinarily verbose and descriptive.  My general rule is that a fight should never last longer than a page in mass-market, preferably kept to just a few paragraphs.

Bad fight scenes or battles come off as some sadist's masturbatory fantasy or some bad Hollywood movie. 

Zelazny wrote excellent fight scenes, and nowadays Brust does a comparable job.  Joe Abercrombie gets a little long-winded for my taste, but they still manage to be brutal and fun.  Of course, he has a lot of violence.
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Offline The Mad Hatter

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2011, 01:12:01 AM »
As a writer I like to keep my fight scenes short and punchy.  It should have an impact, both in the plot and the pacing.  It's okay to have your hero decimate overwhelming odds so long as he loses now and again.  The challenge is that I'm prone toward being extraordinarily verbose and descriptive.  My general rule is that a fight should never last longer than a page in mass-market, preferably kept to just a few paragraphs.

Bad fight scenes or battles come off as some sadist's masturbatory fantasy or some bad Hollywood movie. 

Zelazny wrote excellent fight scenes, and nowadays Brust does a comparable job.  Joe Abercrombie gets a little long-winded for my taste, but they still manage to be brutal and fun.  Of course, he has a lot of violence.

A couple of points for those who haven't read all the background stuff.

Roger Zelazney took fencing lessons - thus his fight scenes are well described, because he knew how to do it.

For a 'sadist's masturbatory fantasy' see Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories. Wagner really overdid it on the fights.

Can't stand Brust as a person, so I've never read his stuff, and I'd never run into Ambercrombie.

But what about Robert E. Howard? For those who've only been exposed to the horrible movies and TV show, Conan is a joke. And most of the stuff written after Howard died by others wasn't all that good. But... Howard was an incredible writer. He could handle a fight scene without overdoing it. It's really too bad that the Howard estate allowed Dino De Laurentiis to butcher the character and the concept.

Some other writers who I think do good fights:

Glen Cook does incredible fight scenes. Taught and quick.

Fred Saberhagen does fantastic fight scenes too, see the Swords series.

Lois McMaster Bujold does really good fight scenes. The scene in Paladin of Souls where Ista is rescued is a favorite.

Elizabeth Moon does really good fight scenes. The one in Divided Allegiances when they run into the Troll equivalent is neat.
 
Wayne aka The Mad Hatter

Offline Overlord

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2011, 05:06:17 AM »
I think it depends on a couple different variables.  For instance, if we're talking about Large Scale Battles, or if we're talking about Mano-a-mano fights.

Large Scale Battles
1. What makes a good Fight Scene?

Frantic activity, tension, and a little bit of confusion (but not so much that you literally cannot tell what is going on). The right author can nail a battle scene by showing multiple points of view from key characters, with vivid description and imagery of the destruction taking place.  Tension should be mixed with the confusion, so that the reader (and the characters) are not sure who is winning until the last moment.  It doesn't have to be from multiple POVs, but that helps.  If from one POV, it helps if that person is not in God-mode, watching over everything, but rather only hearing and seeing bits and pieces, and not sure what is going on.

Examples:
Dumai's Wells, Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, book 6)
Battle of Armengar, A Darkness at Sethanon (The Riftwar Saga, book 3)

2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?

Telling the battle from the point of view of an onlooker instead of someone in the battle.  It doesn't matter how tense the author is trying to make the battle, unless you're there in it, I've never seen this kind of battle description done successfully.  Usually it is filled with questions and answers between two people viewing the battle, such as "What's going on now, I can't bear it!" answered by, "On no, the Blockities are ravaging the Bloos, the cavalry charge was horrifying!"

Example:
The main battle between the forces of good and the forces of bad in Enchanter's Endgame (The Belgariad, book 5)
The first part of the Battle of Naglimund, The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, book 1), told from Father Strangyeard's POV.

3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?

So far, in my reading, Robert Jordan has (had? :( ) it down.  I accredit this to his war veteran-ness.  He was great at bringing in combatants few at a time, like trickles of water, until the battle overflowed like water over a damn.

Mano-a-mano, aka Battles Between Just a Few People

1. What makes a good Fight Scene?

Descriptions of what is going on without too much sword/axe/staff/whatever-play.  Metaphors.  I like to feel that a fight scene is even - I don't really care when a Champion fights a N00b, unless it's there to advance the plot, but even so, I don't care about the scene itself.  Either even matches, or slightly uneven matches that could really go bad for the hero if he's not careful.

Examples:
Rand taking on Toram Riatin, A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time, book 7)
Josua taking on the Thrithingsman (can't remember his name), Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, book 2)

2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?

Two much description or too little description.  I want to know what happens, so telling me "Bob slew Greg," doesn't do much for me.  On the other hand, I don't need to read seven pages about every flick of the wrist, every angle of the sword, or every breath the fighters take (I'm looking at you, R.A. Salvatore). 

Examples:
Every Drizzt fight ever.
That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?
Robert Jordan gets this again, Tad Williams does a good job, GRRM is pretty good (though I don't enjoy his writing style), Brandon Sanderson gets the job done (and improves with every book he writes).


Some really awesome advice there and so too is there everywhere else on this thread. Certainly have a lot to take away with me and research now - I've never read Tad Williams - so I will check him out. GRRM I'm reading now, so I'll certainly make notes whilst reading.

One thing I wonder about a fight, is how much emotion should you put into it? Should you put equal emotion with action, should it be all action and emotion only before / after?
Founder: http://fantasy-faction.com
Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
Host: Fantasy-Faction's Grim Gathering

Offline MTMaenpaa

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2011, 06:21:15 AM »
One thing I wonder about a fight, is how much emotion should you put into it? Should you put equal emotion with action, should it be all action and emotion only before / after?

I think that should really depend on the perspective of the fight as well as the context.  Is it a job?  Is the character a professional?  Or are they a rank amateur fighting for survival?  Is it one-on-one or a bar brawl?  Is it a mass-scale battle with multiple fronts?

I've been spending a fair amount of time writing brawls, gunfights and duels of sword, sorcery and pistols.  Different characters have different fights and have differing priorities.  My main fights quick and dirty, wanting to shut down the fight as quickly as possible.  He errs towards cold and calculating so the emotional content comes after wards.  On the opposite I have a duelist, also a drunken rake, that is usually more skilled than his opponents and takes great pleasure in toying with them.  Writing his perspective, I find myself lingering on his glee and rush of adrenaline.
Foodie, Chef, Writer, Reader, Father, Geek

http://laughingcook.wordpress.com/

Offline Overlord

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2011, 08:59:38 AM »
One thing I wonder about a fight, is how much emotion should you put into it? Should you put equal emotion with action, should it be all action and emotion only before / after?

I think that should really depend on the perspective of the fight as well as the context.  Is it a job?  Is the character a professional?  Or are they a rank amateur fighting for survival?  Is it one-on-one or a bar brawl?  Is it a mass-scale battle with multiple fronts?

I've been spending a fair amount of time writing brawls, gunfights and duels of sword, sorcery and pistols.  Different characters have different fights and have differing priorities.  My main fights quick and dirty, wanting to shut down the fight as quickly as possible.  He errs towards cold and calculating so the emotional content comes after wards.  On the opposite I have a duelist, also a drunken rake, that is usually more skilled than his opponents and takes great pleasure in toying with them.  Writing his perspective, I find myself lingering on his glee and rush of adrenaline.

I have a rather unique perspective on a fight, seeing as I've actually fought professionally in Mixed Martial Arts and Thai Boxing. Whenever I entered a ring or a cage I always felt a rush of emotion. Fear and excitement basically but as soon as the fight started there was nothing there. It is weird, but all you think about is finish quickly, finish quickly... I don't really think there was anything other than instinct. When a fight was over it was all emotion, if you lost you felt like crying, if you won it was just a surge of happiness and joy.

The reason I mention this is because when my teacher in college had us doing fight scenes he would always comment; 'You need to imagine what it would feel like to be in a fight. Aplin should be good at this' or something along those lines. Actually I found it really hard because to me... a fight was simply about go in, get out. lol. If I had to describe my perfect fight - it would be about 30 seconds long, end quickly and end simply. No heroics, just a simple strike.

Just so you know I'm not lying :P  ::)


I guess an unplanned fight or a battle with weapons would be different, but I always found it funny how actually having a fight hindered me writing them! :D
Founder: http://fantasy-faction.com
Editor: Fantasy-Faction Anthology (Aug 2014)
Author: "Son of…" in 1853 (2013)
Host: Fantasy-Faction's Grim Gathering

Offline The Mad Hatter

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2011, 03:44:30 PM »
One thing I wonder about a fight, is how much emotion should you put into it? Should you put equal emotion with action, should it be all action and emotion only before / after?

I think that should really depend on the perspective of the fight as well as the context.  Is it a job?  Is the character a professional?  Or are they a rank amateur fighting for survival?  Is it one-on-one or a bar brawl?  Is it a mass-scale battle with multiple fronts?

I've been spending a fair amount of time writing brawls, gunfights and duels of sword, sorcery and pistols.  Different characters have different fights and have differing priorities.  My main fights quick and dirty, wanting to shut down the fight as quickly as possible.  He errs towards cold and calculating so the emotional content comes after wards.  On the opposite I have a duelist, also a drunken rake, that is usually more skilled than his opponents and takes great pleasure in toying with them.  Writing his perspective, I find myself lingering on his glee and rush of adrenaline.

Hah! This is a fun one. As an aside, I used to be the one your mother warned you about. Seriously. Bar room brawls, street fights, fights playing hockey. I won, and I lost. So I know a lot about fights.

Do you feel emotion during a fight? Yes. Can you waste time on it? No, not if you want to win. Winning fighters keep the emotion under control. If you let emotion control you, you'll end up loosing.

Again, do you have time for it? I can remember a guy taking a swing at me without warning. I didn't have time to be emotional, all I had time to do was fight. So your character may spend all of their time responding, and then puke their guts out afterward in reaction.

People who do a lot of fighting have to develop a layer of scar tissue over their emotions. If you fight a lot, you can't have doubts. The people who have doubts don't fight a lot, and when they do fight, they loose. Even if you know you are up against someone better than you are, and you know it, and he knows it, you don't have time for emotions. All you have time for is trying to win, because after all, even if he is better, he might make a mistake, or you might get a lucky hit in. I've had this happen, guy was way better than I was, but I hit first, and did enough damage that he couldn't fight properly.

A good way to loose is to go into a fight mad. You don't think straight when you are mad, and do stupid things. If I could, I tried to make the person I was fighting mad as hell. Oh the first bit after he lost his temper might be a bit rough, but someone who's furious makes a ton of mistakes. Making mistakes looses fights.

Cowards loose the fight twice. Once when it starts, and once when it ends. The emotions that a coward has to face can tear them apart in the aftermath of a fight.

Anyway, there's some observations from someone who you wouldn't have wanted to meet in a dark alley.

Wayne aka The Mad Hatter