September 20, 2019, 02:40:23 AM

Author Topic: Fight Scenes...  (Read 19653 times)

Offline Yora

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #30 on: December 10, 2014, 11:00:42 PM »
Old thread, timeless topic. Why start a new thread if this one is still good?

I just watched the last James Bond movie for the first time, and once again I had myself thinking many times "people don't die that way!".
I am actually not a huge fan of violence in stories and really don't want to see all the gory details either in books or movies. But what I dislike almost as much as sensless mutilations in great detail is when a story treats fights to the death casually. All to often, we get the hero running into some enemies and he basically just waves his sword at them a few times and then enemies simply cease to exist. Nothing bad happened, nobody was in danger, nobody died.

This falls both under "whats makes good fight scenes" and "what makes bad fight scenes".

There are some cases in which a lucky hit, be it with sword, arrow, or bullet, makes a person drop dead on the spot. But that's rare. If a person doesn't fall dead instantly, dying happens gradually. Getting a thrown knife into the back can very likely lead to death. But a person won't turn around, take three steps, say something witty, and then drop dead. Or get hit by a bullet, run 15 minutes through the night, sit down for three minuts seemingly fine, and then suddenly fall over and be dead 10 seconds later.
If a hit does not destroy the nervous system, the person first needs to lose a lot of blood before death. First he will get continously weaker, then be unable to walk or stand, then fall uncoinscious, and only after some more time has passed actually die. Unless you have someone with healing magic showing up in the next 10 to 15 minutes, there's not a lot that could be done in a fantasy setting. But I really hate it in modern world and especially sci-fi settings when everyone starts mourning the dead, even though they should be using the next 30 minutes they still might have to get an ambulance or a medic or something for the person who just passed out.

And that's not just for the main characters, but goes for bystanders and minor enemies as well. Tapping someone in the chest with a sabre won't make the person die immediately. At that point, it really becomes a tricky game of trying a good balance between being semi-realistic and and sparing the audience the gory details. Having someone sneak up on a guard and silently putting a hand on his mouth and a knive into the chest is completely unrealistic, but I think there are not many people who really would want to know why said character know looks like he's on his way home from a double-shift at a butcher shop. Some degree of abstraction is both desirable and necessary. But I really don't like the idea of killing enemies with a thrown knife or a single arrow, and that guy just falls down without yelling for his buddies for help. There's a good chance he still has a couple of days before he dies from that wound If he dies.

Which brings me to my main point.
Yes, of course there is such a thing of not thinking of your enemies as people and justifying their deaths as deserved. But I think even experienced veteran warriors should at least aknowledge that they are entering a life and death situation in which it comes down to kill or be killed. No hero should be that great that he runs through a castle and "some sword waving to the left" and "some sword waving to the right" until he reaches an enemy with a name or impressive looking armor.
In a chaotic battle or a paniced flight, it's okay to have a character just lash out blindly and hit "someone" and not looking back to check what that strike actually did. But I really would prefer if every enemy would be treated as a major threat. If you have a super big badass hero, he can still be a walking death machine if he kills 10 enemies in a single battle. And that would be enough even for a really big and important battle in the story where the hero really can show off, because everyone else defeated maybe one or two enemies, and most people actually just died or were critically injured before they killed anyone. I think it's better to have a big hero fight fewer enemies and describe each of the fights, instead of just throwing some dozens or hundreds at him who die three at a time in the same sentence. (Movies are quite bad at this, but some videogames can be much worse, with literally over 1,000 kills in just 4 hours of play.)
There is one protagonist, who shall be unnamed here, who is stabbed in the back with a pitchfork by a boy of whom is only known that his name was Rob and that he owed two silverpieces to the owner of the tavern. And of course there are so many classic stories of big heroes who were hit by an arrow in battle or got stabbed in a tavern brawl or in their sleep. Even the greatest warrior hero should not run by enemies without paying them any real attention, unless he has supernatural powers that make him virtually immortal.
I really don't like to see "He ran past the two orcs and quickly finished them off with quick slices from his sabre". Either the hero just died some amazing swordplay or those two orcs are not dead and still behind him. In either case, I think the writer should go into more detail. If it's amazing accuracy, then describe that. If it's violent hacking that requires seven hits on the orcs to drop them to the ground, then describe that.
I think it's necessary because I am such a huge fan of carnage, but actually because I am not. If you have to have your character kill people in your story, then it should have impact and meaning. A character should not have a high body count just to make him look "cool". Killing people without a care is not "cool", that's insane. If the character kills, then the killing of people should be part of his personalty, have an impact on him, and occupy much of his throught. If you don't want your character to have to deal with such things, then make the character not kill.

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Ringbearer
  • *****
  • Posts: 6961
  • Total likes: 4738
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #31 on: December 10, 2014, 11:31:42 PM »
I like Yora's posts.  They always push for better.  A dose of frustarted/unhappy mixed with well-thought-out discriminating taste.

Yes, I agree.  From Star Wars to Bond to the LOTR movies, films and TV are filled with this.  I haven't noticed it as much in books.

While working on my current in-progress story, I found myself faced with an incredibly unrealistic situation if I continued as I'd planned.  All of a sudden, my main character also realized how stupid she was being and she completely RAN AWAY.  And hid.  It was exciting, because I've just not experienced up to now a character who made a decision I didn't expect.

Back to your point, there is a clear devaluation of life when we wave a wand and they all fall down.  The most satisfying stories for me are where it's hard.  (Though Star Wars and LOTR do get a pass.). If memory serves, the Bourne movies did this pretty well.  Bujold's Vorkosigan novels deal with injury, struggle and death quite well. 

Better stories! Let's write 'em.


Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7180
  • Total likes: 755
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #32 on: December 10, 2014, 11:58:24 PM »
Star Wars does it quite cleverly with the laser weapons, because they not only cause killing wounds, they cauterise at them at the same time.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #33 on: December 29, 2014, 01:15:36 AM »
For me, they're quick (not dragging on too long), vivid without being confusing, and grounded deeply enough in a characters point of view that the emotions and perceptions ring true. Details about the mechanics of the moves tend to knock me out and bore me. Even an expert fighter accomplishes many things unconsciously. I think some writers tend to showcase their research or real-world expertise by tossing in too many exhaustive details sometimes. You can say he/she parried an attacker's thrust without describing the physics of how he/she did it.

I tend to lose interest if the description becomes cartoonish, replete with head butts and superheroish awesomeness. I want the sounds, smells, tastes of the battle, but I also want to feel what the character feels, whether it's fear, resignation, exhaustion, boredom or whatever. I don't really like it when combat is portrayed as amusing or heroic, unless it's a lighthearted, swashbuckling sort of story.

Offline SarahW

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #34 on: December 29, 2014, 04:51:55 AM »
1. What makes a good Fight Scene?

As someone who prefers psychological thriller type stories, one that uses their wits. Such as battles of wills and book smarts.

2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?

In my humble opinion, one that relies to heavily on action rather than over understanding of the facts. For example I don't find simple good vs. bad with clashing swords satisfying.

3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?

This I'm not sure, as I've mostly read not actioney stories (or the action doesn't rely on fight scenes very much.) Case in point: P.L. Travers, Katherine Patterson, Roald Dalh. Which is strange as he was actually a world war II fighter pilot. Maybe his adult fiction is different.

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7180
  • Total likes: 755
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #35 on: December 29, 2014, 11:09:31 PM »
1. What makes a good Fight Scene?

As someone who prefers psychological thriller type stories, one that uses their wits. Such as battles of wills and book smarts.

2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?

In my humble opinion, one that relies to heavily on action rather than over understanding of the facts. For example I don't find simple good vs. bad with clashing swords satisfying.

3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?

This I'm not sure, as I've mostly read not actioney stories (or the action doesn't rely on fight scenes very much.) Case in point: P.L. Travers, Katherine Patterson, Roald Dalh. Which is strange as he was actually a world war II fighter pilot. Maybe his adult fiction is different.
Dahl was also an intelligence officer during WW II. He worked with and for Ian Fleming, and later did the screen treatments for You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, both written by Fleming. His short fiction Tales of the Unexpected has some rather macabre and chilling work in it.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline Yora

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #36 on: December 30, 2014, 11:45:53 AM »
He also saw considerable action as a fighter pilot and was confirmed to shot down at least enemy aircraft, and probably a lot more. A lot more than an armchair general.

Offline jacobthomas

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #37 on: January 03, 2015, 09:25:30 AM »
This has been a very enlightening thread.
I've only written three fight scenes in anger. Two are in my current WIP. Having all these insights should give me a better critical approach to editing those scenes.

So thanks.

Offline SarahW

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #38 on: January 05, 2015, 04:10:41 AM »
Fight scenes have always been something I've been lukewarm about anyway. Like it's not the scene itself, but rather the why of the scene.

Its somewhat the kind, but the why matters more to me. Like
Spoiler for Hiden:
while not a fantasy, the Phantom had a duel with Clarisse's fiance at in the movie. Not sure if this is the same in the book.

Thus I've always been very leery about fight scenes. I think they could work.

Offline Yora

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #39 on: January 05, 2015, 01:29:57 PM »
In movies and TV, most fight scenes actually bore me. But books are not immune to that either.

The reason is that the actual fighting is very often almost all effect but no narrative. With those fight scenes the only part that is important for the narrative and the character development is who wins it and who is still alive at the end.
I just read an Elric story in which Elric and his sidekick want to see the leader of a horde of barbarians. They get their horses, leave their city, and as they approach the barbarian camp, they get attacked by a patrol of a dozen sentries. The super-badass almost-immortal with the most powerful weapon in the world against a dozen unnamed "guards" he encounters on the road. This fight scene was completely pointless, because it was obvious how it will turn out. Elric wins without any trouble. At no point was there any question about who would live or die, win or lose, or how the outcome of the fight would affect either the hero or the plot.

There is an excelent article on staging and handling fight scenes which adresses roleplaying games, but I think most of the points apply to writing stories as well. The most important one probably being the idea of "dramatic questions". Which are "what are our heroes currently trying to accomplish and will they succeed?"
With the scene I just mentioned, the dramatic question would be "Will Elric survive this fight and be able to continue his journey?". And since we know beforehand that yes, he will defeat them all without getting injured and not be slowed down at all, this is a scene that does not need to be told. In movies, there's always these scenes in which the heroes kill of a huge bunch of random enemy soldiers. The dramatic question is "will the heroes kill these nameless soldiers and reach the main villain?" And of course we know what kind of movie it is and that our guys are the heroes, so we know the answer is "yes". So nothing actually happens except blood and explosions. In a movie, these might at least look impressive, but in a book you don't get even that.

Counterexample: In one of his stories, Conan is fumbling through a pitch black dungeon below an ancient city to find his female companion who had just been snatched away from him. He is getting close to her, but runs into a huge tentacle beast that attacks him. The first dramatic question would be "does Conan survive this fight?" He is Conan, so we know he does. But there is more. "Can Conan kill this beast quickly enough to still be able to rescue the woman?" Now it's getting interesting. Because this is a Conan story and he loses a lot of friends and allies to terrible fates all the time. And as it turns out, this monster is really difficult to kill and Conan takes some really serious wounds from the beast and gets poisoned as well. We can still be sure that he will not die. But will the monster die? And he is still not done with it, how much more time will Conan lose here? And once he gets rid of the beast, will he still be in any condition where he can save anyone?
It's not a spectacular fight scene, but the things that happen during it matter. It's not enough to skip ahead to the end of the scene, when Conan will have won as we know he will. Because during the fight things will happen to Conan and the monster that will be important for the scenes that follow it.

Offline RaggaDruid

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #40 on: January 06, 2015, 09:14:17 PM »
I think a lot about writing fight scenes has to do with understanding fighting... I practised fencing for some years...

Just a quick suggestion, check this youtube channel, it's by a guy that practices and teaches HEMA, and there are a lot of videos that have helped me to understand how certain weapons function, how a fight happens, how it ends, etc...

https://www.youtube.com/user/scholagladiatoria/videos
Sorry for the bad english, not my first language...

Offline Yora

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #41 on: January 11, 2015, 12:17:23 PM »
I just stumbled upon a really good article On Thud and Blunder by Poul Anderson. It deals with more things than just combat and some of the things he says are a bit outdated, but I think overall this is probably one of the best "quick" guides to all the most common mistakes people make when writing about combat and transportation in premodern worlds. For writers who are not also history nuts, I would recommend reading at least this one article, if nothing else.

Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #42 on: January 11, 2015, 02:35:07 PM »
For me a good fight scene starts with the reason for the fight. It needs to be something more than the people involved wanting to beat up/kill each other. There needs to be something more at stake other than their own well-being. A fight taking place when a bomb will explode in eight minutes has more tension than a fight where they can take all the time they want.

As for pace and length it depends on the type of fighting. For me a gun fight by the nature of the weapons should have a faster pace than a sword fight. Swords don't jam or run out of ammunition...neither do fists for that matter. It is also very hard to kill someone with one punch vs. killing someone with one shot (Indiana Jones vs. the Swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark). The number of people involved also has a huge impact on length. Is it one-on-one, five-on-one, or ten vs. ten. Also do you consider a fight between two armies one scene or each individual clash between main characters one scene. Do many scenes together make a battle?

An author I like is Matthew Reilly. His novels have long battles that take place in several places at the same time, with many characters involved. There is always more at stake than the character's lives and the outcomes are unexpected for many of the characters.
K.S. Crooks- Author
www.kscrooks.com

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #43 on: January 26, 2015, 10:36:11 AM »
This video on reconstructed combat archery is a real eye-opener, and well worth a watch. The guy has some insane archery skills.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEG-ly9tQGk

The Traitor God & God of Broken Things

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Ringbearer
  • *****
  • Posts: 6961
  • Total likes: 4738
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Re: Fight Scenes...
« Reply #44 on: January 26, 2015, 11:36:28 AM »
I recall someone posted some fascinating videos of "real sword fighting" recently.  Nothing like the amazing tricks of archery.  More like: you thought it was Errol Flynn style dueling? No it was hammering and crunching.

Have been trying to locate the video links and the post, but can't find them.  Ring a bell for anyone?
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com