Greetings, fellow hobbyists, and first let me apologize for my delays in getting out a new writing guide. I took a month off from AC as a private “boycott,” for reasons which I shall not get into. This had zero affect on AC, nor on my stats, apparently, as I’ve jumped a clout level in a month without any promotions or new articles on my part. I feel so…so ineffectual. *sniffle*
And right about this time is the perfect moment to take out some of that helpless anger on some hapless, unsuspecting target. Of course, it would be rude to just jump someone in public and beat them up. And, being honest, there’s probably a fifty-fifty chance that I could end up getting my can handed to me on a platter, with fries. Also, I don’t like getting out at this time of year. It’s kinda cold, you know?
So yeah, now is a good time to turn to our blank page again. In our previous lessons, we’ve killed off enemies and framed others for our crimes. If you want to continue working those story lines out, then the set up this time is simple. Your cop character has cornered the monster or human that you framed, and now the fight is just about to begin!
You have a lot of options here. Perhaps you might go with the old fashioned fisticuff slugfest, where two guys go mano a mano and trade blows until one guy drops. Or, you can go with a kung-fu fight, where both opponents are almost dancing as they weave, bob and sway to attack, defend and counterattack. You can go with a bloody street fight, were any object brought to hand can become a valid weapon. You don’t believe me? In Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the crime boss beats a man to death with a black silicone dildo. Yeah. Think about the schmuck who’s standing in line when Saint Peter unveils that nugget of humor to the crowd behind him. “Oh damn, folks! Stop the presses! This guy got flopped to death by twelve inches of black rubber dong!”
Ahem, my point is, there is very little you should limit yourself to when crafting a fight scene. However, one rule that you must obey is show, don’t tell. Don’t just tell the readers, “They traded blows. What a great fight! You shoulda been there to see it!” Your job as the writer is to make the reader feel like they were there, so really help them to see it, and make them feel like they’re standing just off to the side of the fight, in the best position to watch all the most brutal hits.
An important point to keep in mind is that your cop does not have to win. This could be an early fight in the overall plot of a book, and so maybe this time, you let your “bad guy” get the drop on the cop. Or, maybe this is the last fight but the bad guy still wins. (well, you did frame him, so it wouldn’t be wrong.) You can always go back and do another version where the hero wins too, but in this way, you “play with the formula,” and then you can decide where you prefer to see the balance set. Will your heroes always have easy fights with no tension? Or will you let the villain put in some good shots, to give the readers doubts about the outcome? Or why not just defy reader expectations and let the bed guy win decively? Really, every choice is valid here, so let your mind wander.
Let me return to the analogy of a fight as a dance. It’s true that you could have two guys just stand in place, each of them landing one punch and waiting for the other guy to take a turn. It worked for Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way You Can, and it can work for you too. But even if this is effective sometimes, you will want to move on to more advanced fights.
So think about boxing. Boxers move around a ring for the duration of most of the early rounds. They don’t stay in place until they’re “tanking” and need to rely solely on whatever is left in their gut reserve. Amateurs stand in place for the whole fight, thinking it shows how tough they are. Boxers “fly” or dance, and they vary up the patterns of their punches to confuse their opponents. They throw blocks to counter punches and jabs.
A fist fight is a learned skill for a boxer, and like the boxer, you must learn how to build a better fight. You need to think about where blows land. If you hit a guy twice in the head, odds are good that on the third time, he’ll bring up an arm to block. Honestly, you only need to hit a guy twice for them to learn anything. Once he has blocked that punch, what else happens? Does he get in a free shot with his other hand? or does his opponent counter by driving a knee into some conveniently exposed ribs? If you close your eyes and think about where all fours arms are right now, you should even be able to see the exposed side. So, if you can see it, now you need to ask, is it a weak kick from the leg on the same side as the fighter’s clutched arms? Or does the agressor pull his opponent’s arm down while diving his other legs up for a body blow?
Once you’re comfortable with a complex fight, you can begin to spread out and scale upwards, with multiple fights being described in the same scene. You might even go for the mega gore that is a medieval battle. Swords! Axes! Pikes! Blood and guts! Lots of exclamation points! Hell yes! Where’s my sword?!?! (Actually, you should NEVER use ?!?! in your fiction writing -nor ?!, or !?, or even !!- unless you are posting on the Internet, and you are trying to be sarcastic. Like now.)
With practice, this could end up becoming one of your favorite exercises, right next to killing your enemies and framing them. It should be a staple of all action writing, and any horror story is generally helped by having a good fist fight. No, trust me on this one. Four out of five guys agree on this point, and the fifth guy is just being pissy because he prefers guns and bazookas. And, that’s okay, too. But that is a topic for another writing guide, some day later.
We’ve mostly been a bloodthirsty crew around this place, and as a writer, you’re now picking up a ghastly set of tools that fill you with delightful malice every time you use them. And while these wickedly sharp tools are fun to carve details into your story, to really make something, we need to move to the “power tools,” character development and plot. Without these vital tools, every scene you write is just that, a scene. Once it is over, it is easily forgotten, because the reader has invested nothing in the characters, nor in the events.
They may like what they read, but it’s not enough to stick with them. It makes your fiction the potato chip of short stories. You don’t want to be the potato chip. You want to be steak and potatoes, something to stick with the reader for a little while, and maybe even to leave them feeling content for taking the time to check out your stuff. Just because you write as a hobby, doesn’t mean you can’t try for something more compleeling, and I say to you again, without character development or plot, your efforts are diminished.
This is why in the next writing guide, we will begin profiling some of our characters with a nifty writing exercise, the interview with your killer. (Sit down Louis, you already had an Interview, and nobody cares.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first half of the writing series, and I hope you’ll continue to stick with me as I move into some abstract topics relating to the aforementioned power tools. Until next time, keep it creepy.