Jilly: Fighting Talk

Fighting TalkIt’s been almost a month since a random discussion with my hairdresser inspired me to have a try at writing fantasy. My initial plan was to give it a couple of weeks and then decide whether to carry on. I’m pleased to report that while the story is still a hot mess of fragments, impressions and loose ends, it’s shaping up well and I’m absolutely loving it.

Last Sunday’s discussion about baddies was super-helpful. It gave me just the nudge I needed to figure out that my story does indeed have a shadowy Big Bad. I haven’t figured out the ‘who’ and the most fundamental ‘why’ of him yet, but I’ve figured out what he does, and it’s not good. It will probably take my hero and heroine more than one book to bring him down. There’s also a good chance he might be a stooge for an even Bigger Bad.

I’m hoping I can get another boost today. I’m in uncharted waters, and I’m looking for tips and hints, from real life, or the interwebs, or fiction, that will help me write good fight scenes. I got some good expert advice this week with a promise of more, but I’m going to need all the help I can get if I’m going to make the story credible.

At the moment my fictional world has no guns, though it does have explosives, swords, crossbows and other traditional weapons. My hero is a career soldier, and so is his father, so I guess it’s a good thing I’m writing from my heroine’s point of view. She has some interesting skills including a lifetime of martial arts training, but she’s never been in a real fight in her life. I put her in one this week 🙂 .

I’m not writing some action-packed, testosterone-loaded adventure story with pages of blow and counter-blow, and I’m not aiming to get all specific about weaponry, but there is fighting and I’d like it to ring true. I’m also thinking a good fight scene (in my kind of story, at least) might have something in common with a good sex scene – it’s more than a detailed account of interacting body parts.

A couple of days ago I had tea with the husband of a good friend. He’s a martial arts expert and he kindly choreographed the moves of my heroine’s first fight. He also told me a few interesting things:

  • real fights typically don’t last very long, a few seconds, or minutes at the most, though they seem longer when you’re in them as time seems to slow down;
  • almost all the most effective moves which will win a street fight are banned in most ‘pure’ martial arts disciplines;
  • another reason fights don’t usually last very long is that the opponents are rarely equally matched. Usually one side has a gang of supporters and the other person is solo, or one is an experienced fighter and the other is a novice, or one is armed and the other is not.
  • an experienced fighter will try to distract their opponent. Talk to them, or somehow draw their attention away from what is about to happen;
  • an experienced fighter will often hear their opponent’s body making a move (and will respond accordingly) before they see it;
  • when a trained fighter is relaxed, flexible and loose, they may strike with heavy power that feels almost like a feather-light blow to the person delivering it, though not to the person on the receiving end.

I used almost all these points in My Girl’s first fight scene and I think I did a decent job of it, but it made me realise how much more My Girl and I need to learn. I’ve been looking for inspiration on my bookshelves.

There’s plenty of great fighting writing in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. It feels totally authentic, and I assume it’s because Gordon Andrews is ex-military. I love Kate, the heroine, but she’s too expert to really get my Girls speculating – she’s a mercenary and her skills have been honed from childhood in the most ruthless manner; plenty of the other characters are skilled and deadly, and weapons abound.

Probably closer to what I need is Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer’s contemporary romantic adventure Don’t Look Down, because the heroine, Lucy, is a movie producer who has no fighting skills but who finds herself embroiled with plenty of people who do, including the CIA, her Australian Special Forces ex-husband, and her Green Beret movie adviser. I’m sure the fighting stuff in this book was written by Bob (who’s an ex-Green Beret himself), including a brilliant bar fight scene. My treat for this evening is to re-read DLD and pay attention to the fighting, which I have always skimmed in favor of the romance, comedy and snarky dialogue.

Does anyone have any experiences or know-how they’d care to share, or suggestions for other good books, movies or any other fighting resource for a romance-loving softie like me?

Thank you!

7 thoughts on “Jilly: Fighting Talk

  1. I studied Tai Chi for several years. Although most people don’t think of it as a martial art, at the dojo where I studied, it was considered one. They taught that your chi, your inner energy, could be trained to use as a weapon. Two stories about that:

    1) When the dojo was being built and the grounds hadn’t been sodded yet, the owner and my instructor went to inspect the progress. When they got to the building, after walking across yards of mud, my instructor’s shoes were muddy, but the owner’s white leather shoes were pristine. He looked down and chuckled. “Your forgot to raise your chi.”

    2) We shared our lesson space with little boys learning tai kwon do. The boys would often intrude into our space (because slow-moving old people don’t need much space, apparently). One of my classmates got fed up with constantly being cut off by this one boy and when she did the hand extension that’s part of Commencement, she intentionally sent energy out through her palms. I actually saw the boy blink and involuntarily step back. After that, they stayed in their own space.

    • Thank you, Jeanne, you just made me very happy. You have no idea how useful that is to me. I predict that you’re about to become a priceless story resource. Hope you don’t mind and (assuming you don’t), please stand by for many, many more questions 😉 .

  2. Jilly, I did weekly archery classes for a couple of years with my husband and daughter. Recurve, though- crossbow packs too much of a wallop for my purposes. Also, I’ve been in a few fights, the real kind. Well, more than a few, but only a few serious ones, and only one where I really had to pull out all the stops. If you have questions about recurve bow archery or untrained fighting for the purpose of escape (I only fight until there is the opportunity to run- I MUCH prefer running!) just let me know what you want to know.

    • Jennifer – it would be incredibly helpful to have the opportunity to ask questions about both of those subjects. I have no doubt that if you can, running is the smartest option. I’ll email you. Thank you so much.

  3. Not to beat a dead horse, fiction-wise, but did you ever watch Buffy? It’s full of fights. Buffy has extraordinary powers, but she’s human, so she can’t call on magic—she has to train and practice and rely on her friends. She’s tremendously resourceful. Because she’s mortal, death hangs over her every day. Besides the fight scenes, Buffy has some great training scenes, where she’s standing on her head, meditating, until Dawn breaks her concentration and she falls. Like that. And in seven seasons, a gun appears exactly twice.

  4. I just read something about how women defend themselves from harrassment and molestation. The woman said her teacher taught that running away was the first and the best defense, which is really true. But yeah, we want to see a little . . . stress release. Some walloping, if you please. But not in such detail that we get bored or wonder if X body part really belongs in Y space. Like a sex scene, it’s going to be about feelings and moving the plot forward (-:.

    Oh, I thought I wouldn’t find it, but I did! Juliet McKenna: “A Martial Arts Perspective on ‘Why Women Smile at Men Who Harass Us'”. http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2008 She may have some other good fight stuff on her blog.

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