Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Writing a fight scene

One of the hardest things I find to write is an action scene.

There's a theory that when there's lot of action you should take your time over it, writing more rather than less. And I think this is useful. Most readers will have noted how, when the climax of a story is coming, the author gives more and more detail, expanding the big moment, even though it may in real terms all be over in a couple of seconds.

I'm in the middle of the draft of my fourth children's fantasy. It doesn't have a name at this point, so it's just book four. It picks up some leading characters from the other three books and throws them together in a new story, but one that hopefully connects back to the earlier books.

I've got a note to myself that in the climax of one chapter, where a villain is (probably temporarily) dealt with, that I need to fill this out more. Everything is over for the villain in a couple of sentences.

But today I've been trying to write a small fight scene, where the three main characters overcome three people on the opposite team, as it were. They can do it, but getting it all down on paper has required considerable writing and rewriting - even though this is still only the first real draft of the book. I don't want to skimp at this point because it's likely that what happens here will affect later scenes.

Who does what to who at which point, and who gets in first, and how do the baddies retaliate, and so on, all have to be taken into account. If I'm not careful the baddies could easily end up winning the scene!

Grimhilda intends to shoot Toby,
but his father stands in the way.
Photo by Ian Thomson
When my co-writer and I were working on the play of Grimhilda!, which came before the book version, we spent hours on making sure that on stage everything in the fight scene at the end would work. We made sure there would be time for a character to move from here to there before someone else did something to them...and so on. And then the director came along and ignored all our stage directions! I know that's not unusual, but when things work in the script, it's possibly wise to at least try those things out before changing them!

When I'm writing a book I'm not only the scriptwriter, but the director as well. This has its advantages, but it means you've got to careful to keep things tight as well as clear. You can't give one of your characters the upper hand by extending out how long they have to win when the rest of the characters have much less time. (Though you do see this done in the movies all the time.)

While your readers may be so excited at the fight itself they'll allow you as the author to get away with certain inconsistencies, I think it's valuable to know that if they fight was staged for real, it would work. Just one of those little disciplines we writers have to live with!


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