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Author Topic: Choreographing a fight scene?
Isaac Pavel Rozhdestvensk
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I wish to write a novel that involves fight scenes both hand to hand and with weapons, is there a particular guide somewhere on the internet I could read to get a basic idea of sword fighting and hand to hand principles so I could avoid making basic mistakes? I wish to avoid "Did Not Do the Research" trope.

I think starting from a position of having no knowledge and discarding pre conceptions I can get a basic alright flowing "scene" that won't alienate an expert or a hobbyist in the fields.

The characters in question would also be "starting out" as well so it makes sense if the best they can do is basic technique.


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aspirit
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Firstly, know the weapons. There are significant differences to how scimitars, katanas, broadswords, rapiers, etcetera are used. For hand to hand combat, know what body parts your characters would be taught to use, and how. Usually, beginners won't use more than fists, feet, (maybe shins) and elbows. Also, some fighters will only use their bodies and tools crafted specifically as weapons, while other fighters will use random objects in a fight. How creative or desperate are your fighters?

Secondly, keep in mind that fighting hurts when the body and mind aren't conditioned for it... Okay, I'll admit: it can hurt, anyway. However, the first time a person punches or kicks something even remotely hard, the results for the attacker can range from a temporary stinging sensation to broken bones. Sword practice, even with practice sword made of light wood (or with an imaginary sword!), quickly tires a beginner's muscles. A person who is strong in the fields isn't necessarily strong on the battlefield, because different muscles are used.

Thirdly, keep the description short. Your ignorance will come through in a too-long fight scene, and you'd risk boring your audience. As with other types of scenes, provide only as much as necessary to set the mood, progress the plot, or show characterization. Don't try to show off.

RECOMMENDED REFERENCES

Decent as a starting point - Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_swords
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts

Even better for the sword fighting - Society for Creative Anachronism:
http://www.sca.org/geography/findsca.html
Find out if there's an SCA group near you. Call up that group's "Seneschal" and tell him/her that you're a writer in need of a fighter's help for a story. They'll probably give you way too much information, so make sure you're ready to direct them with questions.

[This message has been edited by aspirit (edited October 20, 2009).]


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jezzahardin
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Great tips from aspirit.

I would also add not to get too into the blow-by-blow. It isn't uncommon for martial arts or battle experts to write about their art and be completely boring, because the mechanics of fighting are only exciting to the people that understand those mechanics. Now, if you explain those mechanics first, you won't have to do it in the action bit. But if you are explaining offensive and defensive manoeuvres during the action, it risks being boring.

A way around this is to describe it in metaphor. Use a few blows early on to relay that your characters know their swords or spears or martial arts, but slip into how the characters think of it.

Wheel of Time books do this very well. Rand learns sword forms. Bull rushes the reeds, or swallow in flight, or what-have-you. The good thing about this is that it conjures a mental picture during the action, and it flows in a way that conveys the action, excitement, adrenaline, and danger without ever getting boring.

So I would suggest mixing a few details of the technicalities, or prep your reader with training sequences for the terminology, that way the fight itself can flow. It needs to move fast, feel fast, and be visceral.


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rich
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May not be your cup of tea, but you should look at some of the military/action fiction books to see how others do it. I don't think you have to read the whole thing, just flip through til you get to an action sequence. Also, it depends on how realistic you want to get it.

As others have said, though, a little goes a long way.


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Bent Tree
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The only advice that I can offer which has not already been given is from a readers standpoint.

It is important to slow it down enough to know which actions are attributed to each combatant. I cannot tell you how many fight scenes that are too jumbled to read with comprehension on the first go around. Also POV is very important. Blows hurt and this will not only affect the clarity of the POV characters frame of mind but will also disable he or she from the physical abilities he or she may have had before. There are some adrenaline rush characteristics which will amplify these abilities but I read too many times with disbelfief that a character uses an arm which has a severed tendon and muscle damage to swing a forty five pound sword to deliver a game saving blow.

I find that scenes in which a paragragh is reserved to describe each "turn" seems to work well. Even if the paragragh is very short the sepparation make it easier to comprehend.

[This message has been edited by Bent Tree (edited October 20, 2009).]


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goldhawk
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I would recommend that you take a martial arts class. There is nothing like first-hand experience.

And I agree with Bent Tree, the POV character is very important. Choose one character and stick with him or her throughout the fight. Describe what happens to him or her and how s/he responds, moment to moment. Afterwards, if it's important, you can have the entire battle described to the character.


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Isaac Pavel Rozhdestvensk
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Basically it is a urban fantasy novel, my Power Trio is a Wizard, a Miko who is omnispecialist in swords and similar using whatever is needed for the current fight but usually a katana and I wish for her to incorporate "dancing" into her combat style, and what I'm calling a "Gunsmith" someone who specializes in firearms but eventually proceeds to using a gunblade which I imagine works on the same principle of a broadsword but has the added advantage of a range attack.


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Elan
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The author is often far more entranced with the details of the weapons than is the reader. I personally find detailed descriptions of fight scenes boooooooring. What I want to know is: what is the emotional reation of the MC (fear? determination? berzerker hilarity? overwhelm?), and if any of the principle characters took a hit. The rest of it can be glossed over, and I'm happier for it. In my opinion, a fight scene should never be more than a few paragraphs long. The angst leading up to the battle or following it is what I find of interest.
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Isaac Pavel Rozhdestvensk
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I tend to prefer the RA Salvatore school of thought with fight scenes, though I think he tends to over do it a bit for the last few books.
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posulliv
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I have no association with the site below but at the bottom of the page is a downloadable pdf with an introduction and illustrations of European-style sword fighting. I don't know if it is accurate or not.

http://www.sword-buyers-guide.com/sword-fighting-schools.html

The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts might provide useful information as well:

http://www.thearma.org/

You could also search for 'fechtbuch' on Google books to see if some of the German books are available. If you are the scholarly type and seek more sources there is a fulltext bibliography from the 1890's available for download.

I recall that there is a 15th or 16th century Italian book available on line with illustrations, but it may not be all that useful. It is principally a practical guide to killing or maiming with as little 'fighting' as possible.

If you want to write a realistic fight scene then I suggest the recent news video of the schoolboy being beaten to death in Chicago is as real as it gets:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33057768/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts

A quick review of the article on the Johns Hopkins student who recently killed an intruder with a Japanese sword is also instructive:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-md.samurai16sep16,0, 114199.story


[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited October 20, 2009).]


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Architectus
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This is such a broad question because there are so many fighting styles. Obviously, study the fighting styles your character use. If he is a street brawler or if he has trained for the UFC makes a big difference.

There are even different styles for using the katana.

I would recommending reading The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum. He handles fight scenes well.

The knife fight scene is Dune is good.

You could go to, umm, http://www.expertvillage.com/categories.htm

and type in Katana or whatever. There are lots of videos you can learn from. You could also go to ehow and read short bulleted articles about subjects like fighting techniques with katana and such.

Have fun.


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Teraen
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Just remember that cinematics are for movies. There is a reason that a show like the Matrix is a cinematic hit, but would be really boring to read such a fight scene in text. Somethings are visual and don't translate well to text.

I echo what has been said. I really don't want a blow by blow description, I only want to know how it impacts the story. For instance, if your character has a fighting style of dancing, I don't suppose it will go over well in text unless it somehow impacts the plot: Is such a style harder to learn? If so, does it put her at a disadvantage to opponents? If so, why does she choose it? Does it make her more deadly? How does she use it? Are there styles she can't defeat? People who can't defeat her?

To me, these questions are what drives a story. How does it impact the story? What is the reason they need one style vs another? That is more moving than the technical details of one foot goes here, and then she punched here, and then she twisted and kicked... etc...

A cool movie that demonstrates this is The Cleric. There is an entire martial arts style that would be impossible to describe well in writing (it is fun to watch, though...) But how it impacts the story is what strengths a knowledge of this style gives the MC, and how he uses it to defeat the bad guys.

my $0.02


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Isaac Pavel Rozhdestvensk
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Isn't most more 'realistic' fighting though short in real life?
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Robert Nowall
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I try to be realistic about my fight scenes...but, let's face it, the last time I was in a fight was in the seventh or eighth grade, and I haven't spent much time watching and learning how to fight, or to write about fighting, since.

I try to avoid characters coming to blows...in my last story (the one I was complaining about over in the "Did You Write?" section) one character attacks another, but the action takes place under the surface of a lake and out of the sight of the narrator. Realistic? Probably not.

(Not that I haven't learned a few things...I was watching a movie ("Secondhand Lions") and watched a knife fight...I started bitching about how they don't know how to hold a knife...imagine my amusement when, a couple seconds after I bitched, one of the guys in the fight starts bitching about the same thing...amused me no end, let me tell you.)


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MartinV
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You could take a look at this:
http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/index.php?showtopic=1037618

It's a fantasy based forum but this thread was about realism.


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ScardeyDog
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I agree that it really depends what type of weapon you are using. If your MC is using a rapier or European-style duelling blade I would recommend you look into fencing more than SCA. The USFA and CFF have good information. In actual combat I think epee would be more appropriate than foil as it doesn't matter who has the right of way when both people are stabbed through the chest.

Another thing that is common to all fighting (as far as I can tell from doing fencing and watching UFC, boxing, etc...) is distance and timing. The distance will change depending on the length of your weapon, but it is something you need to be aware of at all times. Surprising your opponent, striking while they are off-balance, or drawing an attack when they are out of distance are all common tactics.


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ScardeyDog
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Oh, and from what I understand Kendo uses a lot of hand strikes to disable your oponents abitily to use their katana.
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Nick T
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Hi Isaac,

Please take all the following with a grain of salt. My experience is based upon a handful of very low-level (and technically sloppy) MMA fights and about five years sporadic training. I’ve also done four or five classes in blade fighting, but it wasn’t really my thing.

IMO, the most important thing is the POV character’s emotions, thoughts and reactions as most of the others have said. Fights are fast and visceral. The only additional comment I have there is that the POV character’s thoughts and reactions would be most explicit before and after the fight.As per Elan, I care about the moments leading up to the fight and the moments afterwards when I’m reading. During a fight, there’s not a great deal of intricate thought. Someone very experienced can note technical gaps in their opponent’s technique, but it’s more instinctual than rational. As Bent Tree has mentioned, good command of POV is important for the reader’s sake in battle scenes. One point I’ll add is that it may not necessarily be clear to the POV character what is happening in a fight. I can imagine a big melee is pretty confusing.

My comments below are restricted to one-on-one combat. Most movies, etc. are ridiculously unrealistic when it comes to multiple fighters against one person. Everything I’ve read about melees is that they normally involved a great deal of random stabbing and hacking rather than delicate swordplay.

quote:
Isn't most more 'realistic' fighting though short in real life

In pure unarmed combat, fights between two untrained people are usually pretty short and don’t result in much damage before someone breaks it up. Both parties usually get exhausted within a minute or so. There are three reasons; the big adrenaline dump at the start of the fight is absolutely exhausting, poor technique is very energy inefficient (most people hold their breath as they punch…try doing it for thirty seconds at a high rate and see how tired you get) and most people don’t have the very specific type of fitness required for fighting (as noted by Aspirit). Most people will be exhausted after 30 seconds.

For two experienced fighters (and I’ll extrapolate to armed fighters) here, the adrenaline dump can be handled, they know how relax under pressure (i.e. keep breathing regularly) and they have trained for specific actions used in fighting.

My very brief experience in blade fighting (each party had a wooden “knife”) is that fights are also pretty short just because it’s very, very hard to avoid getting hit. With the proviso that the only defense in knife fighting is good distancing, most bouts lasted about five seconds before someone got stabbed in the face (usually me). I don’t know whether the true is the same in Kendo (which I imagine is the closest extrapolation for your type of fighting).


quote:
Another thing that is common to all fighting (as far as I can tell from doing fencing and watching UFC, boxing, etc...) is distance and timing.

Great point. Different types of weapons involve different ranges. While I don’t think of distance per se in sparring (might be different in fencing/weapons), a lot of the time I’ll be trying to find my distance and I’d imagine this is common across types of fighting. You might want to look at the sites mentioned by people above to get a feel for the length and weight of weapons. Your “gunblade” sounds like it would be huge advantage.

A good example of weapons + martial arts is the Dog Brothers and you can get a good idea of very unrestricted one on one combat through watching them on Youtube. While it is stick fighting combined with MMA, it should give you an idea of the distancing involved when the reach of weapons is a factor. If you ever felt the need to do this yourself, I would question your sanity.

Regards,

Nick


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