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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The (Totally) Phantom Menace

   
Author Topic: The (Totally) Phantom Menace
Osiris
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A friend shared this link with me today:

The (Totally) Phantom Menace

I think there are some good lessons to be learned about writing fight scenes here. The main one is this: if you're characters never seem like they are in any real danger in your battle scenes, then all tension is lost. It seems pretty obvious. I know some folks can be afraid to torture their characters in their fight scenes, but its an impulse best ignored.

I hope this is the appropriate place to post this, as I thought it useful for a discussion on writing fight scenes.

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C@R3Y
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Lol. Not me. I love torturing my characters in fight scenes. I'm just afraid of killing them if my torture is a bit too much.
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Jess
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that made me chuckle and is valid advice. if they always come out of a fight unscathed then things are too easy.
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Jess
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wait! I mean the advice about applying it to writing and putting your characters in danger in fights. Not the light saber fighting advice on the video . . .
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MattLeo
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The biggest problem I see with fight scenes is that writers try to do too much choreography and forget they're telling a story. It's ironic because the best film fight choreographers are master storytellers.

The subjective experience of having been in a fight is a useful one. What any reasonably even fight feels like is exactly *opposite* of how fights were sown the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie. Although that was poetic license, writers tend to underestimate how much a fighter has to be in the moment. You may have a plan, strategy or objective, but what happens at any instant is unpredictable. Writers make their fights too predictable, and they end up with lots of exposition that is not only unrealistic (not important) and uninteresting (very important).

I think the best approach is paint the fight in impressionistic terms, without too much detail. You simply can't capture the thrill of a Jackie Chan stunt by describing it in detail, any more than you do that with Pavarotti performing Nessum Dorma. It ends up just as silly.

Concentrate on objectives, obstacles and conditions, and let the reader's imagination supply most of the choreography.

By the way most of the choreography in the prequel Star Wars movies is clearly northern Chinese wushu, something I know a little about. It may look lame in slow motion, but believe me, those two man sets are all about going faster and cutting closer. You need excellent reflexes and weapon control. So even in a two man set where everything is pre-choreographed, your mind has to be in the present moment. When it wanders, bad things happen. I know one person who had his scalp stitched back on after having it cut off by a *dull* sword. Another who was late blocking and and got a spear point through his pectoral muscle; a half inch either way and it would have slipped between the ribs. I have personally broken bones on two occasion when my partner's attention wandered.

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Shaygirl
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@Mattleo love your info about the wushu! I'm taking Ryukyu Kempo which is a old Okinawan art. While we've not had anything broken yet, bloody noses and black eyes are not unheard of, especially with nunchucks. Anywho, Tte more I learn about fighting, the more I realize two things:

Flashy will get you killed

Precise will get you results

My writing has started to reflect it. I want to be realistic, and honestly, a fight that lasts longer then a couple of minutes, means the comabatants are either A. evenly matched, or B. (most likely) two people who don't know what they're doing.

So if it is one of those scenes where the villain knows more about fighting then the hero,
it's not realistic for the hero to be able to handle their own if the villain is focused on killing them...which they usually are. They can get lucky yes, but not for ten to fifteen minutes. All it takes is one hit to a bad spot and it's over, especially in any form of martial arts or weapons techniques.

Just my thoughts...

Shaygirl

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enigmaticuser
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I'd second those thoughts. Less detail, more impressionist. And for pete's sake be brief! At least cut away to something else for awhile.
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LDWriter2
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Fights scenes can be hard to do for the reasons already discussed. Mine sometimes will be too easy and I go back to add a couple of very close calls.

One of my MCs fights a Griffin on a dark city street with cars and those construction A frame signs in the way. In one scene she flips over a sign-- not on purpose-- and in in another section wonders about the blood she is leaving behind as she tries running from the creature.

Actually I used a scene from C. E. Murphy as a model in with flip. She describes a great scene where her MC executes a gymnastic back flip over a metal rail when a horse ridden by a god crashes through a class door right in front of her. The backflip wasn't done on purpose and she ends up face done on the floor as I recall. Maybe on her back.

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rcmann
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Good points being raised. One of the most distinctive things about fights is the unexpected. One time, when I was working on a construction crew, I got into a... minor tussle. Ended up on the floor. My opponent turned to his friends to boast. He didn't notice when I came up off the floor and landed on his back. Whereupon he promptly threw himself backward and we smashed through the ductwork and sheet metal wall of the service garage. My sneakiness didn't turn out so well. FYI, ragged sheet metal is not good on skin and back muscle.

But I seldom read a story where the hero's attack fails to succeed, or results in a completely unexpected result. The only one I can think of offhand is Predator, where Governor Conan hits the alien with a log and it throws him across the clearing.

But in a real fight it is more likely than not for a dozen completely unanticipated things to happen. Even when you don't try to get fancy, mud is still slippery. And walls are sometimes not as sturdy as you would like.

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enigmaticuser
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Rcmann, you jogged my memory. The fights Die Hard would be good examples of fighting with unintended consequences.
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MattLeo
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To play devil's advocate, the most formidable fighter I've ever seen in person is Cung Le, who re-popularized the scissors kick. The hallmark of the old-school training is that the teacher didn't explain anything. For years people had practiced scissors kick as flashy and absurdly weak kick, until Cung Le reminded them it was in fact a powerful take-down.

At the same tournament, I saw a contingent from Korea score a number of KOs with head kicks against southern Chinese boxers who'd been taught from day 1 that "high kicks don't work." They can work, but not in every situation. It's a rock-paper-scissors world.

rcmann points out another unpredictable factor in fights: the setting. The famous UFC "Octagon" ring is subtly engineered to favor ground fighters. The lack of sharp corners means you won't get pinned into a corner by western boxing tactics and used for a punching bag. The padding at the edges reduces the injury risk of taking the fight to the ground.

The tactical advantages or disadvantages of setting is something very few writers think to use. For example the magic duels in Harry Potter seemed unrealistic to me, because the wizards didn't exploit their ability to transform the arena into something hostile to the opponent. They didn't turn the floor their opponent was standing on into a lake; tie him up in a dense jungle or ruin his dexterity with bitter cold.

In fictional fights there are seldom rocks that bruise you when you fall down, or tree roots or furniture to trip over. But if you look at the very best movie fight choreography, what sets it apart from the mediocre work is creative use of setting. Study this fight from Drunken Master II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAY2LYoYCAU or this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wf7xKi9Yhg.

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MartinV
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One thing I heard about life and death swordfights: if both participants are very skilled, the fight will last a few seconds. All it takes is for one of them to make a mistake, which even a master is likely to do, and the other to exploit that mistake.
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rcmann
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There is also the issue of style and training. The way an octagon shaped fighting ring helps escape a western style boxer is one point. But different people fight in different ways. For example, in the US a city dweller is not quite as likely (unless the are a gang member) to automatically reach for a weapon as someone from the country, according to my observations. This just a matter of style. And anything can be a weapon. A chair, a butcher knife, a broom handle, a mixing bowl. I recall one news story a few years back about two guys who were arguing on a rowboat. One of them broke his coffee mug and used the shard to cut the other one's throat. I have noticed a lot of movies, tv, and self-defense books show someone holding a knife in a fencing type grip for defense, etc. But in a street fight, you dont do that. On the street, the first time you know a knife is involved is usually when you feel someone yanking it out of your rib cage.
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MartinV
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Great video, by the way. It's amazing what the eye misses when it's not told to look for it. I'm also impressed by the software that makes one actor move while the other stands still.
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Osiris
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Honestly, if you want to know how to write a good fight scene, you should play a first person shooter for a while.

Hmmm, that sounds like a future blog post...

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rcmann
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If you want to know how to write a good fight scene, walk into a redneck bar and spit in somebody's face. You will learn the fine details and subtle nuances that nothing else could teach you.
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