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Author Topic: Fight scenes you remember
MartinV
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First off, this is not a topic of how to do a fight scene. I think we covered that throughly.

This is an invitation to think of your favourite fight scene and tell it here so I can go see it for myself. Since I'm writing an action heavy story, I was wondering how prominent writers do it, what details they use to reflect their intentions. In particular, I'm interested in sword play scenes. If you have one of your own, you can add it to.

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mayflower988
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Would you mind telling those of us who are newer to Hatrack where the topic of how to do a fight scene has been covered? I've got a swordfighting scene that's tripping me up. I can't recall having read any books recently with good swordfighting scenes...several movies, though.
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rcmann
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With fight scenes, I find that the less detail, the better. In fact, the less detail in any action scene, the better. Those who are knowledgable about the subject will be able to visualize an accurate picture of what's happening, Those who are clueless will only be confused by details.

So don't say, "he caught the foible of his enemy's blade with the forte of his rapier and, using a binding circular parry, lunged forward to riposte in sixte."

Instead say,"he knocked the incoming point aside and lunged forward to stab his enemy in the chest."

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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mayflower988, there is a "search" link near the upper right corner of most pages of the forum. If you click on it, it should take you to

http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbwriters/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=search;search_forum=1

where you can put the word "fight" (without the quote marks) in the search terms space, and have the website software find all the topics about fighting for you.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Answer to topic question:

1--sword fight between The Man in Black and Inigo Montoya in THE PRINCESS BRIDE (the movie--can't remember how well it was described in the book)

2--sword fight in one of the Gor novels (NOMADS OF GOR?) by John Norman, between a "knight" and a "barbarian" in which the barbarian pretended not to know how to handle a sword and proceeded to trounce the knight quite soundly

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JoBird
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I don't know how I'd feel about it today, but when I read R.A. Salvatore years ago I thought he did an exceptional job with many of his fight scenes.

Recently, I've been reading Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books. Some of the fight scenes in that series are very good, but they rarely feature swords.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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To me, many of the fight scenes in the Mistborn books can verge on too much information (as rcmann warned against above).
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mayflower988
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Thanks, KDW.
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rcmann
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Something I wrote recently, for whatever it might be worth (first draft, 13 line limit).

I made a point of not describing the swords in detail, not mentioning which leg is being targeted, etc. I find that the reader's imagination will paint a far more complete picture than any description can.

I got this from reading Louis L'Amour actually. Westerns, not SF. But excellent fight scenes.

quote:
...Reynald charged, plainly intending to overwhelm Pete with his size and strength. When he arrived, Pete wasn't there. He had gone low and sideways in a sinuous evasion, counter-striking to the back of Reynald's leg. His elder brother, showing surprising speed for such a big man, jerked the leg away and swung his sword down to block the attack. Steel screamed and rang.
Reynald spun to face his brother again, his eyes wide. Pete's blade flickered, and blood splashed from Reynald's sword arm. It was only a slight cut, but a gasp ran through the room. Including from the dais.
"First blood!" Wallin shouted. "Gentlemen. Now that blood has been drawn, will you consider the matter sufficiently dealt with?"
"No." Pete didn't cover his teeth. Reynald's face darkened and he lunged....


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MartinV
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Well, it's the details I'm interested in. I know how I write my fight scenes but I want to see what details others use and what effect they create.
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History
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Very nice, rcmann.
That scans very well. The sentences quick, sharp, and direct, paralleling the swordplay.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Robert Nowall
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Honestly, I can't say I remember more than, say, a few one-on-one fights from the written word. Battle scenes would be fights, and I remember several of them, but that's not quite, I think, what you mean. (Movies and TV, however, where it can be all show and hardly any tell, fare better, particularly if it was in a John Wayne movie.)
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genevive42
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Joe Abercrombie's, The Blade Itself had a fight/chase scene that on audio goes on for 45 minutes. You'd think this would get tedious but the action varies all the way through and I had a very fun commute home the night I listened to it.

The scene takes place when the two lead bad-asses get thrown into working together, reluctantly of course, and go fighting and tearing through the streets. It ends with the reader discovering a secret about the main character that contributes to his barbaric reputation.

This is definitely one of my favorite fantasy books.

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babooher
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This isn't a sword fight (although there are melee weapons in use and the guns used were made from the metal of Excaliber), but the slaughter of the residents of Tull by Roland in The Gunslinger is fabulous. Although, I might be biased.
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rcmann
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What I'm trying to say is that the details of the fighting itself aren't what give the impact. It's the fighter's reaction to what's happening that provide the immersion. Ultimately, only someone who actually fences will know or care what the difference is between a parry and a riposte. Or whether someone parries in high or low line. Or even whether someone is using French or Italian style.

What always caught my attention in a fight scene was the fear, the 'snapshot' type images of a sudden shock from a blow, the pain, the throbbing fatigue, the taste of dust and blood, the dizziness from getting hit repeatedly. Because those are thing thins I remember from fights I have had. I honestly couldn't tell you much about details of technique from real fights I was in, or that I watched. What I remember are sensations and emotions.

That's what soldiers, and professional boxers, and martial arts experts spend so much time drilling and practicing in order to bring their moves to the point of conditioned reflex. In a real fight there isn't any sentient thinking going on. Not about what your body is doing anyway. It's a combo of conditioned reflex and animal instinct. You don't have time to think or plan. Only react. And afterward, you can't recall a lot of detail, because that part of your brain was shut down to keep it from getting in the way.

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Crystal Stevens
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It's hard for me to even come up with what I consider a good fight scene. Most of the time, I skip them when reading any story or novel. The fight, to me, isn't as important as the outcome. So it's easy to skip right over a fight scene, read the results of such a scene, and go right on reading the rest of the story or book.

There have been a couple of times I've had to write in a sword fight, and each time I delved on it as little as possible. Personally, I find fight scenes very boring.

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rcmann
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Depends on why the fight scene is in there. Sometimes it shows something important about the character, or the setting, or the plot.

Edit:

Example: One of the best authors ever, in my opinion, for writing a fight scene was Louis L'Amour. He wrote low brow historical adventures, usually set on the american frontier from pre-revolutionary New England to early twentieth century. But sometimes branching into more exotic situations.

The guy was a storyteller, plain and simple. He got a lot of virtual down-the-nose looks from the intelligentsia, but he also hauled cash to the bank in heaping wheelbarrows from the quadrillions of books he sold.

In one of his books the MC was forced to leave his home New England, never mind why, and sail to Port Royal in the says when it was a pirate hangout. While there, he was challenged to a sword fight. The thing was, the MC had never fought with a sword before. He had received training from his father and a close friend, but he had never fought with one. The MC *had* fought Amerindians and white bandits with guns, knives, tomahawks, bare hands, etc. but never a sword.

He accepted. Didn't have to. He could have shot the guy. This was a pirate hangout, after all. But he wanted to test himself, and also to see if what he had been told about his father's past was correct, and see if he really was a master swords man. Might have been stupid, but it also showed something about the character of the MC that he would do something like that. As well as the fact that he spared his enemy at the end of the fight. Skipping to the end of the fight would have deprived the reader of learning all that.

Another book describes how a different MC and his best friend are cornered by amerindians and died fighting. It was the culmination of a multi-book series and, as the MC is dying, he sees one of his killers drop to his knees and start to sing his death song for him, since he (the MC) is too weak to do it himself. In gratitude, with his last strength his offers his enemy his knife. If you skip the fight scene all you would get is the raiding party's return to camp and their report of victory.

[ August 03, 2012, 12:53 PM: Message edited by: rcmann ]

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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Depends on why the fight scene is in there. Sometimes it shows something important about the character, or the setting, or the plot.

Exactly. I couldn't agree more. Those are probably the only fight scenes I will not skip over. And the only fight scenes that should be emphasized in my opinion. Anything that is vitally important to the heart of the story should be done well... including fight scenes.
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Robert Nowall
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I remember one fight scene---an early Star Trek novel, where Kirk-Spock-McCoy fought these three guys in an arena, only everytime Kirk & Co. defeated them, they healed and came back for more.

I remember it chiefly because the writer (Mack Reynolds, I think) used a number of terms from judo and / or karate, I think. They were unfamiliar to me---and, despite all the time that's passed, they're still unfamiliar to me.

One can use too much specialized jargon and lose the reader in the process.

(This is somewhat on my mind for tangental reasons---over at work, somebody posted a news bulletin so full of jargon that it was unintelligible, even to me, who's worked there twenty-five years.)

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MattLeo
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Great! I was just going to do a post on this.

The most memorable fight scene in a movie has to be the sword vs. spear duel between Jackie Chan (as Wong Fei-Hung) and Lau Kar-Leung (as Fu Wen-Chi), which takes place under a rail car. Granted this is a *movie* fight scene, but it has a lot to teach writers about how to do written fight scenes. It's worth studying so I'll take you through it.

Background:

It is some time around 1920, and the Imperial Jade Seal (symbolically equivalent to a royal crown in western countries) has been stolen by British agents who are bringing it to the evil British ambassador by train. Travelling on the same train is a young (fictionalized and anachronistic) Wong Fei-Hung, who is returning from the north after buying ginseng.

Not wanting to pay the tax on the medicine, Wong hides the ginseng in the baggage of an English passenger who would be exempt from tax by extraterritoriality. Wong sneaks forward to retrieve the ginseng, surprising Fu Wen-Chi, a Chinese agent who has come to steal the seal back. Fu exits the window and climbs to the roof. The British agents return to the car and surprise Wong. Seizing an identical package to the one Fu has just stolen, he follows Fu to the roof and then under the train. Wong is merely trying to escape, but Fu mistakenly believes he's a traitor come to retrieve the seal for the British. Hilarity ensues.

Here's the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJbLRaMmGeo

Discussion:

What I don't want is for writers to copy the amazing choreographic details of this fight. Writing and movie choreography are different art forms. What I think is important is to pay attention to the the excellent *storytelling*. A fight scene is like a story in miniature, and we can see all the elements here.

(1) Plot Structure. This fight is structured in roughly three acts, the first two of which we see in this video. The inciting incident is Wong being forced to follow Fu, and the complications act starts when Fu mistakes Wong for a British agent.

IN A NUTSHELL: plot the fight as a self-contained story. Does he action of the fight also move the whole story forward?

(2) Motivation. This is a big problem in most action scenes I critique, and it's basic storytelling. Why are the participants fighting? What do they hope to gain? Amazingly, authors often try to generate excitement in a fight scene without telling us what the fight is about.

Fu's motivation here is to get away with what he supposes to be the Imperial Seal. Wong Fei-Hung's motivation is initially to get away with what he supposes is his father's ginseng, then to punish Fu for calling him a collaborator.

By the way, we see an example here of an old movie writing standby: the MacGuffin. This fight is driven by Fu's attempt to escape with the MacGuffin. Sometimes the fight MacGuffin isn't something the characters want for itself, but it provides an advantage in the fight.

IN A NUTSHELL: Give characters clear goals they can pursue and be thwarted in pursuit of. Do the fighters have objectives and do those objectives have anything to do with their agenda in the story?

(3) Characterization. Fu Wen-Chi is serious, dignified and businesslike. Wong Fei-Hung is a young, silly hothead. These characteristics come through in all their choices and actions, even their moves. Fu has several opportunities to kill the young man, who he outclasses in skill, but declines. Wong unwisely keeps pressing his attack, but when confronting an unarmed Fu impetuously throws away his own weapon.

IN A NUTSHELL: Have characters' personalities reflected in the actions they choose to take in the fight. Does your character do things in this fight that other people wouldn't?

(4)Setting and props. HUGE lesson here. Drunken Master 2 represents a 1990s revolution in Hong Kong fight scene choreography. Fight choreographer Lau here weaves the choreography in this scene almost seamlessly in with the story. It is natural for the antagonists to escape to the roof. When they encounter soldiers there it is sensible for them to get off the roof and slip away beneath the train. The brief moment of rest they get under the train provides a chance for the misunderstanding to occur and a very interesting fight to ensue.

This is totally different from choreography in the 70s and 80s. Very commonly the script would have the hero walking along a deserted country road, then randomly run across the bad guy in some flat, featureless, sandy plot. The fights felt staged because the setting *was* a stage cleared of details that could obstruct the actors showing their stuff.

IN A NUTSHELL: stage fights in places that make plot sense, and have each place provide obstacles, advantages and tools which shape the outcome. Is the scene *different* set here than it would be elsewhere?

(5)Establishing forward momentum. Many fight scenes I critique lack focus. They meander along until the author gets sick of writing the scene and intervenes. There is nothing to benchmark progress against, especially if the writer tries to generate excitement without giving the antagonists anything to accomplish. If (as is common) the setting is only vaguely defined, the scene will feel like a sensory deprivation chamber no matter how many buckets of gore are thrown into it.

We can feel the forward momentum here as Fu moves farther from the train car, while at the same time he overcomes obstacles (chiefly Wong Fei-hung) the choreographers put in his way. The fight is not one interminable blob of sameness.

One of the classic cheesy devices to create forward motion when you can't structure the fight this way is the ticking time bomb. Cheesy it may be, but it's better than nothing.

IN A NUTSHELL: Move the antagonists through clearly defined spaces if you can, or if you can't, at least provide some other kind of milestones or measures that tell the reader that the fight actions are changing things. Does the fight seem to proceed in clear phases?

Conclusions:

If you are writing some kind of fight scene, I'd recommend studying *all* of Drunken Master 2. You can't copy the moves in a written story, but you can copy the creative use of setting.

Finally, I'll link to another, earlier fight scene that's far less polished. It is from the 1972 movie, Lady Whirwind. You should skip to 6:00 minutes because the movie features a prologue so unspeakably bad that watching it will cure you of writing prologues for good. This scene is worth studying too, even though it is far inferior to Drunken Master 2 in almost every respect. Don't forget to skip to 6:00 minutes if you don't want to be traumatized by badness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BPTxZnlp8U . The scene actually continues several minutes into the next YouTube segment.

Why does this scene work? Because Angela Mao delivers a terrific acting performance as a woman with titanic anger management issues. She lends what must be the cheesiest choreography in HK film history a kind of authority it does not deserve. And this is true of fight scenes on the written page too. If the characters are ciphers, or washed out, it won't matter how terrific your fight scene is. We aren't interested. If the characters are vivid and memorable, that covers a multitude of sins.

Don't forget that action scenes are just storytelling. The same methods and criteria apply to them as any other scene.

[ August 03, 2012, 02:48 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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mayflower988
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I know in The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, both by Robin McKinley, she writes some very good fight scenes. I can't remember them word-for-word (I don't own the books), but I remember certain images I got while reading them. For example, there's one part where the heroine is on top of a hill and holding up her sword, there's light flashing through it - it's very dramatic. And another part earlier on where she's in a competition and the action's happening very quickly, but you get a sense of how she's acting rather than having to think about it. Those are both good books with good fight scenes. (Well, now that I think about it, it may have just been The Blue Sword that had the fight scenes. Maybe The Hero and the Crown, but don't quote me on that.)
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