Pacing Fight Scenes – by Dellani Oakes
It doesn’t matter what genre you write, eventually you may end up with a fight scene. Whatever the circumstances, whether large scale battle or one on one, pacing is important. In fact, it’s probably the most important factor in a fight scene. I like to hope I write fight scenes well, though I don’t claim to be an expert. There are some things I’ve learned and I want to share them.
First of all, make decisions before you begin:
Who is fighting? Is it a small or large group?
Are they fighting hand to hand, with swords, guns, energy weapons, ships, space vessels or battle tanks & the like?
What is the layout of the battlefield? Is it a large, open area or a confined space?
Are the combatants trying to kill one another or is this a sparring match for training?
What is their mood? Are they full of blood lust, angry beyond reason, cold and calculating? Or fighting to defend someone weaker?
How important to them are the people they are trying to defend?
Are there spectators or is it a lonely battlefield?
Why are they fighting? Is it to settle a dispute, punish an oppressor or free slaves?
Weather – Is it hot, wet, cold, raining, thunderstorm, snowing, blizzard, etc.
Environment – desert, jungle, open plains, inside a building, on board a ship?
Brainstorm until you have firmly in your mind everything you are trying to convey. Whether you portray this information to your reader, you must have it all figured out in your own mind. Visualize it, smell it, hear it, know it.
Once you’ve made your decisions, think about logistics. Where will they move, how? Individuals who are fighting move in their environment differently from groups. Many more factors have to be considered when you introduce group tactics and personnel movement. If you aren’t sure how to do this, ask questions of someone who’s been in the military. I’ve learned a lot that way.
Another way to prepare is to watch a lot of combat in movies. I love fight choreography and will watch certain movies in order to get the feel for what I want to portray in my book. Depending upon what type of combat you’re doing will depend on your movie choices. For individual combat, I like “Serenity”, “Quantum of Solace”, “Casino Royale”, Equilibrium”, all the “Matrix” movies and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. There are others, but these rank in my favorites.
For group tactics, you can’t beat the “Lord of the Rings” series of movies. They give a magnificent scope for huge battle scenes, also breaking them down into individual battles amongst the chaos of a large scale battle. “Star Wars” movies also show this well.
If you want martial arts moves, watch Jet Li, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes & Ernie Reyes, Jr. There are many others, but these guys are among my favorites. For really funky, beyond your wildest imagination type combat and fancy moves, I recommend David Belle in “District B-13” (Banlieue 13) by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri. David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli and others have worked hard to perfect their Parkour techniques, using them in movies like “Casino Royale”and “Live Free or Die Hard.”
Don’t be afraid to ask experts. I’ve consulted retired military people as well as martial arts experts in order to make my combat believable. Know the terminology of the techniques you plan to use. Even if you don’t go into great details, know the difference between a riposte and a parry.
Act it out. If it doesn’t flow smoothly, read the moves and follow them. Where are the hangups? Need others? Ask your family, friends, pets… to help you. If you can, storyboard the action to get a feel for it.
Armed with all this information, the time finally comes to translate the visuals to words. It’s harder than you might think. Find some good music that fits the mood, style of fighting, energy, intensity and climactic arc you’re looking for. Listening to this while you work is an incredible help. I like to listen to bands like Metallica, Juno Reactor, Rammstein, Linkin Park, Rob Zombie, & UNKLE, among way too many others to mention. One of my favorite fight scenes, a sparring match, I used “Crazy Benny” by the Safri Duo.
Listen to the music, get into the mood, visualize and write. Even if the first draft is crap, keep writing. Go back and repeat the process until it flows from one section to the next. Once you have it all down, work on editing, perfecting, cleaning up until it works. My advice here too is to read it aloud to others, let them read it and get lots of feedback. Does it make sense? Is it smooth? Am I confusing people? Can they follow what I’m saying? Most of all, did the bad guy get it appropriately?
Writing combat isn’t easy, but it’s fun. Play with it, try different techniques and approaches in order to make it work in your novel.
I know I’ve not covered every possible angle, this is what works for me. Do you have other techniques and approaches you use? Please share them with us. Happy writing!