Fight scenes. A bit like buses in my life, I write two books without a single one and then, suddenly, two come along at the same time. So one of the hardest things about them is that I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. Phnark. Never mind, here goes.
Release the Unnecessarily Slow Winching Device.
What I am trying to achieve in anything I write is realism. Don’t laugh. It’s true.
The thing is, though, I can’t really do gritty proper realism of um… action. Why? Well, partly because I’ve never been in a pukka pagga so it’s hard to imagine. But also because there is too much of the Bond super-villan in me. My baddies tend to be psychopathic, they want their victims so suffer and die slowly and… well… ornately (if that’s a word). So they get their enemies somewhere nice and secure, where they can’t escape, and take their time over it. It’s clear, as I write this, that I’ve watched too many James Bond films and too many episodes of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Are you looking at me pal?
Perhaps the style of a fight scene also depends on what the writer is actually trying to achieve. Are you demonstrating something about the characters involved and if so, what? Will it be reflected in their actions, their technique, their skill? Will the reader be concentrating on that and therefore, more willing to suspend disbelief if you haven’t quite mastered the gritty detail?
In my case, since pretty much everything I write is about letting the characters act in a way that’s true to their personalities, this is a big part of it. It may be that I spend too much time on the personalities. Do that and, if you’re not careful, you can – and I do – forget the niggling little practicalities; things like, say, making your people bust moves that are physically possible for a human body, or if they’re not human then a body of whatever shape theirs is.
That said, I’m beginning to think that, so long as a writer makes a fight vividly realistic in some way, it will connect with the reader. Sure, it could be because the fighting is realistic, but equally, it could be because the character’s reactions are believable or just a simple case of making the reader oblivious of any details that don’t add up.
In short, the important thing is that somebody reading a scene can suspend disbelief. How that is done is probably up to the individual writer – at least, I hope to heaven it is because if it isn’t, I, for one am stuffed.
Calm down, Calm down
The most interesting aspect of this series of posts, is the number of different approaches which have cropped up. One of the trickiest bits of this one is that I haven’t actually written a fight scene until recently and I’ve had to write two very different ones with two very different aims. The first, involves two characters fighting off an attack. As well as a fight scene, it’s a moment when they realise they have fallen in love with one another. More on that story. Later. The second is an assassination and is basically there to show us what a bastard one character is. The slight difficulty is that both scenes are part of a work in progress so, in theory, they might contain spoilers. I’m going to post the assassination, because it’s the shortest and actually, though not finished, it’s the nearest to a publishable standard of the two.
OK to fill in a bit of background; the laser pistol has a maximum of 9 shots but it runs on static so if our killer has time to rub it on the right kind of surface he can boost the charge. The guards are armed but their arms are vaporised with them. The assassin knows his pistol might not kill all eight of his targets – it’s on its highest setting because he’s thorough – but hey, he’s an invincible super-villain, so if it runs out of juice he can take care of the last one by hand. He also has a matter transportation device, which they don’t and that’s why he can appear and disappear into thin air. When the book finally comes out, there’s a strong chance that I night stop this with the eighth shot and let Fred get away with a precision strike, but right now I’m not sure. So here it is.
It is possible that Bob’s bodyguards lived long enough to hear a few nanoseconds of some strange sound. They might even have survived long enough to see the dark shape appearing in the middle of the room, but it’s unlikely.
Before the quickest of them had a chance draw his gun, seven bolts of laser fire flew at them in rapid succession. Seven shots for seven guards each one finding its mark. Fred knew their exact positions and by the time he had materialised completely all seven bodyguards were already dead. The adrenaline coursing through his body exhilarated him, sharpening his reflexes, focussing his mind as he swung round, legs apart, arms extended and aimed at the bed. The air was filled with the smell of burning and in that brief second, Fred’s heightened senses took in the scene; one set of curtains was open, the orange street lights of the city illuminating half the room. Bob was scrambling out of bed to face his attacker, his light weight body armour clearly visible under his night clothes.
Behind the balaclava Fred’s mouth curled into a smile. This was going to be easy, so easy that he was almost disappointed. Bob was armed but he had not even had time to raise his own pistol before Fred fired.
A feeble bolt sputtered from the barrel of Fred’s pistol and dispersed a few feet beyond. It was spent. He lost no time, leaping at Bob before he could fire his own gun. Crashing into him and knocking the pistol from his grasp. It arced away over the bed and came to rest the other side of the room. While Fred’s attention was briefly focussed on the gun, Bob took advantage; turning sideways, kicking Fred’s feet from under him and bringing him neatly down on the floor. In a second Bob was on him, his hands locked around his throat. Fred smashed his palm upwards against the bottom of Bob’s nose, causing him to jerk his head back and loosen his grip enough to throw him off.
Bob jumped up and started towards the gun. Fred drew his knife and lunged after him. Bob blocked him with one arm and brought the other up fast into Fred’s stomach, uncomfortably close to his solar plexus. The suit took the brunt of the blow but he faltered for that vital second which allowed Bob to knock the knife out of his hand. It fell onto the carpet out of reach but only just. Fred charged as Bob threw himself after it, catching him off balance and bringing him down. Still, Bob struggled forward towards the knife, his outstretched fingers almost touching the hilt. Fred flung his arm round his neck, pulling him backwards. He tried to tighten his grip but he was still weak from the impact to his stomach and Bob tipped him easily over his head. But Fred got to the knife first.
Aware that his adversary would be making for the gun again, Fred turned quickly and leapt. He knew Bob would be expecting a blow to the neck or head so as he charged he buried the knife in the top of his leg, just where it met his groin. The force of the impact took the two of them backwards, and as they smashed against the wall, Fred used the impact to drive the knife further in.
It was over now, Bob’s groan of pain confirmed it. He struggled but Fred forced his forearm against his neck to keep him still, increasing the pressure, feeling the delicious sensation of his enemy weakening. Bob’s hands scrabbled ineffectually at his arm and at his hand on the knife. Fred felt his warm blood, his life force, pouring out of him. He smelled the ferrous stench of it and scented victory. The blood flowed even faster when pulled out the knife. He raised it high and drove it savagely into Bob’s neck.
It was done. Fred had never felt such power during a kill, and as his dying victim slumped against him, he savoured it. Bob sank slowly to his knees. He was failing fast now, his hands, gripping the second wound, were stained dark with his own blood. With the last of his strength he looked up, supplicating, but pragmatic enough not to hope. Fred took off the mask and the orange light of the city, shining in through the curtains, fell across his features. He was gratified to see the look of recognition in Bob’s eyes before his strength finally failed him and he fell sideways onto the floor.
Fred kicked the lifeless body over onto its back, bent down and placing one foot against the chest, he pulled out the knife. He tucked the mask into his belt and used the sheets on the bed to wipe the blood off the blade.
As he cast a final glance around the room, he noticed Bob’s phone on the floor. He picked it up. The screen was already active, a number called up, labelled ‘guard’. He must have tried to summon help. Fred pressed the green button and waited until someone answered.
“Good evening,” he said.
“Who is this?” asked a voice at the other end.
“That is not your concern. I believe Bob requires your aid. He has fallen on something sharp.”
Fred pressed the red button to end the call and tossed the phone onto the bloodstained carpet near its lifeless owner. He pictured his rooms in his mind’s eye, curled his thumb into the platinum portal and disappeared into thin air.