Tiffany Lawson Inman
(aka Naked Editor)
Hello writers! I’m glad to be here once again tossing around writing craft knowledge on the pages of Writers In The Storm. If you have read my guest posts on WITS before, you know I love talking about Crossing Emotional Barriers and Crossing Physical Barriers in Fiction. I think it is pretty obvious from the title of this blog, which of these I am going to talk about today.
- Dirty Western Brawl
- Set. Duel.
- Hide and Seek
- Historically Accurate
- Cat Fight
- Fight and Flight
- Powers and Gadgets
Here is an introduction of what those styles are and a few tasty tips on how to approach them.
#1. Dirty Western Brawl
I’m sure you can taste the grit in your mouth just by reading those words, am I right? Well I am not only talking about the Old West brawl punching, tossing over the bar, and crashing chairs over greasy haired men.
A Dirty Western Brawl can actually happen anywhere; a school cafeteria, in the stands of the Superbowl, on a train, in a movie theatre, at a drunken wedding reception.
These brawls are usually chaotic and dangerous. Why?
- The characters are usually drunk or,
- The characters are showing-off and or,
- The characters have been pushed to their limits and emotionally cracking to the point of erratic behavior.
- There are usually more than two people in these fights.
- They happen where there are dangerous objects or,
- The characters are in an unstable environment (like a moving train) or,
- The characters themselves are unstable.
Hmmmm…there are many scenes in Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes movies that depict the epitome of a Dirty Western Brawl. If you haven’t yet, rent them!
Brawls seem to just spark and explode into a scene, but remember you always need to show the reader what is the motivating event, emotion, or character is for the fight. Can’t have a fight without motivation!
#2. Ready. Set. Duel.
A scheduled fight or a training session. Something an audience could be invited to watch. The fighters are prepared; their bodies are trained to fight, their footwork is practiced, and they have given consent to be a part of this fight. This puts the reader in the head of a totally different kind of event. The character’s mental game is not that of life-or-death (unless that is part of the plot) but of strategy.
Your challenge as the writer is to keep it interesting. If the stakes aren’t survival for this fight, then what are they? I’m sure you can think of plenty of high stake motivations for a scheduled fight. I think the heavier challenge is the finding that train-of-thought, motivation, and inner conflict for the practice rounds.
Caution: You CANNOT let the scheduled fight be only about the actual moves. You will be wasting a huge opportunity to deepen character development and if you are really good, an opportunity to move the plot forward.
#3. Hide and Seek
Hiding from a killer/creature or seeking out safety. Your character fighting against himself and or his environment. That is right. This is the Disaster Movie of fight styles. Your character is trying to stay alive and is battling outside influences as well as mental and physical pressures. Examples: The Martian and parts of Silence of the Lambs. As a writer you get to put your character through the most horrifying of situations to battle ALONE (or they feel like they are alone) and it is up to you to make the reader experience all of it.
- Super deep POV
- Vivid active setting
- Vivid visceral and physical reactions
- Obstacle after obstacle after obstacle
- Mixture of chaotic inner dialogue not only about what is going on, but also self-affirming and self-doubt as events unfold.
#4. Historically Accurate
This style is one of the hardest. You have to know your stuff. Like really REALLY know your stuff! Because there are readers that know the difference between wielding a broad sword vs a small sword. (I happen to be one of them.)
If your characters are using Karate moves and you slip in some Jujitzu lingo…oh dear. If your character is in a Western and drops his gun and picks up two katanas and starts on his enemy like Michonne slicing up Zombies in The Walking Dead, well we are gonna need an explanation for that kind of craziness.
Being historically accurate goes beyond what weapons or fighting styles were used and when.
You need to know:
- When these weapons were used
- Where this style of fighting was used. In arenas, back alleys, the parlor, bars, as initiation.
- Who used these weapons, or who was trained in that fighting style. Nobility, peasants, knights, officers of the law, etc.
- How they were used. Who they were typically used against.
- What type of pain or injury was inflicted by these weapons and kicks and punches.
#5. Cat Fight
Do not assume this equals only hair pulling and scratching. A cat fight between women (or men) gives you the chance to surprise your reader by pulling something uniquely gross, funny, or stunning out of your bag o’ tricks.
- Are there any interesting objects your characters can throw or jab at the other character from within their fighting environment? Car keys, lamp, book, cup of coffee, jelly beans, pot of mac n’cheese, sushi, bottle of breast milk…see where I am going with this? Not your typical throwing/jabbing
- What kind of new or old function could your character’s clothing have in a fight?
- Who can be the surprise witness or accomplice to throw the scene into even more chaos? Best friend, lover, neighbor, boss, a horse?
- Can this fight move to another location in an interesting way? Falling into…Chasing into…Pushing over the…
- Are there props to play with? Don’t go for the obvious option for prop-play, but if you do then put a twist on it. Push your brain outside of the stereotypical box and get creative.
- Especially with the Cat Fight, you have to make the decision if this is going to be comical or serious. The actions you use in the fight will give the reader an image (well if you are writing it right, they will) and this image will set the tone for everything else that follows. If your character is wearing a clown costume and every time her nose gets hit it squeaks, the reader is probably going to have a more humorous vision of how all of the other actions play out.
#6. Fight and flight
I’m talking about CHASE SCENES! Whether we are watching the chaser or the chasee these scenes have to keep the reader on the edge of the page and turning for more.
- Do not give them too much detail on what your characters are running, swimming, flying past unless that detail is a part of the action or outcome.
- Make sure you play with the speed of the chase. No, not the pace, the pace of the writing should be on overdrive. I’m talking about the SPEED of the action your characters are going through. Look at a few spots where you can slow the speed of the actions and focus on the insanity going on inside your characters. Your characters are also depicting real people (unless they have powers or gadgets) and real people need to pause or break so that they can breathe, so they can think about their next move, so they can make sure they still have ammunition.
#7. Powers and Gadgets
- In terms of powers, the characters have either a capability to change in to something that is even more powerful than they already are, or they can do something extraordinary with their body or mind that will give them a weapon-like advantage in a fight.
- In terms of gadgets, the characters have dangerous or handy toys to inflict damage or to help take themselves out of harm’s way.
Why do I consider Powers and Gadgets a fighting style? Because you have suspend the reader’s disbelief that these powers and gadgets are real and being used in a real fight with real stakes on the line. You have to wield these Powers and Gadgets as if they are a weapon. You don’t want to bombard the reader with world building in a crucially high action moment. Tread carefully over those fantastical waters.
Phew! Okay, that was a quick introduction to the seven styles of fictional fights. Just the tip of the iceberg! I wish I had time to dive deeper and show you a few examples of each style as well as a slice n’ diced analysis of every punch or stab.
Hmmm…how about I will give YOU A SHOT AT WRITING ONE OF THESE SCENES. Post it in the comments and I will pick ONE LUCKY WINNER out of the bunch to analyze and edit.
As a super big thank you to WITS for hosting me today here is a 2nd WAY TO WIN SOMETHING: If you don’t have a scene to share, tell me about a great fight scene from a great book and what style it is. Or just say hi.
I will put EVERY COMMENTER’S name into random.org to spit out a winner to win one of my online courses I teach at Lawson Writers Academy.
For more motivation, here are my upcoming classes:
February: Triple Threat Behind Scene Writing Registration is still open.
March: I will be teaching the course that has had writers begging me via email for over a year to sell them lecture packets or teach them individually: Action and Fighting in Fiction: Writing Authentic Choreography With Precision and Bite. Registration is open.
April: MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy! Registration open soon.
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Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.As a freelance editor, she provides deep story critique, content editing, and line editing.
Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, classes, contests, and lecture packets.She teaches Action and Fighting, Madness to Method: high intensity emotion, Triple Threat Scene Writing, Writing Humor For Every Genre, and Short Story Workshops for Lawson Writer’s Academy online. She presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars this year.
Photo credits: Fabulous fight photos provided by Jeff Award nominee, writer and actor, Christopher Walsh at christophermwalsh.com.