Writing the Fight : Over The Top

It seems that, for all of the mental trappings of writing, my most popular topics have to do with the physical; particularly fight scenes. Time will tell if my previous entry on writing and running is as successful in continuing to bring attention.

As I mentioned last time, one of the most important things to consider when writing a fight scene is the relative skill level of the participants involved. You can write a great, thrilling fight with characters best described as brawlers; most fight scenes in movies, up until – say, the 1960’s – were plain fistfights. There was no technique, little blocking, and beautifully untrained haymakers, coming left and right – but all of it was dramatic. Even in the Rocky movies (particularly Rocky IV), there was an aspect of showmanship that went with the boxing. It was a struggle. It was about the back and forth, and not about anything fancy.

Fast forward to today. A great deal of modern writers grew up in eras with an emphasis on martial arts; specifically, karate, judo, and various disciplines of kung fu. Today, we also have more emphasis on mixed martial arts, which spreads out to wrestling, jiu jitsu, and muay thai, as well as sub-forms of karate, tae kwon do, aikido, and so on. Some of these martial arts are more graceful; others are simply direct and brutish in their approach.

In any case, look for the dramatic. If a style you’re working with (say, Crane or Mantis kung-fu) is filled with quick movements and imperceptible strikes, then emphasize the little instants that change everything. If it’s a bold, brash style – like muay thai, karate, or the form I studied, Tang Soo Do – then go for the big, powerful moments. Wrestling, jiu jitsu, or judo? Find a balance somewhere in between; there’s quite a bit of drama to be found in grappling itself, but getting the right hold can turn a fight around.

But, always, look for an element of danger. Look for something that makes you tense as you think about the situation; frame it so that it really COULD go either way. Find the desperation – the thing that brings each side to want the win just as badly as the other one.

I know, I know. “But  fights don’t go like that”. We all like the Bourne approach, where hands start flying and bing-bang-boom, the guy’s disarmed and his vertebrae’s snapped in fifteen different places, all in under a minute. It works, because everything ELSE is so tense.

Or, alternately, we think of real fights with two untrained idiots, one of them drunker and angrier than the other one. Sometimes they drag on, sometimes they’re short. What’s genuine and compelling about that? Easy – the raw, personal emotion from that moment.

Some of those other fights may have that, too. It’s up to you to find that, and write about it. I can’t help you do it.

…but if you’re looking for a sparring partner, I’d be glad to oblige.



3 responses to “Writing the Fight : Over The Top

  1. This is a very interesting blog. I love watching martial arts movies, and being neither a martial artist or a film maker doesn’t stop me from wanting to blog about them and trying to analyse why they work as well as they do (for me at least). It’s good to read from the perspective of someone who is trying to creat an action scene in some way.

    • Hey Meredith!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. (I’m also glad that you’re doing a series of entries breaking down Once Upon A Time In China. I love those movies!)

      I’m definitely going to be reading more of your blog. it’s fascinating to get a dancer’s perspective on martial arts choreography!


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