Guest Post: Liv Rancourt on Five Tips For Writing Fight Scenes
Today, Liv Rancourt is going to be guest blogging on Soldier, Storyteller. Liv was in the same blogging class, We Are Not Alone, that was I in, and she has a great book called The Santa Drag out just in time for Christmas. An excerpt is at the end of this post. Liv was also kind enough to help me with research on Washington State for a short story I’m working on for a Green Man anthology. Onto the action stuff!
Thanks, Linda, for the chance to write a guest post for you blog. I took a look through some of your older posts and saw you like things in fives, and since I’m working on choreographing the final showdown for my current WIP, I thought I’d see if I could come up with five ideas on how to write fight scenes for your readers.
- Describe the setting before the fight, so you don’t need to waste time during the heat of battle. Poorly timed details can kill your momentum and bog down the scene. One blogger suggested having the characters visit the setting a chapter before the actual fight, to get some of the scene building out of the way. While that may not always be possible, taking a couple lines in the middle of things to describe the antique Wedgwood vase that your hero just smashed over the villains head is going to kill your tempo. You can work details in as you go, but be cognizant of how it effects your pacing.
- Fights don’t last long, and a real bar brawl quickly becomes a bear-hugging wrestling match. Which is another way of saying you should have a good understanding of how fights work – regardless of the style of fighting or weapons involved – so that the action you present is realistic and believable. One of the things I love about Laurell K Hamilton’s writiing is how knowledgeable she is about the guns her character Anita Blake plays with. Laurell really knows her stuff, and her commitment to getting the details right helps the rest of the story work.
- Make sure YOU have a clear idea of who’s doing what where, because if you can’t picture it, the reader won’t be able to either. All of my five points are interrelated, but this one is key. Whether you need to borrow your kids little plastic toys to stand in for your characters or draw diagrams to help clarify things, you need to know exactly who’s doing what where. The action has to make sense in terms of the setting details, meaning doors and windows can’t come and go, and if you’re writing fantasy or paranormal, you have to be consistent with the worldbuilding you’ve already done. The more truth you can put on the page, the better the scene will work.
- Writing fight scenes are a little like writing sex scenes in that it’s easy to drop into a ‘he did this then she did that – put tab A into slot B’ pattern, which is a recipe for BORING. This is where your creativity and knowledge of the style of fighting (see #2) can come into play. My first draft blocks out the scene in all its clunky, awkward glory. Then I go back through, making certain that each action is physically possible, given the laws of the world I’ve created (see #3). The next trip through is to massage the language, getting rid of any clichés or phrases like the dreaded “he turned and looked”. I strive for language that is fresh, lively, and supportive of the tension I’m trying to build, so the reader will keep turning the pages.
- Conflict is great and all, but make sure that your character’s motivations are clearly tied to the action you’re describing. Action is good, and a fight scene is a great way of moving your plot forward and peeling back layers of your character. It’s more effective if it means something, though, and the more challenges you can throw at your character, the more satisfying the ending will be. Make the conflict cost them something and make it hurt so that the payoff at the end is greater. The build-up, or process that brought your character to the brink of an awful situation, is as important as the fight itself. Keeping your character’s goals and motivations in mind as you develop the conflict will help make sure EVERY scene moves the story forward.
So there you have five points for building fight scenes. I hope you find them helpful. I also hope you’ll check out my newest release, The Santa Drag. There are absolutely no fight scenes in this one, just a clever holiday story with a warm and fuzzy ending.
Things aren’t always what they seem,
and this shopping mall Santa has secrets only her true love can reveal.
Liv Rancourt writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. She likes to create stories that have happy endings, and finds it is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit. Liv can be found on-line at her website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).
Santa Drag exerpt
On a particularly busy Saturday, I was tired and thinking more about a double shot of espresso than I was about the pile of kids who wanted to sit in my lap. The weak winter sun was making its circle over the atrium where the Christmas Village was set up, and my roommate Shauna was buzzing by every so often to giggle at me from the sidelines. She was trying to get all of her Christmas shopping done in one day, which was a good trick for someone with as many fertile brothers and sisters as she had.
“Come sit on Santa’s lap.” Maya, the photographer and kid-wrangler, invited the next kid in line approach my golden throne. Well, it was fake gold, but the kids didn’t know that.
“No,” said a little girl with a stubborn crease between her brows. She was dressed in Seattle’s version of Christmas formal, a stiff, red velvet dress, likely made from organic fabric dyed with beets and rose hips. On her feet were two-toned leather MaryJanes that probably cost sixty-five dollars. At least the green corkscrew ribbons tied around her blond pigtails looked like they belonged on a child. I made myself as approachable as possible, getting down to her level and producing a big smile.
“Come on, Thula,” her mother said, tapping one French manicured nail on her cell phone. “Go sit up there with Santa so we can take your picture.” She sounded as if this was just one more thing to knock off the list.
“It’s okay, sweetie.” Maya put on her encouraging smile. Maya was a tiny thing, barely bigger than most of the kids we saw, with long dark hair, a tiny gold hoop pierced through one nostril, and bugged-out eyes that looked like they’d been molded out of chocolate. She was non-threatening as an adult could possibly be. The kid stared at her and bit down on her bottom lip. At least she wasn’t crying. Yet.
“You want to come tell Santa what to bring you for Christmas?” I kept my voice pitched down somewhere under my sternum. It helped that I had one of those raspy lady voices that earned me a permanent spot in the tenor section whenever I sang in choir.
Sometimes less is more when you’re dealing with preschoolers. We went back and forth for several minutes until the kid went from biting her bottom lip to letting it pooch out and tremble. Never a good sign. Finally, after a ton of coaxing, she was more-or-less close to me, squatting down on the other side of one of the big pretend presents that ringed my throne. That was good enough for her mom, and Maya snapped a picture.
When she was done, the little girl glared at me from behind the big, glossy red ribbon that topped the present. “Bring me a baby brother,” she bellowed and took off running..
Mom’s glare was meaner than the kid’s had been. Hey, it’s not like I made any promises.
The kid ran full tilt past the pseudo-Tyrolean houses that made the Village, and out through the crowds of shoppers. She stopped in the middle of an open space and cut loose, her sobs echoing around the smoky glass dome that covered us. We could hear her carrying on until she and her mom got swallowed up by the Ross store at the end of the north hallway. The whole place fell into a bit of a hush when she was gone, as everyone exhaled in relief. This close to Christmas, none of us needed a crying child to ratchet up the stress level.
A young mother was next in line. She came into the Christmas Village and positioned a slightly damp baby on my lap, moving as if something hurt. The baby was so young that Mom still looked a little pregnant under her loose denim-blue shirt. Or maybe she was already pregnant with number two. I’m not so good with the principles of baby production. Well, I understand the basic concepts, but haven’t had that many opportunities to put them into practice.
The brief quiet was interrupted by a yodeling squeal that I recognized. I stared into the crowd until I caught Maya looking at me funny. I stuck on a smile as close to my normal, jolly-Santa shtick as I could get, and she settled back down behind her camera. The reason for my roommate Shauna’s squeal had me completely rattled. In the two or three beats I’d looked out from behind my wire-rimmed glasses as Mack-the-girl, I’d seen Shauna giving someone a big hug. A really handsome someone. Joe McBride. Joseph Timothy McBride. The actor. The real-life, got a soap opera gig and several commercials and you saw him in Scream 2 actor. The only guy I ever really loved
Ooh, now she’s got a problem! Will Mack turn all Creepy-Kringle? Will Joe recognize her? What’s a Santa to do? 😉