This entry was posted in Indies Unlimited on Tuesday, April 24. In case you missed the original, here it is again:
All right. You’ve done the foreplay, the participants have gone through the rituals required by their society, the emotions are high enough to require action. How are you going to write it? What details will you include? Whose point of view will the reader enjoy?
“But I Don’t Know Anything About Fencing/Karate/Sex Orgies”
Good. Once the fight starts, beware of highly technical details, especially in swordfights and hand-to-hand. You don’t need to be specific as to what moves the fighters use, except for a few terms to keep the aficionados happy.
“He lunged in tierce, but she parried with a cavazione, then camineered to a higher line…”
Who needs it? Who understands it? Who is winning? All you are telling the reader is that you did your research. I can search Google, too. That’s where I got those terms.
“His powerful lunge slid past her hip, but she desperately circled under his blade to threaten his unprotected shoulder.”
This describes the same action, but everyone understands it and knows how the fight is going.
Point of View
If you’re working in the first person or limited third, it helps to remember that someone in a fight doesn’t have time to think, “Maybe I’ll try a riposte now.” It’s all done at an intuitive level. The fighter is thinking in general terms, and the reader is more interested in the emotions (fighter’s and reader’s) and in how the fight is going.
“I parried frantically, but his arm was just too strong for me. He kept pushing forward, battering at my defences, and I knew I couldn’t keep backing forever. I had to do something!”
Observation by a third party gives more latitude, because you can put in any detail you want. The excerpt below shows the three main characters at the turning point in the duel.
“Raif’s face, usually dead calm as he fought, developed a slight smile. At the same moment, a bead of sweat burst on the older lord’s brow and his breath quickened. This was the point when Fauvé understood that he was completely outclassed.”
– from “Into Trouble” by Gordon A. Long
Not one technical term, not one fight detail. But the emotions are there, as well as the change of momentum from one fighter to the other. The “tell” in the last sentence allows the narrator (and the reader) to revel in the win against the man who has injured her.
You can always try something different. In my “Sword Called Kitten” series, the fights are all told from the POV of the Sword, which, I was surprised to discover, means I need even fewer technical terms. Kitten “calls” fights like an announcer at a football game, free to comment on anything the author chooses.
“All right, girl. He’s bigger and stronger than you. You’re going to have to be braver. Watch out, here he comes…good…good, keep him off… Ouch! Don’t bash at his sword like that. He’s too strong.
Back a step…back again…not too fast. Watch out! Slowly…he’ll run right over you. Stand firm now! No, no, don’t back up! Come on, girl, dig your heels in! Stand up to him, you can do it! That’s better…Yes! That set him back.
Let’s attack now…quick and light, that’s the way, keep it up…watch out, it’s a trap…whooee! That was close. Let’s not get too confident, now…
Not one actual fencing move, not one technical term, yet the reader can picture exactly what’s going on. Because Kitten isn’t the one fighting, she can let her Hand take care of the details and concentrate on the overall game plan. Also, note that the fight is set up to increase our sympathy, with a smaller girl against a larger man, and that she seems to be losing at first, to up the stakes in the game.
And the Reverse
Most fight scenes contain some kind of a reversal. We go in feeling fear and come out feeling triumph. Or we go in feeling confident and come out in defeat. We could apply that to every other chapter of the book as well. If something in the emotional strata of the story doesn’t change, why is the incident there? If the chapter doesn’t set up a problem and then do something about it, then the chapter is meandering, usually full of information that the author needs to get to the reader, but the reader feels no need to receive. In other words, it’s boring, and no amount of fancy settings, creative descriptors, loud shouting, or graphic sex is going to fix it.
Whether it’s a love scene or a duel, go back to the basics. A story with empathetic character, clearly defined problem, strong connection and emotional development will keep the reader enthralled.