Thursday, April 14, 2011

What to Do When Your Character Knows More About Fighting Than You Do

Normally this area of my post is reserved for What-I'm-Reading-Right-Now. However, for the next few weeks it will be replaced with this:

My company is is sponsering a team to walk/run in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Whatever the employees raise, the company will match it. The team members all raise funds independently and we hold an annual bake sale. This year I challenged the team, and my co-workers, to raise more. I told them that if they raise $5000 then I will cut off my ponytail to the base of my head and donate the hair to Locks of Love. For an additional 30% I will shave my head.

That's right!

I've had hair like this for nearly 20 years with the exception of an occasional minimum length donation to Locks of Love. If you're interested in donating to breast cancer research or would just love to see a hippie go bald, we would welcome your donation.

What to Do When Your Character Knows More About Fighting Than You Do

Today we start a three-part series on writing fighting scenes.
Back in February, I attended the 29th annual Life, The Universe, & Everything symposium.
LTUE is a 3-day symposium with panels, workshops, presentation and papers on writing, art, literature, media, science and other aspects of speculative fiction. It’s held at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I’ve been going to LTUE for four or five years now. This year I attended one of the best presentations I’ve seen there. It’s called:

What to Do When Your Character Knows More About Fighting Than You Do.
presented by Adam Meyers.

I’ve included his PowerPoint below, but much of the information in the slides is bulleted and was used by Adam as a spring board for further conversation. After the deck, I’ve included my notes from the presentation, some of which include information directly from the slides but with additional comments.

Books and Movies that provide examples of good fighting and fighters.

The book The Princess Bride
It has well-written fighters, technically sound fights, and fights with reason behind them, not just fighting for the sake of fighting; including the scene where The-Man-in-Black fights Fezzik. Fezzik realizes that he's using the wrong moves because he’s accustomed to fighting groups of men, as he says, “You use different moves when fighting more than one person.”

Movie - Iron and Silk starring Pan Qingfu
I would call him the greatest martial artist you’ve never heard of. In 2002, he was honored with a special ceremony where he became the only person ever conferred with a Level 10 degree, from the Confederation of Canadian Wushu Organizations, an organization that only has 9 levels.

The movie Rob Roy has possibly the best movie depiction of a small sword fight. It is the final confrontation between Rob Roy and Archibald Cunningham. The movie was released in 1995 but as soon as Adam mentioned it, I knew exactly which scene he was referring to, evidence of a well-written fight scene. It was not a fight for the sake of fighting. There was purpose and emotion to it.

The Book of Five Rings
Describes the mentality of a warrior. It was penned by a samurai sword master and has application not only in physical confrontation but all confrontation.

The Bayeux Tapestry Embroiderers' Story
Gives an accurate visual depiction of medieval arms and warfare.

Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives
A historically accurate view of true medieval life.


Particularly in movies, fights tend to go on forever. People get hurt and get right back up. In reality, depending on the weapons involved (the armor and style) fights will last between four minutes and four seconds. A trained fighter is not trained to fight you—he is trained to kill you. A distinct difference.

For example: Shotokan karate A confrontation with someone trained in Shotokan karate will generally last four seconds. Every strike is designed to shatter bones, even their blocks.

Another example is Fencing: A fencing match only lasts until someone lands one good hit.

Yeah, but what about armor? True, armor does prolong a fight, but not indefinitely, particularly if you have the proper weapons (more on that later).

Remember, trained fighters are not trained to fight. They are trained to kill, maim, or incapacitate.

Bodies will in fact break – Have you ever wondered how John McClane gets the crap beat out of him over and again yet the result of this continued pummeling is nothing more than cuts and bruises? And he keeps coming back for more? If you can suspend you disbelief long enough, then the Die Hard movies are highly entertaining, in my opinion.

Fights to the death have no time outs and no posturing to the crowds. It is possible to get back up from injury due to adrenaline; the catch is that in a true fight, your opponent does not allow you to do so.


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