Kinetic Force, A Fight Scene Must

Kinetic force is a must in every fight scene. You need to get a sense of motion going, so the audience feels it. There’s weight to hand to hand strikes, the generation of cause and effect between the force of motion and the reaction to being hit. Whether your character is using soft or light techniques, movement is going to be involved and as an author you need to get a sense for it.
Once you have that, you need to be able to both incorporate it into your story and communicate it clearly to your audience.

In
this post, we’ll offer up an example (written by me) and discuss some
ways in which you can start incorporating this into your writing.

The Example:

Eirwen’s
fist whipped up, plunging into Andras’ stomach. Stepping forward, her
hands rose and slammed into both his ears. The older elf stumbled.
Cranking her knee to her chest, she rammed the ball of her foot into his
gut.

“Yeah! Go Woodsy!”

Andras flew backwards. Hitting
the wooden fence surrounding the practice yard, his back to the cheering
soldiers. His bald head gleamed in the noon day sun, dappling across
the new fuzz of fine, white hair springing from his scalp.

Someone in the crowd slapped his bare shoulder.

“Get her, Andras!”

He
lifted his head, yellow eyes gleaming. A smile yanked hard at the side
of his mouth. Wiping his lips with muddy knuckles, he stepped forward.
“You have been practicing,” Andras said.

Lifting her hands,
Eirwen reset her position. Fingernails brushed her cheek, the other hand
low and guarding her waist, she kept both loose and open. Settling back
on her left leg and dropped into her stance. “Oh, yes,” she laughed. “I
wouldn’t want to shame my teacher!”

“Kick his ass, Wood Girl!”

The hand by her cheek tightened into a fist and she raised it, gave it a shake. “Without a doubt!”

Laughter rippled through the surrounding crowd.

“Ah,” Andras chuckled. “I see you again overestimate yourself, little one.”

“Today is my day, old man.” A smirk twisted, lopsided, on her mouth. She held up a hand, fingers twitching. “Bring it.”

He lunged.

Catching
the first kick with her shin, she whipped it out and knocked his leg
away. Foot planted in the mud, her body twisted, right foot lifting as
she wheeled. Her knee swung up, tight in a chamber, and then her hips
rolled over, kick sweeping through the air toward his temple.

His elbow tucked tight against his ear, violet-blue barrier flickering.
The top of her foot slammed into him. Her energy rolled against his, shimmering, quivering, shaking.

Andras
shoved her away, sweeping her left leg. His ankle hooked hers, his palm
flat against her chest. He yanked his foot back in time with a hard
shove, and she went down. Back crashing into the mud, Eirwen slid back.
Cold water clung to her neck, tickling her scalp, splashing over her
chest in a spray of black-brown sludge.

Andras’ heel struck downwards.

She rolled, springing to her feet.

Another splash of water hit the air, his foot connecting with a vacated puddle.

She
swung away, circling. Eyes flicking over the curvature of his bare
chest, his pale skin, the rippling abdominal muscles, his muscular arms
toned by over a thousand years of dedicated training. Swallowing, Eirwen
let her fists tighten up. His legs aren’t so bad either. Nice to see the tight armor wasn’t just for show. She nearly shook her head. Focus.

“You continue to surprise me,” Andras said. Yellow eyes followed her, his smile pulling wider.

“I know,” Eirwen replied.

“You adjust well to our training.”

“As you have said.” Eirwen leaped forward, launching a flurry of blows at his chest and head.

Rough
calluses of his palms and fingertips slid over her skin, her knuckles,
her wrists, tingling. “Still.” He knocked each punch away. “This path is
not for those faint of heart.”

She slid beneath a return strike,
fist hammering his ribcage. “And?” She gripped the back of his head and
drove her knee into his stomach.

His barrier sparked. Crackled. His head flew forward.

Their gaze locked.

Eirwen grinned. “Is my heart faint?”

Andras
caught her, whipped her around, arms wrapping across her body.
Squeezing. Her bare back pressed to his equally bare chest. The cut of
his muscles rubbed against her, left a warm, tingling sensation running
up her spine. He lifted her high. His voice murmured in her ear, “We
shall see.”

“Oh, ho!”

“Andras!” Elves in the crowd chanted. “Andras! Andras! Andras!”

Rocking, she tucked her legs to her chest. They sprung out. Head knocked back. It clashed with his nose.

His barrier cracked. Failed.

Grin widening, Eirwen hit him again.

He stumbled.

Her feet hit mud. Her leg lifted and struck out, heel driving deep into his abdomen.

Andras grunted. Blood dribbled down his lip, slipping off his chin. Fingers sparking, blue energy rippled over his shoulders.

Head
turning, Eirwen spun, wheeling, her right leg whipped toward his skull
and… went through him. Off balance, she slid on the ground’s slimy
surface. Andras’ fist struck out, slamming into her diaphragm. Air
hurled from her lungs, she staggered back. Gasping, gulping, she tried
to straighten. Saw the second hit come. His fist caught her under the
jaw, the third slammed into her chest, and she flew back.

Her barrier shattered.

Hitting a fence post, Eirwen slid into the mud with a groan.

Andras
strode through the mud. He came to a stop, his broad back blocking out
the sun. She half-expected him to grab her by the hair but, instead, he
extended a hand.

With a smile, she took it and let him haul her to her
feet.

So, I wrote this for *gasp* a fanfic. I
changed the names, but the full thing is posted somewhere else on the
internet (also on my personal Tumblr page and AO3 account, along with
some of my other writing assuming you want to go there…).

Some
people would tell you action words and you should learn as many of them
as you can. You’ll hear a lot that you can cheat on fight scenes by
using shorter sentences to make the action flow faster. You’ll also hear advice suggesting
you use more active words, more verbs while cutting out adjectives. Cut out metaphors. Create images without relating them to another object.

This is good advice and you should learn it. However, both avoid the heart of the issue. The true
key to when it comes to actually writing a good fight is learning to be
efficient with your language. Focusing on details to convey a sense of weight, where objects
and characters within the text actually begin to feel like they are
moving.

What you want is the movie playing behind your eyes, where the audience can see everything that happens.

How do you do it?

Physics
are key. To be able to write about objects in motion, you must first
understand how objects move. What happens when they do? Even if your
story involves magic or superpowers, all your characters will be subject
to physical laws.

In discussion of this, we will be using
Newton’s Three Laws of Motion because to talk about physics in fiction,
we must remember that physics exist and your characters are affected by
them.

1.) Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

Writing
combat is give and take. There’s what one character does and how the
other character responds. If a character gets hit, they’ve got to fight
against it or be stopped by some other object. They can’t just fly
forever, they’ve got to fall into something.

Keep in mind
that an uncontrolled fall can be as dangerous as the hit itself, more
because you never know what someone will fall into. A hit might break a
bone, but cracking the skull on concrete can cause a concussion just as
easily. Falling down can scrape the skin, it can break bones, getting
knocked into a wall can cause injury. If your characters are bouncing
off objects, they are going to get hurt.

This is part of why
fighting to keep control of a person is significantly more difficult and
significantly more taxing than simply killing them.

2.) The relationship between an object’s mass m, it’s acceleration a, and the applied force is F is F= ma.
Acceleration and force are the vectors (as indicated in their their
symbols being displayed in slant bold font; in this law the direction of
the force vector is the same as the direction of the accelerated
vector.

Do you actually need to do the math to
know how hard your character is hitting? No, of course not. The trick to
remember is that your character can’t simply hit with the power of a
mac truck on a whim. More importantly, as you write hand to hand, you
need to remember that different parts of the body generate more force
than others.

A kick is more powerful than a punch. A spin kick or a
jump kick are more powerful than a regular kick. Why? They use motion
to accelerate faster and generate more force to hit the object with. The
trick being that the faster you go, the less control over your body you
have. If you miss, then the body will keep going and that creates an
opening in which the other person can strike.
This happens in the sequence above when Eirwen throws a spinning kick at Andras.

Head
turning, Eirwen spun, wheeling, her right leg whipped toward his skull
and… went through him. Off balance, she slid on the ground’s slimy
surface.

Because she expects the kick to land (the
muscles tighten up in the seconds before, because of the equal and
opposite reaction), she’s thrown off balance by the fact she didn’t
touch him at all. This leads her to slip, she can’t entirely control her
motion and thus it creates an opening for Andras to exploit.

Andras’
fist struck out, slamming into her diaphragm. Air hurled from her
lungs, she staggered back. Gasping, gulping, she tried to straighten.
Saw the second hit come. His fist caught her under the jaw, the third
slammed into her chest, and she flew back.

What do
you notice about this? Andras uses his fists. Earlier in the piece,
you’ll see that the kicks cause more damage than punches. Where Eirwen
could send Andras flying with a kick to the gut, he needs three separate
hits in order to return the favor. One to destabilize her (the gut),
the second take advantage (uppercut), with the third as the finisher
(chest).

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Eirwen also reacts to where he
hits her. Stomach/diaphragm controls breathing, hitting someone there
will stun/destabilize them by forcing an exhalation of air from the
lungs and cause the entire body to roll forward as it tucks inward to
protect the damaged core. She staggers in response to his first hit and
starts sucking down air.

We’ve established how hard each character
can hit utilizing the different limbs as striking mechanisms. Which
part of the body the character chooses to use will dictate how hard they
can hit, where on the body they hit their opponent will govern the
resulting reaction.

This is why combination hits are important.
Most of the time, you can’t simply power through another fighter’s
defenses. Combatants use rolling hits to generate more momentum and thus
more force. Strikes build into each other.
Instead of thinking about your hand to hand fight scenes as a wrecking ball, start imagining it like dominos.

3) For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

When
you hit somebody, something happens, some result will occur. It may not
be the result the character wants, but something has to and should be
documented.

Hitting a fence post, Eirwen slid into the mud with a groan.

She
hits the fence post, she makes a sound. It tells the reader, “Ouch.
That hurt.” She also slides down into the mud, the language denoting she
is not entirely in control of her movement.

Rocking, she tucked her legs to her chest. They sprung out. Head knocked back. It clashed with his nose.

His barrier cracked. Failed.

Grin widening, Eirwen hit him again.

He stumbled.

First
time his barrier fails, the second time he stumbles. It takes two hits
to get the result she wants. Later, he wipes away blood because his nose
is bleeding. This bring us back, to lesson 2: creating force. You’ll
also notice, he lifts her in the bear hug, she begins to rock in order
to create greater force. It is not enough just to slam her head back,
she uses her entire body to reach him.

The human body acts like a spring, start loose, tighten up, and then explode out. Loosen up again, tighten up, and boom.

Reaction is what creates a good fight scene.

However, writing reaction requires keeping an eye on detail and that means you need to start learning to look for them. Which means, either A) people watching or B) movie watching. Preferably both.

This also means, if you’re new and aren’t in the habit of watching martial arts, you need to start with slow combat over fast combat. Remember, the point of watching isn’t to learn to fight, it’s starting to figure out how people react to when in action.

Movies like the first Matrix, for example, where the stunts are predominately performed by the actors are going to be better as a starter than Jet Li films, Jackie Chan films, or the whole Wuxia genre. Keanu Reaves is slow enough for the average viewer to follow, whereas Jet Li moves fast enough the camera loses frames.

Youtube videos, particularly of sprinting, gymnastics, dance, field hockey, discus, and other sports will also help you. Whether it’s football or horse racing, your study is the human body. Kinesiology. What does it look like when someone speeds up? Slows down? What do they do? When do they start to breathe more deeply? Take that second wind? Understanding the body in motion will help you understanding the body in combat.

If you throw a ball at the wall, what happens? It bounces back. When a roundhouse successfully connects (or even when it’s blocked), it also starts to bounce back which is a major reason why a martial artist learns to “stick it”, to tighten up in the few seconds before impact so they connect more strongly and keep their force instead of losing a good percentage when the leg bounces back off their opponent’s body.

This is true of all hits and a major reason why beginners can sometimes wail on someone for several hours without doing that much damage.

Science is great, isn’t?

Imitating reality requires understanding reality. Writing fiction that feels like a movie means recognizing those basic details of everyday life we normally don’t look for. Your mind knows physics even if you don’t totally understand them, it looks for them within a work.

If you can’t see your fight scene in your head after you practice writing, don’t say, “I didn’t do it right.” Say instead: “What’s missing?” Sometimes, all you need is a few more passes. If you still can’t imagine it, look up similar examples of what you’re going for.

Learning to notice new details in the world around you takes time.

Don’t give up.

Happy Writing!

-Michi

Want more articles from us:

Cause and Effect: Fight Scene Examples

Seven Deadly Fight Scene Sins

Five Simple Ways to Write Convincing Fight Scenes

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