Q&A: House Rules

I looked but didn’t find if you answered this before, but how would I write the very start of a “proper” fist fight? Like writing the character’s entering fighting stances without sounding awkward or just writing “they raise their fists”

I’m not sure what you mean by, “proper.”

If characters are engaging in a duel, there’s going to be societal expectations for how will be conducted. This includes a brawl between a couple kids on the playground. They’ll have rules they understand (implicitly), and grasp the idea that violating those rules is unfair (whether that will influence their behavior is another matter.)

So, if your characters are going to duel, then they have a ritual they’ll follow. This could be as simple as a round of insults followed by them squaring up, or it could be far more elaborate. This really depends on their culture. Also, if those cultures don’t match, it’s entirely possible for one of the participants to botch the ritual elements, offending their opponent.

I’m going to step back and define some terms, in case it’s not clear.

A duel is combat between two participants as a form of dispute resolution. This can range from armed combatants (which is the context you’re probably thinking of) down to bare knuckle boxing. This is culturally sanctioned by the participants and their peers, though society at large may not agree, and may punish them for their behavior. Duels have set resolution points. These can range from coercing submission to death, with any number of potential other acceptable stopping points between.

Ritual just means that there an established social process. Again, if you’re thinking of an elaborate ceremony, that’s possible, but you could just be looking at something like a round of insults followed by violence.

In general terms, the more culturally acceptable a duel is, the more elaborate the ceremony will be. A society that permits dueling to the death will have a fairly elaborate ritual process to initiating a duel.

European dueling is an example: it required multiple non-participating witnesses, and a specific process of shuttling messages between the duelists well in advance of the actual fight. Failing to do that meant it wasn’t legally recognized as a duel, and didn’t enjoy the legal protections. As society evolved, the practice of sanctioning duels legally fell by the wayside, but the actual ritual was preserved for centuries.

If you wanted to twist it around, you could categorize the entirety of prize fighting as duels, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. They are examples of ritualized combat, with extensive rules.

So, if your characters are having a proper brawl, they’re going to have rules they need to follow, even if they never think of them as rules.

Now, if this isn’t a factor, the answer is far simpler: the fight starts when someone attacks.

The danger of approaching combat as a ritualized exercise is assuming everyone will play by your rules. Violence, even unarmed violence, is dangerous. If the goal is to neutralize your opponent, there’s no prize for good sportsmanship. There is no, “proper, upstanding,” combat, only the living and the dead.

Mistaking live combat for a more ritualized exercise happens to people. It gets them killed. There’s comfort in ritual. It affirms that the world you live in is not so random and uncaring. It helps you define your place in the world. Many people have made the mistake of thinking combat works this way; that there are rules we do not make for ourselves.

The rules we make for ourselves define us. You’ll go this far, but no farther, and that is how you know you still have some humanity. This isn’t a bad thing. Like I said, it’s how you know you’re still human, and not a monster. The problem is when you assume the people you’re fighting will follow those same rules. In a duel, they (probably) will, but in an actual fight? Who knows?

So, how does a fight start? When someone attacks. Probably without declaring, as calling out your attacks is a phenomenally stupid idea.

How will a duel start? However it’s supposed to. The final stages of the ritual play out, and then the participants will engage.

So, in answer to your question, it depends on your characters and the world they live in.

-Starke

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