Tag Archives: fight scene advice

Are groin attacks on men actually the automatic off-switch we see in movies?

No.

They aren’t universal, and you can, in fact, groin strike a woman to similar effect. What a groin strike is actually targeting is the nerve endings in that region of the body, the very same nerve endings that cause humans to experience sexual pleasure. It hurts a whole hell of a lot, it makes you sick to your stomach, and you bowl over to protect yourself. Nailing a woman with a groin strike is more difficult than a man because the area is smaller and it’s more difficult to hit. It can happen though, it’s happened to me in training with a partner.

Anyone with a strong pain tolerance is going to be resistant to groin strikes, just like with anything else. Some people are more sensitive than others. Other people will recover quicker than others. The rarest find won’t feel it at all, and they’re out there.

And, of course, if you’re opponent is wearing a cup then the groin strike goes right out. That’s why you wear cups when you’re sparring, so it doesn’t hurt when you get hit in the groin. So, if they’re armored, you’re out of luck.

It’s a pretty good stunner if you can land it and they’re not prepared for it, but it’s not a finishing move. When you see groin strikes in martial arts or just as self-defense, they’re part of what we call “combinations” which is a series of strikes performed one after the other. You use the groin strike to stun your attacker, and then follow up while they’re distracted by pain.

So, say you want to use a knee strike to the groin. You’ll grab them and strike the groin, then you grab their head and slam it into your knee again. You may hit them several more times after that if they don’t go down, but the groin strike is the opener or secondary to more effective moves that would be difficult to pull off if they weren’t distracted by pain or were… you know, upright.

The general populace often has a hard time grasping the concept of techniques feeding into each other. “I do this, so I can get over there, to do that”.

Groin strikes are conventional wisdom. Enough people have hit boys in the groin and see them bowl over to know that it’s somewhat effective, and enough boys have been hit in the groin to know it hurts.

You know what else hurts?

Your shin.

Getting hit in the shin hurts a whole hell of a lot too. It’s actually easier hit as it’s a much larger target and you don’t need to be nearly as close.

Anywhere on your body where the bone is near to the surface/isn’t protected by muscle, is direct access to your nervous system and works about as well as a groin shot. So, kick ‘em in the shin. Boxing the ears is another good one, you rattle the inner ear and cause them to lose their sense of equilibrium which makes them dizzy and they… stumble. Hit them in the nose. Their eyes will water, their nose will swell, both of which impact their ability to see.

You can, in fact, chain these together too.

Kick them in the shin. Box their ears. As their head comes forward, hit them in the nose or punch them in the throat. Then, if they’re still coming toward you or you’ve grabbed them by the shoulder or the head, knee them in the groin.

There aren’t a lot of one hit wonders when it comes to fighting, and if you did get one then you’re damn lucky. There is no 100%, no sure shot, no total shut down, no universal technique that will give you perfect accuracy on every human you will ever meet.

The problem with groin strikes in movies is that they’re actually a joke about manhood and dominance. Sometimes, it’s used intentionally and, sometimes, it’s not, but it doesn’t go much further than, “ha, ha, she hit him in the peen” and he goes down because the big, tough guy was really weak after all. It’s become that “Tough Girl Move” and is supposed to convey she’s tough, and brave, and everything that comes with a poorly thought out action girl.

In the movies, the groin shot is about dominance and asserting superiority. Whether it’s a woman doing it to a man, or a man doing it to another man (but it’s usually a woman), that’s what it’s normally about. It’s just a co-opting of the Alpha Male Bullshit Package for an Empowering Moment. It’s telling that these moments revolve entirely around the physical embodiment of manhood, because it’s often treated as the only weakness a man possesses. Given the groin shot is often paired with the threat of sexual assault, you can see all threads weaving themselves together for the underlying themes. The man is brought down by his *ahem* desires, the woman flees, and the scene is still all about sex.

So, you know, fun.

-Michi

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Jumping on the farm equipment bandwagon, how effective would a hoe be in combat, both in a “serious” fight, and in a fight where it’s “grab the nearest thing that could hurt someone, if you catch my drift.

You’re in luck! The Okinawan hoe called a kuwa has a self defense form associated with it. The kuwa is a bit different than the standard American hoe, but you can fuck someone up with it.

You can basically use most of your standard staff techniques with a hoe without any problems, and have the added bonus of utilizing the metal piece for both strikes and control depending on how practiced you are at hooking things.

A good rule of thumb when looking at farm implements is to assume that just about all of them can be (and have been) used as self-defense weapons at one time or another. This includes the hand scythe, kama, and sickle. Your standard issue farming scythe is actually an outlier and that’s because it is awkward to handle from the way the blade positioned. The war scythe itself were made when farmers took their scythes to the local blacksmith and fitted it so the blades pointed up rather than sideways like a standard issue polearm. Any farming implement with a straight pole like a hoe, a pitchfork, a shovel, or even a broom easily transition. This is because of the pole itself; when the farming implements are removed it’s just a wooden staff.

Staves are among the easiest weapons to learn, and the techniques feed directly into the more advanced longarms like the spear or halberd. You can and often do make use of both ends, switching between them in a diagonally crisscrossing pattern.

So, if you had a shovel, you could roll it over and use the head to attack your opponent’s food (stabbing downward) then either bring it back to strike again with the head or simply roll it over as you advance to strike high with the wooden butt then on the step back to strike their ribcage with the shovel.

One of the problems for beginners and those who’ve never worked with weapons is understanding that you use utilize more than just the blade when you fight. The entire weapon actually gets used. With staff weapons, that’s both ends, and the hands transition up and down the length of the weapon to create a distance advantage over your opponent. You can hold it at the middle to strike or at the furthest ends. This creates a flexible combat style that transitions easily to a multitude of improvised weapons.

When your looking to adapt a household or farming implement into a weapon, its important to think about the actual movement set associated with it. How it moves dictates how it will work in a fight. The hoe’s design leads to sweeping motions, driving down (like you would into dirt) or up (in the opposite direction) because the bladed part is horizontal to the staff. However, because of the hook, one might (theoretically with Jackie Chan-esque ingenuity) be able to reach around behind the head and twist to achieve a makeshift throw.

In answer to your question, the hoe wouldn’t be out of left field as a weapon choice if your character was in the garden working and got attacked. Most gardening tools can also double up as improvised weapons as needed. Depending on your character’s temperament, weed killer can easily become a means of chemical warfare. Also the hose.

The scythe really is the odd man out.

If you want to run with the idea of improvised weapons, I really recommend intense studies of Jackie Chan for choreography ideas with special attention paid to his Chinese films.

-Michi

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Would kickboxing experience be any help in a real fight?

It really depends. If you’re training in kickboxing, going to an actual gym or club like a boxing one that focuses on it to take lessons then yeah. You’ll be able to fight either in theory or in practice. However, kickboxing has become popular as a form of exercise as opposed to a kind of combat. At this point, that’s what makes it most famous. If your character is practicing it as an exercise routine like Zumba or Tae Bo then no.

One is learning how to fight, though the success will depend on the focus of their training and it’s going to on who you want them to fight. It depends on how much they’ve been practicing. Their mental state when they’re getting ready to fight. The kind of fight they’re in. If you’re sending a kickboxer up against a marine for example, it’s probably not going to go well. If you’re sending them unarmed against a street tough with a knife or a gun, it’s still probably not going to go well.

However, I will remind everyone again that a character being a badass is not how well they fight. It’s how well they problem solve in the face of adversity. Combat is more than a matter of statistics, it’s will to power. Whatever the background you choose to give them, your character being able to take their life experiences and use them to assess the situation, their strengths and weaknesses, face the realities, and then work to find a way out is what makes them badass. Bravery is overcoming your fears and self doubts. Courage comes from standing up not when you know you’ll win, but when there’s a possibility you might not and do anyway.

You can have a character whose only experience with kickboxing is through the exercise routines that they practice off a DVD every morning and still be a fantastic character who takes part in a thrilling adventure. This character can become a badass over the course of your narrative, with an audience who walks away going, “they’re awesome!” There are hundreds of characters all over fiction who come to their story unprepared for the events about to happen to them but who dig deep, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and figure out what they need to do in order to survive. Those characters are badasses in their own right. Whether it’s by choice, necessity, or both.

Will they be a Jet Li style badass? No. If you want Jet Li style badasses take a page from the Wuxia playbook, there are a ton of movies on Netflix right now. What you’ll notice is that characters with that kind of phenomenal skill come from a background which supports it. The best of the best are the best because they’ve spent most of their life training to become that, spent their days and their nights studying it, and devote their lives to it. If you want a Jet Li style badass, you give them a Jet Li style background. That background may change the kind of character you’re planning to write.

When sitting down to make your notes consider these questions:

  1. What kind of story do I want to tell? What is the focus of my narrative?

  2. What sort of fighting do I plan on having in my story? Who will my
    antagonists be? What are their skills? What do they bring to the table?

  3. What sort of background does my protagonist have? What are their skills?

  4. What sort of events do you want to have? When I’m imagining scenarios in my head, what am I thinking of?

  5. What will they need in order to be successful? What are the weaknesses that have emerged that they’ll need to overcome?

Try to remember, your character’s level of preparation isn’t the only measure of success. A character who has spent their life learning to be a monster hunter and suddenly finds their skills needed for the first time is going to be prepared, but if they go out with no problems the first time and face no adversity then the story will be boring. Not only that, but your audience may reject it due to it failing to reflect their realities. You can study hard for a test and still be nervous when taking it. Simultaneously, a character who has spent their life training and preparing to be a soldier may find themselves flustered, lost, or troubled on the battlefield even when they survive their first time out. A character who wants to be the best boxer in the world will face trouble when he’s suddenly shoved out onto the street and told: survive. There is overlap between bloodsport and real-world combat in terms of technique, but not reality. Does that mean the boxer won’t be successful? No, but different kinds of training prepare different kinds of fighters for different scenarios.

You can have a character who is trained in one kind of combat then thrust into an environment that they are unprepared for. This is why “Soldier Nanny” narratives are usually comedies because the gruff army sargeant suddenly forced to deal with toddlers is funny as a mental image. However, these stories are often heartwarming as the soldier adapts themselves to parenting and figures out the unexpected links between their life experience/training. Instead of the experience rewriting their personalities, they grow as people.

At the end of the day, it’s about what you want. Do you want to write a character who is a kickboxer? If you do, then research it. Like boxing, kickboxing is actually fairly well-documented. Unlike many less well known martial arts, there’s a lot of information out there about it.

Will it work? I don’t know, but I bet it’ll be fun to find out!

-Michi

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So I know you mention a lot that you can’t really use violence as a reliably non-lethal and temporary form of subduing another character. And that got me thinking about how tons of shows/books mention jabbing a pressure point with a finger or two, and how that’ll knock someone out instantly and painlessly. Is that actually possible, or is it just another case of media handwaving the likelihood of serious damage being inflicted?

It is possible to knock someone out using pressure points and a technique used in some lesser known martial arts which specialize in the practice. That’s one of those highly advanced techniques and it’s only really used by Masters. Kysho-Jitsu is one such martial art. (Take this article with a grain of salt and recognize that there’s a lot of controversy about these types of techniques in the martial arts community.) However, it looks nothing like it does in Hollywood. The “neck chop” used by James Bond and other subsequent films that follow after it is basically a Hollywood invention. It’s just a handwave.

Pressure Points are:

  1. Very difficult to use in general combat without a solid grasp of what you’re doing and the body’s internal workings. And…

  2. Exceedingly painful.

When someone attacks your pressure points, they are attacking the body’s nervous system. They’re messing with the electrical impulses and pain receptors to achieve varying results. The end is basically ensuring that the recipient feels lots and lots and lots of pain. The attacker can then proceed to control the recipient’s body through that pain and the distraction it causes. It allows you to take one finger, one point on the body, and force the entire thing to freeze.

However, it’s an advanced form of combat that takes a great deal of understanding in order to make work. A practitioner who specializes in pressure points needs to also be studying the body’s inner workings. You’ll actually find the martial styles that make more use of pressure points are the ones that also hew closer to the medicinal side. These martial arts can be “soft” martial arts like Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan, but there are a few “hard” martial arts that fall into this category. The wuxia film trope of the ancient martial arts master and doctor who can heal a patient as easily as he can cut off an enemy’s ability to functionally use their arm is a real extension of some of these martial arts. In China, specifically, many martial arts are linked to medicine and have studied the effects of the techniques on the body’s internal workings. Different nerves result in different responses and different applications of pressure can do the same.

One thing I will say is, from a self-defense perspective, the usage of pressure points in combat without a lot of practice can be very difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. For one thing, you need to know where the pressure points and nerve endings are in a general sense but also be able to hit them accurately on your first go through clothing. Different body types and people mean that everyone’s pressure points are in slightly different places, meaning that you could hit where you’ve been training to hit with your practice partner and still come up empty when faced with an assailant. Being that the common pressure points are most easily visually identified where two different muscles connect like the biceps and triceps on the inside of the upper arm, they’re easier to find on someone who is fit rather than someone who is not. People who are overweight and women’s subcutaneous layer of fat which makes it harder to achieve muscle definition can make this process more difficult if you’re unsure of where you’re hitting.

Common pressure points like underneath the ear or the collarbone are easy to find. Whether you’re planning to rap the surface of it with two knuckles or dig in with two fingers or thumb, it is possible to put someone on the ground that way.

And, like with practicing joint locks on those who are double jointed, there is a subset of the population who actually lack nerve endings and will be immune to the pain that pressing them causes.

In short, it’s a lot more complicated than Hollywood makes it look. It’s also more dangerous and more painful. There’s also a fair amount of controversy regarding some of these techniques and their safety. Pressure points are not a miraculous 100% of the time, total accuracy guarantee. Every person’s body is slightly different and those differences can make or break you. If you want to work with pressure points in your own fiction, understand that while the information is not unknown it will be more difficult to come by.

It’s dangerously easy to assign this kind of martial combat into the “Eastern Mysticism Magic” bullshit that usually gets pervasive with higher levels of martial arts training when it comes to Hollywood.

Always check with multiple sources.

My own minimal experience being on the receiving end of pressure points is this:

Ow, ow, ow, damn, ow, fuck, shit, damn, ow.

-Michi

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I started watching Daredevil Season 2 and so far the choreography doesn’t seem very good, mostly random backflips magical chain-whipping and punching already down opponents in the face for no practical reason. Am I missing something major or does it just get way better further in?

Yeah, you’re confusing flash for substance, and then looking for flash. The TV series skews hard towards actual combat concerns, rather than creating superficially good looking fights, it’s showing plausible ones (if you can get past the superheros shrugging off inhuman amounts of punishment and that the people they’re punching should probably be dead).

There’s a lot of stuff there that’s mostly authentic to how fights actually shake out. Including considerations like the idea that just because someone’s on the ground, doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Which is what the punching downed foes is about.

Also, someone connecting with a chain that heavy will wreck you. It’s actually rather telling that you don’t often see stunt performers messing around with chains. These things are just about as dangerous as films and TV will suggest, and there’s no easy way to whiff strikes with them. The last time Michi says she saw someone use a chain that heavy in their fight scenes was Sylvester Stallone in Expendables 2. He kept the pair of them several feet away from Van Damme in their fight scene for obvious reasons. Those are the same reasons why Van Damme didn’t take the jump wheel kicks anywhere near his head. You’re looking at the kind of stunts meant for movies with a movie budget rather than television. The same is true when they do a flip and “land” on the guy. When doing tricks and flips on a television budget, you’ll often see the stunt performers giving whoever is doing it a wide berth. This is for safety reasons due to the danger both to the performer if the trick goes wrong and the fact that no one wants 180-220 pounds of dead weight to fall on them. They really don’t want it when followed by the incredible amount of kinetic force which you need to carry you through a flip. With the stunts, we’re looking at a show that has budgeted for near movie quality fight scenes or they’re very good at making the most of what they have.

Another thing you didn’t mention is the slight sloppiness that saturates the combat. I can see why that sloppiness might throw you off. In theory, this is something you’d usually chastise the choreographer for. In theory, you want everything to look sharp and clean. But, that kind of sloppiness is actually how real combat looks with trained combatants. It’s there as a deliberate design aesthetic at work here. It feeds into the authenticity, but it also feeds into the thematic nature of Daredevil as a character. The superhero who is fraying at the edges and deteriorating in front of you as a result of his crusade.

The other big thing with Daredevil’s choreography, and it’s easy to miss if you don’t realize what it entails, are those long shots. When you’re shooting a film or TV series, you get your stunt performers in, and they’ll shoot pieces of a fight, then you splice it together in editing. This can easily take all day, because you’ll shoot each punch and parry a couple times, then thread the whole thing together in editing. It’s easy for the stunt actors, because they just need to hit their marks, then they can take a few minutes to recover, while everyone resets the scene.

When you start stacking up techniques in a single shot, it gets trickier, because instead of needing to perform one or two techniques, they need to nail everything in that shot. The longer the shot goes, the harder it becomes, because your stunt actors need to go through the entire shot, before they can take a break.

What you’ll then see in Daredevil are continuous shots that never cut away. For a stunt actor, this stuff is murderous. They all need to get the choreography right, or they have to do the whole thing over again. This is also very strenuous physical activity. Think of a fight like a sprint, rather than a marathon. You’re going all out as hard as you can, as fast as you can. When it’s one or two blows, that’s pretty easy to manage, and recover from, but when you’re following someone down a staircase? When you’ve got minutes of screen time without any cuts? That’s some seriously impressive work from the entire team. Combine that with actors in costumes that severely restrict their ability to see, and working with legitimately difficult weapon elements, and the entire thing becomes really impressive, from a technical standpoint.

Seriously, the stunt performers on that show are fantastic. They’ve got some very difficult material to work with, and they’re turning out quality results. The choreography probably isn’t what you expect from a superhero show, but it is some of the best on TV.

-Starke

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This is a very general question and if you’ve already answered something like it, is it possible you can link me to it? How would you go about to writing an engaging fighting scene? My book has several action scenes and I’m able to balance internal conflict with external, but when it comes to the actual fighting, I fall flat. Any advice? On that note, I love your blog and I hope you have a lovely day :)

A few things come to mind. And, I’m going to risk wandering off topic a bit.

First, everyone is the worst judge of their own work. This cuts both ways. There’s stuff that may feel flat to you, but works for readers, or you may think something is great and your readers say otherwise.

Writing is an exercise in self-confidence. If you think it falls flat, get someone else to take a look at it. If you’ve already done that, then here we are. Also, not every scene will work for everyone. If you’ve got one person saying it doesn’t work, consider getting a second opinion. I’m not saying, shop around until you hear what you want, but it’s something worth remembering.

Second, remember this is happening in their world. I’ve seen a lot of writers who stage out their fight scenes as a highly abstract environment. They may not intend to, but they clear the space around their characters, and just sit there calling shots. So, don’t do this. Keep track of where your characters are. Keep them interacting with their environment as appropriate. If it’s an office, remember the desks, filing cabinets, windows, and doors. If it’s a fight in a coffee shop, remember the tables, the other patrons, the entire mise en scène. Don’t let your characters sneak off into their own heads; or, punish them for it if they try.

Third, keep your characters on point. If the internal conflict is a variation of Hitchcock’s ticking bomb, that’s good. If you have someone weighing the ethics and morality of killing while in combat, not so much. Your characters need to be able to react, then try to justify their choices once they’re out of danger. If they can’t, that’s a legitimate character conflict, but there’s a time and place for everything. In the middle of a fight is not the time to be pondering the Deontological ethics of justifiable homicide.

Finally, remember the first law of Newtonian physics. “An object in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless, acted upon.”

What this means? Remember, when your characters are interacting with their environment, objects are put into motion. Keep track of this. Cull the detritus your characters wouldn’t notice, but as the action progresses, your characters will affect their environment, and they should see that happening.

Conversely, remember “an object at rest,” if something starts moving mid-fight, it has to be because someone caused it. That person doesn’t need to be a participant, but they do need to be there, reacting to the action.

I hope that helps you.

-Starke

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I recently saw a movie where the main character had to fight a much larger opponent. The bad guy was able to catch the good guy’s fist in mid-punch and force it back. Since I’m thinking of using something similar in a short story, is something like this possible in real life?

It’s possible, it doesn’t usually go down that way. That’s an old and established trope but, like two guys talking it out when their swords are locked together, it requires characters buying into it for it to work.

Everyone takes a twenty point hit to their IQ.

(And no one gets decked mid-sentence.)

The Trope:

It’s a stage fighting trick, but the point of the much larger guy or the bad guy catching a character’s punch midair and forcing it back is essentially just an arm wrestling match. It’s physical domination. It’s there to visually cue the audience in that this guy is super tough. But, for it to work, it requires that the hero buy into the machismo. They’ve gotta answer by pushing back. They’ve got to make it a strength contest. It also requires the villain be too dumb to go for the obvious arm lock in that position, where they grab the hand, lock their fingers around it, whip it down in a semi-circle, then turn the fist so the palm is facing the sky and lift.

The Less Macho Solution:

The problem with this trope is that the easy answer is actually very easy, you go with it. He only has your arm, so when he shoves, instead of fighting you roll with it. The arm goes loose, shoulder rolls back, takes the thrust. He only has the hand, shoving back like that isn’t quite enough to destabilize the whole body unless the hero was putting their whole body into resisting it. He expects resistance, overreaches, and comes straight into that other hand which so often gets ignored in these kinds of scenarios. Free and easy sucker punch to a stomach suddenly no longer tensed. If the muscles aren’t tensed then there’s no natural armor protection.

Would Someone Actually Do It?

If the question is would two characters buy into the macho Hollywood style mano a mano action movie bullshit where the point is not winning but instead proving which one is the bigger man?

Yeah.

They do. Some women buy into it too. See it on television and repeat in real life. People are people and for a lot of people violence can serve as an expression of how masculine or how powerful they are. A lot of people who fight actually are in it for the exactly this kind of domination. However, this is the testosterone fueled idiocy of two people insecure enough in their own identities to think that just because someone else has more physical upper body strength than they do that they’re outclassed and no longer as “manly”.

As A Trope It’s Effective

At the end of the day though, when all is said and done, it is an effective visual trope. You’re gonna have to work to get it to play on paper. You can, it’s more than possible to do it and have it be just as effective. But, like with everyone getting their own distinct signature weapon to visually distinguish them, you’ll have to accept that the reader can’t see anything except with their mind’s eye.

Good description is going to be key. Think about the feel of what you’re going for. What your characters see. How they feel about the situation.

The strength of writing is that you can get far more personal, more intimate, more internal emotionally in the reader’s connection to the character than you can with a visual medium. So as much as your describing the action, keep your character in focus.

Every medium comes with their own strengths. In order to use one from another medium like visual, you need to translate it back into text. Think of it as two different languages. You’ve got to work to ensure that nothing is lost in its new format.

-Michi

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Knife Fighting Do’s and Dont’s

Scott:What they gotcha teachin’ here, young sergeant?

Jackie Black:Edged weapons, sir. Knife fighting.

Scott:
Don’t you teach ‘em knife fighting. Teach ’em to kill. That way, they
meet some sonofabitch who studied knife fighting, they send his soul to
hell.

Spartan, 2004

There
really is no right answer to knife fighting, except, perhaps, the above
quote. When you’re setting out to write a scene, it’s best to assess
your priorities first and what your story needs. In the real world,
knife combat comes in many different forms and works as a supplemental
weapon in most military disciplines. It’s a common weapon in
self-defense situations, and can be used both by the aggressor and the
defender.

What is a knife?

Primarily, it’s a tool
and, like all tools, there are situations where it thrives and those
where it dies. It succeeds as an ambush weapon, as a builder on hand to
hand, and when fighting in very tight quarters. Combat with knives is
very quick and very deadly. As an ambush weapon, it is often used to
close the distance or rush a target. Allow the knife wielder to get
close to an opponent wielding a sword or a gun before either can be
drawn and they will have the clear advantage. However, take the knife
out of tight environments and it’s effectiveness will decrease
dramatically. This is why it’s unlikely to be the only weapon in a
character’s arsenal, especially not when you’re writing a professional
combatant.

What kind of fight are you writing?

The
knife is a deadly weapon in the hands of anyone, it doesn’t require any
specialized training to be able to wield it. It’s more user friendly to
killing than even a gun and can require less maintenance. Basic
understanding works fine. You pick it up, you stab, and then you stab
some more. The stabs may all go to one place, often the gut, but five or
six into one place will leave the other character bleeding out on the
sidewalk.

It’s up to you on whether or not you want to (or if
it’s even appropriate to your story) write a scene which is more
sophisticated. Remember, it doesn’t have to be. The basic principle of
the knife is incredibly simple: You’re gonna shank a dude.

So, don’t freak out.

When
it comes to a knife, anywhere on the body is a convenient target.
Anywhere. This is one of the few weapons where you really don’t need to
know much about it to write a scene. The knife is fairly intuitive.
Unless your character needs to get fancy with their martial combat, then
you do need to study. Even then, you still need to pick your martial
art and do your research. Plenty of martial styles have a knife
component, so it’s more a matter of searching through the different
styles to find the one which fits your character and story.

Below
the cut, I’ll discuss some basic theory and suggestions that hopefully
will be enough to get you a jumping off point into the fine art of
shanking. This is no means a comprehensive list, just basic beginner
tips.

Knife
fighting isn’t sword fighting with minis. This is the first, and most
important, lesson. They belong in separate categories. Knives are
supplementary weapons in hand to hand and when included significantly
raise the threat level to what that individual intends. When someone
whips out a knife in combat, they are raising the stakes from “someone
might die” to “I definitely want to kill somebody”.

Knife combat
is very fast and any received injury will be devastating. Someone with a
knife versus someone without one has a significant advantage. Knives
are very dangerous and, if your character isn’t careful, a fight can
easily end with a double suicide when both characters are bleeding their
guts out on the side of a highway.

There are a lot of
different kinds of “knife fighting” out there and many different
techniques available for you to look into for your character. The
question is what kind of knife fighting are they trained in/used to?
Many traditional martial arts all around the globe have their own set or
subset of combat tactics when wielding a knife. Military and Police H2H
do as well, though the techniques employed by Police will focus less on
using a knife and more on disarming/subduing an opponent who carries
one. The knife is a very common weapon for street level criminals and
it’s genuinely viewed as the most dangerous of the weapons one can
encounter in that environment. (Yes, even more dangerous than a gun and
also more common.) Some of the more “militant” or “practical”
self-defense subsets advocate using knives for self-defense.

Whatever
you choose to go with in your story, it’s best to remember this one
simple rule when it comes to knife combat: like all bladed weapons,
knives are for killing. If a character pulls a knife on another
character then they are making an active threat on their life. Their
intentions no longer matter, the threat is “if you don’t give me what I
want, I will kill you” or “I plan to kill you”.
Knives are best
suited to opportunistic combat and tight spaces. In a wide view for the
professional combatant, they are usually the fallback weapon or
situational weapon that gets pulled when the character needs to either
be stealthy/carry an easily concealable weapon, or give them an
advantage within tight/confined spaces where a sword, pole arm, or gun
aren’t practical. Knives are easily concealable, very dangerous in
unarmed/unarmored combat, and often end with someone dead or grievously
injured.

If your character specializes in knife combat, then they
need to be able to accurately assess the appropriate situations where
knife combat is viable and where it is not. Weapons are specialized for
different situations. Accept that bringing a knife to a gun fight or
sword fight is a losing proposition if they try to take them head on.
What makes a character “skilled” is not their ability to face all comers
or overcome the rules by virtue of being awesome, it’s in their ability
to accurately assess a situation and develop a plan of action which
plays to their strengths. While their plan may go sideways (no plans are
ever guaranteed success), it’s the thought that counts.

Do Hang onto Your Knife

This
seems like simple and obvious advice, but your character is not
guaranteed to hold onto their knife throughout the entire fight. The
character’s knife can be just as dangerous to them as their opponent’s
if they fail to keep a firm grip. Without properly applied pressure, the
blade can simply slip free, slide through the hand and cut it open, or
be dropped when filled with adrenaline. Cutting and stabbing another
individual relies on pressure, if the character’s grip is not secure
then they may simply lose the knife.
Characters with little to no
combat experience will be more subject to this law. Even so, mistakes
can happen to anyone regardless of experience level.

Do Avoid the Blade

Knives
are very dangerous weapons, any cut your character suffers during the
fight can potentially be lethal. The reason for this is blood loss. The
more active you are, the more blood your body pumps through your heart,
if there is a hole in your body then the more blood will escape during
the fight. The more holes you get, the more blood escapes and there is
nowhere on your body a knife can hit that won’t draw blood. Your veins
are everywhere. One single hit can lead to a chain of from bad to worse.

Knife
fights happen within very close proximity, even if your character is
armed that won’t protect them from getting cut. A character is going to
want to stay out of range of the knife until they are ready to commit.
Instead of grasping and grappling, you’re going to be looking at a fair
amount of ducking, dodging, and deflecting. It’s not like with basic
hand to hand where you’re characters can simply trade blows. The
fighters want to keep the knives as far from them as humanly possible.
Catch the blade either early in the swing (as the arm draws back) or
late in the swing (after they’ve fully extended) to initiate a counter
attack, or cut under as they swing. Whatever your character does, their
priority is going to be on keeping that knife away from them so the
other person cannot reverse and stab.

Use your characters
“free” (non-weapon carrying) hand for blocking, deflecting, and
controlling. Characters who use the Phillipino martial art escrima may
supplement their free hand with a short stick or a baton. Characters
wielding two knives give up their ability to deflect and control their
opponent. They are trading their defensive options for more stabbing
power.

Do Keep Track of the Blade

This is
more for when you the author are writing, but also a good plan for your
characters. When writing fight scenes, especially when both characters
are armed, there’s a bad habit of writers imagining the sequence like a
video game. The knife is important only so long as it’s there to
establish a threat, once one character gets the upper hand then it’s
immediately forgotten.

Don’t forget it’s there. Even if it
gets knocked free or knocked away in the fight. As the writer, always
know where the weapons are even if the other characters forget about
them. Anything can happen with a free weapon. Any other character can
pick it up, any other character can make off with it, and be waiting
when your victorious protagonist walks around the corner. If the
character still has the knife, then they can still stab your protagonist
even when they are winning. Sometimes, even when they are dying.
Keep track of all weapons in the scene.

Don’t Grab the Blade

Your
hand is full of nerves and important tendons necessary for maintaining a
grip. A blade will slice through all of them and cripple your
character, leaving them bleeding and unable to defend themselves. Your
hand is a mechanical marvel, it is incredibly delicate. When damaged, it
can take a long while to recover, assuming it ever does.

This is
why deflection is so important in knife fights, as well as more risky
blocks that expose lesser parts of the body to injury in exchange for
more important ones. These blocks include using the edge of the forearm,
where the bone is closest to the surface and there are few important
muscles, to attempt to catch or lockup the blade in the bone. This is,
however, incredibly risky. Alternate knife grips, such as a reverse
grip, can avoid this block by slashing under instead of the expected
over and sever the veins and tendons before following up with a stab to
the ribs or gut. If you really, really, really must have your character
do something with their hand then instead of grabbing the blade, ram
their hand through it. It is terrible advice and will do long term
damage to the hand, but if there’s no other way out go that route. Your
character will appear slightly smarter because they attempted to lock
the blade up in the bones inside the hand. Locking up the knife creates
an opening for them to attack. It’s definitely a sacrificial gesture,
but if it’s your hand or your life then go with the hand.

Deflect
at the hand, the wrist, the elbow, and upper arm. Make contact with the
opponent and not the blade itself. If your character must attempt a
disarm (very dangerous), catch the wrist or the hand. Take the hilt,
torque the blade against the thumb (not the fingers) to pop it free. The
other character won’t be able to hold onto the blade. Like with most
martial actions, taking the knife isn’t about strength. It’s about
attacking the weak link (the thumb), forcing the hilt into a position
where the attacker can no longer maintain a grip.

Disarms are
exceedingly dangerous to perform. So, when writing, always try ensure
that the necessary body parts are protected and the blade is redirected
somewhere else. Best if it’s in a position where it can no longer come
at you again.

Don’t Fuck Around

One general
problem many authors have is they assume when someone becomes “good”
then basic threats no longer apply. In game terms, they level past
certain dangers and when they do those dangers no longer apply. Now,
this is a common cliche in many martial arts movies. The trick is
understanding that it’s a failing on the part of the student and their
overconfidence inevitably brings them back down to earth.

It
doesn’t matter how good your character is, combat is always dangerous. A
character’s professionalism is defined by how seriously they take the
threats made on their life and the part where they recognize the
inherent danger present in any situation. What they know will not keep
them safe from danger. It gives them a better chance and that’s all.

You
never level past danger. Whether they’ve seen one battle or a hundred,
treat every threat seriously and end it quickly. The longer a fight goes
on, the greater the chance that something will go wrong.

Don’t Prolong Suffering

It’s
cruel. If your character is in a situation where they must kill, then
killing quickly is kindness. While this should probably go under “Don’t
Fuck Around”, this is deserving of its own topic.

In Dune,
when young Paul Atreides must duel Jamis to secure his position within
Stilgar’s Fremen tribe, he is initially condemned by the other members
of the tribe when he prolongs the fight. The issue for him is that while
he is an exceptionally skilled combatant, he’s never killed before and
is hesitant to take a life. However, his lifetime of training has left
him so skilled that the Fremen see his behavior as cruel. It’s obvious
to anyone with eyes that he is going to win. All his hesitance does is
tease his opponent with false hope and prolong his suffering. There is
no out for Paul, he must kill.

This was an important scene in
the novel because of the way it highlighted the difficulty in the act of
killing another human being even when one has been brought up their
life to do so. It also humanized the Fremen. While their laws are strict
and their culture brutal due to their harsh environment, they won’t
thank any protagonist for prolonging the suffering of someone they care
about.

Holding off doesn’t make your character look like a
decent human being. There is more to the conversation than killing bad,
living good. What Paul does to Jamis is a form of torture. It is
unintentional, but that doesn’t change the end result. When your
characters are in a situation where they are more skilled than their
opponent and you have placed them in a situation where they must kill
then mucking around, prolonging the scene, is cruel.

This
doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. The scene I put forward from Dune is
powerful and informative, it serves a purpose. What you should do is
recognize the act for what it is, allow other characters to notice the
same, and condemn the character for it.

Don’t Give the Knife Back

If
someone tries to kill you, don’t give them their weapon back once the
fight is over. In novels, this is treated as “sportsmanlike” behavior. A
sign the character has defeated their enemy and are now proving they
are the bigger person. It’s stupid. There’s nothing stopping them from
burying that knife in your character’s back or their ribs the minute
they turn around. Just defeating someone doesn’t stop them from wanting
to kill you. It also won’t stop them from stabbing someone else.

Lots
of characters do this. If you have a character engaging in this
behavior, and they just might, think about it when you write the
consequences of the decision.

Do Lock Up the Hand (and other body parts)

Attack
the portions of the body they use to fight. Carve up the hand/arm first
to get it out of the way, then go for the main body. Author’s often get
too invested in “kill shots”, they sometimes forget that getting from
Point A to the killing blow has intervening steps, like getting through
their defenses. If the character has the option to go straight in to
take them out of the fight and the situation allows it, then all the
better.

However, sometimes a character is going to have to do a
little extra work than just rushing forward and stabbing the other
character. If the other character has a knife, then 9/10 they’ll just be
running into the other person’s knife. This advice goes hand in hand
with “Avoiding the Blade” and keeping track of the weapon. While the
knife can easily be switched between hands, it’s a good idea to create
openings in their defenses. This can be done using either the
“free”/defensive hand or the knife itself. Where the enemy knife is will
be important to targeting and response. Attacking the arm or wrist
holding the blade can be helpful to ending the knife’s threat.

After
all, if they can’t use the arm then they can’t use the knife. These
kinds of blows are, however, just openers to attack the other more
sensitive parts of the body.

You’re not just attacking veins.
Good slashes will also cut through or damage the muscles and ligaments
necessary for a person to keep fighting. In this respect, it’s best to
think of knife combat as surgical. While on the one hand, it can be
blunt. It can also be incredibly precise and ridiculously fast. This
kind of speed and precision you won’t get from a longer weapon.

Do Study Police Blotters and Medical Files

Knife
injuries will teach you more about knife combat than all the techniques
in the world. Learning what a weapon can do to somebody is part and
parcel to developing a healthy respect for the weapon. When we get right
down to it, knife combat is pretty gruesome.

Do Remember There Are Different Kinds of Knives

There’s the dagger.
Daggers typically possess two edges or are double-sided blades. They
are the traditional variant of the combat knife. Daggers, such as the
parrying dagger from fencing, can also be used as tools or secondary
defensive weapons instead of offensive.

And the knife.
Typically possess a single edge, primarily used for cutting, and are
tools. However, the term also applies to most modern combat knives.

The terms can be used interchangeably.

What
is your character carrying? A tactical knife? A switchblade? A kitchen
knife? These are different and one isn’t a weapon. I mean just look and those are just the modern ones. Also keep in mind that throwing knives are not the same as throwing a knife.
Throwing knives are made for throwing, if your character is throwing a
regular knife then they need to make some adjustments for weight and
balance.

Worth remembering: throwing a regular knife just means
your character has lost theirs. Knife throwing has become a narrative
fast hand for saying that “my character has impressive accuracy” and
often used in cases where it makes very little sense. Knife throwing is a
skill, as throwing anything is a skill. It’s a very nice party trick,
but means almost nothing in regards to combat viability. It’s a lot like
tossing around a baseball or a paper airplane. Anything you throw and
don’t want to lose, you still have to go out and retrieve.

Because
knives are also tools, be prepared to distinguish between the
improvised weapon (such as cutlery or any utility knife) and the actual
weapon such as a combat knife (a weapon designed around the idea of
stabbing another living person). For characters who use knives for
combat will not mix the two unless it’s absolutely necessary as it
damages the knife’s functionality both as a weapon and also as a tool.

Do Use Sensation Appropriate Verbs

Depicting combat in your writing is often about finding the right words that generate the appropriate feel of the motion you’re aiming for. In this case, hard sharp words like cut, thrust, slice, slash, stab, drove, instead of hard but round words implying crushing force like “hit”. “He hit him with the knife.” Does that sound right? When we use the word “hit“ we conjure images of kinetic force, a knockback, and a slight bounce. Words that imply blunt force trauma are out, unless it involves hitting someone with the butt of the knife hilt (though why would you do that? It’s not a sword pommel). Knives and bladed weapons go “in”, they impale. There is driving force behind the edged weapon, but also a sense of smoothness in the action.

Soft words also can work in certain situtations like : slip or slid, like “he slid the blade between his ribs”.

You can also use words like “caught” to convey what happens to the blade when it penetrates the body. “She tried to yank it back, but the blade had caught in Adam’s ribcage.”

I hope these have been helpful to you.

-Michi

Resources:

Stay Safe Media
– This self defense vlog run by edged weapon’s expert Michael Janich is
very helpful for those looking to get quick information about knives
and knife combat. Janich’s predominate focus is on self-defense, but he
puts a primary focus on framing the training through real life
situations. His videos have been very helpful to me and hopefully will
be to some of you as well.

Contemporary Knife TargetingContemporary Knife Targeting
by Michael Janich isn’t really about targeting per say, it’s mainly
about William Fairburn’s Timetable of Death, which is used by Police and
Military to determine how long someone has from resulting knife
injuries and why it’s flawed. This is pretty much why I recommend the
book because it spends a vast majority of it’s time going in depth into a
discussion of how quickly someone will die from which injury. If you
want to write about knife fights, this one is worth a look.

Dune – Frank Herbert’s Dune
has some very well written knife sequences, but also good world
building explanations for certain kinds of behavior. The Fremen culture
is very reactive to what Paul and Jessica do when they join. Paul
must convince them he is what he says. While stories in which the hero
isn’t given carte blanche to do what they like aren’t uncommon,
characters dealing with consequences other than the basic “death is bad”
or “I can’t believe you did that” are slightly more unusual. There are
more kinds of horror and emotional rollercoasters than just easily
grasped indignation.

Spartan
– I linked the above quote at the beginning and while Spartan doesn’t
talk about “knife fighting”, you do see another colder perspective in
the main character. It’s more about attitude than knives, but worth
considering.

U.S. Military, Systema, Israeli Military, Kali and
Escrima from the Philippines, and many other martial systems have a
knife component to their training. It’s up to you to decide what level
of knife combat your character is trained in and find a style which
corresponds accordingly.

As always, keep in mind that combat
constantly changes, evolves, and grows over time. All martial systems
are not created equal, they were developed to deal with specific
challenges faced by the culture in question. While they might not lose
cultural relevance, combat effectiveness changes with the times. A
character who spends his weekends practicing Kendo or Iaido is not the
same as a samurai from 1185. The modern special forces, or even just the
basic soldier, are a better comparison.

okay so my character is chained to a safe and the building is on fire and she has a chef’s knife; is cutting her foot off possible? if so how difficult? or option C go ask another blog?

That’s… very drastic.

Self-mutilation is not usually the first option in these kinds of situations, or ever unless we’re dealing with a Jack London type scenario where the foot has gone gangrenous and the character is trapped in the middle of nowhere with nothing around them for miles. When it’s a choice between certain death (gangrene in the foot spreading to the rest of the body, the foot is already dead, already useless) and almost certain death (they will probably die or freeze to death before they finish the twenty to fifty mile trek through the wilderness to the next town, but at least this way they’ve taken a chance to prolong their life.)

Either way, removing a limb takes time. A lot of time, depending on the tools available. With a fire coming, this is time your character just doesn’t have.

The fire will get to her before she can get through the ankle bone. A chef’s knife is not a bone saw. More importantly, she will probably need that foot to escape. If she cuts it off, she has to hop/drag herself away from the fire. She will die of blood loss before she gets out. The more she moves, the faster she will bleed out. Blood will make her grip slippery, the knife will slip, she has to go through a lot of bone and a lot of living tissue. The pain will be extraordinary. Her survival instincts (the desire to not do this) will kick in long before she even starts cutting and get in the way, slowing the process down. She’ll die of smoke inhalation before the fire ever reaches her and before she can get the limb off. She will die in agony.

I understand this sounds like a very dramatic solution, but it’s not a practical one and it’s certainly not sensible. Harming herself will only impede her goal. The goal is to escape before she is killed and be able to keep moving until she finds safe harbor to hide from the villain. You’re looking at the situation with the manacle or whatever is holding her as being insurmountable.

It’s not.

Locks can be picked.

Chains can be broken.

Safes can be carried.

The goal here, for your character, is to get out. It doesn’t matter if she’s got to do it with the manacle still attached, dragging the chain as she goes. All she has to do is find a way to break the lock or get the chain off the safe.

She just can use the knife to worry the lock or look for loose links in the chains and use the blade to pry them apart so she can escape. She can use the handle of the knife bash at the lock. Maybe she has a paper clip in her pocket, a little luck and that manacle might just pop loose. A solid metal desk lamp, a piece of re-bar, any sort of construction material can be used against the chain in an attempt to break it loose.

It’s a matter of finding the point of least resistance, the place in the construction where the object is weak, and then breaking it.

Safes don’t normally come with chains attached. (I mean, why is it even attached to the safe? Why not the wall? Or the floor?) Someone had to spot weld the thing on and you can bet it wasn’t done by a professional (because who does that really?). Bash it. The fire is rising. Bash it. The smoke is coming. Bash it. She’s coughing. Bash, bash, bash. She’s light headed, barely breathing. Keep bashing it until it gives.

You get a nice moment of tension and then she’s free. Intact too and actually capable of facing the villain if there’s more to this story than just the escape. Getting over smoke inhalation is going to be easier in the long run than losing your foot.

How You Could Use The Original Idea:

So, the thought of using the knife to cut off her foot is actually a good one. Given the options she has and the situation, it’s a perfectly reasonable place for her mind to go. However, it’s important to remember that this is the despair talking.

“You’re never going to get out. You might as well…”

You can use this moment of terror to give the audience a “gasp” moment in the narrative because just the thought of her doing that is sensational as hell. You tease them with the idea, just the idea, and then have her realize all the reasons why it’s terrible and move on to a more sensible solution.

The audience gets their scare moment where they connect to the character.

You get to prove your character is an intelligent, rational human being and capable of overcoming in the face of extreme terror. She does this without giving into panic or despair. You humanize her and then you show how she’s strong.

Everyone wins.

The knife:

If she can keep it in one piece, the knife is better long term as a self defense weapon. It’s a chef’s knife, it’s not meant for combat, but it’s what she has. Even if she escapes the fire, she may still be in danger. Using it against the lock or the chain will most likely destroy it. She can still use it, but if there’s anything else in the room she might want to use that instead. (Especially if there’s construction equipment. Always go with the construction equipment.)

The manacle:

Why the foot and not the hand? Clapping it to the foot will give her more mobility. The hand limits movement and makes short term escape much more difficult as it’s harder to get the chain taut and yourself into a position to pry at it.

Did they get a manacle specially made to hold someone of her size? These are not one size fits all. If it’s too large, she can slip out. If it’s too tight… it might be cutting off circulation.

Why didn’t he just kill her?

I don’t really want to know, just like I don’t want to know about why the safe and not the floor but it’s worth noting your villain could have killed her and then set fire to the building to cover the murder (though chaining her up sort of debunks that aspect and the chain linked to the safe will provide a clear trail of evidence for the Police). It ultimately takes less effort.

This is very much a “Before I kill you, Mr. Bond” moment. All it’s missing is the sharks and the lasers. Sure, it’s an elaborate death trap but why? Really, why?

I ask because it’s a question you’ll have to answer in your story.

These are all just me spit balling. Whatever you inevitably do, it’s all good.

-Michi

Okay, so here’s my question: I have a fight scene at the end of my book between two characters. One is physically stronger and the other is armed with a knife but I know it needs to end with the stronger guy almost killing the other one. Any tips? (I am frankly awful at writing fight scenes, so anything at all is much appreciated.)

The problem here is that knives are a lot like guns when it comes to lethality, they possess the capacity to deliver crippling injuries and almost instantaneous death even when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Outside of the intimidation factor, for a character who knows what they’re doing dealing with someone who is larger and physically stronger than they are isn’t really a big deal. Especially if they don’t rely on brute force to get their job done. Facing someone who knows how to lock you up, break you up, and take you out is much more frightening.

If these two characters don’t know what they’re doing then that physical strength is a game changer. However, all the muscle in the world isn’t going to protect this character from a stab wound.

The easy thing to do in the sequence is have your smaller character lose the knife. At some point early in the scene, they lose their grip on it and it falls to the floor, gets kicked away, or goes flying off. Either way, they lose it quickly as many people do when they’re nervous, scared, and the adrenaline pumping through their veins makes them jittery.

If they lose the knife then they may see themselves at a disadvantage, the struggle to regain the knife will put them into a position where they aren’t focusing on their opponent and may almost get killed only to recover the knife in time to finish their opponent off.

It’s not so much a fight scene as a mad dash scramble, but that’s all fights really are anyway.

Whatever way you go, here are some things to remember:

The Knife

Introducing a weapon into a fight scene is more than just an ancillary choice, by arming your character you place the focus on the weapon itself and the weapon will drive the fight. The knife provides a greater advantage and is visibly the most dangerous quality the character possesses. Any intelligent person will seek a way to negate that advantage if they can and a stupid person may want to ignore it (like not going after the knife once it’s no longer in the character’s hand) but it only becomes non-threatening after the asset is negated.

Regardless of the characters wants, desires, and intentions, the scene revolves around the knife.

Physical size and strength are only imposing if you write it that way

In all honesty, physical size in a match up like Jet Li versus Dolph Ludgren in the Expendables is a visual gag. Too many people assume a big, brawny, burly person who lifts a lot of weights is automatically a better fighter (unless they’re Asian, thanks Hollywood stereotypes!) by virtue of size and muscle. As I said above, it’s not actually true. A very large person is not automatically imposing or threatening, especially not if the character is used to combat. I personally find sparring someone or working with someone who is taller and more imposing than me to be very comfortable because most of my instructors and students I trained with were larger. I know what to expect, more or less.

What I’m saying is that while movies use it as a visual fast hand, it’s not an automatic advantage. It’s also not going to help you in a written context unless you make a point out of it. Personally, I blame D&D for defining combat skill via a strength score but given we get questions about size and strength a lot… stopping myself from pounding my head into a desk is difficult.

Use the environment as an active participant in the scene

Forget about size for a minute and think on what both characters bring to the table. Think about where they are fighting and how their environment can be used to add tension or force the characters to make difficult choices. If the knife gets kicked under a nearby dresser does Character A dive and go scrounging for it or do they try to fight Character B? Either choice is legitimate from a narrative perspective, but what they choose to do with their options will open up a pathway to getting your imagination pumping.

It’s easy to get too caught up in trying to figure out how a punch or kick works and describing it while forgetting about the surrounding environment. Different environments yield different advantages and may be a more comfortable place to start.

Fights don’t happen in a vacuum, by starting with somewhere concrete like a location you can have the character’s assistance in figuring out what they would do at that specific location. By over focusing on the major players, it’s easy to forget the other variables involved. A shootout at a shopping mall has different priorities than a shootout on an abandoned bridge, a fight in a chemistry lab will look different from a library, fighting in a park isn’t the same as fighting in a warehouse.

There is no pause button

The countdown clock on the events in the surrounding narrative don’t just hit pause just because the two characters have hit their climactic fight scene. The priorities each character has will govern how they fight as much as what they know how to do.

Define the goals of each one. Are they on the clock? How fast does this need to be over? What’s at stake? Do they want to kill their opponent? Are they playing for time and stalling until help arrives? Do they think they’ll win? Do they even plan on living through this? (The answer can be no.)

A character who enters a fight desperate and disappointed will be different from one who has just come off a string of victories. Don’t think about the fight in terms of what someone else who knows how to fight would do, think about it in terms of what your characters would do. What they do ultimately comes down to who they are and what they want. Fights are personal, even when they’re not.

I know it can feel daunting when you’re still trying to figure this fighting business out, but the best way to get set for your scene is to eliminate what’s not important. What other people do out there in the real world is not important, what your characters choose to do in this singular moment is.

-Michi