I’m trying to write a hand-to-hand fight scene with an injured, yet desperate resistance fighter (who has had training) and two guards who are woefully under prepared to fight him. How am I best to approach this? I figure wrangling a weapon off one of them quickly is better than trying to have a drawn out combat scene?
The part of the question that’s missing is what the injury is, what the situation is, where the resistance fighter is, and what the resistance fighter’s goals are. What I’m telling you is without those pieces I can’t diagnose your fight scene, but the tldr for group fights is don’t if you can avoid it. Just because a character can fight doesn’t mean they should, and that is a practical statement.
When you’re writing a story about a resistance, never forget that they are in a hostile environment where everything is a danger to them, and you should approach every engagement violent or not as a cost comparison. The short version is that two on one is difficult to deal with for anyone, regardless of training. It will be almost impossible when injured because if you’ve no ability to take them out at once (like with weapons) you can only lock up one person at a time. This means number two is always free to move. Guards travel in pairs for a reason. The reason is two on one kills. Where there are two guards, there’s always more. Violence is noisy, violence draws attention. Violence takes time, time this character probably doesn’t have to spare. Now, all these things are fake in a fictional context, which is why it’s up to you as the writer to consider them and the greater narrative consequences. For a resistance fighter, there are always consequences intended and unintended for every act they engage in and every life they take.
For a resistance fighter, guards are the hornets. The problem with hornets is one on their own is mostly just annoying, but you never know when you’re going to run face first into the nest. Unlike hornets, human guards can call their friends.
There is a difference between an insurgent and a revolutionary in terms of training. Insurgents often have military backing and are filled with ex-members of the fallen government military versus the revolutionary where its more shaky. The training itself is less important in considering what they’re able to do in an action sense because regardless of desperation, unnecessary violence in an unwinnable scenario when other potential options are available spells death for the resistance fighter.
When you’re working with a resistance fighter, the resistance part is more important than the fighter part. These are not people with a very large margin for error, and who need to be incredibly good at threat assessment in regard to their greater goals. The greater goal is what’s most important to them, their priority, their mission, they have limited resources and that means they have to make compromises. For the resistance fighter, violence itself draws attention. Attention is bad.
Think about this, if he does manage to fight these two and kill them then whatever kills he makes will be taken out on the civilian population. If he doesn’t kill them, and they remember his face then he’s done as a resistance fighter. Again, attention is bad. Attention brings notoriety. In a hostile state, the consequences are many and they hit the innocent population hardest.
My point is this: your character is not making decisions on what he can do or can’t do, not in what’s morally right or wrong, if he wants to survive in a resistance then he’s making decisions based on risk.
Unless there’s a very good reason for it, (we’re talking he needs these two, specifically these two dead, to move people through their post) then he has no reason to fight them at all because he’s in no position to do so. Fighting puts him and, more importantly, his mission in more risk than not fighting does; especially if these two are unlikely to realize he’s a member of the resistance. 9/10 a resistance fighter is going to be talking their way out of trouble. Trouble attracts guards, sure, but violence attracts more guards and there are always more guards. Discovery risks his safety, risks capture, capture risks the safety of his cell, risks their plans, and risks the resistance itself.
Resistance fighters are the ones who run when their friends get captured, the ones who stand by and do nothing if they’re not at risk of being outed. They wait. They strike later, though usually not to recover their friends. Well, the smart ones do. The stupid ones try. They either get gunned down or captured because hot blood and hot heads get murdered in the streets by the gestapo. There are always more of them than there are you in a resistance, and violence attracts attention. The wrong kind of attention in the wrong place means death or capture, prison, interrogation, torture, and then the firing squad. The consequences for failure are high, not just for the single resistance fighter but for everyone they know, everyone they love, and for the very movement they’re fighting for.
Your character’s very existence hangs on that thread, their actions turn on the threat of discovery, their behavior on the axis of what their missions need done in order to succeed.
He doesn’t have the luxury to kill two guards when they’re standing in his way, because two guards mean there are ten more waiting around the corner. Battle runs the risk of summoning them. Even if he winds, the two dead bodies mean those bodies will eventually be discovered, the townsfolk endure search and seizure, and the city turned upside down as the district commander hunts this character like the rat he is. They may not catch him, but they will find sympathizers among the citizens, possibly friends, and, worse, whatever other resistance cell is working in the area. Someone will be made to pay even if the character himself is not the recipient of the punishment.
If you hadn’t thought of two dead guards being the catalyst for everyone in your character’s life suddenly becoming miserable, more men stationed at every entry and exit point, a ramping up of punishment, more sympathizers dragged off the streets and thrown into detention camps or worse, or a specialist being brought in then you probably should.
Your thinking about a fight, and we’ll get to why fighting these two is a bad idea just upfront in a moment, but for a resistance fighter consequences will spiral out from every person they kill whether they survive or not. These crackdowns can work to their advantage in terms of recruitment, but they will make their immediate life much more difficult. The costs versus loss are high for members of a resistance. For every piece your character and his friends take, the enemy will take five of theirs. He is in a rigged game where his own lack of resources will crush him unless the resistance can convince the populace at large to rise up. That is how a resistance actually wins in the real world, you know. If they can’t get the citizens behind them or receive aid from an outside power or train up an army on foreign soil, they’re doomed.
I will say it now, training is meaningless if you don’t know what it means and I can tell you right now that I don’t know what that means either because resistance fighters either come in with a background like soldier, special ops, my daddy taught me how to use a gun, or they get a crash course and are sent into the fray. If someone has set up training camps, then the situation has upgraded to guerilla warfare which is an entirely different scenario from member of the resistance. So, what training does he have? From where did it come from? Who taught him? What did he learn how to do? Unless they’re ex-covert ops from the military like the Maquis, resistance fighters learn on the job.
Even then, training just means your character is better prepared than another character to engage in violence. It doesn’t mean they have a free pass. They need to be able to assess the threat and make decisions based on their overall needs or goals. Training is supposed to give you a better chance at threat assessment, and that is the skill by which a resistance fighter lives or dies.
Resistance fighters don’t fight in the conventional sense. This is the most important fact to know about them. The fighter part is misleading because what they are actually doing is engaging in sabotage, performing strikes on high priority targets, or blowing things up. They can’t afford to fight the way other character types do, they can’t afford to leave a trail of bodies behind them, and they need to move quickly in service of their goals. Every battle they engage in is threat of discovery whether they win or not, if these guards are not a direct threat to them/their goal then the best thing to do is walk by them or let them continue on unawares.
There is one resistance fighter, but there are always more guards. There are these two, then there are their ten buddies somewhere nearby, behind those ten there’s fifty more, then there’s the prison warden, the district commander, and whoever else is up the chain of command. Every body will lead someone back to someone who leads to someone else, and a messy solution to your character’s goal can lead to twenty or more innocent people winding up in prison. Or dead. Which won’t go over well with the people they’re trying to save, if a resistance fighter cannot keep the support of the populace then they are dead. If you haven’t considered how their enemy will respond to their successes, then it is time to start.
Two people are a lot to deal with even for someone who is trained, even when those two people aren’t trained or barely trained, they would be a challenge even if he wasn’t injured. They are an even greater challenge armed and, considering he is without a weapon, the odds are not in his favor. Worst of all, if he can’t kill them quickly, then the fight will slow him down to the point where he may be caught by whomever injured him in the first place.
So, there are times in fiction when fighting is absolutely the 100% wrong choice or at the very least a bad one. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but the guards are guards for a reason. They’re paired together for a reason. They work together. He wrests a weapon away from one of them, but that gives the other time to respond. He doesn’t kill the guard he took the weapon from, that still leaves two guards and one of the guards still has a weapon.
This is why most places will have their guards or work in twos. Against a single attacker, they have the advantage. One will cover what the other misses, and the other will strike when the opponent is locked up. On the sliding scale, your character’s advantage will quickly transition to their advantage.
Time is on their side, not on his.
Besides that, he’s injured. Injuries could mean blood loss, especially if the wound is still open, that means blood will be pumping out of the holes in his body. Violence is a frenetic activity, the heart starts beating faster which in turn starts pumping more blood through the body to deliver oxygen to the muscles. When there are holes in the body, this means more blood exits through the holes. This means high frenetic activity could potentially kill him through a bleed out rather than being murdered by the guards. Or, at the very least, make him woozy, which will lead to him being murdered by the guards.
Again, time is not on his side.
If he can hide his injury, pretend he’s someone else, and talk his way past them then that is actually the best choice. If he’s escaping a prison and he didn’t steal a guard uniform in order to avoid fights, then he is a very dead resistance fighter. If there are guns involved in this scenario then he is in some real deep shit.
Don’t let the movies lie to you, two on one is the most dangerous situation a person can find themselves in. The only worst being three and up. The trick to showing your character is good at fighting is sometimes knowing when not to fight. Wits are more important than fists. This is the moment in the resistance fighter’s life where he tries to find a way past them if possible that involves no violence, goes around them, holes up to tend his wounds, and tries to escape the city by hiding in a hay cart until he can regroup with his friends. He needs his friends but, when it comes to getting away, he’s on his own.
On top of everything else, group fight scenes are difficult to write because a lot of people will be moving at the same time. We have one injured man versus two who also have weapons, the injured man will be limited in his movements depending on his injury, that injury will become a target and exploited by his opponents. His opponents have a combined eight limbs, he has four and he can’t use all of them. His opponents have weapons. He has surprise, but surprise only lets him take one of them. The other is still free. After that, surprise is gone. Guns are not just dangerous, they’re loud and bound to summon assistance, so let’s hope they’re not here. Depending on his circumstances, he could attempt to take one hostage but there’s a lot of risk involved in that, it also assumes he could hold them with his injury. Even if he manages to take the weapon away from one, the other one will still have a weapon, and the opportunity to use it while he’s doing the wresting. The two of them part actually negates the surprise part, that’s why they travel in pairs.
If he had stun guns, if he had two knives, if he had a tool he could use to take both of them out at the same time then maybe. This, however, assumes they’ll both be facing the same direction and not see him approach. His risk is far greater than theirs.
All they need to do is have one of them lock him up long enough for the other guy to call for aid, then they’re back to two on one or in a few minutes five on one. He even if he manages to get a weapon, he’s now fighting all the guards. They don’t have to fight him. Fighting him is not their job, all they have to do is delay him long enough for help to arrive.
This is why a resistance fighter doesn’t behave like this. They don’t have the option of fighting all the guards. They will always be outnumbered and outgunned. He should have this information internalized. It doesn’t matter how much training he has because all it takes is one moron with a good angle and he’s dead. The more enemies there are, the more likely those enemies are to have the opportunity for a good angle. The more desperate he is then the more likely he is to avoid combat. He cannot afford to fight. If he’s on an assassination mission, he’s still going to try to get past the guards without fighting them. Why? It’s the smart play for all the same reasons above. The person he’s here to kill is the only one that matters, and if he dies before he reaches them then the whole situation was for naught. The more people he kills on the way to them then the more likely his target is to disappear. The more time he wastes on violence then the more likely the window of opportunity for his actual mission is to disappear.
A resistance fighter lives in a game of cat and mouse, and he is the mouse. Sometimes, he is a mouse with a very large explosion but he is still a mouse. He will run and hide, he will slip through the cracks and disappear. The clever resistance fighter gets past the two guards by pretending to be an injured bystander running for his life, and that these two need to help their friends capture the dangerous fugitive who is in the direction he just came from. He banks on them caring more about their fellow guardsman or getting glory than they will about him. He is the snake who lies still until he strikes.
This is about time and opportunity. I’m not saying your character can’t make a stupid mistake out of desperation. I’m just saying that this is the exact type of situation where a character like him gets caught by the enemy, and the story takes a new turn. If that ends up being the natural outcome, don’t run away from it. Failure is as much opportunity for storytelling as victory. Understanding the stakes is what’s important, and what happens as a result of your character’s actions. I can tell you from the situation you’ve presented to me, fighting these two is a catastrophic mistake for your character. This is not a situation that ends in victory, even if he manages to kill one or both. He’ll waste enough time for whatever injured him to catch up, he’ll draw the wrong kind of attention, and probably get surrounded by more guards.
Sometimes, you let a bad situation play out and see what happens. The simple answer is that while he focuses on his first target, the second guard takes him captive. (If you’re going, “but he’s good at fighting!” then I’ll remind you this is the situation that gets lots of skilled fighters in real life captured. They retreat for a reason.)
In other similar sorts of fiction, this situation results in the resistance/spy character going to ground, trying to find sympathetic contacts, avoiding the guards looking for him, and trying to find alternative routes out of the city.