Writing Example: Action and Set Piece (Motel Room)

In this writing example, we’re going to talk a little about fighting in a hotel room. One of keys to making your fight scenes sing is to make sure you’re using your set pieces. A fight that can happen anywhere and be the same anywhere is one that no one will remember because it doesn’t tie the character to the place, if you can put your character on a space station, in the White House, at the beach, or have them fighting in a back alley with no difference at all then your fight scene will have no sense of weight. You want to individualize your fight scene, to show how your characters react to different stimulus, how they behave when the rules and situations have changed. A good fighter is an adaptable one; they are capable of working within their environment. An untrained and desperate character on the run will turn to their environment first to find some sort of advantage. They may not look and see the same possibilities when they look at your set piece, but both will try to use it.

In today’s writing example, we’ll be using a run-down motel room as our set piece.

The kind of hotel or motel your character is staying at may change what’s available to them, so do some research on the kind of places the characters are staying at. In order to get a good grasp of what amenities and items could make for good improvised weapons. If you haven’t started playing the “what can I kill someone with” game or “what can I use as a weapon” when you’re out and about or even at home then it’s time to start. I’ll go first. To my right I have a coffee mug: it’s ceramic, fairly sturdy, I bought it at Wal-Mart, and right now it’s half-full of cold coffee with creamer. If I was attacked: pick up the mug, hurl the coffee in the mug at the eyes (the coffee is bad enough but the sugar makes them sticky), and slam into or on top of their head. If it didn’t break on the first hit, then keep hitting them until they go down if I can. Downside: I could find my hand full of ceramic shards. Upside: the same will be true of their head.  Other options include: a Texas Instruments T-86, a can of Clean DR Multipurpose Duster for electronic equipment (go for the eyes, Boo!), and a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

So, now that we’re in the mood, let’s brainstorm for a motel room.

A motel room has a limited amount space and the beds already take up a fair amount of the available square footage. It’s a bad place to have to fight if someone get’s the drop on you because there isn’t a lot of area to work with and if your characters get penned in then there’s nowhere to run. However, it can be a good set piece if your characters need a place to crash for the night or take a breather and are worried about getting attacked.

Possible Improvised Weapons:

chairs, lamp (take off the shade and unplug, hit with the back end for maximum effect or with the bulb to coat with glass), pens, Gideon Bible, Ice Bucket (if available), the coffee pot from the Coffee Maker (if available), the door (front, bathroom if necessary), pillow cases, ceramic coffee cups (if available).

Things to watch out for:

Really, really big windows that let other people see you before you see them.

Conventional Weapons:

Guns make a lot of noise and even mostly abandoned motels have staff and some guests, so if your characters or their enemies want to attract attention from other guest or the cops then these are a great way to get it. Unlike in the movies, a silenced pistol sounds like someone dropping a dictionary in the next room. People will hear it and they will come to investigate or phone the police. If your characters are running or don’t want to deal with cops then shooting up a hotel is out of the question. The same will be true for attention getting superpowers such as super strength or elemental.

However, it’s true that if the character is an experienced operative they may be able to line up a shot through a wall or the floor from above without the other character noticing.

Thematic Tips: The lack of available space can make things start to feel claustrophobic if the characters are scared, the bed may look inviting but if the characters need to stay awake then it will be an active temptation, and depending on the distance of their car from the room, their ability to get out fast if things get hairy can be a source of worry. Long hallways, elevators, and stairwells will make experienced operatives nervous.

The Example:

I was already moving before the knock on the door. I’d seen their shadows moving along the window. It was a solid impression made on the closed curtains by the rays of the lamp six feet up on the wall outside. This was the reason why I picked rooms on the end; you could always catch the idiots who forgot to base their angle of approach on the environmental variables and surrounding terrain. I crossed across off the bed, the lights in the room were off and my eyes already well adjusted to the darkness. Picking up the lamp off the table, I removed the shade, turned it over to grip the slim metal neck, and slid up to the door. Next to the knob, I waited. When they came through they’d be closest to me and that was when I’d catch them off guard with their pistols pointed at empty space. After all, I was the only one here who had to worry about cops.

Hopefully, they wouldn’t think to shoot me through the wall.

My back pressed in against the paisley and taupe wallpaper. My arm lifted. Number 42 Motels always had the blandest color choices.

The door slammed open and the first man walked through the door. Moving forward, I swung my arm down into the soft back of his skull. Down he went with a crack.

“Shi—” that was the voice of the second one. Then, there was the ka-chunk of a bullet chambering. Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of a Glock 17. This one wasn’t going to bother coming in.


Happy Writing!


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