Realistic Action

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Realistic Action

Post by Hillsy » November 15th, 2012, 8:36 am

A-ha! I have you in my semantic Trap! Squirm, my unfortunate prey!!!!!

Not "How do you make action seem realistic?" but rather "Does the following Action seem realistic?"

So I'm stuck - I'm pretty sure I *want* this to happen and I think it works in terms of defining and developing the characters involved.....but I'm so close to the plot, and so paralytically anxious about the scene not being "realistic" that I've hit a I kind of need an outside view if this works, or it's one of those Horror film moments where you roll your eyes and lament "As if you'd go to the attic in the middle of the night, in a nightee, unarmed, to investigate a noise similar to an extra-planar demon devouring an opera singer alive, feet first".

Basic Set-up: It's an adult fantasy novel. The protagonist, a noblewoman, is being chased, so has has disguised herself as a mercenary, along with her bodyguard. This allows her to move around the country by escorting merchants. A decent disguise. So it's all going great, until a group stop the merchant train and start asking questions. The Protag and her bodyguard slope of to casually play some dice, like good mercenaries, when the conversation between the merchant and the group turns to "looking for a travelling noblewoman" and starts rolling off a description. So rather than to just hope they don't realise she's who they are after, she decides to act.....

She does the most un-ladylike thing she can think of: She accuses her bodyguard of cheating at dice, and proceeds to kick the crap out of him until someone breaks up the fight.

OK - so does that sound believable as a choice? I'll accept that its a bad one, it's supposed to be, but it needs to be a realistic option on the table. The novel's tone is lighter rather than uber-gritty, more Brandon Sanderson than Joe Abercrombie, if that helps, and the character is feisty, pro-active and naive enough to make bad decisions.

Seriously, I need help with this.........

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Re: Realistic Action

Post by dios4vida » November 15th, 2012, 10:34 am

Um...yeah. I think so. Desperation makes you do really stupid things. Suppressed emotion like hurt, rage, fear, etc. only compound that desperation and therefore the stupidity of said actions. Accusing someone of something bad enough to draw attention to them and away from you would seem realistic to me, especially if we got to see her thoughts, we know she's feisty, and possibly if she asks her bodyguard all quiet-like to "just go with it" or something. Whether or not she succeeds at kicking the crap out of him is another story, but I think the basis of the idea is sound.

The only issue I can foresee is if everyone runs over to break up the fight, that means a lot of eyes will be traveling between her and the bodyguard, which in the end may end up drawing even more attention to her than may have been paid in the first place. But since you already know this isn't the best of choices, you should be able to work around that.
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Re: Realistic Action

Post by Sommer Leigh » November 15th, 2012, 3:24 pm

My concern comes from the "proceeds to kick the crap out of him" part not coming off as believable. Not to the reader (though they might have the same concern I do) but to the other characters. Even if she's pretending not to be a noblewoman, her body and physique are still going to be that of a noblewoman. It is unlikely she'd know how to kick the crap out of anyone, let alone be able to (unless she's had training, but still, there's a good chance a real mercenary group would spot her less than awesome skills) especially when the other person is presumably well built enough to defend himself (since he's a bodyguard and all.) If she tries this, anyone watching will have two reactions 1) That it's amusing because of the physical size difference or 2) if the bodyguard plays along and lets her it's going to look even more suspicious.

I guess it depends on how you've painted her leading up to this. Specifically her body size, strength, and skill. If she's obviously not the fighter of the mercenary pair, it's going to look very suspicious and not be believable to the other mercenaries watching. At least, that would be my impression.

One possible idea? Have them play dice with other people, then when she accuses him of cheating, the other players at the table pick the fight.
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Re: Realistic Action

Post by bcomet » November 16th, 2012, 3:42 pm

Hi. Well, realistic?
No, but continue on:

It's Entertaining as Hell! I am VERY entertained. I love it when a character acts out of the expected, (expected in like hunkering down, guilty as discovered). Instead, audacious! I think it's really a fun move.

(To me, it's much like when the bad dude on Raiders of the Lost Ark pulls out a really, really big knife and Harrison Ford just pulls out a gun and shoots him. I LOVE the entertainment factor!)

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Re: Realistic Action

Post by polymath » November 16th, 2012, 6:20 pm

Sommer and dios4vida raise potential objections readers may have. bcomet raises potential appeals readers may enjoy. Reconciling the objections and appeals to each other—several writing principles are available for guidance. First, character awareness of situation. The mercenary noblewoman acts in a manner inconsistent with expectations for a noblewoman.

A conventional feminine instinctive reaction would avoid confrontation, either by flight or by compromise, for examples. More on compromise later. This is like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn where Tom and Huck are disguised as girls and interviewed by the woman who notes the boys close their knees when she drops objects into their laps. A girl will instinctively open her knees to tighten her dress hem and catch the object in her lap.

Second, Chekhov's gun. If a gun will be fired in a later act, the gun must be preopositoned in an earlier act. The gun is an influence object, character like. Its mythology must be developed before deployment. This is especially artfully exhbited in Kill Bill Volume 2 through Beatrix' acquistion of a Hattori Hanzo sword and a proficient ability to wield it. The noblewoman's hand-to-hand fighting skills are a Chekhov's gun motif, and if portrayed as a theatrical performance instead of an actual brawl, this especially could benefit from artful prepositioning.

Third, dramatic irony. Dramatic irony's strength comes from what readers know driving tension. If readers know the noblewoman is capable of a fake brawl, a real brawl, and perhaps another alternative, they will care (empathy) and be curious (suspense) about what the noblewoman will do in the discovery situation. Empathy and suspense drive tension. Also, delayed discovery is itself a Chekhov's gun for a later scene where the noblewoman is actually discovered in a different situation, with a different solution and a different outcome.

Compromise again. I imagine the noblewoman and her male bodyguard spar for practice beforehand, her learning for the sake of survival and to enhance her role as a freelance mercenary. Who's dominant? Logically, the male bodyguard is, if prepositioned as a weapon and hand-to-hand combat master.

Consider whether the bodyguard instigates the brawl and the noblewoman is the dice cheater, signaling to the bodyguard that he should take the lead, and whether the noblewoman is the apparent loser of their fake or real brawl. This too would be unexpected and enhance the surprise appeal bcomet raises. The brawl could be quick, causing little stir in the merchant train scene, causing an amusement distraction that allows the noblewoman and bodyguard to absent themselves from the searchers' interrogation.

Also, if she fakes a braggart and a bullying presence in the merchant train beforehand, so that she's taken as a youthful fool and an inefficient mercenary instead of a graceful, capable nobelwoman, this too is a Chekhov's gun. This would enhance her role as a noblewoman in disguise as a mercenary. Of course, this would also mean she's ostensibly the junior partner of the bodyguard.

The noblewoman's noble compromise builds reader empathy for her, for her plight, and leaves a motif hanging in abeyance for later when she might get her due back from the bodyguard. Again, a suspense driver and a dramatic irony and a Chekhov's gun.

Something along these lines will reconcile reader objections and appeals to each other and to the situation.
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Re: Realistic Action

Post by Hillsy » November 19th, 2012, 6:54 am

Well guys - thanks for al the replies.

OK - well, in summary, the censensus seems to be: The concept of trying to "hide in plain sight" is fine, the method of doing so is...workable. But the important thing is to make sure the characters motivations, backstory and capabilities are consistent.

That's a relief - the incident is a confluence of several character flaws and punts the relationship dynamics, hopefully, off track. But I was really worried the idea was going to generate a big "AS IF...!" reaction.

So cheers guys - you all raised different concerns and i think I've got them covered.....all I need to do now is write well enough to pull it off....easier said than done...hehe

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Re: Realistic Action

Post by Nicole R » November 19th, 2012, 2:08 pm

Nope, I don't think this would bug me, especially if you flesh out your reasons for her actions like you did in your original post. I bought into all of those, even if the action itself doesn't seem smart. Your point about her being naive enough to still take this approach is a perfectly legitimate explanation to me, and like bcomet's entertaining! :)

One other point to consider - if she and her bodyguard fight, there's a (very slim) chance she might get hurt, and usually when that happens the gig is up. So, even though I can buy the idea of HER taking this action, I'd need a little convincing that her bodyguard is willing to go along with it too.

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Re: Realistic Action

Post by LurkingVirologist » November 27th, 2012, 2:17 am

Adding to what's already been said, I think the issue is not so much whether the idea is realistic, so much as just not having it be implausible. The latter bar is easier to clear, and gets lower the funnier and more entertaining the scene is. I for one, as a reader, will forgive a certain amount of improbability so long as the payoff is good, and the author is clearly doing it for the lulz, rather than because he or she is lazy.

I think you can get away with a good scuffle and not completely tank on realism. After all, these people are professional fighters with (presumably) a fair bit of history and some familiarity with each other. Folks like that probably scrap a lot, over dumb stuff, often drunk, and it's usually not very serious. Since they all have weapons and know how to use them, there'd be a gentleman's (or gentlewoman's) agreement among them as to how far is too far. Consider the kind of testosterone-laden horseplay that goes on in your average military barracks and how it never (or almost never) escalates to gunfire.

Some cursing, rolling around in the dirt, and a black eye or two is probably considered good clean fun, to be settled later with beer rather than knife work.

One thing you didn't mention (or I didn't catch): is there an issue with gender concealment? If she's pretending to be a man, getting into a situation where other people might be putting their hands in inconvenient places (while breaking up a fight) probably isn't a great idea. If she's just playing the role of a female merc, then I think you should include the scene.

Also, regardless of whether she's a skilled fighter, it's gonna be tough to recover from an unexpected kick to the codpiece, so that'd definitely give her a decent bit of unopposed butt-kicking time to work with.
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