Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

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IanDGSandusky
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Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by IanDGSandusky » October 4th, 2010, 4:57 pm

Firstly, I'd like to share my favourite Spam Comment Of The Week:
gnaqpdyudkeifhr, space heater, ZzQTjhAlMBkrVcDAudbP.
My goodness. Who says flowery prose is passe?

Moving on: Fight Scenes.

Last night I had the pleasure of taking in Iron Man II, long after I'm sure everyone else has seen it. It wasn't bad, but I felt it really didn't go anywhere. However, one thing really stood out to me: the hand to hand combat scenes.

Man, oh man - they were lacking.

Now, there were plenty of them, with all the acrobatic far-east techniques you could ask for. Flying kicks. Headbutts. You want it? You got it. Disarms, armed combat, and the like.

Bodies flew, people did somersaults and gravity was defied. All pretty par for the course for the modern narrative.

The problem? It affects at least ninety percent of the books, films and television I've seen. Most are ignorant to it, but anybody (like myself) who have any experience with close-quarters combat will pick it out from a mile away.

They're just not believable.

The Problem With The Modern Fight Scene

You've all seen it - Hero 1 is accosted by Enemy No. 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Hero 1 is a ninja-in-disguise, deftly spiraling around his foes, raining blows like hail down on his opponents. Within mere moments, No. 1, 2, and 3 are unconscious on the ground, and No. 4 is crying like a baby, giving all the information Hero 1 needs to complete his goal.

It looks rad - to think that someone could be so thoroughly trained that the view the human body as if on grid paper, knowing which technique to use to fill each box to disable, maim or even.. kill. In anything besides adult literature, it's almost always the first two, usually blood-free and tidy.

Therein The Problem Lies

There it is - neat and tidy. It's the same factor that makes dead people look like they're sleeping, makes blood look like runny ketchup and broken limbs forgotten in pursuit of a goal. Two little words that make every fight scene I've seen (with obvious exceptions) look like a finely coordinated dance.

The biggest problem writers face is that they believe it.

It's Not A Documentary

Television for entertainment is just that - entertainment. Using the battles you see on the tube is shoddy research - no matter how you cut it. You wouldn't trust CSI for information on how crime scenes are actually researched, but apparently find it appropriate to duplicate the way they punch and strike in your works.

Film and television devise ways to show violence in a highly sanatized way - the reason being, if they make it truly gritty, goodbye daytime television, hello HBO! It's an access thing - the same reason sex in the modern televised narrative is limited to kissing and some unseen writhing beneath the sheets.

Now, I give this advice with the following preface: I'm an expert in unarmed combat. I know what I'm talking about. HOWEVER, if you're writing a Young Adult or Middle Grade book, you're likely not going to want to follow the guidelines I may set out. I offer the following advice for those seeking realism in their works. The entertainment model works - hell, it's all over television. However, if you are seeking to adequately describe a sequence of violent events, I hope this helps you.

Fights Are NOT Glamorous

No matter how much you see it as such, anyone who has any experience in the field will tell you: a fight is something to be avoided.

Every time in the real world you get in a hand-to-hand engagement, you're opening yourself up to serious injury - potentially even death. There's no two ways around it - you're putting your life on the line. While the drunks at the bars may not think it - it's true.

As well, every time you lay hands on someone you're also potentially inflicting death on someone. All you need to do is misplace a blow, your opponent hits the ground head-first, and bingo! You're spending the rest of your life in a ten by ten cell, no matter how much 'he started it.'

Having your characters rush front-on into a scrap may sound romantic, but if you character is meant to have experience, they likely won't. However, if your characters are supposed to be hot-headed, young rebels - by all means. Make them charge without thinking into the fray - they probably don't know the in's and out's of what they're about to experience.

Exchanging Blows Out, Struggling In

Those who haven't been in a fight likely think that what the movies depict is accurate. Essentially an uncoordinated bare-knuckled boxing match, gleefully blocking, dodging and striking in turn until one reigns supreme. Those who feel watching UFC, Pride or other MMA gives them clout will tell you it's much the same, plus a little choking and wrestling.

Oh my poor, dissolusioned public.

The stats are clear: fist-fights hit the ground within thirty seconds in eighty percent of scenarios on the street.

Thirty seconds. Not long for epic battles of knuckles, is it?

Think of the last bar fight you saw (if you've seen one.). The two likely punched each other a few times before one hit home and latched onto the other. Balance sways, and all of a sudden it's one big childhood wrestling match. It's not easy to strike while someone holds your arm, and you usually don't have the time to line up your shots. Think of trying to throw punches while someone has you in a half-hearted bear-hug - see? We're getting closer.

When people are untrained, they will go for what they know - usually, grabbing, pulling, and holding. They'll try to strike, but with the slight room it is unlikely the small rabbit-punches will have much effect, if any. Hell, look at boxing - the ref wouldn't have to split them apart so often if it wasn't natural to hold on for dear life.

Don't forget the ground action either - just because characters can't strike each other effectively, doesn't mean they can't still be engaged in - sometimes mortal - combat. Simply pinning someone down and striking their head off the ground repeatedly can be utterly fatal. Plus, it's a lot more realistic than your just-battered hero winding back punch after punch onto your created enemy.

Fatigue is a major part of unarmed combat that is often forgotten. Unless the person in question is a trained combatant, it's highly likely that two minutes of heavy brawling is going to take a toll on them equivalent to running up the stairs at the CN Tower. Once the steam runs out, sometimes holding on is the only thing you can do to keep from being beaten entirely.

Punches Hurt

There, I said it.

If you've ever been punched in the face, you'll know. It sucks, and it doesn't go away too quickly. Remember, that guy in that movie that can get punched four times before quickly dispatching his foes with his bare hands is pure fiction. Unadulterated, undiluted fiction.

A single punch, even from an untrained combatant, can be fatal.

If the strike lands on the forehead, it can cause disorientation, concussion and of course - pain. If a strike lands on the eye, it can rupture, detach corneas, fracture orbital bones, as well as the symptoms listed before. If a strike lands on the ear, it's extremely painful and can leave you permanently deaf. A strike on the nose? Bloody, blinding and temporarily debilitating.

You can break a neck, jaw, loose teeth and pretty anything else you can imagine.

On top of that, if you punch someone without being trained how to strike - you're likely going to break a knuckle, hand, or wrist. Good luck following that first punch up with others from that hand.

Knocked Out, Dead, Or What?

Back to my original problem with Iron Man II.

There's a big scene where a female heroine adeptly takes out eight or nine burly men, dispatching them quickly two at a time like she's taking out the trash. As the scene ends, you see them all lying there bloodless, but unmoving.

Are they dead? Are they unconscious? Are they sleeping? Are they Mickey-Freakin'-Mouse?

Who knows - it's a condition I'm convinced Hollywood has made up entirely to suit its own ends. Let's call it MKO or Movie Knock Out.

It's usually characterized by a blow to the head, followed by a deep sleep, allowing the audience to forget about them as faceless extras. As well, someone can be roused from a MKO by a shake of the shoulders or a slap across the face, but will not awaken unless first acknowledged. It conveniently allows us to consider the suffers of the MKO condition out of the picture, but also allows the author to either bring them back later very much revitalized, or put them in the graveyard unseen.

Most writers like this 'out,' but many more don't even know the logical fallacy of the condition.

When people are knocked unconscious, it's a horrid event. It usually requires a good amount of force to the jaw (most common) to knock someone out, but they don't go quietly. I've often seen those 'KO'ed' experience almost a seizure-like display, quivering, shaking and foaming - though it cannot be confused with a real seizure.

Another of my favourite aspects of the MKO is the 'coming around' phase of the state, where the sufferer regains consciousness often confused, but no more violently than waking from an afternoon nap. The reality? Oh boy.

Getting struck to the degree you lose consciousness is a horribly traumatic experience. You come around slowly, usually in a great deal of pain, unaware of your surroundings and the circumstances. They usually react violently, the last impression of their waking mind remembering being struck. They don't sit up and give a half-hearted 'what happened?' to say the least.

Probably the most accurate depiction of someone post-head trauma would be after the car accident near the end of Harry Brown. The female officer has just been in an altercation that results in a moderate head injury. She's shaking, she's having difficulty communicating, and she's in a hell of a lot of pain. She's not waving her gun about, dive-rolling through windows - she needs help just to stumble into 'safety' from an elderly man.

Remember, just because a punch is one of the most commonly depicted violent acts in cinema, doesn't mean it's done accurately.

It's Not All Bad

At the end of the day, Hollywood made these conditions and sequences for a reason - they're amusing. We like the easy-going fight where we know our hero will get bullied and bruised, but will emerge the victor at the end.

However, if you're seeking to create a more realistic experience for your reader, I hope this helps in crafting your work.

Cheers,

Ian DG Sandusky
dg@iandgsandusky.com
http://www.iandgsandusky.com

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by WritersBlockNZ » October 4th, 2010, 6:20 pm

This is a good post for someone sheltered like me who has never been in a fight (or even seen one close up!). Better than going and getting myself into a fight for research ;-)
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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by tcrowley » October 5th, 2010, 4:20 pm

I actively train in a mixed martial arts school in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I have trained for several years in Muay Thai and had a good number of amateur fights. So I'm not exactly coming from this as a sheltered writer. I think a few of your points overstate the case especially if your character is supposed to be skilled in any way. While it is definitely true that real fights are generally not like what you see in movies there are some similarities for a "hero" character.

I think most of what you said aplies for two inexperienced people but a well trained or experienced fighter vs a single opponent who is not trained will typically be a very short fight. I know for example that regardless of size after years of training I can toy with any newcomer to my school. I can end almost all interactions in a few seconds or I can toy with them until they are exhausted. The latter is particularly useful against a large tough opponent that thinks they will easily overpower you.

I'm sure you know this because you seem to have thought about fight scenes a lot I just wouldn't want to see other authors rob their characters of glory because they have no experience. A hero character with training and experience can do almost anything they want against an inexperienced individual. Start adding multiple opponents and the time to toy with people rapidly vanishes.

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by aobeasley67 » October 5th, 2010, 5:52 pm

thank you, I really liked this

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by J. T. SHEA » October 5th, 2010, 7:42 pm

Many thanks to Ian D. G. Sandusky and T. Crowley. Now let's discuss something realistic, like a light-saber duel or spaceship race...

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by IanDGSandusky » October 13th, 2010, 9:04 am

tcrowley wrote:I actively train in a mixed martial arts school in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I have trained for several years in Muay Thai and had a good number of amateur fights. So I'm not exactly coming from this as a sheltered writer. I think a few of your points overstate the case especially if your character is supposed to be skilled in any way. While it is definitely true that real fights are generally not like what you see in movies there are some similarities for a "hero" character.

I think most of what you said aplies for two inexperienced people but a well trained or experienced fighter vs a single opponent who is not trained will typically be a very short fight. I know for example that regardless of size after years of training I can toy with any newcomer to my school. I can end almost all interactions in a few seconds or I can toy with them until they are exhausted. The latter is particularly useful against a large tough opponent that thinks they will easily overpower you.

I'm sure you know this because you seem to have thought about fight scenes a lot I just wouldn't want to see other authors rob their characters of glory because they have no experience. A hero character with training and experience can do almost anything they want against an inexperienced individual. Start adding multiple opponents and the time to toy with people rapidly vanishes.

Absolutely - a well trained combatant can 'toy' with enemies, yes. It's not uncommon for a high level competitor in combat arts to possess what may seem to be an incredible level of skill.

Essentially, I'm just trying to get across that to achieve that level of skill is something remarkable, and some guy who's freshly thrown into the dirt isn't going to have that amount of clout as we often see in cinema. I'm a former unarmed combat instructor with two black belts in Kempo Karate to my name, as well as private training under Royce Gracie in BJJ. Glad to meet another mixed martial artist, and thank you for your insight!

Cheers,

IDGS

PS: Lightsaber duels? Epic. Life needs more of them.

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by Beethovenfan » August 9th, 2012, 1:48 am

Wow, great post! This will be very helpful for a scene in my novel. Thank you!
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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by LurkingVirologist » August 11th, 2012, 10:14 pm

Beethovenfan wrote:Wow, great post! This will be very helpful for a scene in my novel. Thank you!
This thread got resurrected by a spammer (whose post was deleted). It's got some very good information. Beethovenfan, if you (or anyone else) are interested in some additional perspective on fighting/fight scenes, I could probably add my own blurb here (~10 years of training in Aikido and Okinawan karate and a smidgen of weapons). I don't want to bust out a big long post if there's no interest, but if it'd be a useful resource for anyone I'd happily contribute.
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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by JohnDurvin » August 13th, 2012, 2:29 am

I think the reason for some of these problems--especially the way bad guys just sort of fall down after getting hit a few times--comes from today's movies (and to a lesser extent, everything else) being just a bit too influenced by video games. Have you noticed how action movie climaxes seem to have veered away from lightning-storm quip-battles with the main bad-guy, and towards a battle with some kind of demonic fish-zeppelin (Avengers, Transformers 3)? In a culture where guys like Tarantino and Eli Roth are top dogs, the public just isn't after believable fight scenes.
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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by Hillsy » August 13th, 2012, 6:48 am

The way I see it - believability in the majority of fiction is basically a path that leads to self destruction for any novel. Take it to any extreme degree and you just won't have something anyone wants to read.

(Disclaimer - all of this is generalisation to one degree or another)
Romance/sex is largely a idealised, condensed version of reality (or sometimes unreality). Thriller plots rely a ton poor decision making, excessive investment in the plot by the Main Character (who in reality would leave it to the police and then take it to the press if they didn't move fast enough). Mysteries often hinge on coincidental evidence or perfect deductive reasoning....

Point I'm making is: While the original poster is highly accurate and knowledgable, and the information in there is excellently detailed and well presented, to label something as being unbelievable kind of misses the point. However, at the bottom of the post he has a minor retraction which is all good, but I still feel something has been skimmed over. Which is Realism is a sliding scale, and it's competing with the overall tone of your book, which is also on a sliding scale. Therefore, with two factors moving relative to each other the actual thing to keep in mind is: Is your fight seen believable enough.

Joe Abercrombie's fantasy is considered pretty gritty and realistic, therefore he can't throw in wire-fu. However, if you were to read Tolkien and Aragorn couldn't fight for a week because someone kicked him and broke a rib, well I'd argue right now it would be an INFINITELY WORSE book for it. The same is true for any genre, and for any aspect of it....the tone of your book will dictate which aspects of it you have to "Keep real" and which you can exaggerate.

Believability isn't and can't be polarised system, or all novels would fail in one capacity or another. It's about making sure the believability element doesn't fall outside teh envelope you've built into your novel.

P.S I think blaming Video Games is massively over simplified. As I Mentioned above, check out that little know trilogy The Lord of The Rings. And we won't even start on ancient mythology. I believe the film Waterloo had a noticable lack of people screaming incessantly after being shot and lying on the battlefield - and that's based on history. I think someone said on a program I saw that most battles lost involved about 10% casualties. Because once you lost that amount, you were screwed and you ran. Yes, you can argue that the CINEMATOGRAPHY of films has been influenced by games, allowing wonderful set pieces that couldn't have been matched with older technology. And Yes, you can argue that because of this the set-pieces are caught in a bit of an arms race at the moment. But is it any wonder this is happening in films based mostly on comic books? The genre that allows the lowest level of believability by virtue of using allegory to get its points across? Video Games don't come into it in my opinion.

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by dios4vida » August 13th, 2012, 11:39 am

I like what Brandon Sanderson has to say. In one of his lectures, he stressed that you have to figure out how believable you want your story to be. People accept uber-realistic fight scenes, and they accept the Hollywoodification (his term) of fighting which sanitizes, speeds up, and generally makes the hero more kick-ass than can be expected from a real life situation.

Some readers, like myself, prefer the more Hollywood type fights. They're fast, quick, and exceptionally entertaining. This is, after all, an escape from reality we're dealing with here. Having a ninja-dude fight off a dozen brutes may not work in this world, but it's fine for a lark in Imaginationland. That's why some writers, again like myself, keep with this kind of writing. There's nothing wrong with that.

Other readers want the gritty, realistic, "yeah of course he'd be down after that, no one could beat those odds" type fights. Some books require that kind of battle system in order to maintain the readers' suspension of disbelief. These books must be written according to real life fight rules, and that's great. There's nothing wrong with that, either.

The point is, neither is right. Neither is wrong. It all depends on the feel and type of book you want to write. I do high fantasy particularly because I want to imagine and watch the impossible happen. And yeah, some times that requires my hero to beat insurmountable odds in a spectacular fashion.

Even so, it's good to have experts on matters such as this throw in their two cents. Though I write Hollywoodification type fights, I still learn cool tips from the reality of fighting and I can use it to make my not-so-believable fight scenes, if not more "real", than more entertaining.

And at the risk of harping on Sanderson's quotes, that leads in to my closing statement. This is probably among my favorite snippets from his lecture series (and it's a gross paraphrase): Never forget that this is entertainment we're doing here. Take it seriously, but don't let yourself get too serious about it. If readers are enjoying it, then you've done it right.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by wilderness » August 13th, 2012, 1:53 pm

Gotta agree with Dios4Diva and Hillsy. There is no one way to write, and a lot of us aren't writing something that is meant to be super gritty and real. You have to go with your strengths.

Also, I've been pushing back a bit in general on things that are too "real." At a conference I recently attended, I went to a seminar on real archeology, where I learned everything that Indiana Jones did was extremely unethical and illegal (aka simply taking an artifact from a site). Sorry, archeology ladies, but Indiana Jones wouldn't have been very interesting if he just sat around writing detailed reports about his findings. Don't care if it's more "real".

Which is not to say that a well-researched, realistic book isn't good either. If you can find a way to make real archeology interesting, hats off! There are probably a lot of people who will praise it for that reason. Hence why the "The Wire" is so well liked by critics: it is one of the most realistic crime shows. But if that's not what you're going for, then taking a lot of trouble to make something more realistic may not be the best thing for your book.

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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by sierramcconnell » August 13th, 2012, 5:09 pm

I do like this. But it is fiction, and sometimes people just want a good fight with colorful cinematics (even if you're just imagining it). :D
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Re: Make Your Fight Scenes Believable

Post by wilderness » August 13th, 2012, 5:51 pm

Yeah, despite what I said, your tips are helpful, Ian. It's always good to know what's realistic in case you can make it work :D

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