My goodness. Who says flowery prose is passe?gnaqpdyudkeifhr, space heater, ZzQTjhAlMBkrVcDAudbP.
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.
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.
Ian DG Sandusky