Writing Notes # 5- Writing Combat/Action Scenes

More notes from LTUE 2015! These are notes from the writing combat panel I went to. I can’t remember everyone who was on the panel at this point, but it did have Larry Correia and Maxwell Alexander Drake. For more details and depth on the subject you can go to Mr. Drake’s website www.DrakeU.com and listen to his lesson “The Anatomy of a Fight Scene Parts 1 & 2.”

Why write violence?

Because it’s fun. What other reason do you need?

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Larry pointed out that the more peaceful a civilization is, the more violent their entertainment becomes. For example, look at the Romans. The gladiator battles and violent entertainment happened mainly when the Roman Empire was settled and fairly peaceful.

Another big reason is because violence taps the deepest into human emotion. It makes the characters grow the most. During violence, conflict, and danger we get to see their raw cores. We see what makes or breaks them.

How much of a particular fighting style do you need to know in order to write it?

Think about what your audience will know. If your audience knows a lot, then you need to know a lot in order to not throw them out of the story. For example, Larry is a gun nut and writes for an audience of gun nuts. If you were writing for that audience you would need to know a LOT about guns in order to keep them happy. Larry rants on his blog about all the things he sees authors do wrong with guns (Larry says that the only nuts worse than gun nuts in this aspect are horse enthusiasts.)

If your intended audience doesn’t know a lot, then you don’t need to know as much and can get away with smoke and mirrors/hand-wavium (as Brandon Sanderson would put it). However, knowing the art can give you insight to all sorts of cool details that make for wonderful immersive description that helps it feel real.

Another thing to keep in mind is how much does your protagonist know? Unless the hero is some super awesome veteran at their art, people tend to revert back to their most basic training. For lots of people that basic training is scream and run. If your protagonist is a master at this art, then it would be good for you to do some in-depth research so you can pass them off as one.

Humor?

Random things pop into your head while you’re in combat.  It’s a crazy dangerous thing and your brain needs to relieve the stress, so humor is very appropriate.  In real life the darker someone’s job is, the better at humor they are. (Or so they claimed at the panel. It makes sense, though.)

How do you decide what to put in?

First decide what you think would be AWESOME, then make it happen.  You can write the entire book around making that awesome thing happen.

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How do you write violence and have it make sense?

While fighting is chaotic, you need order to the chaos to keep the reader grounded and in the book. You can slow things down for a moment to focus on a detail, like how the hero feels their knuckle split in a punch and the blood oozing into the crevase between their fingers, then go back to the chaos. Some grounded, specific details give the reader something to hold onto. Also, don’t leave stuff out or the readers will notice. If you have a bunch of people fighting at once, then you need to know what’s going on with all of them. Even if you’re writing 1st person you can give hints at what’s going on in the background to let the reader know stuff is going on. Otherwise they’re going to wonder why the guy across the room didn’t just shoot the bad guy and save the protagonist.

Know all the surrounding of where the battle takes place. That way the hero can be clever with their surroundings. For example, if their gun gets chucked across the room, why don’t they pick up the chair next to them and brain their opponent? Remember how your character thinks. It might take them a while to realize they can use their surroundings, if they ever do, but know what options they have.

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Be realistic with your consequences. If the person gets broken ribs, they won’t be able to move without a ton of pain. A person goes into shock when punched in the face, removing their ability to be mentally articulate at that point. If a gun goes off in your ear you won’t be able to hear. Know what the potential consequences are for the physical damage you’re dealing your characters. Use it to make things more interesting.

Even super heroes are affected by pain. Don’t use the excuse of “Oh, they’re super powerful or magic or whatever,” to ignore the consequences of battle. Even if the character is super powerful or magic, they still have to deal with the consequences and rise above them. Use that to your advantage.

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Most importantly, focus on the characters. Focus on the combat and violence going on around your viewpoint characters. Show us what’s in their head. Dig into their heart. Keep the reader anchored to the protagonist or whoever is the viewpoint character at that point. After all, we’re reading the story because we care about the characters. The jeopardy feels more real and potent when we stick with the characters we care about.

And there you have it!

I hope this little bit about combat makes sense and helps you.

Now get writing!
Your Writing Senpai