I have trained many years in Martial Arts. My experience has taught me the basic elements of a fight, and more precisely how to be aware of my surroundings and therefore how avoid the confrontation, deflate the situation so there is no confrontation, or not be surprised when attacked or thrown into the middle of a fight.
Being aware of every single moment and movement in a tense situation is key to a fighter. Anything is possible, so they have to be ready for anything. Surprise is your enemy (unless you have the element of surprise on your side). Even if you are surprised, you don’t let the other person know that. You just start moving.
Movement is very important, and it is almost always constant. A lot of fights are two equals coming at each other punch for punch, kick for kick. With movement there is momentum. When someone punches, their body is moving one direction. Now you can either stand there and get punched, or you can twist your torso, watch his fist fly past you, then you grab his arm, twist it behind his back, slam your heel into the back of his knee thus forcing him to the ground. Keep his arm locked behind his back, putting pressure on the elbow, and you’ve got a pretty good handle on him because he won’t be able to move.
However, there are very strong people who can get out of such a grip—or they don’t care about pain and dislocating their shoulder—so with this kind of person you need to wear him down. He’s going to come flying at you with everything he has, but if you keep dodging, he’ll wear himself out, and this creates an opening for you. Since you haven’t used all your energy, now you can strike.
What I just described was a basic fight and the mindset of a mature fighter who has nothing to prove. People who are trained fighters and warriors on the field are least likely to pick a fight—mainly because it is unfair to everyone else. They know what they can do, they are confident in it, they don’t worry about it, but they will fight if they have to defend someone they love or are duty bound to protect, and when that happens, you better know how to defend yourself too or else you’re just going to get pounded.
Sure, TV and movies show guys fighting all the time—whether they are trained or not. It depends entirely on that character’s personality. If he feels he has something to prove or is insecure in any way, he will fight to make himself appear bigger and stronger than everyone else. The problem is when you have a lot of insecure people in the same group because, you’ll have a mess.
So when you sit down to write a fight scene, you must already know your character because that will determine how they fight. No one ever gets up one day and says, “Hey, I’m gonna fight today!” Well, I suppose someone could, but then he’ll have to decide whether or not he’ll get training before he fights, but more importantly he’ll have to decide why he wants to fight.
Once you know the ‘why’ for a fight and ‘how’ both characters fight, you need to determine ‘where’ the fight will take place. Will it be in a bedroom, in a hallway, the kitchen, the parking garage, in the middle of the shopping center, or in a forest?
Use the surroundings to your advantage. Jackie Chan is a master at this in his movies, and he uses anything as a weapon or a shield. Take your cue from him and imagine the setting and the little details. Stools are always great to break over someone’s head—so are wine and beer bottles. Throwing someone into a glass front disorients them, and big shards of glass automatically become a possible weapon. Pillars are great to slam someone against, hold someone against while choking them, or to be standing with your back toward and then ducking at the last possible second as the antagonist moves to punch you only to punch the steel pillar instead.
Another important detail to know is ‘when’ it’ll take place because if the place is a public place like the shopping center, it will help determine the elements of the setting. For instance, more people would be out and about at lunch time leading to a more crowded environment for the fight rather than how empty the place would be at night.
So you need to know the following:
- Who is involved in the fight
- How your characters fight
- Why your characters are fighting
- Where the fight takes place
- When it takes place
Now you know your characters and those details. Next week’s post we’ll discuss how to write the actual fight scene.