With split-second timing, the hero levels his enemy with a perfectly-timed jumping front kick. Striking his erstwhile attacker on the chin, his steel-like foot sends the villain careening into the two evil henchmen behind him, knocking them down. As one enemy gets up swinging, the hero rattles off six strikes to his body with the speed and damage of a cobra’s strike, and he smiles wryly as the bad guy’s body jerks and convulses before falling to the ground. Sensing movement behind him, the hero turns just in time to duck the attempted cheap shot before executing a judo flip upon his charging attacker, sending him crashing through a conveniently-placed window …
Writing dramatic battles is alluring, violence is quick, brutal, and chaotic in the real world. I learned this from fights in the playgrounds, street corners, and dive bars in Flint, Michigan, one of the “Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.” And while the School of Hard Knocks has made me a better writer, my tuition was paid with a broken nose, broken orbital bone, and various and sundry injuries. For the gentle literary types, there are other ways to learn about real-world violence that won’t put you in mortal danger.
Want to write gripping, realistic fight scenes? Then you need to learn about adrenaline and its effects upon the mind and body. In his popular book Real Fighting: Adrenaline Stress Conditioning through Scenario-Based Training, self-defense expert Peyton Quinn identifies the important role adrenaline plays in combat. When the body starts pumping this high-octane super fuel into the veins, it changes the way humans perceive things in rather amazing and dramatic ways, and this has a direct influence upon their performance in a fight. And trust me, it’s not what you think it is.
Some of the conditions adrenaline causes are:
- Time distortion: where time seems to bog down like the slow motion effects in movies.
- Visual distortions: things and people can appear much closer and larger than they are.
- Auditory Exclusion: loud noises might sound muffled or are not heard at all.
- Loss of fine motor control: adrenaline leaves the body with little more than gross motor skills available in the heat of the moment.
These and adrenaline’s other effects are the ultimate reality check to scenes with heroes battling through dozens of weaker henchman before facing off against the deadly and highly-skilled arch-villain. Not only would the hero likely not have access to his ultra-deadly-top-secret-death-touch-ninja-training, he’s also find himself exhausted, disoriented, and slightly confused after his first battle. Yet despite this harsh reality, aspiring writers are still crafting scenes featuring invincible heroes powering through one epic battle after another.
Compare this picture to what real fights actually look like. Never been in one? That’s okay. There are plenty on YouTube that you can watch for research. Seriously. These days, everyone with a cellphone and a grievance is recording their altercations and uploading them to the Web. Watch enough of these scuffles and you will begin to see certain patterns emerge, namely that most fights are glorious messes filled with a certain frenzied disorganization. It’s a far cry from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but its fast, it’s brutal, and it’s above all real. The best part about it is that you have a front-row seat to unrestrained violence from the comfort and safety of your own home.
Armed with this knowledge, your fight scenes should look something like this: your character’s attacks might be ineffective due to flailing, or they’ll strike parts of their opponent’s body that hardly causes pain, or they might even miss the attack altogether due to eagerness and over-committing. And if you want to incorporate fancy moves like jump-spinning back kicks, have the character slip and fall while trying it. This is what typically happens when people try risky techniques in a real fight. In the end, be mindful of capturing the chaos that is real fighting and relate in a way that engages the reader. In other words, it’s no different than anything else you’re writing.
With just a little bit of research, you can learn about real-world violence from the safety of your own home. Try these non-confrontational tips:
- YouTube: a simple search for “bar fights” or “street fights” will provide a great starting point.
- Real Fighting: Adrenaline Stress Conditioning through Scenario-Based Training by Peyton Quinn. His knowledge of the adrenal-stress response is spot on.
- Marc MacYoung: an expert in violence, his website is a virtual treasure-trove of information for writing about fighting.
- Local cage fighting events: experience firsthand what works and what doesn’t.