http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14GUUVpcETUSummer is here and so are the summer blockbusters. Some of my fondest summer memories revolve around going to the movies. When I was little, Mom and Dad would load up the green Grand Torino station wagon with blankets and pillows, and take my brother and I to the drive in Elmsford, NY for a double feature.
Later on when we were older, nothing beat meeting friends at one of the local indoor theaters. We’d escape the heat and humidity, and real life for a bit.
We had galactic battles on a grand scale in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, we had Indiana Jones fighting the Nazis for fortune and glory. There was Rambo and Die Hard. There was Aliens and the Abyss. And the one movie that set me on the path of martial arts, The Karate Kid.
Despite being set in different worlds and times, all of these movies had one thing in common: Memorable action scenes. Whether fighting for their lives in deep space or against the local neighborhood bad boys right here on Earth, these characters made us cheer when they overcame staggering odds for a victorious outcome.
If you’re a fantasy writer, sooner or later, your characters will end up in a scrap. They’ll face the baddies in epic showdowns that perch you on the edge of your seat and whittle your nails down to nothing. They’ll keep you up until the wee hours of the night, turning the pages, eager to see what happens next.
Chances are though, very few of us have waged massive campaigns, been in a knock-down drag out melee, or had to fight for our lives against supernatural beings, which makes it difficult to write an action or combat scene from experience.
This is one time you’ll have to fake it. But how do you keep it believable without having the scene fall flat?
Are we writers or are we dancers? No soldier goes into battle without a plan, and neither should you. The best laid plans may never last past the clash of the front lines, but it’s much better than having no plan at all. Take the time and lay out your combat/action strategies before you start writing it. It’s alright if you make changes to it once you start writing it. Usually when you get your characters moving, the best ideas and twists come to mind. Go with it. Having a plan and direction to start makes starting easier.
You may find yourself acting out your fight scenes, too. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve “danced” alone in the office, choreographing fight scenes or discussing the amount of damage different calibers would do to a body with my resident expert on firearms.
One of my all time favorite fight scenes is between Darth Maul and Qui Gon Jin from The Phantom Menace (embedded above). You can imagine the amount of choreography that went into that one!
Avoid the Wire Fu. Think about the Matrix or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Remember how the fight scenes had more acrobatics than a Cirque du Soleil production? Consider your character’s abilities and what you’ve built so far. Have you shown how your character learned how to shoot a gun or how they trained for those fancy karate moves? Every ability has to have a foundation.
Know Thy Weaponry. Do your research and learn the correct terminology and techniques for the weapons your characters use. If you have the opportunity (and the inclination) learn how to use the weapons yourself.
Weaponry doesn’t end with hand held weapons. Your body can be considered a weapon if you have training. Martial arts, boxing, street fighting, military training…all have aspects you’ll need to be familiar with. I’m not saying go out and get into a brawl down at the local bar, but if you want to learn the basics, take a karate course, or try some boxing. Get active, learn what it FEELS like to strike something, even if it’s a padded board or punching bag. But do it right and do it under professional supervision!
Combat and action scenes are exciting for you and your readers when you understand how they work. Study all the pieces, make them fit as realistically as you can, and when in doubt, find a professional to read it over. Remember, every element of your story has to have enough reality to make it believable. But if you make one glaring error, that will toss your reader right out of the story. Watch videos on YouTube, read books, LEARN! And above all, have fun.
Video Credit: The Phantom Menace, Lucas Productions