On a site where people post their work for critiques, I’ve read a few stories where the authors seem to be inspired by films and video games when it came to fight scenes. Although I don’t watch many movies – and usually prefer novels – I was riveted to the screen when I watched the fight scenes in Kill Bill, so I can see what the authors were aiming for. One problem, though, is that films and video games are very different media from novels and stories.
Video games are interactive. If I’m maneuvering my Sorceress through the deserts of Aranoch in Diablo II, I’m more interested in finding treasure and staying alive, maybe not necessarily in that order, than the story or how realistic anything is. Films work on different principles too, the story unfolding so fast that the audience rarely has the time to stop and consider what’s happening. A book, on the other hand, can be closed – and may well be – if the reader doesn’t buy into what’s on the page. Films have the added advantage of visuals, music and special effects. But there are still techniques in movies which authors might be able to incorporate into their work.
1. Make it clear what your main character can do. The first fight scene in Kill Bill is between the Bride and Vernita Green – and it’s realistic (if you overlook little details like a suburban housewife keeping a gun in a box of cereal). Because of that, I felt sure the Bride was fully capable of holding her own in a fight, and the showdown in the House of Blue Leaves didn’t come off as unbelievable, which it would have if that was the first scene I’d watched. Likewise, starting with a main character realistically defeating one opponent will be easier for readers to believe than a beginning where the main character takes on four or five assassins at once.
2. Keep the level of realism consistent within the scene. I did read a story which started out with a hero facing several assassins, which I thought might be do-able, depending on the hero’s armor, weaponry, skills and experience. But then the hero went on to take wounds which should have crippled if not killed him, which was definitely not do-able (I always wonder about infection, especially in medieval worlds). I think that’s one reason the battle between the Bride and the Crazy 88 is so gleefully over-the-top – a fight between one woman and dozens and dozens of black-suited guys with Kato masks isn’t meant to be taken entirely seriously, and the subsequent violence lives up to that standard. The level of realism is low throughout the scene and doesn’t jar the audience by changing abruptly.
3. Make the audience care about the characters. I like the Bride, but I’m fascinated by the other characters as well – O-Ren and Gogo, Elle and Bill. I didn’t want any of them to lose. In a short story, there probably won’t be enough room to properly develop an antagonist. However, a well-thought-out enemy with at least one positive trait will be far more interesting than either a horde of nameless, faceless swordfodder or a leering, sneering stereotype.
4. Make the antagonists competent. Kill Bill turns this into an art form – everyone the Bride fights is very good at fighting back. Skip this, and it’ll seem as though the protagonists are winning not because of their competence, but because the opposition are weak or witless. Fights need conflict as well as action; if it’s evident that the antagonist cannot win and that the main character cannot lose, the fight scenes won’t be very exciting to read.
5. Give the story some pizzazz. That’s one reason I enjoy Kill Bill – the costumes, the code names and the exotic weapons give a fun, vivid feel to the movie. Probably the closest fantasy equivalent to this is George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, where the characters also have unusual clothes, monikers and weapons. No need to go to extremes and mention every minor character’s bracers of swiftness, magic cat, and twin scimitars named Slasher and Sparkle – but making major characters as individual, unique and vivid as possible can lift a fight scene from competent to memorable.
The first blog entry was fun to write. :)