Friday, May 9, 2008
Six flaws in combat scenes
1. The characters simply slash and hack at each other
If they have the same weapons and fight in the same way, this can be repetitive and won't bring out the full potential of such a scene. Different weapons have different advantages – a spear has a longer reach, but is useless at close quarters, unless the shaft breaks so that the character can use it to stab an opponent. Different weapons also mean different fighting styles, and that might mean the difference between life and death for a physically weaker opponent.
2. The characters have no psychological tactics
They fight in grim silence. Unless this is what they would normally do, let them taunt or bait an opponent, or fake an opponent out by pretending to attack. If they’re injured, even if ‘tis but a flesh wound, they could act as though it’s far worse so they can lure an opponent closer.
I once read a great short story about a love triangle in a primitive tribe, which was finally resolved when the two men involved went into a darkened room to fight it out with knives. One of them had won each such battle he’d fought, killing every one of his opponents (it was later revealed that he had a hidden flashlight built into the hilt of his knife). He was naturally so confident that he gave the woman an expensive perfume and told her to wear it for him when she gave him the victor’s reward.
She wore it when she came to wish them both luck before the fight, and she embraced Flashlight Guy warmly before they went into the room. The smell of the perfume clinging to him was enough for the other man to track him in the dark. Turned out she was in love with the other man all along.
3. The characters don’t use their surroundings to the best advantage
When the Bride confronts a knife-wielding Vernita Green in Kill Bill, and the fight goes to the kitchen, she grabs a frying pan to use as a makeshift shield. I love that detail. Similarly, if characters are fighting on sandy ground, one could pretend to fall, grab a handful of sand and fling it in an opponent’s eyes. Combat near a campfire? Use burning branches. Throw a blanket over the fire to disconcert an opponent with the sudden darkness. A fight in ankle-deep water, at night? Toss a stone to distract an opponent with the splash.
4. The characters show no real effects of wounds
I could buy that massive amounts of adrenaline will override pain, but at some point, blood loss will weaken characters. Wounds in the limbs will make it difficult for them to move and to use their own weapons as effectively. Blood will slicken the hilts of weapons and whatever hard surface the characters are standing on.
Finally, I’ve seen mortally injured or dying characters speak in complete, grammatically accurate sentences. That’s impressive, and also unrealistic.
5. Such wounds are unrealistically inflicted
A strike that lops off someone’s hand looks cool on Kill Bill. Leave it there. A strike that impales someone, driving the weapon through the victim’s body? If the attacker had previously been established as extremely strong, I might buy this. If not, it’s not just unrealistic, it’s foolish. The attacker has now lost his weapon, since it’s lodged in his shish-kebabed victim, and while he’s trying to retrieve it, someone else can attack.
6. The characters do not have normal physical reflexes
If something jabs at your eyes, reflexes will jerk your head back and close your eyelids without your having to think about it. If someone grabs the dagger from your belt, brings it up and tries to cut your throat with it, you’ll be instinctively flinching or blocking or grabbing the person’s hand first.
There are probably more that I haven’t thought of, so please share any other flaws you’ve seen!