by Tiffany Lawson Inman
Hello and Happy December! I’ve kept my blog a little shorter today because I know you all are busy busy busy with festivities writing. *wink wink* My hubby is currently wondering when I will put the laptop away and finish wrapping presents.
Here is Part One of my new series here at WITS: Crossing Physical Barriers. Enjoy!
The in-laws will be on your doorstep in 7 hours. The holiday meal must be unique-yet-likeable to nine adults (plus 4 kids) and, um, perfect!
Your house, marriage, holiday décor, life path, parenting skills, current and past weight and hairstyles will be under close scrutiny for the next week. And you are eight days away from the end of the year, realizing now, you are lacking in accomplishments.
Can you think of a better combination for stress, physical outbursts and acne?!?!?
Just from reading the above passage, did you have a fleeting awareness of your own holiday pressures?
Yeah, I did too.
That’s right. I am not on WITS today to talk about the warm n’ fuzzies that usually adorn holiday festivities. I am here to put the focus on writing physical violence.
What can prompt your character to want to physically lash out at another?
Well, let’s see, how many times can your mother-in-law remind you how she makes whipped potatoes before you dump the gravy on her head?
Oh, but seriously now, according to humanillnesses.com violent behavior stems from:
- brain injury
- antisocial personality disorder
- alcohol abuse (other substance abuse)
- learned behavior
Yes, keep those in mind when you are developing characters, especially characters that you predict will be involved in some kind of violence in your novel. Fabulous starting points for your character’s backstory. But today we are only going to look at the different levels of emotional intensity in fictional fight scenes, starting with the Moment Before the fight.
Because the Moment Before affects the intensity of action that will unfold. (And because that is all I have time for in Part One!)
- Surprise attacker. Character has no time to think, just respond.
~ Usually results in high intensity level from start to finish as a result of the immediate adrenaline
- Lay in wait. Character knows the attack is coming and is at the ready with self and or weapons.
~ High or medium intensity depending on characters attack plan, if there is a plan.
~ High or medium intensity depending on level of threat: scare, maim, maim and capture, or all out destroy.
- Avoidance tactics. Character knows attack is coming and is on the run or hiding.
~ High or medium intensity depending on how big a head-start character has, decent hiding spot, and what they imagine will happen to them if they are caught.
- Verbal attack turns physical.
~ Low, medium, or high depending on argument, characters involved, and location.
Think about how these elements affect the action in the fight.
For example in The Princess Bride, there is a BIG difference between the emotional intensity of the fight scenes.
A great example of a low intensity fight is between Inigo Montoya and The Man in Black after they’ve both climbed the Cliffs of Insanity. It’s not a personal fight. These two men do not know each other. They both know the fight is going to happen before it happens.
- One man is under orders to fight and kill (reluctantly)
- The other man is resolved to go ahead with the fight because he desperately needs to move forward on his journey and this man is in his way.
They start the fight with swords and end it with swords because that was the plan. The Moment Before is a somewhat relaxed discussion of fighting terms for their inevitable fight. Even when one loses his weapon, the other allows him to retrieve it before moving forward.
You will also notice the writer allows for some comedic banter between the fighting fellows. Another way of showing the low intensity level of the violence.
An example of a high intensity fight involves Wesley (The Man in Black) in the Fire Swamp and a Rodent of Unusual Size (ROUS.)
The Moment Before happens without the antagonist. He is a surprise attacker; therefore the fight starts with a zap of adrenaline for the character and the viewer. Because of the shock of the Moment Before the level of intensity is much much higher than before.
ROUSs motivation is to kill and eat. Wesley’s motivation is to keep himself and his bride alive, preferably with limbs intact. The audience can feel the emotional intensity as Wesley and his bride struggle to survive in this fight. He goes through a variety of approaches. When one fails he is forced to scramble for another, and with each change the intensity rises. Hand to hand, big stick, fire, and finally sword.
And I will ask you to notice here as well, how much or really how little dialogue happens when the intensity is this high. There isn’t any time to talk when you are fighting for your life.
I could go through every fight in that movie and for each one we would get to see a different level of emotional intensity.
Why did the writer do that? Because the audience will get desensitized to your violence if it’s all at one level. There will also be a loss of meaning behind the altercations and the reader will probably question the characters in these fights.
What you need to consider for a fight scene’s Moment Before:
- Was there premeditated motivation going into the fight?
- What were the premeditated motivations?
- How long has your character been plotting this action?
- How big of a change is your character needing/wanting/going to get as the fight’s outcome?
- Was it a spur-of-the moment response to an emotional or physical attack?
Was there premeditated motivation going into the fight? If there was, then your instigator probably knows a lot about where the fight will take place, giving him/her the upper hand or the element of surprise. Premeditated usually means there are many emotions backing it up.
What were the premeditated motivations? Fight can’t happen if you haven’t made it clear what the motivations or circumstances behind attack are.
How long have your characters been emotionally plotting this action? Easier to show emotion behind plotting from POV character, but is also nice to know the duration of opposite side of the fight.
What is the character need/want of the fight’s outcome? Sometimes this isn’t a blip on their radar yet and they might not have even registered that there could be a different outcome. But more likely than not, there is a need or want involved from beginning. If the reader knows what that need or want is, it’s easier for them to emotionally connect themselves to what happens in the fight as well. What could make it interesting is when the outcome is something opposite or contradictory to what character wants/needs.
Was it a spur-of-the moment response to an emotional or physical attack? I find these the most interesting and usually the highest emotional intensity because of the nature of the fight or flight response. Primitive action. Survival mode. This is where you can push your character to the edge and over.
Coming up next month in Crossing Physical Barriers — Part Two:
I will be dissecting fight scenes so you can see a few different ways to show the levels of emotional intensity. I wonder which authors will be under my dramatic microscope… *wicked smile*
Till next month…I’m wishing you a healthy and safe holiday season. Thank you for reading. Toss me a “Hiya” in the comments.
For those of you drooling at the chance to get your name in the hat 2x for participating in the mini-challenge assignment, you will have to wait till January for that opportunity.
December is too busy with holiday, travel, wife-ing, momma-ing, editing, and teaching to dive in to a mini-challenge this week. SORRY! I will of course be drawing a name from the regular comments below.
Today’s comment winner gets…a free slot in one of my upcoming courses!
- January – Triple Threat Behind Writing a Scene (8 lectures and as always TONS of one-on-one feedback and edits)
- February- Action and Fighting in Fiction: Writing Authentic Choreography With Precision and Bite
- or jump in and join December’s – Method to Madness: Using Acting Techniques to Invigorate Your Writing and Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy
Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development.
She teaches Action, Choreography, Emotional Impact, Violence, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in 2014.
As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to WITS to see Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, classes, contests, and lecture packets.
You can also find her on Twitter – follow @NakedEditor.