Where was I? Oh, yeah, I was training. Been doing too much of that lately. Gonna be doing a lot more over the next couple of months. (and I am no longer the alternate for 4th Dan patterns, so add another layer to the training cake.)
But I’m at work and apparently they frown on flying kettle bells in the tutoring center… Alliteration is a different matter entirely.
Lucky for someone, I’ve decided to write about fighting rather than the alternative.
Here we go.
The Fight Itself
There is nothing quite like a fight. Not even another one. Because no two fights are ever the same. Each is a war unto itself; a timeless battle that takes forever, but is always over too soon.
When you are writing about a fight, there are two very different perspectives that you might take. To put it simply, there is inside the fight and outside the fight; the observer’s perspective and the fighter’s perspective.
Let’s start with the easy one. *heh*
The external perspective on a fight is description; the fighter(s) did this, then that happened, and eventually it appears to be over, one way or another. It varies, depending on the personality of the character POV that is observing.
The question of course, is how do we figure this out for a character so that is helps us write about the fight from his/her specific perspective?
Let me give you my answer, then I’ll show you how to get there.
Know the character’s focus.
We’re talking about observation and description here, frequently the most boring kind of writing. All showing, no telling, right?
Eh, hopefully not so much.
Here’s my process: Ask the character questions. Use those answers to color the description with focus and voice.
How does the character react to the fight? To the fact that it is happening? To the fact that it is close? Or distant?
How does the character react to the fighter(s)? Fear? Envy? Disdain? Respect?
The answers can tell you a lot about the character and consequently, give you a great opportunity to convey some of that character to your reader in a subtle, enjoyable fashion.
Let’s invent a basic description and then color it in for various characters.
Basic Description Example:
The two men squared off to fight. The blue fighter attacked with a kick to the gut followed by a punch to his opponent’s head. But before the punch could land, the red fighter stepped to the side and landed a pair of his own punches. Then he kicked the blue fighter once and then retreated.
Okay, that’s boring. That’s the point. It’s just the bare, observed facts. It’s also out of context and therefore stakeless. With nothing important riding on the outcome, it is emotionally hollow as well. So, can we make this short, boring exchange between two anonymous fighters more interesting? I’m gonna go with yes.
There are an infinite number of types of characters that might observe this fight. Let’s pick a few and see what we can do with them.
How about another fighter; someone who knows something about what is going on, but without any investment to speak of.
The two men squared off to fight. The blue fighter immediately went on the offensive, landing a side-kick to the solar-plexus before shooting a short jab intended for his opponent’s jaw. Red is quick, he dodged to the side and left Blue wide open for a counter. One punch low, one punch high, and then a kick out.
That was what I call announcer mode. The observer knew something about what he was seeing, but didn’t care very much, he was just there to relay the facts, albeit with a more trained focus. I gave him three focuses that any fighter ought to have.
Number one was specific targeting. This is a big difference, in my experience, between trained/experienced fighters and not.
Number two was a how he used strategic jargon to describe each fighter’s actions like “offense” and “counter.” He also used more specific language to describe the techniques used. and last but not least, he showed a comfort with the subject as he shortened and summarized automatically, even to the detriment of the less informed.
Number three was specific technique references. He didn’t use all generic terms like ‘kick’ and ‘punch.’
Now, let’s try on a little bit more of an insider.
The two fighters squared off. Blue went straight in with a side-kick that shoulda knocked out some air, or even some ribs. Red didn’t let it slow him down. He sidestepped that jab and opened Blue up good. High, low, and out.
This observer is mentally in that fight. He’s not seeing the through the eyes of a spectator, he’s seeing it through the eyes of a fighter. Right off, he calls them for what he sees and expects. Unlike the others so far, he doesn’t even mention the fight itself. It’s a given. That’s what fighters do, but it’s not the point. And that’s what he thinks of them as, “fighters,” not competitors, not opponents, just “fighters.” What does that say about our observer?
This observer is really focused on one thing, immediate consequence. He’s not looking for points, or pretty techniques, he’s making and then evaluating predictions. It’s not about the kick, it’s about how much it probably hurts, then its about how the Red fighter isn’t phased by the blow. Describing the counter setup, is when we see our observer in the shoes of a fighter for sure. He’s seeing the openings, the possible targets, not the specific techniques Red decided to use. (Not that doesn’t know the specifics, it’s just not his highest priority. How the move works rather than what the move is called.)
This type of observer, this fighter, could easily drop some judgements in as well. He might mention what he would have done instead of what happens, or even think of it before it happens. If he’s watching the fight long enough, and he’s an experienced strategist, he could start making predictions about a fighter’s moves, and when he starts getting them right, adding plans to counter the predictable moves, and after that, after he has a plan to deal with a move he thinks he’ll be able to see coming, he might even come up with a plan to force such a move. Three moves ahead.
Depending on how experienced, and how, shall we say, good, your fighter-observer is, you can change how correct such observations are. A good fighter with lots of experience might make a surprisingly accurate and thorough strategic analysis of the fight. A less effective or less experienced observer might make both good and bad predictions, and not go quite as deep.
If there is any one way to clearly differentiate level of experience, I would say it is in the depth and ease of such strategic thought.
I’m going to leave it at that for today, but consider other viewpoints for an observer. What about a complete stranger to fighting. How’s his or her pain tolerance. Maybe he or she empathizes and focuses on the perceived pain, or the possible damage. Does (he) have a personal interest for some reason in one of the fighters? Maybe (his) empathy is one-sided, maybe (he) even feels good about the other side getting hit/hurt.
We could keep going and going and going. The possibilities are rather large, but the idea is simple. Figure out what you want to say about the character observing the fight, and then pick one or two focuses that somehow illustrate those chosen facets of a character.
(And we will discuss the inside-the-fight perspective…eventually!)
Next time: Writing About Fighting III: One Ring Strategy To Rule Them All