Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Fight me (in a scene)

True confession time: most fight scenes in books and movies bore me. You know how a lot (all?) James Bond movies start with an action scene or chase sequence, and it's supposed to be thrilling but it isn't really related to the rest of the story and is mostly about Daniel Craig being pretty people jumping off buildings and somehow never breaking their legs? Yeeeah, that's my popcorn-buying break.

As a consumer of entertainment, I really only like action scenes -- and sex scenes are absolutely action scenes -- that somehow affect the protagonist's internal arc. Not affect as in physically wounding the characters or other plotty nonsense, but as in revealing something critical about them. Happily for me, there are lots of ways a storyteller can add that crucial layer to a fight sequence to grab and hold my interest.

How do they fight?

I haven't read it in a really long time, but I remember being blown away with the aikido fights in Steven Gould's Helm. I mean, there were lots of fascinating things about that book (hello, mind control and ambitious youngest-child not-chosen-ones), but the journey of the protagonist, Leland, is bound up with his embrace of aikido, so how he fights -- the stances and centering and balance -- is a reflection of how much he has grown and learned as the story progresses.

Who do they fight?

Sometimes the reveal is who the protag is fighting. If anyone hasn't seen The Last Jedi, skip to the next section, 'cause I'm about to spoil something here. Gone? Okay. So that throne room fight sequence was so freaking amazing. Not just because of the choreography and fancy lightsaber work -- we have seen plenty of lightsaber fights, not all of which were interesting. This particular fight sees a dramatic shift in allegiances, and when Rey and Kylo end up fighting back-to-back together against Snoke and his red minions, the whole Force is in balance. Damn skippy I didn't go get popcorn during that.

Where is their attention during a fight?

I recently read The Magnolia Sword, Sherry Thomas's retelling of the Ballad of Mulan, and I adored all of the action scenes, especially the really, really long one at the end. Now, you might think that a fight-weary reader like me would have gotten bored quickly, but I wasn't. Weird, huh? So of course I had to re-read several times and try to figure out why. I think part of it was the staging, which was beautiful, but also important was where Mulan's attention was during the fight. She is constantly checking off where her opponents are (I mean, duh that), but she's also always hyper aware of where her allies are, what they are doing, how vulnerable they are, and how close they are to losing. She shifts her own tactics and position to better aid them, and in the process her anxiety became my anxiety in the best possible way.

How do they see this all going down?

And by that, I mean the planning. For instance, in Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, David is the kid with the plan. He has a plan for everything, especially and including his personal revenge. So in every action scene, there is an accompanying thought of "how well is that plan working out for him?" The difference between David's plan and what actually happens, and how he deals with those differences on the fly, reveals a lot about where he is in his personal vengeance quest, not to mention character development.

So what you're saying is layer other stuff in because we are all really more interested in that stuff than in people kicking each other?

Yep. Because a story about people beating each other up for no good reason is dull, and if a scene is a micro-story with beginning, middle, end, and motivation, then there have to be layers and character development shown within the fight. Otherwise, you're gonna bore your reader.