Saturday, May 29, 2010

How to write a fight

I'm at the point in my WIP in which the good guy and the bad guy are about to face off, one on one, in a fight to the death. Swords, skill, agility, brute strength and brains. The good guy is injured, and the bad guy is the better fighter. The odds look grim. It's a scene perfectly formed in my imagination, but here's the problem: excepting fan fiction, I have never written about a sword fight. A blow-by-blow description would become monotonous. So, how do I write this?

As I often do in cases when I'm unsure how to tackle a scene, I start with a trip to my personal library. I scanned the titles and pulled the books with a memorable fight scene: David Eddings, Joy Chant, Katherine Kurtz and Anne McCaffrey. I got down to studying. How did the writer approach the scene? How was it written? What do I like and dislike? What made the fight memorable?

Two stuck out in my mind as approaches I liked:

Case one: The brainier of the combatants, the POV character, is constantly trying to assess strengths and weaknesses, and reassess his assumptions as the fight goes on. The other combatant is more about power and strength, and his strategy is essentially to pummel his opponent. So, the fight is used as an opportunity to tell more about the characters.

Case two: The writer tells about the first couple of blows, then spends the next few sentences describing the scene around the fight. It's a dual of swords and magic, so there are changes to weather and religious followers running in panic. The writer is trusting readers to use their imagination to fill in the gaps of the fight.

In both cases, the actual blows are secondary -- except, of course, for the one that ends the fight.

I'm going to mull over these examples for a few hours, reread, consider how the approaches might apply to my story and will probably end up using a combination of ideas and techniques.