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Writing Martial Arts, Part 3: MA in Prose

Welcome to Part 3 of our series on Writing Martial Arts in fiction. This part deals with the nitty gritty: how to incorporate martial arts action into your prose.

First, let me refer back to a point that we made in Part 1. Short fights are the most realistic. Imagine, for a moment, a fight scene from a movie you’ve seen recently. Think about the way the characters get hit. How many punches like that could you take? Unless you are writing about Captain America, your character just can’t get hit that many times and keep going.

There is a delicate balance between keeping it real and making it awesome. Keeping these things in mind will help, when you consider the blows your character takes:

  1. Location. Getting struck in the shoulder versus the throat.

  2. Weapon. Getting punched feels different than getting elbowed.

  3. Force. How hard did that hit land?

Now, as you get started writing your fight scenes, we recommend first working on the choreography. Think of this like preparing to film the scene. Sit down and visualize how the fight plays out. For our books, this is usually Sam’s job. He writes out short notes for me, just highlights of what happens. This helps me see the flow of the fight/battle. This also highlights the cool/iconic moves, so I can build to them.

Fight scenes flow differently than other scenes. The key is brevity. Shorter sentences and paragraphs help give the reader a sense of urgency and speed. Set the scene before you begin the action, so that once the fight starts, you can write only the combat, without having to stop for long descriptions.

I also recommend that you limit dialogue and character thoughts. A friendly duel might be a little different, but in any combat more serious than that, people are not going to stop to chat. There might be some that fits, but for the most part, people in a fight are going to be fixated solely on winning/staying alive.

Mix up the flow of your descriptions. Alternate between sweeping descriptions and specific moves. Your reader will not be engaged by a long, technical explanations. This was one of my beginning mistakes in our first drafts! I wanted readers to be able to visualize exactly what was happening in the fights, so I described each and every move. But my awesome, realistic fight scenes were…boring!

But they’ll also get tired of “they fought back and forth” generalizations pretty quickly. You need specific combat moves to give the rest of your descriptions context. Think of these moments as a spark. These moves can be iconic and memorable! Then your readers’ imagination will fill in the rest through your more sweeping descriptions.

As fights progress, injuries occur. Wounds can affect the combat in minor to very drastic ways. A scratch can distract. A cut above the eye can drip blood into the eyes. Dislocation can make weapons difficult or impossible to wield. Torn muscles or ligaments are equally disabling. Any open wound of size can eventually bleed out. You need to include these in your development of the choreography as well in the prose.

Lastly, remember emotion. This is not the same as thought, and you need to be careful not to delay action. But anyone who is in a fight, whether in sport or as a matter of life and death, will have to deal with adrenaline. There will be fear. The degree of skill that your character has in relation to his opponent will have some relation to the degree of emotion he experiences. But there is a physical reaction that happens, regardless of training. If you are getting hit, your body will respond. Your ability to work through those emotions is dependent on your training. In order to realistically depict a fight, you need to show the effect on the brain, as well as the body.

Thank you for joining us for this series! We hope that it has been informative. For more examples of how we like to write fight scenes, check out our books! =)

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