What Was That? You Wanna Fight?

When starting this blog I asked friends what they would be interested in seeing from a blog based around writing. One of the biggest requests I got was writing fight scenes. So… how do you write a fight scene you say?

Beats me.

I wish I had some clear advice to give, but honestly I’ve winged every one I’ve ever written. So far what I’ve been told is that they’re good to read, but who knows if that’s a bias. The way I go about it is generally thinking back to other authors, but also what you tend to see in war movies as well as novels based on war.

Yep, I said movies (Good movies mind you). I don’t mean the ridiculous amounts of Michael Bay-esque explosions or the dramatic stunts and heroes who live through wounds that are blatantly fatal. I mean the chaos. You are going to be writing from the perspective of a character, so make sure to keep it that way. Keep the scene to what only they see and experience. They are not going to be aware of who is flanking who if they are in one of the center Companies unless they’re an officer made privy to that information.

A lot of books on the World Wars often tend to relate the horror of war as well. Do not be afraid to get vicious with it. War is not a pretty thing. There will be blood, guts, broken bones, and mud. People get trampled, there is friendly fire, people panic, and others fly into a blood lust.

Of course, how it plays out will vary a lot based on what kind of fight we are talking about. A one on one fight is far different than a soldier on the battlefield. On the battlefield there are mass amounts of information to take in so chaos is your friend. Short sentences to the point tend to create more tension. Focus will constantly be shifting from one threat to the next and the unexpected is expected to occur.

One versus one generally is “calmer”. There is only one target to focus on; one goal. I allow myself more room for observation here. In this situation my character is far more likely to notice a twitch preluding an attack or catch onto a feint than on the battlefield where there is no time for that.

A battlefield is sensory overload where as a duel is all focus. The more opponents the more likely your characters attentions will fray in multiple directions.

I suppose my main goal is not to focus too heavily on just the actions of sword slashes and magic casting, but to give the reader a sense of atmosphere. Does the battle appear to be going well? Is all hell breaking loose? What are the sounds and the sights around? Or is it all coming in so fast the character can only process it in short bursts and flashes?

For a one on one I delve more into the thought process; the calculation behind attack and defense. Character thoughts are allow to stray to something beyond just survival.

Hopefully this is of some aid. I still feel like a novice on such a subject. At the very least I hope this gives the wanted insight into my process that was requested even if it does not necessarily help.

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And So Here We Are…

Today I finished the first edit of my novel. It has been both exhilarating and terrifying. I won’t even mention my word count. Needless to say it is ridiculously large; as in probably close to 3x larger than some of the estimations I’ve seen for my genre’s standard.

A while back I had come to terms with the fact that I was most likely going to need to split the book. It was a painful revelation as I am unsure if there is really a good place to break it in two and also I had always thought of it as one book. Seems a bit funny to be sad it’s going to have to be two and not one, but that’s how my heart feels, damned if I can explain why.

Still I had hoped that maybe, juuust maybe, with some slash and burn of useless words/paragraphs along with a little luck I might be able to squeak a reduced version past a publisher.

Ha.

Hahaha. In my wildest dreams…

Now I realize that not only will it need to be two books but I’ll still need to hack out major chunks to make even those two a reasonable word length. The poor exposition is going to be butchered, but it’s dying for a good cause. I think.

This of course means I get the joy of setting aside my anxiety of going about researching publishers for a while longer though. So here I find myself now staring at the empty folder “Edit 2”. Brace yourself. It is going to be one hell of a bumpy ride.

A Little Sympathy Goes a Long Way

So you’ve got a plot all written down or perhaps it’s on a jumble of index cards or floating aimlessly in your head. Now what?

In my earlier post about plot I noted that characters are the driving force behind any story. There is more to a character than simply giving a certain personality type a physical form and letting it run amuck in your plot. That may perhaps get the story moving, but it won’t keep the reader overly interested.

The biggest thing about characters is that they need to be engaging. A reader has to actually care about these people and their lives despite that fact that they are not real people. It may seem simple at first. Make a character, design how they look, give them a name, a little history, and then throw them into a dangerous situation. Instant drama. But that does not mean that the reader will care. Indeed, there are quite a few characters that you could lob off a limb and I would care less. In fact, I might even be pleased that your protagonist just died because I have no desire to care for them.

It becomes infinitely more complicated when you design a character that is actually meant to be hated. How do you create a character that a reader is supposed to hate and yet make them engaging as an individual and not another cut out villain? The greatest key I have found is sympathy. You have to make that character sympathetic.

Now, this does not mean the character needs to have a change of heart; by all means no, make them as vile as you desire. The key is making them hated, but making it so that a person can understand why they are so awful; why perhaps you can pity and care for their past self, but loath what they have become. This in the end all ties into history and motivation.

What does your character desire? Why do they desire it? How did this come to occur?

For me the most profound moment of this was my character Anhur. Firstly, his original name was Vincent. In a world where most people had foreign based names or names that were entirely made up he was right off the bat plain with only that. Since his older brother had an Egyptian name I decided to follow suit with Anhur and give him a name change. Then came his purpose; his motivation. Anhur was designed, simply put, to create tension and frankly to move along certain plot points. Sure, he had a general history and a personality, but he was horrifically flat. I could make him as much as a brat as I pleased, but it had no meaning to it; no substance.

I hated him. He was boring and I did not find much enjoyment in writing him. No main member of the cast should be a chore to write and even small characters should not be a pain. I clearly recall being in my last home when this occurred to me. I was going through my afternoon routine, winding down from work, and suddenly I just needed to change him. I needed to tear out everything but the foundation and just rework his history, his motivation, and his personality.

Oh he’s still a brat all right, and you still hate him, but now you understand him. You can see where he is coming from and you can sympathize with who he was. Suddenly everything about him made far more sense. It was amazing how just altering his childhood development suddenly made everything fall into place. His personality, motivation, and future all were lain out so easily after that.

The ultimate joy was perhaps when receiving feedback from my good friend who is the first to read my novel for me. The way she swung between hating him and feeling sorry for him and then being angry that she felt sorry for him was both hilarious and pleasing. All because I had given a reason for him to be sympathized with there was suddenly so much more emotion, depth, and ‘interaction’ of sorts between the reader and this character.

So, when you begin to write, set time aside to work on developing your characters. You will find it a more rewarding and enjoyable task to write once you do.

Looking Back

So I ended up almost entirely rewriting the scenes that I had written years ago. It was time consuming, but worth it. I kept the frame of the scene intact, most of the events still happen, but I redid the phrasing completely.

Sometimes I get really down on myself because I feel my writing is still very amateur. Honestly it is compared to the authors I look up to, but whenever it weighs too heavily on me I go back and read my old work from even as early as two years ago and I laugh. Between now and then it feels like worlds apart. Every line I tore out of that rewritten scene and replaced felt amazing.

I can only imagine in another two years when I go back and reread my novel I’ll groan and ask myself what I was thinking when I was doing the initial rewrite.

Most of my early writing experiences were fanfiction. I still write some from time to time, mostly for my own enjoyment. When I was younger however, I shared it on websites. Periodically I’ll find the old files on my computer and open them up to read them. I always wonder what in the heck I was thinking. Not only are the plots usually ridiculous or the characters not actually in character, but the quality of the writing is horrific.

Sometimes I still get emails indicating that someone liked or followed those old stories or my old profile and I laugh. Some of those stories are over eleven years old and I wonder how in the heck anyone can enjoy those things. Still, I let the stories remain instead of deleting them like I’ve contemplated dozens of time. Oddly, they still bring people joy for reasons I cannot figure out and I have to admit my guilty pleasure of going back to find stories I read when I was 14 that are poorly written, but that I still somehow love. I would be sad if those authors removed their old works, so I won’t do that to those who bizarrely still like mine.

Love it at the Core

Every year I participate in WriMoNaNo (and WriMoNaNo Camp) and probably the biggest thing I see is the forums filling up with discouragement. Post after post of people commenting how they’ve only gotten a thousand or five hundred words and now they’re stuck. There are those who are nearly a third of the way through when suddenly they’ve lost interest and find themselves forcing their way through it.

For some of them it is simply a matter of writer’s block. Don’t be afraid of it. Everyone gets it. Simply work where you can and surround yourself with things that inspire you or get you in the creative mood. Whittle away at it a little at a time and soon enough the urge to write will return. Don’t spend your time cramming words onto a page when you hate what you are doing. Writer’s block is different for everyone just like writing is, but personally I find I tend to resent writing and what I do more when I try to force it.

For others though the matter is less simple. While it is not the case for all, many stop caring what they are writing about. Whatever had seemed like an amazing plot idea to them a week earlier is now, in their mind, a boring pile of junk. When you feel that way it is no wonder that you find yourself unable to write or care about the characters. The absolute most important thing when writing is to enjoy what you are writing about.

Are you going to love every scene? No, of course not. You may even have characters you dislike, but you should never have trouble writing because you so loath getting into their character or into the plot line that you can’t get yourself to sit down and spend thirty minutes typing. If it is such an utter struggle, step back and take time to figure out why. What is it that you hate so much? And once you figure that out start to think on how you can change that. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing which character’s perspective you are writing from and other times you will find yourself throwing out a whole plot.

It can be discouraging, but you will feel infinitely better working on something you love a month later than finding yourself two weeks down the line throwing in the towel completely because you simply cannot stand your story any longer.

For me this is why the planning and organizing stage is one of the most important. I spend time developing the plot, world, and characters and developing layers to each. I try to set up a foundation that I enjoy so even when the plot or a character takes a sudden veer into territory I never planned on I still have, at the core, something I love. This makes even the scenes I am less fond of much easier to write because I care.

You need to give a damn what you are writing about. No, that does not mean you have to care about world revolution or teen romance, but it means at the end of the day you need to care about those characters. If one is in a situation where they may not survive, and your muse has the reins and could pull a crazy character killing stunt at any moment, you better damn well be nervous that you’ll find yourself writing a death scene before you’re aware of what’s going on. (Yes… Sometimes that happens.)

Take time to mule over your idea. Toy with it, day dream with it, and jot down notes. Build up a base that gets you excited or warms you. If you can love the core of it then you will find the writing that branches out to be far more pleasurable to deal with. Because remember, you’re going to have to read that story over and over again when it comes time to start editing.

So love what you write. Form a bond with your characters. It will be a far more rewarding experience in the end. Then, one day, when you find yourself yelling at your characters for not following the outline or apologizing to them for hacking off a limb, don’t worry. You’re not crazy. You are just a writer.

All Emergency Crews We Have a Motivation Derailment. I Repeat, We Have a Motivation Derailment

Lately I’ve been finding myself distracted. For a time I was doing great. I was tearing away at a fan story I was writing all while editing my original novel. Slowly, the writing tapered off, but the editing picked up, so I was pleased. Theeeeen derail. I went from doing 4 to 6 chapters a day down to zip. I blame it on procrastination.

There is a pesky scene that is probably the oldest in my novel. It is out dated and no longer really fits, but it has some important information and revelations in it. That and it sets up scenes that come later so it’s not a matter of simply tossing it out. That sucker has to get edited… But I reeaaaaallly don’t want to deal with it. Feel like it is this gigantic boulder sitting in the road and the only thing I have to get rid of it is this tiny little chisel and hammer.

I suppose that’s just part of being a writer, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it gosh darn it all. Naturally this meant that instead of just facing it and getting it over with I suddenly ran headlong for another original story I wanted to write. Meanwhile that scene from my novel is sitting in the back of my mind yowling like my cat does at 2am when she has to announce to the apartment that she still remembers how to use the litter box and that we all damn well better be proud of her.

Part of the problem I think is the fact that I struggle to write while at home. At work it is easy. It’s a mini escape to jot down two or three sentences while I wait for the system to save or a chapter while at lunch. At home there are a multitude of distractions. It is hard to write sometimes when I have a game I am longing to play staring at me from my task bar or when I have a cat trying to wedge himself between my arm and my side.

One of these days I need to hide my Ethernet cord so I can’t get on steam or an MMO after I lock all three of my cats out of my room.

Ha. Good luck with that…