Killers need to kill. It’s surprising how many writers ignore this very specific and important piece of the ones they claim are killers, heartless or not. Sometimes, there’s a difference between the character we describe in the text and the actions the character takes. An author can tell me over and over that a character is a deadly and dangerous person who strikes ruthlessly without mercy, but if they don’t behave that way in the actual story then I’m not going to buy it.
Show versus tell: the difference between who the author says the character is and the actions the character takes in the story. Especially if the actions counteract the description. Now, you do have characters who lie, characters who misrepresent themselves, characters who say one thing and do another, but these are not the characters we’re talking about. This is about ensuring that you, the author, know the character you are writing. Unless you’re hiding their habits, let us glimpse the worst they’re capable of.
Monster. I could tell Jackson I was a monster, but he wouldn’t believe me. He saw a strawberry blonde, five feet eleven inches. A waitress, a Pilates nut, not a murderer. The nasty scar across my slim waist that I’d earned when I was ten? He thought I’d gotten it from a mugging at twenty one. Just as a natural layer of womanly fat hid away years of physical conditioning, I hid myself behind long hair, perky makeup, and a closet full of costumes bought from Macy’s and Forever 21. To him, I was Grace Johnson. The woman who cuddled beside him in bed, the woman who hogged the sheets, who screamed during horror movie jump scares, the woman who forgot to change the toilet paper, who baked cookies every Saturday morning, the woman who sometimes wore the same underwear three days in a row. The woman he loved.
No, I thought as I studied his eyes. Even with a useless arm hanging at my side, elbow crushed; my nose smashed, blood coursing down from the open gash in my forehead, a bullet wound in my shoulder, Sixteen’s gun in my hand, the dining room table shattered, and his grandmother’s China scattered across the floor. He’d never believe Grace Johnson was a lie. Not until I showed him, possibly not even then. Not for many more years to come. Probably, I caught my mental shrug, if he lives.
“Grace,” Jackson said. “Please…” The phone clattered the floor, his blue eyes wide, color draining from his lips. “This isn’t you.”
Gaze locking his, I levered Sixteen’s pistol at her knee.
“Don’t,” she whispered. “Morrison will take you in, he’ll fix this.” Her voice cracked, almost a sob. For us, a destroyed limb was a death sentence. Once, we swore we’d die together. Now, she can mean it. “Thirteen, if you run then there’s no going back.”
My upper lip curled. “You don’t know me.” I had no idea which one I was talking to. “You never did.”
My finger squeezed the trigger.
Sixteen grunted, blood slipping down her lip. In the doorway, Jackson screamed.
Do it and mean it. Let it be part of their character development, regardless of if which way you intend to go. In the above example, there’s a dichotomy present between the character of Thirteen and her cover Grace Johnson. There’s some question, even for the character, about which of them they are. It sets up a beginning of growth for the character as she runs, but it also fails to answer what will be the central question in the story: who am I? Which way will I jump?
If Thirteen doesn’t kill Sixteen, if the scene answers the question at the beginning then why would you need to read the story?
Below the cut, we’ll talk about some ways to show their struggles.
Me, about to write a fight scene:
They'll just get a little scraped up, no biggy.
Me, 3/4ths through the fight scene:
*desperately googling how much blood someone can loose and still stay conscious, how long someone's heart can keep beating after they stop breathing, and how much flesh you can rip out of someone without causing permanent damage to the muscle.* They'll still get out alive, probably. No biggy, no biggy. This is totally under control...
This is the famous epic fight scene from the anime “Ha! It’s Not True”, Produced by “It’s Just a Commission” studio, premiering soon - in your dreams 2017!!
Fenris, the son of Wolf King Fenrir, teams up with Shiro the demon hunter against a horde of demons! The two badasses even took their shirt off for fan service purpose and stuff! You bet this anime is gonna be a top hit!!
Why is choking someone into unconscious normally an assumed death in movies? Don't they have a chance to regain consciousness?
In the real world? Yeah. Killing someone by choking takes a
long time. It’s a legitimate way to kill someone, but not an efficient one, and
the timeframe you see in most films is a fraction of what you’d need to kill
someone. It is worth remembering, this can
kill you. This is one of those times where “safe” does not mean “non-lethal,”
just that it is not immediately lethal.
In films, choking is an ideal option. In a controlled
environment, it’s (relatively) safe. You can get both actors in frame together.
You’ve got a lot of options to set up the shots. Finally, it’s incredibly easy
to fake. You get the actors into position, one of them, “chokes,” the other
without putting any pressure on the windpipe or arteries, and play the scene
It’s probably worth remembering, (even if some actors forget
this part), that acting is a cooperative exercise. Your job isn’t just to hit
your marks, spit your lines, and (occasionally) devour any unattended scenery; you
also need to facilitate your fellow actors’ performances. Stage fighting is an excellent
example of this. It’s not about actual
violence, but it is about working together to create the illusion. If anyone
gets hurt in the process, that means you can’t just reset and do another take,
so this is something that the production staff and performers really want to
There are a lot of staples in film and stage violence that
do not translate to the real world. They survive because of a few factors: most
people don’t know what they’re seeing is unrealistic, it facilitates
opportunities for acting, and it is reasonably safe.
Choking is great on film, because it gives both actors
plenty of time to do whatever the script calls for. So long as no one is actually having trouble breathing, they
can do this all day until the shot comes out right. Characters die from this
because the power of plot compels them to, not because of any physiological
considerations. Audiences believe it kills characters because, “well, I’ve got
to breathe, right?” Without ever questioning how long they can actually go
without oxygen. The idea that effective chokes are about cutting off the flow
of blood to the brain never occurs to them.
If an actor does screw up, and accidentally starts choking
their coworker, you have a lot of
time to rectify that. This isn’t true for a lot of stunt fighting, where if
someone screws up, someone’s going to take a hit, and all that’s left is apologies,
or in some tragic cases, obituaries.
Choking, depending on where you put your pressure can also
include some insane stuff you probably wouldn’t think is safe. An example would
be the one handed choke that lifts the victim off the ground. You can do this a
couple ways, the easiest (without rigging) is to push them up a wall, keeping
your thumb and index finger under their jaw (against the bone), you’re actually
lifting their head, their throat is completely safe, the airway remains clear,
they can breathe, but it looks like you’re going full Darth Vader on them. Even
for someone standing right there, it can be difficult to realize the victim is
Beyond this, front facing chokes, like you’ll usually see in
films, are very difficult to use in a real situation. As I mentioned above,
they don’t really provide good access to the points you’d be trying to compress,
but, they’re also difficult to complete because the victim has a lot of options.
There’s a lot of counters to these, that range from simply pulling the hand
free, to breaking their arm at the elbow. Wrapping an arm around the attacker’s
and dragging it out of position will stop the choke, and tie up their arm.
So, no, this is something that’s used because it looks good
on film, not because it has any grounding in reality.
The book I'm writing has quite a lot a fight scenes in it, the only problem is I'm not good at writing them. I don't know how to describe it: when punches are supposed to be thrown, when they connect, when they miss, or really just anything in general. Could you give me a few tips on how to write a fight scene? Thanks.
First off, I reccommend thee to @howtofightwrite for all future fight questions.
My personal advice, do anything in your power to either breeze over the conflict (”Once I’d knocked out the guards…”) or make those fight scenes short. Doesn’t matter if it’s an hour-long boxing match (ouch) make it read like twenty seconds (unless the boxing match is the most important part of the story in which case ignore me).
My fight scenes only work because, as one reviewer kindly put it “[your] focus on everything but combat is a big plus.” That reviewer was kind of an ass, but he had a point. I avoid combat. It’s just boring in my opinion. This is a book I’m writing not a Call of Duty game. Point is, most of your readers neither understand nor care how a fight scene works, but the ones that do will get annoyed quickly if you do it wrong. Watch your footwork and tread carefully.