I’ll be honest, the problem with a character not knowing how to fight is that they don’t know how to fight. So asking: what kind of moves can they pull off? Is like saying: my character can do complex wrestle mania stunts with no training.
People fight in and survive street fights all the time while knowing nothing. Still, the answer you want is: not many.
The most likely moves they will try to go for are the ones they’ve seen on television. Most of those don’t actually work in real life, so it will screw them over. Most of the time when you see people who know nothing fighting, they’re often imitating what they’ve seen in movies, on television, absorbed while watching UFC, boxing, even WWF when the idiots don’t realize it’s all stunts, etc.
If they’ve done sports, they’ll go with that.
They’re going to go with the first thing that comes to mind. Well, they will if they’re dumb.
The question is, if they try to throw a punch, do they understand how to not just lock the thumb over the fingers but to also lock the wrist. Punching someone else will hurt no matter what you do, but most self-defense tips that I’ve seen circulate Tumblr talk about the fingers rather than the bracing the entire forearm.
Even a proper punch can see you break a few fingers if you connect with the other guy’s face, not to mention damage the wrist. The other side is the over tensing. Too fast or too slow. Lot of people who know nothing go for the face (hollywood, boxing), a lot of people who know just a little more than nothing go for the stomach first (sucker punch, soft tissue target).
It’s a question of how much they know.
They’ll end up on the ground at some point.
Whoever lands on top probably wins.
Someone will probably blackout.
Dealer’s choice on whether or not they’ll need a hospital visit.
The truly level headed person seeks to find a way out of that situation rather than actually trying to win the fight. Whether that’s diffusing or just cracking someone across the side of the face with a beer bottle and running for the exit. A smart person understands the situation they’re in, they understand what they can and cannot get away with. They realize that surviving with their body intact is more important than the ego boost they get from “winning”.
See, here’s the thing, when you’re looking at something like the mentality seen in Fight Club, which is a real thing, you’re studying someone who needs to prove themselves through the physical domination of someone else. That’s an entirely different character from the one who just wants to get away from the bar brawl with all their teeth intact.
The impetus always begins with the kind of character you’re writing. It’s not so much a matter of what can they do, it’s what will they do and why are they doing it that builds the scene.
Why are they getting into this fight? What kind of person are they? What are you, the writer, trying to get out of it? What is the character drama for this scene? Do you want humor? How dark do you want to get?
The question is answered in their background (not their training, their likes, their dislikes, their personality), which allows you to make the scene character driven and utilize what the character knows as the driving force behind their actions whether they’re successful or not. It won’t decide the victory, but it will decide what they do in the scene.
If Cindy is a huge fan of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation), she’ll probably imitate what she’s seen on TV. Why? Fighting is gut, but the “instincts” we’re often praising in fiction are learned behaviors. If Cindy spend a lot of time watching professional wrestling then that’s what is in her mind. Maybe she hits someone with a chair.
Ben’s never taken any martial arts lessons, but he’s a HUGE fan of Jackie Chan. Practices the fight scenes over and over and over again in his living room. Not well, he has no idea what he’s doing but he stands there and practices with his sloppy punches. He gets into a fight, maybe he’ll try to diffuse it like his hero or maybe he’ll try to throw some awesome moves. It probably won’t end well.
Bill spends every weekend watching the UFC and old episodes of Walker Texas Ranger. Can you guess what will probably happen?
Stop and think about the world around you, what you see on tv, how it affects you. Play act a scenario in your head. If you suddenly had to fight for your life right now, what is the first thing you think of?
Not the best answer.
Not the smartest answer.
The first one.
Is it self-defense advice you got while browsing the internet? Is it a movie fight sequence?
Then think, if I tried to do this thing in real life with all those not skills at my disposal, what might happen?
Once you’ve figured that out for yourself, go back to your character and walk through the same steps. Think about the situation from their perspective, brainstorm what they might try.
Keep the hilarity, even if it’s unintentional. Let them get injured if they do.
What matters in these kinds of sequences, especially with characters who know nothing, is that it’s awkward, silly, embarrassing, frustrating, scary, and uncertain. Often all at once. It’s like Jackass, it could end badly or it could end hilariously or someone could accidentally land on a nail or crack their head on an overhead beam.
You have all the tools you need to write this scene at your disposal.
Ground this fight scene in who they are as a person, their likes and their interests. Then, try to remember that they’re not a professional fighter or contracted stunt actor with years of practice and/or specialized training.
The trick is to get away from the nebulous and into the character specifics. Even if you’re brain goes “no, that’s stupid, no one would ever do that”, I guarantee you that the truth is stranger than fiction. No guarantees it worked, but someone somewhere has definitely tried it.
Think about it. The answer will come to you.
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