Part 1 - Having a Think, Planning

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Having a Think, Planning

"Proper planning prevents piss poor performance." - Mr Beveridge, my old tech drawing teacher (RIP)

Right, before you start any fight scene, stop and have a think. It's all too easy to let all the ideas and moves you have buzzing around in your head jump out onto the page in a plethora of swordplay and screaming. But often all you'll do if you start like that is get yourself in a muddle. Action is a great thing to write, but as with most things, and including writing, proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Much of writing in general, and certainly action scenes, is about asking yourself questions. The What, Why, When, Where and Who of things is important, although The Who is much better as a band name or TV character than the others of course, and we don't mention the 'wuh?'

Think before you write.

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, or ink to vellum, or ectoplasm to mirror - yeah I know, bad joke about ghost writing), get things straight in your head: set the scene and build your world. You're allowed to write the scene down if it helps, hell you can make it out of mashed potato if you like, but make sure you as the writer know where everything is. If you don't you'll end up writing a scene that anyone can pull holes in which doesn't make for a good read. 

Note: if you're under 18, please get a parent or guardian's permission to use the mashed potato, thank you.

First, decide on why the fight is happening, between who, and how many opponents your hero/heroine is taking on (I'll come on to larger battle scenes more a little later on). This needs to be set up beforehand in the story line generally, although leaping into a fight as your opening scene can be effective, as long as the reasons why the fight has happened are explained at some point afterward.

All fights have a start, middle, and an end. Sometimes there are occasional interruptions (these don't tend to be toilet breaks, but each to their own), dialogue, or additional fighters joining in as the scene progresses, and these also need to be worked out.

Next, where is the fight take place? What is your environment? Are you inside or outside? Are your opponents on something that's moving (horse, chariot, ship, car, giant flamingo), or are they fighting in mud, on grass, or up to their elbows in treacle? All of these things will have an impact on how they move, their speed, how quickly they get tired, and whether other people/things can join in the fight or not.

It can be quite useful to draw a wee map or plan. Geeky perhaps, but if you have a good idea of what is where, you can then give your reader the same information (although not all of it, do not bury your reader in the minutiae). You can even use little figures or even stuffed toys if you like, but do not use the cat as they tend to get bored and wander off (this also applies to younger brothers and sisters, babies, hamsters - which might get eaten by the cat - or goldfish which stay terminally still if used for too long, and may also be eaten by the cat). You need to know what is happening where, and what is in the environment of the scene.

To use an example, you have a fight in a medieval castle: are there tables and chairs around, tapestries on the wall, extra weapons on the walls, meat pies that can be thrown at the opposition, or people watching who might get in the way? Get a picture of your fighting area(s) firmly fixed in your head and/or on a piece of paper before you do anything else.

Right, so we have a location, we have a couple of people squared off and ready to have a scrap. You should also have a good idea of what your opponents are wearing, and what weapons they may be using.

To re-use the medieval idea again, are they attired in chain mail, plate armour, leather? Do they have helmets, greaves, a shield? What weapons do they have available to them (more on this in a bit too)? This all comes down to detail. You don't have to describe your warrior to the minutest detail in the story, in fact this can be highly detrimental to the flow of the writing, but if you know what they look like before you start writing, then the details can be woven into the tale as and when you need them, and you won't end up describing your character as dressed in white leather in one scene, and black enamelled plate armour in the next.

You are allowed, even encouraged, to keep notes and they can be invaluable at a later date or in a sequel. They may well never make it off your desk, or off your computer, or even out of your head, but they help you colour in the backdrop of the story in your mind. The more detail you have available to you as a writer the better, as it will allow you to paint a far more complete picture to the reader, even when you don't use all the information in your notes. And please do not use all the information in your notes. If Tolkien had done that, The Hobbit would've been about fifty volumes long, and he still managed to spend about five pages describing a talking tree. Damn good book though.

And finally... still here? Good stuff...

Are your characters historically correct?

Are they wearing plate mail five hundred years before it was invented? Are your Vikings wearing spandex or horned helmets (both of which are incorrect by the way, especially the horned helmets)? Do your Roman soldiers carry axes instead of a gladius? Does Caeser have headgear made of Geraniums, or did Hitler have a full beard?

This is less important in fantasy novels perhaps, where you can pretty much do what you want, as the world you've set your story in is in your own head. Even in fantasy though there may be rules you've woven inherently into your story that cannot be broken. For example you may have described one tribe as favouring the use of axes; another, swords. So, if you start switching things around, you're breaking your own story history.

But whatever style of story you do, and perhaps more so if you're doing historical fiction, or a fanfic, you need to do your research and know your onions.

Research! It's important.

Okay, still here? Almost there, then we can relax and start writing...


Dedicated to TheRobot for the continued encouragement to post this on my profile. Thank you =] 

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