Pick any 1980’s vintage or earlier, for that matter, T.V show or movie and there will inevitably be a scene with someone sneaking up behind their nemesis and hitting them on the head to ‘knock them out’.
Though this is very convenient with commercials and time slots for shows, we all know it’s completely silly.
Today we think, “Oh massive head trauma mmm spinal injury, brain herniation and Death.”
Of course to day we have our own over the top highflying scenes where 5’2 girls in mini skirts and heels toss three hundred pound bikers through windows. “Go girl power!”
SO what about books?
When I write physical fight scenes I try to keep it simple, short brutish and real. I recently read a book where the protagonist charged up a hill and did a spinning back kick to knock down his armed assailant. I don’t even think Bruce would do that.
I follow these three rules when I write a fight scene:
Know your character: an ex-con, barista at Starbucks and a Navy SEAL are all going to have different energy, motivations and techniques in a struggle. Stay away from the fancy stuff, fight to win or fight to run for your life. A physical altercation is not a usual occurrence in most people’s lives (unless you’re a professional fighter) and should evoke deep very primal emotions in your character. How a character fights for their survival or doesn’t speaks volumes on who they are.
Example: Sara snapped. She channeled every once of pent up hurt, frustration and resentment buried deep within her soul into her attacker. She had never hurt any one before. He became an object, which is how she knew he viewed her. She grabbed a loose beer bottle broke it and grinded it into his face, “Get off me!”
Example two: Frank narrowed his eyes and smirked. He put his back against the wall, “Which one of you two wants to hurt your selves on me first, huh?”
Two different approaches, their actions tell you who they are. I do not randomly make fight sequences for the sake of hurting people, this can be pointless to moving a story.
Physics: If your writing a super hero story, do your thing. If your not, make your character subject to the laws of gravity and physics. People don’t survive extreme beatings without damage, and there is some one who can beat any one. Chuck Norris said that, so it must be true. A character that barley wins, or gets beat up a little will be seen as more human than lets say Bill Jack. The ‘70’s is over let the cheese go.
Chaos: When I write a fight scene I like to mesh extreme emotion, some dialogue and lots of clumsy struggle hindered by an un predictable environment.
Fights happen fast and so brutally that often they are over before you know it. Leave lots to the imagination. Not a lot of thinking goes on.
All writers have their ways of describing action. I shy away from long drawn out scenes without a purpose. If a fight scene does not move the story along, ring the bell and kick it out of the ring.
I would love to hear your comments and ideas on what makes a good action scene. Be sure to check back for my next blogs: Writing about the Military for civilians, and Things writers need to know about weapons.
IN the mean time keep your hands up and keep moving!
How do you develop characters? I am sure that I am not the only one who steals a gesture here or an attitude there. Being a writer allows you to be a voyeur and a cynic. You’re Kind of like a spy looking into a world that you are merely pretending to participate in.
“You might want to turn the machine on before you try to shock the patient. There ya go!” What a knuckle head, but great material for later!
Real life people and events are the best things to draw on to create dynamic three dimensional characters. We all have our own techniques.
When I was in college I took a photography class in order to boost my horrid GPA. I liked photography, and back then we had to spend hours in a dark room developing our own pictures. If you have no clue what a dark room is Google it.
One of the things that I remember was the rule of thirds. You simply put the subject of your picture into one third of the photo and try to create a sense of perspective, which draws the eye to the person or place of interest. This rule of photography is why you don’t take a picture with the Eifel tower growing out of the top of your wife’s head. I take the same approach to developing a character. I just call it the rule of threes.
One: I pick their worldview. A worldview is the lens in which we look through and process the world around us, it’s the big picture and influences more than we care to admit. A static character most likely will have a worldview that never changes; where as a dynamic character is most likely to change.
Two: I give each character a habit. A habit could be mundane or straight up weird. Peeling labels off beer bottles, repeating what others say, laughing at inappropriate times, cursing, smoking, re- arranging dishes in other people’s houses, or maybe refusing to where shoes.
Three: Whereas a habit is something physical that a person does based on some inner quirk I view the hang up as an emotional scar or motivation that drives a habit. They are both tied together. For example Sally might have been beautiful in high school but now is two hundred pounds, over weight and diabetic. She is scared and depressed. Her habits are the outward manifestation of her inner turmoil or hang-ups. She has four kids now and is over the top controlling, over scheduling their every move. Any number of things are possible, once you under stand her world view and the situations that got her here.
Another Example: John an ex-Army Ranger had his leg blown off in Iraq, he is now blind. He draws on his worldview to either deal with his new life and excel or crumple into despair. Maybe John reaches out for help. John’s world view changes and he has an epiphany. Maybe he becomes and evangelist or possibly a blind superstar athlete. He may have new hang ups and habits as a result of his PTSD. John might fade into alcoholism. He could be revolted by the smell of gasoline and cooked meat, smells that remind him of the screams of his– well you get it.
None of this is news if you’re a writer; everything is possible material for a story, and the more real the better.
So next time every one is mocking or running from the ‘weird-o’ that no one wants to be around, simply pick up your pen and paper and start taking notes. Every bizarre moment has something that is worth recording.
I would love to hear your thoughts on creating characters.
Stay tuned for more in this series: Weapons 101, Civilians Guide to Writing About The Military Sub Cultures, Spy Stuff 101, Fight Scenes That Snap, and Writing Trauma Scenes for non Medical Writers.
The following list is courtesy of Borderland Beat.com.. an awesome resource on the chaos. In Silver Lead and Dead we use many of these terms except the names of the real Cartels. visit jamesgarmischbooks.com
Ajuste de cuentas (m): Settling a score. Getting even. Revenge. alt. ajusticimiento
ATF: Agency of Department of Justice— the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Aztecas (los): Barrio Azteca. Narcomenudistas working for Juarez cartel. A steet gang with strong ties to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Controlled by La Linea.
Beltran Leyvas: brothers and childhood friends of Joaquin Guzman. Broke with him after the arrest of El Mochomo Beltran Leyva and engaged in a bloody dispute for territory. Relocated to Nuevo Leon in aftermath.
C.T.: Caballeros Templarios
Cartel: 9 organizations in Mexico are the Golfo, Sinaloa, Tijuana, Juarez, Beltran-Leyva, Amezcua-Contreras, Los Zetas, Diaz-Parada, & La Familia Michoacana, Caballeros Templarios.
Cartel del Poniente: A place of the Sinaloa cartel usually found in Durango and Gomez Palacios
C.D.G.: Gulf Drug Cartel
CECJUDE: Centro de Ejecución de las Consecuencias Jurídicas del Delito.
Chapos or Chaparrines: The troops of Joaquin Guzmán Loera’s Sinaloa Cartel. Derived from Guzmán’s nick name of “El Chapo.”
Charoliar: Pretending to belong to a cartel and having a lot of inside knowledge of cartel activities.
CNDH: Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos.
C.J.N.G: Enforcer group, Jalisco Cartel New Generation aka GN or GNX
C.O.: Organized crime group
Coddehum: la Comisión de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Chihuahua).
Cortar cartuchos: armatillar. Ready to fire. to cock a weapon.
Cuerno de chivo: AK-47, the preferred weapon of drug cartels. Some (e.g. Roberto Saviano) have claimed that the AK-47 has been used to kill more people than any other weapon. 90% of arms used in Mexico originate from the United States and arms dealers in Arizona and Texas.
DTO: Drug trafficking organization.
El Señor de los Cielos: Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the Lord of the Skies who helped consolidate the Juárez cartel. He died in 1997 undergoing plastic surgery in Mexico City (Polanco).
Encajuelados: Victims found in the trunks of cars.
Encintados: Vicitims found bound and blindfolded with tape.
Encobijado: a common way that sicarios dispose of bodies — wrapped in a blanket, rug, or tarpaulin and taped.
Estacas: 3 or more armed persons in a vehicle patrolling their territory
Familia (also LFM or LF): ‘de Michoacan’. DTO that specializes in synthetic drugs (crystal) and with a religious code. Extremely violent and unpredictable.
FFL: US legal term for federal firearms licensees. Approximately 6700 operate in American Southwest.
GATE, GAFE, GOES: Are acronyms for Special State Police, names vary with states
Gente nueva (la): Chapo Guzman sicarios (Chihuahua).
Guachicol: oil product stolen from PEMEX and then sold back to business under duress. A practice common in Tamaulipas.
Halcon (los): There are two meanings here. In the border area, “halcones” are lookouts and street level informants (falcons) who warn the drug cartels about intrusions from other DTO’s, police or army manoeuvers. Halcones are also an elite squad of commandos that have a notorious reputation for violation of civil rights and abuse.
Hormiga (el correo de..): an ant run. Big result of lots of little additions and purchases.
ICESI: Instituto ciudadano de estudios sobre la inseguridad.
IOI: US DOJ-ATF agents investigating gun movement. Industry Operations Investigators.
Jefe de Jefes: Capo de Capos. The name applied to the most prominent drug chief in Mexico. Most frequently is associated with Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo. Popular corrido of Los Tigres del Norte, although Miguel Felix Gallardo denies that the song is about him.
La Última Letra: Los Zetas (Last Letter)
Levantón (m): Abduction. Term used in northwest Mexico to describe forced seizure of a person. Most of the time, the “levantado” is never seen alive again. Secuestro is the term used more often to describe kidnapping.
Linces (los): a unit of sicarios employed by “El Viceroy” Vicente Carrilo-Fuentes and the Juárez cartel. May have evolved from “La Linea”. This group is apparently composed of military deserters (like the Zetas) who are well trained, use military ordnance, uniforms and vehicles. The Mexican military argues that this group is responsible for most human right violations in Chihuahua.
linea (la): sicarios in employ of Juarez DTO.
Matapolicia (f): bullets of heavy calibre that can penetrate vests. Police killers — ordnance used when attacking police or members of the military.
Matazetas (los): a name used by a group that has executed members of Los Zetas. It’s most likely that the matazetas are members of a rival cartel, but it’s possible that they are actually an independent group.
Maña: a local name for cartels in Tamaulipas, most often used to refer to Los Zetas or other sicarios working for Gulf cartel.
Mota (f): marijuana.
Narco: General term for drug trafficker
Narcobloqueo: A barricade in the streets with vehicles that are carjacked to delay the arrival of the police or military.
Narcocorrido: a version of a corrido that deals with a drug theme. Some narcocorridos are commissioned by the drug dealers in order to “sing their praises”, but others share much in common with morality plays because they sing about the negative consequences of drug dealing. See the excellent book by Elijah Wald describing narcocorridos.
Narcofosa: narco cemetery; body disposal place, usually clandestine and used for a period of time. Have been found in at least 8 Mexican states.
Narcomanta (f): a banner or a poster placed in a prominent location with a message. Most frequently, the messages seem to originate with the drug organizations, but the message may also be aimed at the drug trafficking organizations.
Narco tienditas or picaderos: Businesses where they traffic drugs.
Operation Coronado: The code term for the DEA/FBI/ICE coordinated arrest of La Famila de Michoacana members on Oct. 24 2009.
Pelones (los): sicarios that were originally assembled by the Beltran Leyva brothers for the Sinaloa Federation.
Perico (m): cocaine. A parrot. Nickname based on the idea that it “goes up the nose”.
Pez gordo (m.): big fish, big boss.
PGR: La Procuraduria General de la Republica. The institutional agency of the Mexican Attorney General.
Pista (f): the ‘game’. Literally, ‘the track’ as in racing. Refers to the business at hand.
Plaza (f): Territory, turf. Can also refer to the product being moved or in dispute.
P.M.: Military Police
Polizetas: Policemen at the service of the narcos. It originated from Nuevo leon, Tamaulipas region where the Zetas were deeply embedded with the Zetas.
Pozolero: A person within the cartel who has a knowledge of chemistry and disposes bodies.
PROCAMPO: Federal program to provide financial support for farmers and ejiditarios. Recent revelations indicate that it has been a cash-cow for agribusiness and PRI party members. Little of the original program (to provide irrigation etc.) has benefitted the poorest farmers.
Project Gunrunner: US DOJ and ATF plan to disrupt illegal flow of guns from US into Mexico.
Rematar: literally “to re-kill”. the prefix re is used to indicate “once again” when it precedes a verb. rematar is used when a means of execution is especially brutal, and also used to mean “slaughter”, “finish off.”
S.D.R: Situation at Risk (violence erupted)
P.S.D.R. Possible situation at risk
Sicario (m): the word used to describe an “assasin” or hitman for the cartels. The word has roots back to Roman times. Sicarios are sometimes young and “throw-away” bodies recruited by the cartels, but can also be well-trained military deserters or police (e.g. Los Zetas).
Sistema SNSP: Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.
SSP: Secretaria de Seguridad Publica.
Straw purchasers: surrogate purchasers of guns— someone who is licensed to purchase a gun but does so on behalf of someone who is not. Cartel sicarios have a system of straw purchasers.
T.C.O.: Transnational Criminal Organization
Tiendita: Excact location where drugs are sold.
UIFA: Unidad de Inspección Fiscal y Aduanera.
WATCHIVATO: Mexican “narco artist” who has produced iconic images of Jesus Malverde. Artist images can be seen on BB.
Wathivato (El): Mexican artist famous for narco images — especially iconic images of Jesus Malverde. Artist on BBC site Narco Mexico.
Zetas, (los): now la Compañía. Paramilitary force formed by Gulf Cartel and now independent. Deserters from Mexican army GAFE unit; highly trained anti-terrorist unit.