I’ve invited a few authors to submit fight scenes from their published or in-progress novels for critique on this blog. This is intended as a way for readers to learn techniques for writing fight scenes and stepping outside the easy and expected choreography.
Author: Sandra Hutchison
Book: The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire
Combatant 1: David, a widower and a physics professor recuperating from burns suffered in a plane crash. An injured nerd.
Combatant 2: Joey, a high school basketball star who beats up on others, but usually has help when doing so. Physically fit, but not a trained fighter.
Scenario: David is searching for his neighbor’s daughter who hasn’t returned from a party. He has already found her boyfriend beaten and unconscious in the backyard. High-risk, high-alertness.
Joey started walking away quickly, toward the front door.
For a split second, David did the math: Joey was taller. Younger. More athletic. David didn’t actually know that he’d done anything. Police were on the way. Or, worse, not on the way.
But where the hell was Molly?
So he took off at a run and tackled him from the back. They both crashed down to the floor of the hallway, upsetting a small table. Something on it fell and shattered. Gina started screaming.
“Where’s Molly?” David shouted over her screams. Joey grunted and struggled to throw him off or at least twist around and face him. David hammered his fist into the side of his face, desperate to keep his advantage. “Where is she?” he yelled.
“Get off me!” he bellowed, struggling.
David whacked him on the other side with his other fist, or the closest thing to a fist he could manage with that hand. “Tell me!” he screamed, landing another blow, harder. Joey groaned and his struggles weakened.
“Where?” he screamed again.
“Here,” a small, strange voice said behind him. Simultaneously, there was pounding at the front door, and yells of “Police! Open up!”
One thing to keep in mind when writing fight scenes is the effect you’re trying to have. What is the reader supposed to discover and/or feel during the fight?
Short fight scenes like this tend to be a sign that the author knew the answer to that question. In this scene, the point is to show David’s desperation and the lengths he’ll go to in achieving his goals.
The scene moves in, does that, and then moves out. So in that respect, it does its job. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the fight, either. The movements are believable, and the descriptions are fairly clear. But let’s get nitpicky and see where it could be improved.
First up isn’t a comment on the fight itself, but the surrounding circumstances. David is committing a crime of assault here, whether or not Joey is in the wrong. Sandra goes on later in the book to show the legal ramifications of this scene, which is a good move toward realism.
“Something on it fell and shattered.”
If the fighters are close enough to have knocked this thing over while falling, they’re close enough for pieces of it to be on the ground nearby. I would have liked to see someone accidentally cutting a hand or scraping a knee during the struggle to add a more visceral feel.
“Gina started screaming.”
Gina screams, and then doesn’t do anything else. While combat can induce a freezing reflex, allowing it to paralyze a character is a form of character development and should only be done intentionally. Combat does tend to narrow your perspective, so our POV character David might just not be paying attention to her, but while he might not make out her exact words or movements, he’d be aware of her yelling something in general, or trying to pry them apart. The lack of any description at all implies that she froze. Fortunately, this fight is quick enough that she only froze for a couple seconds, which is completely believable.
“Joey grunted and struggled to throw him off or at least twist around and face him.”
This is very realistic. Ground fighting with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing usually just looks like flailing. However, assuming David is straddling Joey, I would expect him to have some trouble keeping his balance through the struggling.
“David whacked him on the other side with his other fist, or the closest thing to a fist he could manage with that hand.”
I’m picturing a half-open hand. This would probably hurt David’s fingers a lot more than Joey’s face. A palm strike would have been more realistic here.
“…landing another blow, harder.”
This is rather vague. I would have liked to know what was different about this blow that made Joey groan and lessen his struggling. Was it to a different part of the body? Did Joey turn his face into it by accident? Did it push Joey’s head into one of the pieces of glass on the floor?
In summary, the broken object is a missed opportunity, and there’s a general lack of detail that would make this fight stand out. However, the brevity of the fight is realistic and it does its job in the scene.
What did you think of this fight? Would you like to see more fight scene analyses? I’d love to chat with you in the comments, so scroll down and say hey!