Today we have a fight scene submitted by author Jane Davis, featuring multiple attackers and a longer battle.
Author: Jane Davis
Book: A Funeral for an Owl
Combatant 1: Shamayal, a 14-year-old boy in southwest London. Average size.
Combatant 2: A ghost-maker, or hired thug. A boy older than Shamayal. American football player build.
Combatant 3: A ghost-maker. Light and fast.
Combatant 4: A ghost-maker. Tall, broad, wide stance.
Scenario: Shamayal witnessed a playground stabbing, and the ghost-makers have been hired to teach him a lesson. They have ambushed him in a deserted alley, and he believes they intend to kill him. High intensity, high alertness.
“I can disappear myself,” Shamayal said, quick-fire, hands forcing his head back and to one side flat against the wall. “You won’t ever have to hear from me again.”
The point of worrying about hearing himself beg had passed. Already the hot taste of blood was in his mouth. It was just a question of degrees of humiliation versus degrees of pain. Wide-stance boy was doing the holding; American footballer guy, the hitting. This was how it was going to be: teamwork.
“No?” American-footballer guy clearly took pride in his work. No knuckle duster for him, he liked to feel his victim’s soft flesh give. There was no lunatic gleam in his eye. He was professional about the job. A hint of a smile, he adjusted his shoulder and took aim. Shamayal couldn’t help himself: he closed his eyes. Brickwork skinned his cheekbone like a cheese-grater. One eye was hammered deep into its socket and seemed to want to stay there, pulsing with a heartbeat of its own, pouring a river of water.
It seemed important to keep talking, even through the shock of it. To be civil while convincing them of his sincerity. Last chance: “Course, man.” Hauled back up by the collar, his other cheek was turned for him. At a time when he might have been tempted to cry out for her, it suited him to speak about his mamma; things he’s never told no one. “My muvver did it four years back. No one’s heard from her since.”
“How d’you know she din’t have no help?”
Another fist in his stomach, then a knee. His body wanted to slump to the ground, curl into a tight ball, but hands insisted on holding it up. “She din’t need no help.” Only the final shove his father gave her. Pushing her past her limits one time too many.
“Where have you been?”
“Where d’you think I’ve been, woman? Working!”
“You bin drivin’ in that state? Watching you slowly kill yourself is one thing, but I am not going to stay and wait for you to wipe someone else out with you.”
Slowly, slowly it grinds you down. And there is the one thing – that little thing – that drives you over the edge. Something so small that people think you’re weak, when all along you know you’ve taken more than they could ever stand.
He asserted himself, like a marathon runner sprinting for the finish. “The only help my muvver had was from me.”
Another foot forced air out of him and his mouth hung open.
The word “You?” was aimed mockingly at him, like he was some kind of worm.
These boys were equipped. They could finish it at any moment. Looking into the snarling face brought to mind a pitbull who they say is only playing while it sinks its teeth into you. This is nuffin, Shamayal told himself: they’re toying with you.
Another fist and he was dazed, his vision blurred. It was his father leaning over him: “You know where she is, son? You know where your mamma is?”
“I knew where she was -”
“- But I din’t never tell.”
They let him drop to the ground, hard onto his kneecaps; the different kind of pain a distraction. “Because I can keep my maaf shut, see?” Then he was kicked sideways. His elbows instinctively made a mask to protect his face, but wide-stance boy dropped down behind him, prising them away, exposing his head, his face, his chest. Now he was all pain, the time for words was over. What had he done but dragged the whole thing out? At least it had been fast for Christian. Shamayal felt the fight go out of him and it was such sweet relief that he wondered why he had been holding on. Out of one eye, he saw the yellow trainers trot backwards so that they could take a run-up. A yellow trainer, his father’s shoe: it was all the same. He prayed he wouldn’t lose control – you heard about that sort of thing; prayed the next kick would be the last.
Like the previous scene analyzed, this one knows what it’s trying to do. The use of the fight as a vehicle for flashbacks is effective, and also realistic. Pain has a way of drawing other remembered pains to top of mind, so it’s completely believable that Shamayal would be thinking about his parents during this scene.
I also appreciate the variety of movements used – punches, knees, tackling, etc. It keeps the visuals fresh and avoids the trope of “they hit him over and over until he fell.”
Now let’s get detailed.
“Wide-stance boy was doing the holding; American footballer guy, the hitting.”
Just before this, Shamayal’s head was pressed back against the wall. This means that Wide-stance would have to be standing right in front of him in order to be holding him there. This doesn’t give Footballer any room to strike. Since there is a third thug in the scene, and that person doesn’t appear to do much, it would make more sense for both of them to be holding Shamayal, one on each side. Alternatively, Wide-stance could hold Shamayal from behind while Footballer attacks from the front. As it stands, though, the visuals don’t quite work.
“A hint of a smile, he adjusted his shoulder and took aim.”
Taking aim is a completely unnecessary step for someone who has punched a lot of targets before. However, I rather like it here, because it’s great characterization for the thug. He’s being a jerk about it, allowing Shamayal to feel the anticipatory fear. The thugs are sadistic and not worried about being caught, which is appropriate in the setting Jane has used.
“Brickwork skinned his cheekbone like a cheese-grater.”
This is an excellent simile. Powerful phrases like this bring the visceral feel of the fight to the reader.
“One eye was hammered deep into its socket and seemed to want to stay there, pulsing with a heartbeat of its own, pouring a river of water.”
Shamayal should be blind in one eye for the rest of this fight, and if the “deep into its socket” part isn’t metaphorical, then possibly for the rest of his life. I would have liked to see some results of this wound during the rest of the fight. However, this is addressed in a later scene when Shamayal regains consciousness.
“Another fist in his stomach, then a knee. His body wanted to slump to the ground, curl into a tight ball, but hands insisted on holding it up.”
Here’s where the scene starts to break down a bit. Blows to the stomach, especially with something as aggressive as a knee, make it impossible to breathe right for a few seconds, much less talk. The dialogue here is happening far too easily for the level of violence taking place around it.
“Another foot forced air out of him and his mouth hung open.”
This is more accurate.
“A knee. / ‘- But I din’t never tell.’”
As with earlier, Shamayal ought to be gasping for air, and probably suffering from injured ribs. He answers too quickly after the knee strike.
“They let him drop to the ground, hard onto his kneecaps; the different kind of pain a distraction.”
Unless that fall broke his kneecaps, he wouldn’t notice this different pain given the other wounds he’s endured; it’s too minor.
“Now he was all pain.”
I think this is meant to imply that he’s being hit some more, but I’m not entirely sure. I would have included a line mentioning that Footballer starts attacking again.
“Out of one eye, he saw the yellow trainers trot backwards so that they could take a run-up.”
Shamayal is on the ground at this point, his arms pinned by Wide-stance. There’s not much to be accomplished by running up to an opponent already floored. The thugs would know this, so this is a bit silly for them. If he was against the wall, a run-up would make more sense, but it’s still an overly flashy, impractical thing to do, and not very professional. If the intent was to remind the reader that the thugs are still boys, and therefore somewhat inclined toward showmanship, this works, but otherwise it’s unnecessary.
Finally, readers who are familiar with combat will realize the thugs are just playing with Shamayal. If they wanted to kill him, they would use blades. This is fine, as Jane confirmed that they are simply trying to see if he’ll talk under pressure, but those of you writing scenes where the attackers have lethal intentions should aim for something a bit shorter.
In summary, this is a visceral, evocative scene with decent variation in action. It could use some more clarity on the positioning of the fighters, and the dialogue flows too easily given the amount of damage inflicted. Dialogue is a necessary part of most scenes, so as a compromise, make the talking laborious. Have the character gasp after being struck in the gut. Have them speak through gritted teeth. Allow pauses for them to regain their breath. These sorts of details make the dialogue more realistic and the injuries more immediate.
What did you think of this fight? What kind of fight scene would you like to see analyzed next? I’d love to chat with you in the comments, so scroll down and say hey!