Fight scenes

Fight scenes

I’m just going to say it. Most fight scenes in books are boring.

Large scale battles or one-to-one combat, they’re boring. At least in movie fight scenes, the audience gets spectacle. In books, you don’t even have that. Instead, in a book, story is happening. Then the story stops for three pages while people hit one another. Then the story starts again. Boring.

Battle scenes as process scenes

The tedium of most written fight scenes is a subdivision of the tedium of most descriptions of process. I love Lois Lowry, but Son had an entire chapter devoted to the process of a character climbing a cliff, hand hold by hand hold, step by step. I read a few paragraphs and skipped it.

And yet, sometimes a fight scene (and probably other process scenes) work.

I recently read Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and the first battle Diana engages in drew me in. After reading it, I had to sit back and think about how Bardugo did that.

Surprise

First, some of the steps in the battle surprised me, starting with the arrival of the attackers. Diana and her friends are at a party in a high-rise when the bad guys rappel in through the windows. And being Wonder Woman, she runs toward the bullets rather than away, which you must admit you don’t usually see a combatant do.

Cleverness

Related to surprise, Diana uses cleverness to win. She gets her friends to leave through the back of the room because all the other guests crowd around the entryway. She has no shield, so she makes one. Given who she is, she wrenches up a floor tile, but another character could probably come up with a non-superhero alternative.

An inner arc

Most important, I think, Bardugo keeps the focus tight to Diana, and she gives the battle an inner as well as an outer arc. Warbringer is set even before the recent movie (Diana’s memory is wiped at the end), so it’s an origin story, and in every moment of the battle, Diana is learning what she can do both physically and emotionally.

Length

Finally, Bardugo keeps the battle relatively short so her story doesn’t bog down. She remembers that every word has to contribute to plot, character, or theme.

So surprise, cleverness, closeness to a character, an inner as well as outer arc, and brevity: they add up to a battle even I liked. Kudos to Bardugo.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fight scenes

  1. It’s a very very very long read, but I’ve always really like FILM CRITIC HULK’s breakdown of what makes action scenes work or fail. https://filmcrithulk.blog/2011/09/13/hulk-explain-action-scenes-with-special-guest-tom-townend-day-1-of-3/

    Without having read Warbringer your summary makes it sound like it hits many of HULK’s point. The action sequence isn’t just action, it’s a story in an of it own: save my friends, find a weapon, defeat threat. All while informed by and informing character.

    As HULK say: “IF ACTION IS NOTHING MORE THAN THE PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF CONFLICT THEN IT MUST UTILIZE THE SAME RULES AS DRAMATIC CONFLICT”

    1. Thanks for the link. What a good way to put the problem and solution though. It’s a scene. Treat it like one.

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