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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Writing the Fight Scene-Part 2 (Understanding How Untrained Fighters Think)

In writing the fight scene part 1, I discussed the motivations of your characters—or even yourself—as to why they would want to engage in a fight. Once you have that figured out, the next question is to ask—how does my character fight?

The chances that your character is some super-powered sneaky ninja, unless you are writing about a super-powered sneaky ninja, are rare. The fact is most people, in general, have no idea how to fight. Nor have they had much practice at it. Your normal person on the street may have up to four (4) physical fights in their lifetime. Compare that to those who fight in a ring or train for such types of fights? While a boxer or martial artist may be sparing, they are spending hours fighting on a constant basis. Allow me to break it down simply. In less than a half hour of training, these types of fighters have seen more fights than your normal person on the street ever will.
How does an untrained fighter fight? While I am focusing on hand to hand fighting, the principles apply to fights with hand held weapons and firearms. 

Before we begin, let me give you a little note about the street and bar room brawler. These fighters are technically untrained. All of the information that will follow applies to them. The only thing different is that they are experienced.

The first question you should ask yourself is when and where your character grew up. If you are writing a historical fiction, you will want to do a lot of research on the popular fighting methods of the day. If you are writing science fiction or fantasy, what are the popular fighting styles in your universe? Why? The untrained fighter will try to emulate what is popular.

Let me address the modern day USA, and you will see why what I wrote above applies. If you are writing a modern fiction, when did your character grow up? The concept of "how to fight" has changed recently. If they grew up per-2000, then the common fighting methods mimic boxing and wrestling. Boxing and wrestling (various kinds) have been popular in the USA for over a century. Those who have not been taught how to fight (getting advice from your buddy or dad, etc, doesn't count as training) will believe that they think they know the basics and will try to copy them.

If your character grew up post 2000, the popular fighting style has been changing on the street. The street has seen the emergence of Mix Martial Arts being added to the "streets" arsenal of fighting methods. You don't have to be an expert in this style or boxing or wrestling to write about what the untrained fighter will do. Just watch a little on TV and you will be as well trained as they are. 

Let's move into the fighter's mind. The difference between how the trained fighter and the untrained fighter thinks is in their level of strategy. To the trained fighter, the fight is on the level of a game of chess in motion. To the untrained fighter, it is a game of tic-tac-toe.

The untrained fighter likes to grab. The trained fighter likes to keep their distance until they have to or are ready to grab. Why the difference? Trained fighters spend hours in sparring to learn timing and distance control. The untrained fighter has no clue. They don't know how far away they can be before they can punch. They think, and are right, "if I can grab you, I can punch you." They also use the tic-tac-toe strategy of strike and block and strike. The block can be with their arm or leg to block a blow or curl up into a fetal position. To them it is all the same.

Fear is inside the fighter's mind. The untrained fighter does not know how to control their fear. It is easy to talk a "good game" about a fight, but in truth there is an element of fear to any fight. Most untrained fighters do not know how to move past that fear. They think it is something they can rely on or it is something that will tie them up. 

They also do not have any idea of how to control their adrenaline. Adrenaline, which comes with fear and with a fight, will fill the fighter. In some cases this will make them super strong or able to take more damage than they could normally. Adrenaline is the greatest drug in the universe, produced naturally in our bodies. Unless you have spent time, like the trained fighter, learning to control it and use it, it can be very overwhelming. The untrained fighter is not prepared for the adrenaline that fills them nor do they know how to control it. That only comes with experience.

While the untrained fighter, as mentioned above, will strike and punch. (Note: so will many trained fighters, but I will go into that in the next blog) The untrained fighter will usually step and strike or they will try to tackle their opponent. The untrained male fighter will strike with a closed fist. The untrained female fighter will either strike with a slap, grab, claw, pull or punch with a closed fist. Almost all the targets they will strike at will be to the head. Sometimes they will strike at the body, but the fact is --at least in the USA--we tend to be "head hunters." I do not know if that has come from films (like the old John Wayne knock them out type movies) or where. It is a cultural thing. (Let me remind the reader, if you are writing in about a different culture, you will want to research this.) 

Thank you for reading and please visit and Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

1 comment:

  1. Great insights, David. Thanks for this. I've been writing primarily in ancient China, but that means I don't necessarily remember to switch tactics in modern urban settings. LOL