For my first guest poster of the year, I can think of no one better than my awesome friend Wilmar Luna, author of The Silver Ninja.
I am lucky enough to be a beta reader to his novel and I’m loving it. In this article, Wilmar discusses believable vs realistic fight scenes. Enjoy!
Hello everyone! I’d like to thank Ari for once again inviting me to guest post on her blog. The last time I stopped by I spoke of failure and finding the motivation to recover from a disastrous beta read.
Now that my book is scheduled to be released this year (the one which had a disastrous beta read) I finally decided on a topic I think would be useful for aspiring authors.
It’ll also be great promotion for my book which I have been reluctant to do because I didn’t see the point in a promoting a book 3 years away from being published.
Anyway, the topic is: Believable vs. Realistic fight scenes. Should a 90lbs woman beat up a 200lbs man? Or for you UK readers, a 6 stone woman vs a 14 stone man.
A question came up on Twitter from a user asking, “When writing female characters, do you ever concern yourself with them not being physically strong as men, but kicking their ass anyway?”
Considering my book The Silver Ninja: A Bitter Winter features a petite, muscular female character beating up all sorts of men and women, I have a lot to say about this topic. And the first thing I want to say is that you need to understand how a street fight would play out in the real world before your protagonist throws her imaginary fist.
Regardless of what genre you write, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Contemporary, Horror, etc. If you’re going to feature a fight scene or have fight scenes, you need to first imagine how your fight scene would play out in the real world, right in front of you.
If your idea of a realistic fight is two people squaring off against one another in a hand to hand fight, you would be incorrect. That’s how boxers fight. That’s how people fight in karate tournaments. That’s how people fight in MMA.
A real fight scene is ugly and usually unfair. In some cases, a 1v1 fight turns into a 3v1 fight and the three who joined are most likely ganging up your protagonist. The attackers will not fight one at a time and our heroine isn’t going to be capable of blocking and avoiding attacks from three different people like it happens in the movies.
No, in a realistic fight, someone has hit your heroine with a bottle, she’s fallen to the ground, and now three cowardly punks are kicking her while she’s down. A smart person would run away from the fight and not even engage. That’s realistic.
Let’s say the fight remains 1v1, how does the fight play out then? For starters, these two people won’t square off like boxers in a ring.
The antagonist most likely started the fight by pretending they were having a conversation with your heroine and then, while her guard was down, he threw a sucker punch and pummeled her once she was stunned.
Or, the antagonist charged your protagonist like a bull, tackled her to the ground, and then threw wild, sloppy blows to her head.
Grappling, cheap shots, hidden weapons, gang ups, these are the elements of a realistic fight scene. Also, they’re usually over in less than two minutes. Or in book terms, less than two paragraphs.
But who cares about realism right? We’re writing fiction. We want our heroines to kick ass and overcome any opponent. We don’t want her to outsmart the bigger guys, we want her to win with her fists and feet, maybe even her strength.
Well authors, unless you give your heroine something that makes her stronger than everyone else, your dreams of her defeating a bigger opponent are just that, dreams.
The more unrealistic and unbelievable your character becomes, the less invested your reader will be in your book. They will be viewed as a Mary Sue.
The rules of real-life color the perception of your reader. A reader who has a background in martial arts won’t want to read your book because they don’t find the capabilities of your petite heroine believable. Likewise, even a reader who hasn’t been in a fight but has at least met a larger person (or watched a fight) will know that a small woman doesn’t stand a chance against a huge opponent.
There is a reason why fighting sports have strict weight requirements. If a woman is like a sports car, an average man is an SUV, and a big man (or woman) is a truck. The truck (lorry) going at full speed will smash through the both of them and win.
Even if your protagonist is a seasoned warrior with decades of experience. If she’s small and light, one punch from an Ogre is going to break her bones and kill her. Saying that your protagonist can overcome their opponents with specialized techniques is a myth. Any fighter, even the greatest fighter in the world, will get tagged.
And if you want your fight scene to be interesting, your character needs to get hurt. The audience can believe Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde is capable of taking a punch from a bigger dude. They will not believe the same for Emma Watson. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a little woman to win, I’d LOVE for them to win, but it’s highly unbelievable.
However, there is a way to make this work. There is a way to make Emma Watson the most fearsome woman in the world.
If you give your protagonist superhuman abilities, then the world can believe it. Whether she transforms into a hulking green giantess, or has a high-tech nanosuit, or is a vampire, or possesses magic or demonic powers, these traits will allow your reader to believe in her might.
Believability is and will always be, more important than realism.
Believable means, I accept that Superman can fly because he’s an alien from another planet. I
t’s not realistic, but you accept it. If you came up with a fictional world where women are stronger than men, as long as the story follows the rules you have established, the reader will believe and accept it.
When readers complain about things being unrealistic, it has nothing to do with realism and everything to do with believability and not following the rules you’ve created for your world.
If in your story all vampires burst into flames when the sun comes out but your protagonist —whom is a vampire— is tanning on the beach. The reader will want to know why. And if you don’t give a satisfactory answer which follows the rules of your world, they will call it unrealistic. Or rather, they won’t believe it.
In the case of my book, The Silver Ninja: A Bitter Winter. Fun fact: I typoed the title and it said A Bitter Woman. Ha, ha, very appropriate. My female protagonist is a short and sturdy ex-cop from the NYPD. And though she has had extensive combat training, it doesn’t mean she can take a punch from a larger male.
In order to make her tale of revenge work, I gave her a nanosuit which augmented her strength and resilience to super human levels. Without the suit, you could never believe her to be powerful enough to kill someone with one punch. With the suit, you can. No one will believe that a tall, rail-thin woman could break a boulder with her fist. They could if she was a demon and the world you’ve written has established that demons have super strength.
Is it realistic? No. Realism is the foundation for which to build your world. Once you understand the limitations of the real world, you can then re-define the rules within your own world.
So it’s important for you, dear author, to study the real world and so you understand how your audience will view your characters and scenarios. I watched dozens of self-defense videos and listened to interviews from fighters so that I could figure out how to make my heroine feel powerful without losing believability or turning her into a Mary Sue.
Well I’ve gone on long enough. If you authors are interested in the nitty-gritty mechanics of writing an exciting action scene, let Ari know and maybe I’ll do another blog post that will go into the boring and tedious mechanics of writing a fun fight scene. Until then, my book The Silver Ninja: A Bitter Winter should be available Q2 of 2018.
Thank you and good luck on your writing!
About The Silver Ninja: A Bitter Winter
Cindy Ames was once human. After a failed murder attempt on her life, Cindy was left crippled and hungry for vengeance. She sought power and stole an experimental technology to transform herself into an unstoppable, superhuman, killing machine. With it, she vowed to bring justice to the killer who ruined her life.
But when the deaths of innocent people plague Manhattan, all evidence points to her. Has Cindy’s quest for revenge gone too far? The truth she discovers about herself may be more than she bargained for.
Super powers can save a city but break a hero.
Please feel free to visit my website for more details. https://thesilverninja.com
Check out Wilmar’s other guest posts on my blog:
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Big thanks to Wilmar for his guest post, please make sure you check out his awesome newly revamped website and his two earlier guest posts. If you have any questions or comments for Wilmar, please leave them in the comment section below.