This week, we’re putting up our dukes and taking on the special challenge of writing fight scenes.
You know a good fight scene when you see one, but writing it is a whole other matter. Juggling clarity, voice, and pacing takes a skilled juggler–writer–and lots of practice. In this week’s video, Alida breaks down the hard parts, reads an excerpt that you can analyze for yourself (see below), then distills the takeaway into this week’s Word Essential 60 Second Writing Tip.
Let’s climb in the ring and bust a move or two!
Sample Excerpt from “Creatures” by Alida Winternheimer
First published in Midwestern Gothic, vol. 10.
When Larry turns around, his sister and brother-in-law have stepped inside the door. They are staring at him. Her mouth is open. Norman’s face is turning red as he balls his broad hands at his side. Sarah’s lip quivers.
“What is this?”
“It, ah…” he stutters, “it’s art.” Larry steps closer to the table, puts his hands on his scroll as though he is going to unroll it and show them, as though it can prove something. “I’m working on a collage.”
“A collage?” Norman says. He is shaking his head and unballs one hand to sweep it over his head and rub at the back of his neck. “This isn’t art.”
“Norman.” Sarah’s voice is barely a whisper. She does not know what to do. She can imagine no excuses that would make this better. She hears her mother: “Family sticks together.” She wants to scream. She wants to undo everything that has been done. She raises a trembling hand to her husband’s chest without looking behind her. She does not have to see him to know where he is or what he is thinking. She knows and it makes her stomach twist.
“This isn’t art,” he says again.
“You should go. Just go.”
But Norman steps around Sarah to the table and he touches Larry’s things. He picks up one of the creations, a combination of the torso of a girl in a bra and panties with the legs in the thigh-highs and red loafers. The head he chose was from the section at the front of the catalog, a girl wearing an orange headband, her hair in pigtails. Norman stares at the creature for several seconds and then crushes it in his hand, his three fingers mutilating it.
“Just go now!” Larry shouts at them. He does not want them in his apartment. He does not want them looking at his art.
Norman grabs the scroll off the table and pushes open the finished side, letting it drop onto the floor and roll across the kitchen toward the stove. “What the fuck?” he cries.
Sarah is standing on the other side of the kitchen table, across from Larry. She is holding the cupcakes so the plate is cradled to her chest, and she is sobbing.
Larry grabs the scroll off the dirty floor, sorry that he has not swept in so long, and begins rolling it up again. Norman snatches up the other end and rips. He rips the paper everywhere he can get his hands on it, tugging it out of Larry’s arms, drawing it off the roll he’s trying to protect. Larry yells, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”
And Norman does. He stops tearing the paper and reaches for Larry. He shoves the scroll out of his arms and yanks Larry toward him by the collar. “I swear to God, if I ever hear of you hurting any kids, I’ll kill you myself.”
Sarah wails. It is shrill and unexpected and she does not know herself if she is shocked by her husband’s threat of violence or by the relief that comes with his pronouncement.
Norman shakes Larry and his head rocks on his shoulders. “Don’t come to work. Ever. You got me? Don’t ever come to work again, you fucking freak!” He shoves Larry, releasing him so that he slams into his refrigerator and the contents inside clink and rattle. As Norman turns to leave, he picks up the scroll and tucks it under his arm. “Come on, Sarah.” He turns her gently toward the door, though she keeps looking at her brother, staring over her shoulder even as she steps away.
Larry scrambles off the floor and launches at Norman. He grabs the scroll and tugs it out of Norman’s grasp. Norman spins and reaches. He connects with Larry, grabbing the back of his shirt and yanking. Norman is a man who knows how to fight. Though he gave up brawling when he married Sarah, he finds the movements are reflexive, his instincts in tact after all these years. He draws back his right arm as he releases Larry’s shirt from his left hand. Larry is off-balance, stumbling as he turns. Norman puts his weight behind the punch, using his back and shoulders, twisting on the follow-through. Larry’s eyes are small with a downward turn at the outside corners. The stubble on his cheek grazes Norman’s knuckles like coarse sandpaper as he connects with the jaw. Larry’s cleft chin folds in on itself as his face is reshaped by the punch. His mouth opens, his teeth cutting Norman’s hand. One of them is knocked loose. When he lands on his back, the wind and a small yellow tooth are knocked out of him.
Norman draws his arm back for a second go, but Sarah steps in front of him, her face terrified. He can barely see her even though she is right there, begging him. He feels like the blood is draining from his head and he hears her, feels her touch on his arm. He looks at Larry lying on the floor, his paper clutched to him, and he knows if he doesn’t go with Sarah right now he will do something bad. He lets her lead him through the door and up the concrete steps to the sidewalk.
“There’s nothing wrong with my art!” Larry yells after them.
The plate of cupcakes crashes against Larry’s window with a flash of silver foil. Larry sees his sister’s shoes briefly, suede mules, and then they hurry away.
What have you found difficult about writing fight scenes?
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