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The Fine Art of the Blade: How Not To Do Shoddy Fight Sequences For the Budding Animator and Choreographer

If there is anyone out there right now taking offense at my post’s title, I apologise. It is intended in jest, a joke that I made to my friends on Discord while I was watching Castlevania (amazing show, brilliant characters, poor fighting sequences).

Things to help with writing action scenes:

  • Minimise or eleminate character introspection, unless it is to strategise, and even then, keep it short. Your characters are (likely) fighting for their lives, they don’t have time to ponder the meaning of life. If your character is a strategist, it is perfectly fine for them to jump out of the fight and take a short break to strategise and plan so long as their opponent is occupied with something else. I guarantee that your enemy will not pause to let you catch your breath before proceeding with that nasty little business of murder.

    Alex dodged the sword as it came scything through the air towards her, thinking all the while. The long, thick slab of steel that masquraded as a bladed weapon reminded her of the days when rapiers were in fashion. She had owned one in the times Before, steel coated in silver, dripping in rubies and emeralds and polished to a mirror-shine.

    Marcel swung at her again, and she dodged with haste. The steel slab that he was swinging around had no point to slice through concrete that her rapier did, but it was still a formidible weapon that could grind her to a pulp.

    That was an example of a character thinking whilst in the midst of a fight sequence. Note how the scene slows when the description begins to dawdle for too long. On the other hand, if Alex makes sure that Marcel’s attentions are turned away from her, she can take a breather to think about how she would attempt to get away. Notice how her strategising only takes the extremely short period of three sentences of thought (only a couple seconds in real time).

    Alex dodged the sword as it came scything through the air towards her. She moved behind a thick wall in the hope that it would buy her a few precious second against Marcel’s steel slab of a “sword”. Dust filled the air as the thud of steel on concrete echoed through the air. Alex thought quickly. Marcel’s blunt monstrosity of a sword had little to no piercing or slicing power, but it could still crush things into dust or pulp. It had longer reach than her twin daggers, but if she was careful, she might be able to get in close where a larger weapon was unwieldy…

    Boom!

    A section of wall beside her caved in.

    Alex raced through that hole for Marcel. She ducked under a wide sweep and brought her daggers up in a sweeping motion. A spray of pixels told her that she had suceeded.

  • Attempt to keep scentences and paragraphs succinct. If any of you have read my snippets or other posts, you will probably have already noticed that I struggle with this. But long scentences and excessive description slows a scene down, as I touched on briefly in the point above.

    Chou doesn’t say anything behind their silk-metal half-mask. Instead, they palm a dagger and slams a knee into the leader’s nuts, following with a quick strike with the pommel that breaks the fool’s nose. The still-unnamed gang leader’s head snaps back, exposing his throat which they smoothly slice through in a single motion.

    That was a quick little scene that I had originally written for my novel. Ignore Chou’s preferred they/them pronouns, please, and focus on how I wrote two or three motions into every sentence barring the first. It gives the illusion that everything is proceeding in slow motion either due to Chou processing and reacting/acting faster than everyone else in the scene or that the flow of time is being fiddled with.

  • Show, don’t tell. Sage advice you’ve probably heard a million times but still don’t quite know what it means. Don’t worry. I’ve been writing seriously (well, as serious as you can get without publishing, at least) for several years, and I still don’t quite understand it half the time either. If you do understand it, then I applaud you, and welcome you to teach me. Though far be it from me to hand out misinformed or bad advice, I will attempt to impart advice on what I know:
    Telling would be akin to saying “Bill screamed as he fell off of a cliff, scrambling with his fingers and clawing with his nails to grasp hold of something before he fell to his death on the rocks below.”
    Showing would be more like “Bill’s throat was raw from screaming. The cliff edge above him fell away, further and further. Weeds and pebbles pulled at his nails and cut his fingers as he clawed for purchase on the cliff face.”
  • Little to no dialogue. As tempting as it is to throw in a few one-liners, nasty insults, and scrappy sarcasm (oooh, accidental alliteration), if you’re fighting someone, a true, no-holds-barred, trying-to-kill-or-seriously-injure-or-maim fight, then there is no breath to speak with. This goes doubly so if your character has a breathing-related issue such as asthma or being hit in the throat/solar plexus/broken ribs, etc.

Things to keep in mind when writing/choreographing the fights themselves:

  • Just– this entire post: http://bamonnineties.tumblr.com/post/155664673295/helpful-things-for-action-writers-to-remember
  • Keep in mind the size of your weapon and its original intended use (unless using improvised weapons). Even within the range of “swords”, there are a vast array, all used and created for slightly differing actions (such as the rapier made for penatrating thrusts between armor plates and the claymore intended for crushing light armor). I’ll likely be writing a seperate post relating purely to conventional thoough archaic weaponry such as swords, knives, polearms, whips, and improvised weapons such as bar stools, bottles, ties, and jewelry, as I’d make this post double or even triple in size otherwise. Please follow if you don’t want to miss it.
  • Absolutely anything can be used as a weapon.
  • Keep in mind what your character is doing and what they have in their hands. It is physically impossible for a person (unless they are of supernatural or extraterrestrial orgin) to load a crossbow at the same time as they attack their enemy with a sword.
  • Keep the setting and environment in mind. A ruin might be a blessing in that there is plenty of cover, but there is also plenty of debris to trip over or crunch underfoot to give away a hiding place.
  • Always, always, always pay attention to a character’s injuries as that will affect how they fight, run, or hide.
  • You might need post-it notes to keep track of everything. Do not be afraid to make a wall of them on the wall/whatever in front of your computer or on your desk as you write.

I think that should be enough for now, but feel free to shoot questions my way. I am also pleased to announce that I’ve started a tumblr blog, titled the same as this blog and found here, for both myself and others who will become too old to enjoy the content of this blog in the future.

1 comment

damnedmonkey

Wow, thanks for the brilliant tips, glad to hear the advice 'cause it's giving me grief as well (oh, and yes, Castlevania is amazingggg, the teleporting castle sequence was the best action sequence I've seen animated all year). :)

2w ago