Guidelines and helpful hints for writing fight scenes.
Preparing for the attack
Low action scenes don’t have to be boing. Day 16 will be devoted to creating battle plans. Whether this is a literal fight or just an offensive against the antagonist will depend on your story. But showing all that preparation can bring the forward momentum of your story to a dead halt.
Movies will often solve this problem by using a montage to show preparations. In a book, pick a meaningful moment and expand it into a full scene. Maybe the reluctant hero takes a new recruit under his wing. Or he finally realizes his love interest likes him too. This can also be an opportunity to show the lie isn’t really gone. In the Lego Batman movie, Batman may have let Robin on the team, but he is still clearly using him.
Low action scenes: Some pitfalls
It’s easy to fall into the trap of having your entire cast around the table and talk through their battle plans. This happens constantly in movies where we have a long scene of telling. The danger here is telling can be boring.
Keep the focus of the scene on the personal conflict between the characters not on relating the information on the battle plans. As long as the characters are the focus the tension in this scene will remain. Even if the main character is doing nothing but listening, make sure your main character is still reacting to what’s happening.
As you know dialogue
Nothing sounds worse in dialogue been having two characters talk about things both of them already know. This is called as you know dialogue. Here are a few tricks to getting information into speech and still keeping it sounding natural.
Have characters argue. This is the only time characters will realistically say things the each other already knows. Arguments keep the tension in the scene between the characters. This tension will give your scene purpose. Scenes must always have a character-driven purpose, otherwise, they are boring to readers.
Readers may also forgive info dumping in dialogue if you are clever about it. For example in Moana, Moana speaks through her entire battle plan for defeating Te Fiti despite being alone on the boat. Then, it’s revealed that she’s talking to the chicken. This works because it’s funny.
The Dull Before the Storm
Preparation scenes don’t have to be boring.
Use character moments to:
- Remind readers of the stakes
- Reveal the main character’s fears
- Humanize the main character
Low action scenes are opportunities for readers to connect with characters.
Think of this scene as the set up to your battle. Make sure all the pieces are in place: the stakes the character motivations, and goals. This will ensure your readers are invested. Otherwise, the upcoming failure will be meaningless.
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Challenge your character’s lie with the first pinch point
Great characters have a flaw, a lie they believe. This lie/flaw is the true antagonist. It is the reason for his conflict. The character lie is the reason your character can’t get what he wants. The first pinch point challenges that lie.
Day 11 is the first pinch point- the first time the character’s lie is challenged.
Identify character flaw
This should be the same flaw you have been working to establish in your set-up. (See day 7 for more details)
Identify character wants
This can be tricky. Because the character believes something that isn’t true, what he really wants may differ from what he thinks he wants. Start with the surface want and dig until you find the hidden want that is actually in conflict with the character flaw. For example.
In Inside Out, Joy thinks she wants to restore Riley’s original core memories and get her personality back the way it was. This want results from her character lie (the belief that happiness is the best emotion for Riley) But if we question why Joy wants this, the answer is-Joy wants Riley to be a normal well-adjusted kid. Now we have conflict. Normal, well-adjusted kids aren’t always happy. People need a range of emotions to process all their experiences. This information is first presented to Joy at the first pinch point.
In this scene, Bing Bong has just lost his beloved musical rainbow rocket. Joy tries to help Bing Bong feel better by acting silly. While this might have helped a young child, (remember Joy’s experiences with the pre-adolescent Riley taught her this will help.) Bing Bong is unaffected. But when Saddness talks to Bing Bong and helps him through his grief, Bing Bong is able to process the loss and move on. This is the first instance where Joy sees that “Sadness helps.”
However, Joy has not yet made a complete transformation. At this point, Joy is not truly aware her belief that “happy is best” is a lie.
At the first pinch point, the character does not need to be aware of his lie, but the reader should be.
In the Lego Batman movie, Batman attends a party as Bruce Wayne. While there, he works the entire crowd, believing himself to be the life of the party, but we see him fail to make a meaningful connection with anyone in the room. He may be at a party, but he’s alone, and he has no friends.
This is juxtaposed by the previous scene where Harlequin acts as the Joker’s best friend. She spends the scene giving the Joker encouraging words and comforting him after his “breakup” with Batman.
In both these examples, the pinch point raises the tension by clarifying the character lies for the audience while showing the characters stubbornly maintaining those beliefs.
Challenging your character’s lie is the first step towards his transformation
Characters will never change if their beliefs are never challenged. The first plot pinch is the place to begin this journey. Make sure you have all the elements in place, and your characters won’t be able to hide from the truth.
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Letting characters fail The basis of a character arc is change. By letting characters fail, you will force them to move forward in their arc. If they never lose, they will never learn. Creating Character Arcs This is from the Pixar’s Inside Out. If you haven’t […]
Secondary Characters make things complicated
On day 8, your character now has to deal with the consequences of the inciting incident. Your job as a writer is to make things worse. This role often falls to secondary characters. Peeta also gets picked for the Hunger Games. Sadness’s depression hinders Joy’s attempts to return to headquarters. These secondary characters function in the story to raise the stakes for the hero.
Nothing is worse than a secondary character who has no function. A love interest that’s just there to look pretty or get rescued? Maybe twenty years ago, but readers no longer give a blank pass to the skirt. Characters need to have a function in your story. They need to affect the main action.
Secondary characters need backstory
People don’t just materialize out of thin air. Your secondary characters shouldn’t as well. You can either pre-write this story or discover it as you draft. (If you are a discovery writer, make sure you keep a separate document somewhere and record the details of each character as you discover it. Otherwise, you may get to the end of the novel and find he was born in two different places!)
Be careful when you are in this phase. Writing secondary characters can be fun, but it can also eat up all your writing time and leave you with a Tolstoy-level cast list.
Cheat sheet for secondary characters
Relationship to the main character
How does this character reflect the main character?
How does this character reveal main character’s flaw/lie?
How does this relate to the theme?
What is this character’s goal?
How is the main character standing in the way?
What will the main character learn from this character?
Many of these questions may overlap, and depending on how prevalent the character is in the plot, you may not need to answer all of them. Whichever you decide, remember to always frame the secondary characters in relationship to your main character. Maintain a balance between making them feel like real people and allowing them to upstage your main character.
Make a map
Once the cast reaches a certain size, you may have problems keeping all the relationships clear. If this is a problem, make a cluster chart
This is a simple example
In each block put the name of the character and use the lines to show how these characters are related.
You can either use the lines to denote the relationship between the characters or use them to mark the conflict between the characters. If you have a small cast, this step may not be necessary. The key is to make sure that all the secondary characters are framed in relation to the main character.
Secondary characters must support the main character
Secondary characters are called the supporting cast because they are there to affect the main character. They must raise the stakes either by hindering the hero’s progress or increasing the consequences of failure. They must illuminate a hero’s flaws or guide him to learning his truth. Secondary characters have an important role. Make sure yours are doing their jobs.
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