And Then I Popped Him One

It’s very hard to write violence, for the same reason it’s very hard to write sex.  No, wait, there is one difference, most people have experienced sex, but most people have never been in a knife or fist fight.

Even those of us who’ve been in fights have a tendency to blur them in our minds.  In my case perhaps more so, as I think I’m a berserker, because one minute I get the cold realization I’m going to fight, the next second — seems like — I’m trying to squish someone with a heavy oak desk, and five of my classmates are holding me back.  Considering at the time that desk probably massed half of my body weight, I’d say there was altered consciousness there.

Be that as it may, even if you’re fully conscious through a fight, it’s hard to remember it.  The thing is that everything happens so fast.  To spectators (and I watched a deadly or at least a severe injury knife fight before) it seems like words are shouted, and suddenly there’s someone bleeding on the ground, someone looking bewildered, and a spectator is whispering “Oh, no.” while someone else calls the ambulance.

Can you do a scene of violence that way?  Of course you can, particularly if the violence is incidental or a total surprise.  Or frankly, if I want a change of tone.  Consider two characters in a fire fight but they’re winning, and it’s become a game, and they’re bantering, and suddenly one is dead.  I used that more or less (except they weren’t really bantering in A Few Good men.  Except I shouldn’t say I used that, because the death was so much of a surprise, it surprised me.)

But there are other types of violence: the climatic battle, or the character changing one, where the weakling discovers he can fight the big bad.

While I was getting ready to write Darkship Revenge, I met Ray Carter, one of my fans.  When I say I met him, it’s a manner of speaking.  We “met” on facebook, where he “turned into a Maine Coon Kitten” and jumped on my lap.  Normally I’d freeze someone out for that, but he was very non-offensive.

So we started talking.  It turned out he was dying of cancer, so we only really had a month to be friends.  But he was always on line, and I was trying to work and move all at the same time, so I’d send him vast chunks of copy with “what do you think.”

A short story I sent him was 3 k words, until he went “you know, that fight is too fast.”  And then he made me focus on every step of it.

Which is when I realized writing violence is like writing sex.  You have to become conscious of all the little physical reactions, all the steps leading up to the punch.

Sure, for an effect of surprise, you can have “He said something about my mom, and then I popped him one.”

But if you’re doing a weakling’s fight with someone much stronger, you have to drag that out.  And then you get “He said that thing about my mother.  I felt my arm tense.  My fist balled.  I looked back at him and said “If I were you, I’d zip my mouth.”  And he said “That’s because your mother was a traitor.”  My fist hurt from clenching so hard.  He said “She sold out New Peace for–”  My fist went forward of its own accord, it caught him on the side of the face.  It wasn’t a strong punch anyway, I hadn’t thought about it.

“Is that the best you can do?” he asked.  He put his arms up in a fighting stance and came towards me.  He was a good ten inches taller than me and his muscles had muscles on them.

I jumped out of reach of his punch, and he sort of leapt towards me.  In a flash, I was back on the playground, and I put out my foot and tripped him.  He went down like a ton of bricks.

I’d had that happen to me often enough that I figured his head must be rattling, and he must be dizzy from the fall.

He gave something like a groan, and his right knee started to rise.  I jumped on it, stomped on the other one, and, while he was screaming but before he could sit up, kicked him on the head, hard.

He looked at me with dazed eyes.  “No,” I said.  “This is the best I can do.”

Sure, you don’t hit a guy when he’s down, but what business did he have fighting a smaller person and a woman at that.”

Those details could be unpacked more, with what it felt like, and the thoughts she has.

Again, like sex.  It’s not “ooh ah, it felt good.”  You have to go exactly to what was kissed, what it felt like, what was caressed and nibbled, etc.

And fighting is not “He punched me, I punched him the end.”  You have to get close in to every blow exchanged, every scraped knuckle.

Of course, as with sex, you only do that when the fight itself is important, and part of character building.

But if you have to do it, you now have the trick of it.  It’s still a process.  I’m still having to learn it, and I’m nowhere where I should be.

Just keep in mind “Slow it down.  Break it into steps.”  Then write.

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89 responses to “And Then I Popped Him One

  1. paladin3001

    Ooooh, thanks for the tips and pointers! Might be needing this in a little while.

  2. One of my complaints about the movie “Batman Begins” is that the fighting was too realistic. By that I mean that for one superbly-trained man to defeat ten well-trained men, he has to move fast and decisively. Never be where they expect you, never give them time to coordinate. And I think Nolan did that very well — so well that I could not follow the action. It was believably confusing, but still confusing.

    I don’t think I’ve written a fight scene that lasted more than three actions. MAYBE five.

  3. Of course no matter what you do… I’ve had people complain that some of the fights in The Hordes of Chanakra (really, only that and The Kinmar so far have much in the way of fighting) were “too detailed”. Others, speaking of the same fights, that they were too rushed.

    Just goes to show, you can’t please everyone.

  4. Uncle Lar

    Sure, you don’t hit a guy when he’s down, but what business did he have fighting a smaller person and a woman at that.”
    Beg to differ. That’s of course true when horsing around or in a schoolyard mixup, but in a serious fight you don’t stop until the threat has been neutralized. Same as if you’re using a firearm in self defense. You do not shoot unless you believe your life or that of someone else is at threat, and you don’t stop shooting until that threat is eliminated.
    Nothing gets me yelling at the TV screen quicker than a victim who turns the tables on the bad guy, knocks them down, then runs away without finishing the job. Through luck, chance, or skill they have the advantage over their adversary and they throw it away guaranteeing that the villain will shake it off and come after them.

    • “Because we’re too good for that! Well… Until the final reel, when we need the really BIG finish…”

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Among the many types of violence I’m needing to learn how to write for current WIP is schoolyard mix-ups.

      • Draven

        easy: mostly, no permanent damage. a bloodied nose ends it.

        • snelson134

          Analyze the character first. One of my best friends in high school berserked unexpectedly on a bully in 7th grade and it took two male coaches to keep him from choking the bully to death. I say that because he succeeded in choking him unconscious. Since the provocation was obvious and not the first offense, he didn’t get expelled.

          • Draven

            one of the last few bully problems i had in 10th grade his throat made it ‘a little hard to swallow’ for two days … so…

    • Oh, I know. But depending on the type of character, you do have to justify her for the reader.

    • Yeah, I agree. There is no second place in a fight, and anyone who attacks you once you’re an adult deserves no sympathies. Because losing a street fight these days is probably a death sentence and at the very least a long hospital stay. You kick them when they’re down, you take every cheap shot there is, and if you have a weapon, you use it.

      I used to teach self-defense (in NYC of all places) I’ve been in fights, both refereed and street, as a student and as an instructor. I can (and have) described every block, punch, dodge and weave in a fight scene. But more often than not, I’ll cut lots of it out now with lines like, ‘we traded blows’ rather than describe a series of punches. Because I don’t want to slow down the action (and just like describing every ‘thrust’ in a sex scene, describing every punch gets boring and tedious after a while).

      Yeah, there are a few people who will gig you for it, but you’re not writing for them, you’re writing for the majority.

      What I find funny are the people who tell me I know nothing about fighting (gee, where did all those belts come from then?) or the Military (huh, does that mean my DD-214 and commission/discharge papers are all fakes?)

      Oh, and I’m not sure that more people have had sex than been in a fight 😉

    • Luke

      Disagree.
      Unless you’re fighting a friend, or competing in a sport, you absolutely hit an opponent when he’s down.
      Every.
      Single.
      Time.

      Unless you want to fight the guy again, at a time and place of his choosing, with his friends backing him up, that is.
      Publicly embarrass him with a minimal application of force, and he’ll be back.
      Stomp him, and he won’t.

    • I’m the same way, “Keep beating him over the head with that fireplace poker, until you are SURE he’s not getting up any time soon, dammit! Or, if you don’t want to kill him, take out both kneecaps!”

  5. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    “Fight? Most times I look at my opponent and say “you know me and what I can do. Do you really want to fight?” But then there are times where he or she thinks they have a chance. Those times can be interesting.” As said by The Sarge. 😉

  6. Most people don’t want to fight in any serious way. I’ve heard the threat displays that primates do called “sequencing” and my understanding of the process fits what I have seen as a bouncer and a repo man. People like to make noise and big gestures, but very few are prepared to do real damage to another human being. Those that do, generally don’t sequence at all–they just go straight to the damage. It is amazing just how fast one person can cripple or kill another, if the intention is there. What I call a “status fight” can go on for a long time because it’s all about intimidation and show. Usually you just wait for the other guy to tire himself out and use up his adrenaline if you just stay calm and keep moving. Serious fights, though, tend to be really fast and are usually over before one of the combatants even understands that this time it’s not just for show.

    • Yup. My instructor used to tell me that most fights were over in ten seconds. One good kick, or punch, and that was it. The big clue is to look at how the other person is standing. Do they have their weight balanced, are they squaring off? If so, they’re gonna attack you and you’re going to have a fight. If not, they’re just making noise. Kick them in the balls, hit them in the head a few times, and it’s over.

      • From a writing standpoint it’s important to understand what each party in a fight wants to accomplish. In most of the fights I have seen where someone has gotten seriously injured it was accidental. Then when the ambulance and the cops show up the “winner” is standing around looking dazed and saying, “I didn’t mean to hit him that hard.”

        • I once popped someone in the face, after much prodding and taunting when I was a kid (mind you, I was a big kid) and the other kid went down crying. I was shocked, I knew that I hadn’t hit him ‘that hard’ but apparently it was hard enough and the other kid couldn’t take a punch.
          Now if I have to hit someone? I hit them just as hard as I can. Because I don’t want to get hit back. It hurts. But if two people are in a fight and one gets hurt? I can’t call it ‘accidental’ they were fighting after all, and that’s the expected outcome, that someone gets hurt, often badly.

          • My point is that there are different kinds of fighting, and the goal of the kind of fighting that most people engage in is not to seriously injure someone, it is a dominance display. It’s as different from hand to hand combat as plinking at cans with a squirrel gun is different from warfare,

            Yes, people sometimes get hurt when they are status fighting, just like sometimes somebody screwing around with a gun shoots his buddy instead of the can. But in neither case is serious injury the intended outcome.

            I have seen a lot of fights and been in a few, and most of the time the injuries are superficial. Bruising, some split skin, very occasionally a broken bone. I’d guess the most common injury requiring hospitalization I have seen has been concussions, and most of those are the result of somebody falling and hitting his head–not the act of the opponent.

            And this isn’t because it is that difficult to really hurt a human being. Anyone who has the basic motor skills and upper body strength to put together an Ikea bookcase is physically capable of killing a human being with their bare hands. We’re frighteningly fragile creatures.

            Psychologically, though, most people have serious barriers to prevent them from beating another person to death. Which is a good thing, for the most part. Some people seem to have been born without that governor, and those people are very scary. Other people have been specifically trained to kill–that’s the purpose of a lot of military training, to overcome that natural resistance.

            • Uncle Lar

              The purpose of a bully is to instill fear and exert dominance over those he perceives as weaker than him. When challenged by one or more such my purpose is to force them to understand that their judgement was terribly horribly wrong.
              I despise those types who push and poke and jab at you and when you take exception they act all innocent, that they were just joking. No, joking of that sort with an unwilling victim is bullying and harassment and something no citizen should be expected to tolerate. The only way to stop a bully is to slap them down hard. Unfortunately many bullies are entitled, stupid, or both to the point that the lesson must be repeated several times to take hold.

              • Not all status fighting is bullying. There is a kneejerk reaction today that says “all fighting is bad” that I think is unhealthy. Most mammals fight as part of establishing their social order. Most human societies throughout history have accepted physical altercations as part of human interaction. There have always been rules regarding when and where violence can used to settle differences, and those rules are enforced by social pressures. Bullying is what happens when those rules are unequally enforced.

    • “It is amazing just how fast one person can cripple or kill another, if the intention is there.”

      Unfortunate real-world example: the knife guy in Portland a couple of weeks back. Two people killed and a third with one hell of a cut in a matter of moments.

  7. Pingback: And Then I Popped Him One — madgeniusclub | Miller's Tales

  8. If you’re writing porn, you describe sex scenes in full, lingering detail. If you’re writing fight scenes in full, lingering detail, you’re probably writing fight porn. This is not necessarily a wise or helpful thing to do.

    • Nope.
      Sometimes you need to describe sex or violence in detail because they change the character forever. It’s a matter of “weight” in the book.
      Calling it “porn” is cute, but it still doesn’t change the fact that sometimes it’s needed. And btw if you think what I did above is “violence porn” you have NO clue. That would be three times as detailed, blood emphasized, etc.
      Don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But this veteran with thirty something books below her belt knows that the “weight” of important scenes counts.
      Sure, sometimes you don’t like writing something, but the reader isn’t in your head and still needs to FEEL what happened.
      Shrug. Back away going “ew, porn” all you want to. Your problem, not mine.

      • Look, you are the one who offered your advice in terms of absolutes: you MUST use THIS MUCH DETAIL in describing a fight scene, or else you are DOING IT WRONG. Guess what? All books are not alike, all readers are not alike, all scenes are not alike. Now you say sometimes you need to describe sex or violence in detail. That’s true, and that’s what you should have said in the first place. But I maintain that outside of action-adventure stories (and even in SFF, the majority of stories are not action-adventure), the occasions for that are relatively rare.

        Sometimes, in fact, the impact of a combat scene is increased by not going into painstaking detail. Tolkien doesn’t go into blow-by-blow detail in any of his fight scenes. Neither, to the best of my recollection, does Heinlein. Nor (to venture outside our own genre for a moment) did Hemingway, who nevertheless built his reputation in part on writing about violence. Nor Kipling. Hell, all the way back to Beowulf and the Iliad, you don’t find the kind of blow-by-blow description you advocate. That came in only in the twentieth century, and not surprisingly, the technique was originally developed in the fight pulps – which were, in fact, dedicated to selling violence in exactly the same way pornography sells sex.

        I’ll take the collected testimony of several of the greatest writers of all time before your unsupported word, no matter how many books you’ve written. If you’re going to puff yourself up because of your alleged credentials, you are automatically going to lose, because it’s not my lack of credentials that I am going to compare them to, but their far superior credentials.

        ‘Oh, but those books are old,’ I hear you saying. ‘Nowadays you have to do everything exactly as I say, because everything has changed.’ The human nervous system hasn’t changed. Neither have the nature of language, the nature of story, or the rules of rhetoric. The only thing that has changed is fashion, and that chiefly because writers today think they need to compete with film on its own ground.

        When you come down to it, if a written story needs to present as much surface detail as a movie in order to grab the reader, it’s being presented in the wrong medium. Well, many a writer for print is a screenwriter manqué; but not the best ones. If you want to advise people to shoot for inferiority, be my guest; but don’t expect yourself to be above criticism when you do.

        • Look, you are the one who offered your advice in terms of absolutes: you MUST use THIS MUCH DETAIL in describing a fight scene, or else you are DOING IT WRONG.

          Where did you get that idea? The point was that there are times where it is appropriate.

          I.e when it’s a climactic battle or a major character turning point then, like anything else that serves such a purpose you need to bring the reader fully into the situation. You need to make the reader feel what the character is feeling. You need to wring every bit of drama that the scene provides.

          Major plot points or character development points–regardless of whether they involve violence or not–are not things you elide over or treated cavalierly, not if you want a story to truly engage the reader.

        • Yes, yes, Mr. Simon, you are So Much BETTER than everybody. We get it.Your bluenosed virtue signalling is both blunt and obvious.

          In fact, you’re so much better than us, one wonders why you deign to interact with us at all. Why not go off to your perfect paradise where you and the Greatest Writers of ALL TIME can agree on everything, and sniff about how us lowly plebs don’t know nothin’, especially when compared to the likes of you?

          Of course, then you couldn’t posture and preen in front of us, and get all sniffy when we fail to give you the worship and adoration you clearly deserve.

        • You are aware, I suppose, that both Hemingway and Heinlein were constrained by the morés of the time, and cut both sex and violence from their original drafts?

        • Oh, and you invoked Tolkein? Well, you might consider that battles generally were not major turning points for either character or plot. Things that were–Frodo getting struck by the cursed blade, Bilbo’s fight with the spiders. Sam’s with Shelob, were covered in more detail. Of those, really, only in Bilbo’s case was the fight itself, and the taunting of the spiders, a significant character turning point and there, it’s not the fight so much as his decision to…be heroic that was the crucial character point and there the chase, getting the spiders away from the dwarfs, was the crucial element.

          Most of the fights are “on the way” stuff while the crucial character motivators and development issues are something else.

        • Wow, where in the world did Sarah say you have to do anything this way or that? The closest she came to that was with this, “Which is when I realized writing violence is like writing sex. You have to become conscious of all the little physical reactions, all the steps leading up to the punch.” Even then, she didn’t say you had to write everything. She said you, the writer, have to be conscious of it all. It is up to you, the writer, to figure out what is necessary for the story. I remind you, she also said, “Just keep in mind “Slow it down. Break it into steps.” Then write.”

          The whole point of the post was not to rush the scene and blur it. There are times when it is necessary to go into more detail that what you might first think. The question to ask is, does it move the plot or character development forward?

          As for the rest of it, I suggest you go back and look at your original comment before getting hot and bothered by anything anyone else said. You are the one who not only gave an invalid definition for porn but also who dared suggest that Sarah, someone I’d dare say has more experience and publishing cred than you do, was giving bad advice when it comes to writing fight scenes. I don’t know why this post set you off so much but you are the one to become confrontational. Perhaps it is time you stepped back and considered what you said.

          But then, according to you, I guess I wrote fight porn or violence porn or whatever you want to call it in one of my books where it takes a couple of chapters to stop the antagonist from tormenting the protagonist. Reading your comments, it is clear you don’t understand there are times when such scenes and chapters are necessary. Unlike you, who not only made assumptions but then decided you had not only the qualification but the right to lecture Sarah on her craft, I’ll simply repeat my suggestion from earlier. Go back to your corner and contemplate what she actually wrote and how you overreacted. Then perhaps it might be wise to admit you were wrong.

        • Mr. Simon, your reading comprehension is lacking. I offered advice on HOW to write it, if it’s needed for your story.
          Note the raciest thing by far that happens in my stories is that a couple kisses. THAT is because the development doesn’t hinge on sex.
          However, imagine writing a modern romance where someone realizes she loves a man because of how she feels during sex “They made love and she realized she loved him” is not showing. It’s telling. The reader stopped going along with it and had to take what you said on faith.
          The same when violence is needed. Are you telling me that MHI would work just as well if Larry wrote “And then he blew the monster away. Yay. Collect bounty” instead of staying with the fight?
          You seem to think novels are intellectual exercises. They’re not. They’re emotional, visceral even.
          You don’t want to write sex and violence. Fine, but don’t come up with stories that need it. Because when the story needs it and it isn’t there, it’s called “bad writing.”
          You want to do that? Good for you. Not my problem.

        • You’re the only one using the word “must”. Strawman much?

          • The Iliad had some blow-by-blow fight descriptions. I can think of various epics that did it, and there were a fair number of the Fenian tales and songs (that’s Fionn mac Cumhaill and his hunting/fighting band) which featured blow-by-blow fights.

            And come to think of it, a lot of those fight pulps were written by guys with Irish or Irish-American pen names. So yeah, maybe blame us Irish for this one….

            Of course, in an epic poem, the fight descriptions often tend to jump to stuff like “And then X hero went at Y hero and cut the sinews of his leg with a single slice, and that made Y hero fall into the dust, which torqued off Z hero, who went after X hero in his chariot and….” But that’s because there’s so many people involved.

            Blow by blow can be a thing, depending on people’s interest in drawing out the individual fight or making points with it. Pacing, weight, character points, all kinds of stuff like that.

            Also, I do find it sorta meta that you all would have an intense Internet argument about fight scenes.

            • There’s only one person having an argument. The rest of us are trying to figure out who and what he’s arguing with.

              • Uncle Lar

                No, some of us just want the rude overbearing buffoon to piss off.

                • Tom is an excellent novelist and essayist. He is also a good comment box denizen, except on the days when he gets fighty. (And actually, those can be enjoyable days also if he gets pointed toward the right target.)

                  Now, he is not the only person among Sarah’s commentariat who occasionally gets fighty for reasons difficult for others to discern. Obviously it is better if we avoid pointing our pixel guns in the wrong direction, but it does happen and we should bear with each other as much as is reasonable.

        • “I’ll take the collected testimony of several of the greatest writers of all time before your unsupported word, no matter how many books you’ve written. If you’re going to puff yourself up because of your alleged credentials, you are automatically going to lose, because it’s not my lack of credentials that I am going to compare them to, but their far superior credentials.”

          My my, someone woke up cranky today.

          I don’t suppose you’ve considered that everybody is different in their story telling, have you? When I write about a fight, I’m trying to convey the physical experience of the character to the reader. How did it -feel- when she set her feet, how did her balance shift, how did a little turn of one heel and a shove propel her opponent ten feet to land flat on his back.

          I think people want to know that. What is it like when the stick becomes an extension of your arm, when the force of the blow comes up out of the ground, moves through your stomach and chest, and the stoke falls from you like a leaf from a tree? What is it like when you do something with no planning, it just happens as if you weren’t even there.?

          It is difficult to describe. Sometimes you need to go through the motions of the dance.

        • Dan Z

          I would like to weigh in here a dispute the notion that Beowulf can be used as a story that lacks descriptive fight scenes – quite the opposite, I say. The three big fight scenes in the story (Beowulf vs. Grendel (lines 710-835), Beowulf vs. Grendel’s Mother (lines 1518-1569), and Beowulf and Wiglaf vs. the Dragon (lines 2661-2723)) are rich in details and nicely illustrate the point Sarah was making.

          In the fight with Grendel, Beowulf is wrestling Grendel. There’s all sorts of shouting going on, Beowulf’s men trying to land blows with their swords, furniture being smashed, and then at the climax of the battle the narration slows down to give a graphic description of Beowulf ripping one of Grendel’s arms off. One of my favorite lines in the epic, though, comes from the fight against Grendel’s Mother when Beowulf swings his sword at her head: “Then sang on her head that seemly blade its war-song wild.” You can practically hear the distinctive ringing of the sword as it is deflected off to the side and you get the feeling that Beowulf might be in a bit of trouble. The battle with the dragon is also pretty descriptive – we know where the heroes struck the dragon, what injuries the heroes received, blades broken, shields burned down to the bosses, etc.

          All of these scenes convey fast action as well as the sights, the sounds, the tactile sensations, and the churn of emotions involved in those battles. An abundance of details that still have the power to make the story come alive for readers over a thousand years after it was first written. As far as examples of what sort of details to include in a fight scene goes, Beowulf provides some good ones.

          • Dan Z

            “I would like to weigh in here *and* dispute…” – got excited and forgot to proofread before posting.

    • If you’re writing porn, you describe sex scenes in full, lingering detail

      While perhaps true as far as it goes, it does not necessarily commute. to write porn one has to write sex in full, lingering detail. But having sex scenes written in full lingering detail does not necessarily make the story porn. It depends on the scene’s roll in the story and the overall character. Take, for instance, Gretchen’s wedding night in Eric Flint’s novel “1632”. It’s told in pretty explicit detail but the roll it serves in the story is not one of titillation but rather of Gretchen’s, um, redemption isn’t quite the word I’m looking for but it’s close.

      Similarly with violence. It depends a lot on the specifics of how it’s handled and its role in the story. If it’s violence for its own sake (like much of the slasher genre of “horror” these days), that’s one thing. But if it serves to drive plot or character.

      Some stories tend to be violent. That doesn’t necessarily make them “violence porn” in a derogatory sense. Larry Correia’s Grimnoir. As is the MHI series. And plenty of writers out there (Ringo, Weber, Drake, I could go on and on) don’t flinch from the horrors of war and other forms of violence. But they’re hardly “violence porn”–unless you stretch the term to uselessness.

    • Porn? Nah. Porn is done in screenplay format, and the lingering detail is left to camera work.

      If you’re writing erotica, where the sex is where the character development and most of the plot is moved forward, then yep, full lingering detail, too. However, when it’s not, the sex is barely mentioned. Read more erotica before you make blanket statements.

      If you’re writing romance, then it depends on the subgenre. Diana Gabaldon gives a nice detail breakdown on when and where to include how much detail with examples in “I give of you my body.”

      You’ll have to define “fight porn.” Because while you can point to a John Woo movie, once again, it’s not in the screenplay. Not written. For written works, your statement doesn’t make sense a broad generalization. Please define your terms, and describe the genre and subgenre you’re talking about.

      • If you’re writing erotica, where the sex is where the character development and most of the plot is moved forward, then yep, full lingering detail, too.

        Interesting…I think you’ve hit on why the erotica I have been writing has been bugging me…too much of the main plot happens outside the sex scenes although the main character’s journey does happen in them (or reflection on them or in one case a fantasy based on one experience but featuring another character).

    • If you’re writing porn, you describe sex scenes in full, lingering detail.
      Not necessarily so. Most good porn books only have a few fully described and ‘lingering’ detail sex scenes in them. Usually more than half of the scenes are partially, or even barely, described. It’s all about the pacing, the rhythm, and what moves the story and what moves the reader.
      Too much of anything spoils the story.

  9. Being a devout Heinleinist, I bought into Heinlein’s assertion that art should have an emotional impact. When I started writing porn, I realized that more than any other kind of fiction, if porn doesn’t have an emotional impact, it’s nothing. I claim that porn is the purest form of art.

    • mrsizer

      Interesting perspective. I’d narrow that a bit – some porn is simply to keep one’s eyes occupied whilst the hands are busy. But for porn-with-a-plot, you have a good point. It makes me realize there is an awful lot of bad porn out there 😉

    • Uncle Lar

      Charlie, I find that you are an exceedingly dirty old man.
      Welcome to the club my brother.

    • Erotica is ridiculously HARD to write. I’ve done a few little short stories, as gifts for friends; and it’s one genre where you have to really take what your target audience’s turn on is. It’s also a thin line between ‘oh my God that’s so incredibly engrossing’ and “GAH!” -reader is kicked out of the story cold.

      I’ve been told those stories were very very good; but I realize that they were tailored for the specific recipient – and I really don’t want to disillusion them with how formulaic I was when I was thinking of the flow of the story. XD

  10. Ugh,I am having SO MUCH TROUBLE with this. Particularly since the last half of my story seems a lot like an extended fight scene. (It isnt. But when the fight scenes take three times as long as anything else…)

    I should make sure they’re all significant. But I think they are. Where our small, slight hero walks into an unbalanced fight without the element of surprise (against all instincts) because it’s the love interest needs him. The one that proves one of the allies of convenience is actually trustworthy. The failure before the ultimate success…

    *sigh* Not getting out of it that way. 😛

  11. Brought to mind my favorite 1-punch fight scene, from the master Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely:

    The bouncer frowned. He was not used to being talked to like that. He took his hand off the shirt and doubled it into a fist about the size and color of a large eggplant. He had his job, his reputation for toughness, his public esteem to consider. He considered them for a second and made a mistake. He swung the fist very hard and short with a sudden outward jerk of the elbow and hit the big man on the side of the jaw. A soft sigh went around the room.

    It was a good punch. The shoulder dropped and the body swung behind it. There was a lot of weight in that punch and the man who landed it had had plenty of practice.

    The big man didn’t move his head more than an inch. He didn’t try to block the punch. He took it, shook himself lightly, made a quiet sound in his throat and took hold of the bouncer by the throat.

    The bouncer tried to knee him in the groin. The big man turned him in the air and slid his gaudy shoes apart on the scaly linoleum that covered the floor. He bent the bouncer backwards and shifted his right hand to the bouncer’s belt. The belt broke like a piece of butcher’s string. The big man put his enormous hands flat against the bouncer’s spine and heaved; He threw him clear across the room, spinning and staggering and flailing with his arms. Three men jumped out of the way. The bouncer went over with a table and smacked into the baseboard with a crash that must have been heard in Denver. His legs twitched. Then he lay still.

    “Some guys,” the big man said, “has got wrong ideas about when to get tough.”

  12. most people have experienced sex, but most people have never been in a knife or fist fight.

    I’m not so sure about that. I’m a US man of a certain age and getting into several fist fights as a teenager was a right of passage. Gym teachers putting boxing gloves on you and someone else telling you to settle it was not uncommon.

    In fact, I was probably in my late 20s and married before I’d had intercourse more times than I’d had fist fights (or at least engaged to be married).

    I suspect I’m not alone.

    Which is when I realized writing violence is like writing sex. You have to become conscious of all the little physical reactions, all the steps leading up to the punch.

    Now, that is a tip I needed right about now but I have to ask how do you avoid the sex scene becoming 20 pages?

    • WOMEN are less likely to be in knife fights. And that’s half the population.

      Er… concentrate on hte emotions. And WHY shouldn’t it be 20 pages?

      • Because from experience the kind of sex scenes I’m writing have a lot of emotional…travel, yeah, travel is a nice neutral word. Also, a long physical sensation path.

      • I did a gunfight in the Adelsverein Trilogy in three pages – a scene where a woman (post-Civil-War Texas) shoots the man who killed her husband during the war, with one of the late husband’s own pistols. (A small-caliber Paterson Colt, and she isn’t all that good a shot, although she manages to hit him every time, since it is at close range.)

        She’s in shock, and protecting one of her own children during it.
        “In that moment which seemed eternal, she was ice cold and aware of
        everything around her, and yet it seemed distant, as if everything else happened behind a great glass window. She and the man who had killed her
        husband, threatened her children, held that very same revolver to Hannah’s
        head; they stood facing each other. Lottie huddled at her back like a chick
        sheltering under the mother hen.

        The first shot crashed like a thunderbolt in her ears. She supposed that
        she was at least as startled as J.P. Waldrip was, for he looked with amazed
        horror at the spreading red mess on his vestfront, just below where his coat
        buttoned over his chest. Then his particolored eyes met hers.
        He took one wobbling step forward and said in a voice that sounded
        queerly normal, “You shot me.”

        That was for my husband, Magda thought coldly, as she drew back the
        hammer. My husband, my children’s father, my lover and dearest friend in
        the world. You fired the shot that killed him, after molesting me within his
        sight, with your hands and your words. You are loathsome, and the most
        unforgivable thing you have done is to make me hate you so. The Paterson’s
        narrow trigger slid obediently open to her finger. Why did the man not fall?”

        • I love that scene. I also love your inspiration for it—the death of a well-known and unloved public figure, and “nobody” saw it happen. Nope. Nobody at all.

          • Yep – that one was … interesting to write, since Magda had an 18-wheeler-load of rage in her.
            They’ve never really been certain who shot J.P. Waldrip at the gate to the Nimitz Hotel stable yard. It’s one of the points of my walking tour of Fredericksburg. http://www.celiahayes.com/about-celia/fredericksburg-walking-tour

            Long, long, long after the event, two local men claimed on their deathbeds that they had been the one. It’s very possible that both of them could have done it: one shot from directly across the road, from the upper story of his shop, the other on a diagonal from about half a block away. The whole town was roused against him, anyway – basically, the current sheriff had declared him to be a “wolfs’ head.”
            But he did have friends and kin living at that time who would have been perfectly happy with a reason to carry on a vendetta; that’s why everyone kept quiet. The local historian who read the MS always wanted me to do something about the Mason County Hoo-Doo War, which was going on just post-Civil War. German settlers against Anglo cattlemen, which was so vicious that it took the Texas Rangers to settle it, finally.

          • snelson134

            As I’m sure Celia can tell you, there’s a reason Texas actually put “he needed killin'” as an affirmative defense for murder on the law books.

  13. While reading the comments, I sense there are three types of commentators:

    1. Those who love to read.
    2. Those who love to write for the first group.
    3. Those who don’t like the first group.

    I have been in group 1 since my parents introduced me to the library. I read all of the science fiction they had in about a year. It warped me; but I am not complaining.

    • I used to love reading, but lately I can’t be bothered with it and write instead. I don’t really know who I’m writing for, when you get down to it. Myself, most likely. The stories are, after all, just what I wanted them to be.

      Although, it would be nice if others liked them too.

  14. People get hung up on descriptions of sex and violence, but they are just specific instances of the general question of what level of description is required for the action in order to serve the story. In most cases, for example, there isn’t any reason to describe in detail a character driving a car.

    “Joe drove to the hospital” is all you need to say and the reader will be able to fill in the details. Sometimes, though, it is important. If your character has just been stabbed in the stomach and is trying to drive himself to the emergency room before he passes out from shock, it would be entirely appropriate to go into detail about how he’s keeping pressure on the wound with one hand and holding the steering wheel with the other, and talking about how he’s struggling to keep the car on the road.

    Or a shopping trip to the grocery store. “Mary picked up groceries for dinner” is enough to let the reader know what happens between one scene and the next–we can all imagine what that’s like. But if Mary is fixing dinner for a special someone and is nervous about making a good impression, writing about her agonizing over which spaghetti sauce to get and whether or not he’d like croutons on his salad will build the tension for the big date.

    It’s the same with fight scenes and sex scenes. A scene that advances the story should be given some weight. Most of the time physical combat is an important element in the plot, but not always. In a war novel a battle can be glossed over in a sentence. The same with sex, if a couple has a long term relationship we can assume they have sex on a regular basis, that could be completely irrelevant to the main storyline.

    It’s a matter of focus.

  15. Luke

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the assertion that most people haven’t been in a fight.
    How is that even possible?
    Didn’t these people ever go to school?

    • Most girls haven’t. Girls fight with undermining and words.

    • Arwen

      I have never been in a fight. Being a short, not in the best of shape woman, I’d rather not be in a fight.

      • Confutus

        Last time I remember getting in a fight, I was in 5th grade. I got my face rubbed in the sand by a kid in 3rd grader. After that, I avoided fights at all costs.

    • I’ve never been in a fight. Mind you, I’m a strapping lass, with strong features and a tendency to look angry when I’m just neutral, so people don’t mess with me because I look like I can kick their butts. I also went to schools that were not massive and actually dealt with kids who got into fights in a punitive fashion, so that factors in as well.

  16. Slowing down and focusing on the details is good advice for experiencing sex, too, not just writing it. But, of course, I would say that…

  17. Pingback: Thursday Links – Yard Sale of the Mind

  18. If you really want to get off into the weeds, consider that the type of fight can also be important. The violence involved in an “educational beatdown” is completely different from the violence involved in a “ritual beatdown”, which is different than the violence of a self-defence reaction, same for a status situation, a robbery, so on and so forth.

    Not only that, but the dance leading up to each type of violence is different, oft times markedly so; and very, very few violent incidents occur without the dance.

  19. snelson134

    Somewhat OT: Windows 10, WordPress and Chrome between them have decided that the Reply button on the e-mailed comments will not be able to find this site’s DNS entry. Only the Reply button, mind; the links inside the e-mail to the column, and the comment being replied to will work as intended.

    The relationship between those three makes tentacle porn look like See Spot Run……

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      What email software are you using?

      Thunderbird works just fine with Windows 10 & Chrome.

      • That’s what I’m using. Incidentally, I just tried it on my work laptop (same TBird version, same Chrome version, but Windows 7) and it works.

        The only way Microsoft will make a product that doesn’t SUCK is if they start making vacuum cleaners.