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.