Writing Fights

The subject of the writing competition at RainFurrest was “Swords and Sorcery,” so it was perhaps predictable that a few of the stories were basically one long fight, and many included fights within them. A lot of the fights had trouble with pacing (given that they were written in 48 hours, most of them were first drafts, so it’s understandable), and so I thought I would give you guys a reference for a very well done story that is mostly about a fight, although the fight itself takes up only about a quarter of it. It’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Croxley Master,” and here are some points I took away from it:

* Note how the stakes for the main character are established right from the start.

* Note the way the culture of the area is conveyed in his encounter with Barton–some people are quick to throw a punch, but if you fight a man fairly, he bears you no grudge. This is one of the underlying themes of the story: rules and playing fair. Montgomery’s boss does not play fair with him despite his devotion to religion; the fight is subject to a number of rules; the community loyally rewards Montgomery’s participation in the fight even before the outcome. It’s helpful to have something like this in the back of your mind when writing a story. Even if you don’t pick it up on the surface, you note that there is a contrast between the monstrous Master who abides by the rules and the sanctimonious Doctor who does not (or does so only begrudgingly).

* Note how the mystique of The Master is built up before he is described.

* Note when we finally get the description how Doyle uses language to convey a sinister opponent. Words like “misshapen” alongside “Hercules” give the impression of a powerful monster.

* In the fight itself, note the pacing. The early rounds as Montgomery feels out his opponent and decides on a strategy are fleshed out; the middle rounds where he executes that strategy are summarized. The first key moment of the fight is drawn out in detail: his youth and inexperience are highlighted. Some time is spent on his recovery, and then the rounds after his return are summarized again. Then the final round of the fight is given a scene. The point here is that when there’s nothing new added to the narrative of the fight, Doyle summarizes for you, preferring to focus on key moments. It is the way I pace out football games in the OOP books (with more or less success) and sex scenes in other stories.

Hope this is an enjoyable and instructive read for you!

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