I proposed to my child bride under the guise of an artistic and sensitive soul. We were going to own a dinner theater and write books, for crying out loud. What could be more artsy than that? I worked in Texas that summer and she went home to Calgary to plan the wedding—believing all was right with her world. About a month later, in a fit of unbridled honesty, I stretched the telephone cord out my parents’ back door and sat on the steps while I broke the news that I was not nearly as sensitive and artsy as I’d led her to believe.
I wanted to be a lawman.
For some reason, she didn’t hock the ring and shortly after we married I got a job with the PD in a little town outside of Fort Worth. We were cheap-fishstick poor but somehow she found the money to buy me two gifts—a ballistic vest (the department didn’t provide them back then) and, assuming I hadn’t given up on my dream of writing books, an electric typewriter. In those early days, the body armor got a lot more use than the Smith Corona. But I like to think I was learning something along the way that eventually seeped into my stories.
Among other things, I saw the brutality of violent confrontation.
Meg Mims already sparked a lively discussion over harsh language and sex in writing. For whatever reason, even some of us that demure from too much bad talk or inappropriate skin don’t mind describing a rape or blowing some bad guy’s brains all over the back wall in our stories. I once got an email from a fan that says she reads parts of my books peeking between splayed fingers. Frankly, that’s the intensity I’m going for.
For now, I’ll keep the discussion of violence to hand-to-hand fighting.
I suspect most of us love writing a good fight scene. I’m certain there are those reading this who have seen their fair share of bloody noses and cauliflower ears. That’s not a market I want to corner. I welcome and will surely learn from your insight. Every fight is different and, as they say, “results may vary.”
That said, here are a few observations about the nitty-gritty world of the brawl as I have experienced it.
Most of us think we know what we’d do if we found ourselves in a fight. In the martial arts we say: “Everybody has a plan… until they get punched in the beak.”
|receiving the bitter end of a throw|
Considering this—and the fact that I have been hit in the beak (and noggin, kidney, spleen, ribs…etc.) I am pretty particular about cause and effect when I work up a fight scene.
I try to keep the Chinese proverb in mind when writing about battle:
“When two tigers fight, one is injured beyond repair. The other one is dead.”
Not that my heroes don’t win. They are tough men and women who know how to scrap—and generally put a whoopin’ on the bad guy by the end of the story. More importantly though, they are willing to fight when they are fully aware of the physical toll it takes on their body. In my thrillers, the main character gets in three or four hellacious fights per book—and his injuries pile up. By now, in book #4 of the series, he’s just 36 years old but has a broken nose, a trick knee, is missing a toe and part of an ear, can’t hear as well as he used to and wakes up in the middle of the night peeing blood. And yet, he fights on, because he’s good at what he does.
I’ve not read it, but I understand the author of Fifty Shades of Gray would call in her husband to ‘walk’ her through some of the more…intricate… scenes so she could get the mechanics correct.
I often do something similar when I’m writing a fight. My wife and kids all know what’s about to happen when I come out of my office and say: “Here, pretend this rolled magazine is a knife…” I’ve gone so far as to set up multiple friends in the mat room and choreograph a fight step by step to see if what I have in my mind is even physically possible. I talk all the big fights through with my friend and jujitsu master, Ty Cunningham. I talk punch combinations with boxers and run arrest techniques by other law dogs. My writer friend, Nicholas Hughes spent time in the French Foreign Legion and now teaches Krav Maga. That guy knows conflict so I refer to his book quite a bit as well. I’ve seen my share of scraps but it’s good to get other perspectives.
One of the things that intrigues me about most fight scenes I read is how tidy they are. People bleed when they’re hurt, but they also wet their pants and throw up more than civilized folks realize, depending on their level of terror and nature of injury. More than once, I have my characters stop off to take a “combat pee” before they engage the bad guys. I once saw a female officer take a brutal kick to the groin that caused her to throw up her pizza-buffet lunch. She got back in the fight though—and boy, I’d hate to have been that bad guy.
Of course, readers don’t want to see that sort of thing in every good old Western saloon brawl. But I think it is important to know what could happen and then scale it back if we choose to be more delicate in our butt-kicking descriptions.
—Hit a guy in the back of the head with a glass bottle and he’s likely to end up with drain bamage. Maybe not, but it could happen. Somebody attacks me with a beer bottle and I’d likely shoot him. I know how much damage something like that could do. As a doc, I’m sure Keith does too.
—Hit a man in the head with your fist and you could break your own finger or wrist bones. Maybe not, but even if you don’t break anything, it hurts like heck unless you have meathooks for hands—which I do not. I stopped hitting people with anything other than an open paw (or a flashlight) about two months into the job. There is a reason old salts say “I’m going to slap the $&*# out of you” instead of “I’m going to punch you in the hard bones of your face.”
—Real fights don’t often last very long—a matter of seconds. It’s too physically taxing to keep going for most people that don’t train like an MMA fighter. When they do go longer, physiology can limit the ability to do maximum damage as time drags on. Other than in training, my longest fight was probably around four and a half minutes (judging from dispatch tapes and times)—but much of that was on the ground in a clench trying to catch our breath. My jaw was out of place at least once, both of us threw up in the middle of it (I learned I am a sympathetic vomiter when someone throws up in my face) and the other guy ended up…well, I’ll leave the rest of that story for another post.
|Training US Probation officers in defensive tactics|
—There are different levels of fighting. Lest I make it seem like I’ve been in hundreds of scraps—most of what we call fights in law enforcement aren’t really fights at all, but someone trying to get away. In a twenty-nine year LE career I have probably been in ten or twelve really good knock down drag out scraps where someone truly wanted to hurt me—and would have hung around to keep hurting me had I stopped fighting back. On the other hand, I had an arrestee once tell me when I was on patrol: “I can’t just go in peacefully. What would the guys in jail think if I came in without blood on my shirt?” If Tasers would have been invented he might have thought differently, but remember, I looked like Opie Taylor back in the day. So, the fight, as they say, was on. He got the requested blood on his shirt, probably from both of us, and then went to jail. His honor and mine remained intact. I honestly believe that if my sidearm would have fallen out during the fight, he would have kicked it aside. He wasn’t looking to kill me.
—And, fights happen at inopportune times. A couple of books ago, Jericho Quinn was attacked by three thugs while standing at the urinal in the small bathroom of a Cuban restaurant. Made for an interesting wrinkle that was fun to write.
I’m moving directly from this post to work on a sword showdown set in Japan between a beautiful but evil female assassin and Jericho Quinn. She’s covered in traditional tattoos so I can describe that for sensuality (hopefully) without mentioning her naughty bits. Both are professionals, too bent on killing each other to spew nasty invective during the fight.
But, there will be blood.
I started writing what I considered people-killin’ men’s adventure books. Surprisingly, about half my readership turns out to be made up of women over forty-five. Maybe they like the blood and guts too…or, heck, maybe they see my sensitive, artsy side….
Here’s a sneak-peek snippet of a fight scene from STATE OF EMERGENCY out April 30th from Kensington.
Jericho Quinn has just ‘rescued’ a beautiful Russian agent in a garden behind the bad guy’s swimming pool—and she is nyet too happy about it. It’s not a Western, but hey, fight dynamics are fight dynamics.
Quinn exhaled through is nose, feeling the white heat of conflict subside in his belly. He reached for the woman’s outstretched hand and helped her to her feet. She had a strong grip and was amazingly solid for such a small woman. What little light filtered through the tangle of leaves and palm fronds revealed a thin trickle of blood from her nose. Quinn pulled a blue bandana from his back pocket and dabbed at the wound.
“Chert poberi!” She jerked away, slapping him hard across the left ear in the process. Before he could move, she delivered a savage snap-kick to his groin.
Quinn exhaled fast, fighting nausea. He advanced immediately, giving the woman a straight jab to the nose. Evidently used to being punched, she let her head snap back to absorb the impact, then moved quickly to counter with a double palm strike to Quinn’s ears.
“Hey!” Quinn warded off the blow and grabbed a wrist, chiding himself for allowing the woman to surprise him. He brought her hand up and over her head, spinning her like a dancer to cross her arms and pull her in snug against his chest. Her skin was slick and still wet from the swimming pool. Holding on, he couldn’t help but feel he’d grabbed a live electric wire. He had to lift her off the ground so she couldn’t stomp his feet and arch his back to avoid a series of vicious head butts to his nose. Chlorinated water dripped from her hair, soaking through the chest of his shirt with the warmth of her body. In all his years of fighting, he had little experience holding onto a wet, half-naked woman—at least one who seemed intent on clawing his eyes out.
“They might have killed you,” Quinn groaned in her ear, still waiting for the nausea to pass.
“And you allowed him to escape.” She squirmed against his grip. The edges of her bare feet raked his shins. Whoever she was, this one knew a thing or two about scrapping.
Quinn stomped his foot to help relieve the pain in his groin and tightened his grip around the woman, trying to decide what to do with her. “Who are you?”
“None of your affair,” she groaned. “Let me go. You are…breaking…my ribs…”
Quinn let his grip relax a notch, expecting another attack for the favor.
“You fool,” the woman spat. “I had him and you allowed him to slip aw—”
A crunch of footfalls on the path behind him made Quinn release the woman and spin on his heels.
It was Valentine Zamora with Ronnie Garcia tucked in close to his side. The goon, Monagas followed directly behind him. Crickets chirped in the bushes. A lizard scuttled along the branch of a tree directly overhead, rustling the leaves.
The Venezuelan grinned broadly, nodding at the debris-covered woman and the dampened front of Jericho’s khaki slacks and polo shirt.
“I see you have made yourself quite at home, Mister Quinn…”
Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He has published nine novels, six of them Westerns (several as a ghost writer and two under his pen name, Mark Henry). His present Jericho Quinn series—NATIONAL SECURITY, ACT OF TERROR and STATE OF EMERGENCY (available in April 2013)— features an adventure motorcyclist, Air Force OSI agent and renaissance man who spends his days sorting out his life and kicking terrorist butt. Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
Visit him at:http://www.facebook.com/MarcCameronAuthor