2013 / Alan Baxter / Fight Writing / Workshop

But I Don’t Fight: action writing and authenticity

The thought of writing a fight scene is enough to make many writers close down their computers and find something else to do for the day. We spoke with Alan Baxter, author of MageSign and RealmShift about the challenges for writers in finding their fighting words. 

– by Elizabeth Abbott

Fight writing can run counter-intuitive to those sage old words of advice to writers, “write what you know”. Most people aren’t out street fighting on weekends, so authenticity can be a challenge for writers who want to write fights without getting K.O.’d. Baxter derives authenticity from his own fighting experience; “I’ve made a career out of teaching martial arts” and also notes he has “extensive fighting experience.”

Baxter sees the biggest challenge in fight writing is in creating “a realistic experience for the characters, and therefore the readers, without it coming across as hackneyed or boring.” Given much of fiction involves some level of physical conflict an understanding of how to write a fight scene is an important skill for writers: not only that but it improves the ability to write scenes of conflict and action overall.

Baxter also notes that writers should not underestimate their readers: “if a writer doesn’t know fighting, those scenes lack authenticity and readers can tell. Similarly, if an author can write a fight scene well, the reader will pick up on that even if they can’t pinpoint the details.”

The biggest challenge in writing a fight scene as Baxter sees it is in “giving enough information without killing pace.” Failing that, a poorly written fight scene ends up like a poorly filmed one: the audience has no idea what is going on or who is winning. Faltering moments in clarity, poor pace and a lack of intensity can really let a fight scene down by confusing or boring readers. Baxter’s martial arts training means he is familiar with the pace of a fight, something that many writers will find particularly challenging if “[they] don’t know fighting.”

When it comes down to it, writers must not forget that “a fight is a fast, frightening, intense event.” Pace is crucial, as while “a certain amount of time can be taken…a fight scene needs to stay intense and visceral. Not an easy thing to achieve.” Writing a fight scene is not like writing anything else in fiction: keeping your readers interested and engaged is difficult when you’re trying to provide the details of fisticuffs.

And who does Baxter consider to be the best writers of fight scenes today? Well you’ll just have to be at the Writers Centre this weekend to find out.

Elizabeth has previously published reviews of bars, nightclubs and art exhibitions online. She currently writes reviews and essays for TheSemicircle.wordpress.com and tweets from @elizabethivy_

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