Starke pointed out that we haven’t actually done one of these. We have in pieces, but not as a full article. We get a lot of messages asking if certain kinds of techniques work, if they’re appropriate, if they’re practical. Most of them are pretty silly, but they’re also completely in line with what I’ve come to expect from Hollywood and media in general. Most of our askers aren’t silly or stupid, and Starke and I don’t tend to think about it because it’s something we’ve already internalized. The problem, inherently, with these asks is that they aren’t big picture questions. They don’t tend to look at fighting from the most crucial perspective: combat goals.
All fights are on a time limit. We’ve talked about it previously, but all characters have physical, emotional, and mental limitations when it comes to combat. Most hand to hand fights end in 25 seconds, I’ve had it repeated to me by a variety of instructors from different disciplines that eight moves is the max before you are utterly physically exhausted. Before any other concerns, the primary goal of every fight is to end it quickly.
Instead of thinking about whether or not a technique is realistic and practical, you should instead ask yourself how much time it will take. The answer to the whether or not it’s realistic and practical is going to be in the minutia of sitting down and figuring out how a technique or action works.
Say you want your protagonist’s enemy to rip off their jacket and attempt to strangle them with it. Not bad in concept. Now, pause and think about the process of taking off a jacket. It’s a rather involved process.
Unless they are a supernatural creature, the protagonist’s enemy only has two hands, two arms, two legs, and two feet. Taking off a jacket requires two hands, leaving them no room to control an already struggling opponent. They have to take off the jacket first to be able to strangle them with it, even caught off guard their opponent isn’t just going to sit still placidly and let them. They are going to struggle, arms flailing, attempting to run, and possibly even attempting to slam their head back into their opponent’s face with the back of their head. It’s all very messy.
So, is the risk of losing the fight worth the reward? No. If your character is already close enough to take the jacket off, then they are also close enough to simply wrap their arm around their enemy’s neck, brace their forearm against the windpipe and squeeze. Same concept but takes less time, less effort, gives more control, all for a significantly higher reward and more quickly received reward.
In fiction, fights are character based. You have to justify the character’s combat choices beyond what seems like a good idea or looks cool in your head. A character is going to make decisions based around what benefits them, what gives them the best chance of winning. They want to win or, at the very least, they want to survive.
Now, does that mean you can’t make the setup with the jacket work? Of course you can, you just have to change one minor detail. The protagonist isn’t wearing the jacket. The antagonist grabs the jacket off a coat rack as they approach the protagonist. From there, they have a multitude of options in how to use it. They can toss it over the protagonists head, wind it up like a towel and use it to strangle them, or even wrap it around their leading fist if they need the extra protection for their hands.
Suddenly, it’s much less complicated.
But, I have other concerns…
It’s cool if your hero wants to save the village or not harm their opponent, they still have to win first and, even when the author controls the variables, no wins should be guaranteed. Many authors go into their fight scenes assuming that their hero has already won, they’re thinking further down the line to the ending, to the payoff, and the fight itself becomes ancillary.
Your goal must always be to find a way to wed the concept of what you want to what makes sense for my character in setting. Dramatic concerns should be secondary to internal consistency because if you keep your story internally consistent it will feed the fight scene drama and ratchet up the tension all on its own. The best part is that your characters will stay in character.
Keep it simple. Go with what makes sense. If you feel like you’re overthinking it then the scene may be getting too complicated.
i’m not like other girls. actually, i’m nothing like other girls. and that girl u saw get on the bus earlier isn’t like other girls either. it’s surprising, really. it’s almost as if everybody is different from each other. holy shit
I’m sorry. I must have misread your prompt while I was quickly compiling to do list of colour challenge. Instead of and I ended with or. Since I have no idea what Bates Motel Verse is (some show I presume) I ended with Dean only.
So as a bonus below read more I’m adding another version.