Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The WHY Changes the Fight

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu advises, “to a surroundedenemy, you must leave a way of escape.” Why? Because it changes why the enemy is fighting, and the why changes the fight. The skill of the soldiers won’t change. The weaponry and terrain will remain the same. However, without an exit, without an alternative to certain death, the enemy no longer fights to win. He fights to survive. And, to survive, one is more likely to fight to the death. 

 The whys surrounding a fight are the MOST important considerations in crafting a fight scene. They make the reader aware of what’s at stake, how much there is to lose or to gain which, in turn, determines and explains the speed, style and ferocity of the fight. The whys can also impart advantage and negate a disparity of size and skill in an opponent as well.  

  At the surface, there may be many reasons why your character is fighting. But, dig deeper and you will see that quite often they all connect to one. In the case of Sun Tzu’s opponents, why do they fight differently once surrounded? It’s not for survival. In that moment, when they see no way of escape, it's not the desire to live that drives them. It is the fear of death, of what lies beyond life, of how their death will impact the people who make their lives worth living. 

In almost all cases, fear is at the root of every why. And that is NOT a bad thing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Many fights have been fought for other reasons such as love or honor. A mother will fight like an animal out of love for her child. Soldiers will fight for their country out of honor. I agree that is absolutely part of why they enter the fray, but that's not why they fight. When the sun glints off the blade, when the bullets cut through the air, the mother fights out of fear of losing the child, of the child being disabled, of the child being in pain, of how that event will impact their child’s future, their siblings’ futures or their own. And, the soldier fights for fear of their family losing freedom, of their family losing them, of evil triumphing, of everything changing, of everything staying the same.

  Even if your character is seemingly lacking in emotion (not counting robots or Vulcans here) and is genuinely psychotic, that is the result of one of three things: physical illness, substance use, mental illness. In the case of the last two, substance (drug) abuse can be due to covering up pain, which is connected to the fear of feeling that pain again or whatever originally caused that pain. In the case of mental illness, that can be the result of chronic fear and a means of self preservation in the face of it.

 Even when a fight response is immediate, one of survival instinct i.e. fight, flight, freeze, when there is seemingly no time for emotion to be attached, fear is there. It’s what raises the hairs on the backs of our necks before we even realize we have reason to be afraid. It is by no means a hallmark of cowardice or frailty. Heeded wisely, and utilized correctly, fear is the greatest of gifts, the most formidable of allies. It defends us, it warns us, it teaches us and it can make us into something no other emotion can. We would all do well to listen to its call more often. (If you haven't read The Gift of Fear, do so.)

Remember, without fear, there is no bravery! If you remember nothing else from this post, remember that. Bravery does not exist without fear. Every single time you find yourself avoiding something because of fear, ask yourself if the Lord is blessing you with the opportunity to be brave. 

Every fighter is afraid. Every single one. As Cus D'Amato, legendary coach of Mike Tyson said,"The figher's that's gone into the ring and hasn't experienced fear is either a liar or a psychopath." 
However, do not make the common mistake of allowing fear, or any emotion, to invade the action of a fight scene. One does not feel emotion in the throes of a fight. What does continue into the fray are the physical effects of the emotions that preceded it. In a previous post, Scene of the Attack a guest recounted being attacked by a half dozen people. She noted that she only felt fear for a split second. What she felt while being beaten was something very different.  

  Another common error is assuming that any emotion will give a character skills they didn’t previously possess. Adrenaline may give you greater strength and a hefty dose of chutzpah, but it will not give you a new history. So, if your character suddenly wields a weapon to protect a loved one, do not give them the ability to skillfully use it unless they have training. And, if they have training, the reader should be made aware of the fact.  

 Ok, so we know that a why can change a fight and that why is almost always rooted in fear - which isn't a bad thing. Wouldn't that make all fights look the same since they are all rooted in the same emotion? No. Fear is a common emotion, but the response it brings out is unique to the person feeling it. How your character chooses to use that fear is what will make the difference. 

 What does this look like on paper? Well, here are a couple examples of a character’s fight changing as their why changes. All the whys are rooted in fear. But, as what causes that fear adjusts, so does the physical response:

Held at gunpoint, a man freezes, wide-eyed (fear of death). Seeing the thug look at his baby in the stroller beside him, he clenches his fists, flares his nostrils and lunges for the gun (fear of losing his child).

On Black Friday, a quiet pre-school teacher, allows another shopper to snatch a deeply discounted iPad out of her hands and makes no attempt to retrieve it (fear of retribution). Five years later, during a zombie apocalypse, a man attempts to steal a can of beans from her and she stabs him in the face (fear of hunger which will make her weak, which will make her slow, which could mean her death or worse, becoming a zombie).

  Remember, no fight simply happens. There is always a why driving it, and that why is generally rooted in fear and that is NOT a bad thing. Be sure that your reader knows the why and the fear clinging to it. Make the fight fit that fear and both must suit the character. Dig deep, go beyond the surface, be real, be vulnerable, make your character shake, scream, charge, cower, bear arms, bear teeth and drag the reader right along side them. 

  Be the writer that's not afraid to embrace fear. Why not? What are you afraid of?

If you aren't afraid, you aren't brave.

  Until the next round at FightWrite.net, get blood on your pages.



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