Let’s talk violence. The fight scene can be as difficult as writing sex, because it causes a pause in the storyline. While your characters are pounding on or shooting at one another, the tale is at a standstill until the fight comes to an end and the dust settles. So how do we carry off a fight scene without losing your readers? Over the next few weeks we’ll look at violence in writing and how to make it work.
Is This Violence Necessary?
Most of the time, no. Gratuitous violence abounds in movies, books, and television for the simple reason writers rely on it sometimes too heavily to spice things up and keep tension high. Sure, the audience might stick around to see who wins the battle, but are they truly engaged? You need to give them more than just cool karate moves or flashy laser guns. The violence has to have meaning.
Give Me a Reason to Fight
Let’s talk motivation first and foremost. Your characters have to have good reason to get physical. Not just any cause will do either; there has to be something serious at stake here. Your protagonist must be ready to let blood be spilled because he cares deeply about something whether it’s the life of his child, the honor of his beloved, or the survival of his country. He must feel the violence is absolutely necessary. And for your readers to feel that way too, they must be invested in that character. Only then can they be carried along in the fight scene, rooting for your hero (or heroine) to win.
Timing is Everything
This brings up another point: time your violent scene right. Opening the story with guns blazing might provide initial excitement, but not much. Why? Because your readers don’t know your characters yet. They don’t know who to cheer for or why they should be cheering for anyone in particular. They haven’t had an opportunity to invest in your protagonist. So the scene falls flat despite the flurry of frenetic action.
Let’s take a look at a couple of my books. Violence doesn’t show up in Alien Embrace until it’s less than 30 pages from the end when General Croft gets his hands on Amelia Ryan. By that time, we know how punitive Earth authorities are to women suspected of lewd acts. In another example, we don’t see the knives come out in Alien Rule until the next-to-the-last chapter. By this time the readers are sympathetic to the protagonists and want to see them win against their enemies.
Hold off on the fisticuffs and shootouts. Let your readers have a chance to develop a relationship with your characters, to care about them. Your audience needs to discover what values your characters hold. Only when the protagonists have borne severe insult to those values can they safely enter into the arena to do justifiable battle and thus avoid the label ‘gratuitous violence’.