Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just a Flesh Wound

by Allison Pang

Sex and violence are so often intertwined in writing and movies. I'm sure we've all seen the scene where two people survive some horrible battle...and then immediately shag against the wall. Though as KAK pointed out earlier this week, that sort of thing would probably take a stronger stomach than most of us have, depending on the particulars.

For me, I suppose I don't mind reading or writing either sort of scene, as long as there's purpose behind it. I like them of middling and realistic length. (The exceptions being erotica, maybe -where the sex *is* the plot.)

When it comes to action scenes I think it can become a fine line between what's necessary and what becomes excess. (Sort of like those big epic battle moments in Braveheart - one on hand, they're realistically brutal, but there's a certain "It's just a flesh wound" mentality that hits me when I watch them. It's probably not a good thing if I start laughing at the spouts of blood gushing from decapitations.)

In either case, there are a few things that tend to have me skipping pages or rolling my eyes.

1)  I get that they're needed sometimes, but endless descriptions of bivouacs and triangular battle formations, Calvary and caltrops, archers and catapults and Greek fire, etc. It's all very impressive when you're looking at it on a map or via movie, perhaps, but after a while the details all begin to blur together. Most of us aren't schooled in military tactics or the arts of war, so...yeah.

This tends to be my reaction too. Though my husband assures me that tactics and battles may be more of a guy thing. Perhaps this is true. I often wonder if the male/female gaze becomes the issue with writing as to why a book or movie becomes popular.  Particularly with love scenes, for example - I can usually tell if it man has written it, just based on the descriptions and focus on certain body parts. On the reverse side, I know there's also been quite of a bit of discussion on why many men don't read UF/PNR or fantasy novels written by women - and much of that has to do with the female gaze and a certain amount of discomfort on the way men are written and perceived.

(Not saying one is right or wrong and it's a bit outside of the scope of the post, but still interesting to think about.)

2) Hand to hand battles that also become ridiculous. I know in UF in particular, we're a bit conditioned to accept that our characters have preternatural skills - they have greater strength or stamina, special fighting abilities, whatever.  Which is fine, but  even so, nothing pulls me out of a scene faster than something that is glaringly wrong. Incorrect firearms terms, for example. (If you're going to write with guns, make sure you know the details of what the characters are using.)

Also, intricate fight scenes can be fun to watch, but the truth of it is that most fights end up on the ground. You can have all the pretty jumping, spinning crescent kicks you want, but if you don't know how to grapple, you're probably pretty screwed.

And sometimes, the direct path is best. (Rumor has it that this particular scene was ad-libbed because Harrison Ford was suffering from dysentery at the time. He was supposed to do something fancy with the whip, but was rather tired and feeling like chose something a bit more forward. Frankly, it works better from a character perspective too.)

3) Wounds. Again - I know it's part of the whole fantasy of writing thing, but just...there have to be repercussions. I mean, if I stub my toe hard enough I want to pass out. Am I still running after the bad guy after he shoots my kneecap out? (Again - rules and things, but sometimes I'm just like WTF.)


  1. I could've killed you for putting Kung Fu Fightin' in my head, but you redeemed yourself with the Black Knight scene. "It's just a flesh wound." ROFL

  2. I'd totally forgotten about that scene from Indiana Jones. Still hilarious.

    There's a lot to your argument about male vs female readers and what level of detail in which sort of scenes interest them. Imagine the debates we could start with that topic!

  3. I skim battle scenes. I want to know what is happening to my characters, so I'll follow them part of the way in. But then there's often an Oh Hell, moment, where I realize we're going to have pages of formations and fighting to get through. Of course, it all depends on how you do it.