Saturday, February 4, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

By Kerry Schafer

Sooner or later in every novel the inevitable "Oh, shit" moment shows up, the one where I cannot avoid the demand to Insert Action Scene Here.

I've got nothing whatsoever against a good action scene if somebody else is writing it. At least as long as it doesn't go on for pages in excruciating detail. But writing action scenes? See, that's a problem.

I have no personal frame of reference from which to choreograph such adventures.

Once, when I was in middle school I sort of got in a fight with another girl. We rolled around in the snow shouting. I don't think anybody even got hit. This is about the extent of my experience with a physical altercation, although I slapped a boy once and one of my girl friends slapped me. I have never held a sword. My experience with knives is limited to a Swiss Army Knife with which I am capable of peeling a willow stick to roast marshmallows over a campfire.

I'm a little better with guns, in that I have had the opportunity to shoot them. Not at anybody or anything other than a tin can or a cardboard box, or once, in my adventurous youth, a rotten egg.

So when I run up against a character who must engage in offensive, defensive, or evasive maneuvers, my first thought tends to be - really? Must we? Can't we all just get along, avoid the violence, sing a round of Kum Ba Yah and go out for dinner?

Obviously that would make for a boring book. Also, for some reason, I delight in creating characters who should know how to do these things, and enjoy fighting. So what then? How to write a fight scene with any degree of realism? I'm not about to go out and get myself beat up to find out what it feels like. Don't have time just now to take a martial arts class, or study fencing. (I am familiar with the other kind of fencing - the one involving post hole digging and wire stretching. Not a lot of need for this in Urban Fantasy, unless the cows are getting zombified).

So I must make do. I pay attention to the choreography in movies - and yes, I know it's all probably wrong. But I'm not aiming for total verisimilitude here, just to be close enough to accurate that nobody will fling my book across the room in disgust. I have watched YouTube videos on knife fighting techniques. I've asked writer friends who know things. My eldest stepson is always more than happy to help me choose which gun a particular character should be packing. And the Viking advises on firearms and points out the problems when I get it wrong. If I can get a scene past him, it's probably not going to make anybody twitch. At least not too much.


  1. "Can't we all just get along, avoid the violence, sing a round of Kum Ba Yah and go out for dinner?"

    LOL! I would love to see your next protagonist be this sort -- "The Desperate Pacifist." I'm having fun imagining that protag's supporting cast.

  2. It could be a lot of fun, actually. Especially if said character had amazing skillz that could be used when all else failed.

  3. Heh, Heh - you said "verisimilitude".

    You did just fine in the action scenes of yours that I've read. Ok, fine enough to get by me, which may not be all that demanding as I haven't been in a fight in about twenty five years(and hope to keep it that way).

    Thanks for this insight into the mind of a gentle writer of the occasional action scene. ;-)