How to Write Blood, Gore, and Violent Death – Part One

What up suckas. It’s your good friend Discipulus again, and I’m here to make another hullabaloo. Last time I talked about fighting. Why I like fighting sports, why I desire to be an ass-kicking machine–you know, the good stuff. I thought it was about time I talked about writing on this blog, since that’s another passion of mine. But jumping straight from tapping bad guys to tapping keys seems like a big jump, so I figured I would segue.

So tonight I want to talk about fighting in books.

I’ll clear up a little first. I write fantasy. It’s mostly what I read, too. I always feel a little embarrassed when I say this, considering the state and reputation of much of modern fantasy–all Lord of the Rings rip-offs and stories about young farmer lads destined to defeat Not-Quite-Middle-Earth’s version of Satan. That’s not really my kind of fantasy. Not that I don’t like simple, predictable tales like that on occasion. But my true interest lies in the realm of gritty fantasy, a relatively new subgenre named in such a cliched fashion that, the term gritty having become a buzz-word as of late, you probably know instantly what kind of story I mean. And it’s not books filled with sand.

In fact, it’s likely you’ve seen Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on the book series that pretty much started this whole movement.

Ooh, I’d never thought of it like that. A movement. It feels good to be part of a movement. I’m suddenly empowered.

Anyway, that’s the sort of fantasy I like. The word fantasy sounds so wrong for this genre. What I really prefer is harsh medievalesque novels that flirt with the supernatural. But we’ll stick with fantasy for now, I guess. Easier to say, and I’m lazy.

Now, I don’t only like fantasy, but I do tend to read and watch things with a touch of realism to them. Some even go beyond realism into the realm of the downright pessimistic. Things like The Black Dahlia (which I just started reading–fantastic book so far), Joe Abercrombie’s novels, the Wire, Donnie Brasco. You get the idea. Things with a dark tone. Stories that don’t play around with idealized versions of the real thing, and often show the worst possible scenario instead. Tight focus on realistic characters that just live life the only way they know how.

Alright, that’s out of the way. Let’s talk more about people kicking ass.

You see, as a writer of fantasy, I have occasion to write an awful lot of fight scenes involving guys with swords wearing metal shirts. A good swording is great no matter how you color it, but as a lover of both medieval history and actual fighting, unrealistic fight scenes kind of irk me. They really irk me, in fact. Not only the action itself, even. I get annoyed at all manner of things that have to do with fighting and how it’s portrayed in books.

Things like wearing your sword on your back, whence it is literally impossible to draw it. Seriously, you’ve probably never thought of it, but it cannot be done. Same with giant, super-heavy swords. Why does Cloud from Final Fantasy need to use the almighty Buster Sword, a weapon so heavy that only he can lift it, not to mention wield it. It just doesn’t make sense. If you’re strong enough to lift a ton, you’ll be even more effective with only six to eight pounds, which is about how much a real sword of the same length as the Buster Sword would weigh.

So you see, as a writer, I understand visual appeal and all that, but I’m far more concerned with the real. I like things that feel like real life, even when they’re fantasy. Something else that people don’t seem to get. But that’s for another day. And so is the rest of this post! Soon, I shall talk about the actual writing of a fight scene, and why realism matters.



Fighting (Grrrr)

Am I a bloodthirsty barbarian?

Because I like seeing people beat each other up. And I’m really not sure why. What is my fascination with the martial struggle between two men? I enjoy boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA. . . a little Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling, and catch wrestling now and then. I like seeing two athletes attempt to pick one another apart with precise strikes, or force one another to tap or face broken bones and shredded joints. I like all that–I watch it all the time, and I personally train. But I don’t really like sports. So what’s the difference?

I think to me there’s a fascination with this idea that fighting sports are somehow more useful than other sports. I see a guy throw a ball into a hoop, and I’m not impressed. I think silently to myself, What good is that going to do him? But I see a man wrap his arms around another man’s neck and wait till he submits or goes limp before letting go? I like that. I see one man lay his shin across another man’s jaw and walk away as he crumples to the canvas? I think, Yeah. That’s the stuff.

So what gives? Really, we don’t live in a society in which those skills are overly important. At least I don’t (sorry, those of you from war-torn homelands). Yeah, in most of the Western World you stand a slim chance of being mugged on your way home from work or the bar. And yeah, you might run into some kind of lunatic who wants your blood for no good reason. But it’s not really that useful. And honestly, you’re better off running away regardless, right? And then your practice in football or soccer might prove more useful. At least you’ll be quick. And most martial arts deal in one-on-one encounters, anyway. That’s what the sports derived from them focus on. And you’re rarely gonna get mugged by just one person.

So why does it seem so important to me to know how to fight? I’d like to say it’s because I can stand up and defend someone’s honor. My family’s, my girlfriend’s. . . I certainly fantasize about that kind of stuff enough. Or having to defend my own life, and not feeling any fear in the process. I fantasize about that, too. Doesn’t every little kid? When you’re young you imagine yourself defeating evildoers, right?

I still do that now. I don’t know what that says about my mental state, but it’s the truth. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked home from work, sun already far below the horizon, and just waited, waited for that tough punk to step out of the alleyway behind me. And you better believe I’ve got my ear cocked for the scuffle of shoes behind me. Then I turn around, and the asshole and two of his friends are coming towards me. No weapon in sight, thank God–just planning to beat me into submission. Bad choice. See in these fantasies I’m not only a few cumulative months into training. I don’t lack the muscle memory that’s so crucial in panic situations–in fact, I’m not even panicking, because I know I can handle these suckers without breaking a sweat. They’re the problem, and I’m the answer. I’ve got perfect form, blinding quickness, crushing power, steel shins and knuckles that won’t feel an ounce of pain when they’re introduced to the hard bones of an elbow or a jaw. I’ve got precision and timing, and I’m a force to be reckoned with.

But that’s not why I train to fight. I don’t want to be attacked, really. So maybe I want to pick a fight?

Maybe somebody’s messing with my girlfriend, trying to push her around or force himself on her. Wrong move, asshole. Because I’m coming around the corner right when this shit’s going down. And I don’t even need to sucker punch the villain, because I’ve got the technique to square up and scrap without any need for the element of surprise. Quick jab and cross to the head, swift left uppercut to the body, smashing low kick to the thigh, just above the knee. Said knee buckles, the clown falls to the ground clutching his leg, and who stands victorious but I, brave vanquisher of evil.

But like I said, that’s all childish fantasy. And none of that is likely to happen. I’m unlikely to even survive an encounter with three money-hungry thugs in an alley, at least not without broken bones and a busted lip. I’d be lucky if they didn’t pull a gun or a couple of knives on me. The only situation in which I’ll have any hope of looking impressive would be in the defense of my girlfriend, and then all technique would go out the window at this point in my study. I’d likely get my ass kicked. She’d be left with telling me, “It’s the thought that counts” while holding ice on my black eye.

So what is it?

To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s the hope of finding something that I’m good at. Something physical that most other people can’t match me in. Getting punched in the face isn’t as popular as tossing the pigskin, you know. Or maybe it’s the idea that my doughy self can still snicker inside when I see a beefed up musclehead checking himself out in the mirror at the gym, because I know I’m working on what counts, not just what looks good. The truth is, I’m not a violent person. I don’t like hurting people, and I’ve never been in a fight with anyone but my sisters when I was young. I’m more one to bandy words than blows, and I don’t count myself as anything close to the most skilled guy in the gym.

So maybe it’s just the fantasy that makes it fun for me. The fact that seeing an expert in the craft of fighting put away someone with just as much skill helps fill my head with images of my own potential greatness. If I lived in the worlds of history that I study, or the worlds of fantasy that I write, I too could be that fighter, that noble hero with the skills to kill and the heart to discern when to use them. I really don’t know.

I don’t think I’m a bloodthirsty barbarian. But I really like seeing people beat each other up.