The Mexican Stand-Off

Conflict. It drives the story, even in some children’s stories such as The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood. Conflict isn’t restricted to fist-fights, shoot-outs, or magic duels. It could be something as simple as an argument or fear for one’s belongings (in the aforementioned book, the mouse’s food).

Conflict comes in many forms, but it also comes in many intensity levels. A small disagreement about which store to shop at between good friends is relatively benign. However, these same two friends coming to blows over a perceived betrayal would be rather intense. Beth Hill explains the need for these different levels of conflict. “Thus, story needs will dictate level and duration of conflict as well as the type. And the type and level and duration will in turn influence the story and propel it forward.” Without these different levels of conflict, and how our characters deal with them, our story becomes boring and unrewarding.

In most fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery books (at least the ones that I have read) the conflict is generally some sort of physical or magical fight. Many of these fights are well written, easy to follow but, some get boring and overly complicated. Janice Hardy writes, “Ages ago when I was writing my very first fight scene, I had trouble keeping track of who did what and where they were. I used little pewter figures and moved everyone around and wrote step by step, imagining the fight in my head as I had my “characters” act it out. While this was a useful way to keep track of the movements, it made for a pretty boring scene. I focused way too much on the mechanics and not enough on the story.” She goes on to explain that small additions, outside of the fight itself, can make a huge difference. Making sure that your character’s point-of-views are represented can help draw the reader in. These small tidbits also help to break up long stretches of description.

When writing a fight scene it’s important to keep things realistic (or at least believable) in addition to being more than just a play by play. By keeping things realistic, you avoid losing credibility with your reader. Losing credibility could cause your reader to skip sections of your book (or worse, stop reading altogether). According to A.J. Scudiere the four most important aspects of a fight scene are blocking, terminology, fighting style, and clarity. Blocking refers to the location and facing of your characters. The terminology used to describe the fight should be consistent, not only with the type of fight but with the point of view of the characters. The fighting style should remain true to your characters (your master wizard probably won’t be throwing punches with his fireballs…). A crowded battlefield with several point-of-views being described with certainly reduce the fight’s clarity. Keep it simple!

Conflict and fights are an essential part of any book. Have fun with your fights. But, make sure to give the fight some life! Leave the play-by-plays for the sportscasters.

Have fun and write on!

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