By Dame Jackie
Today’s the big release of SHADES OF GRAY, which I coauthored with Caitlin Kittredge. Superheroes, rah! The supervillains who pound those heroes into pudding, rah! Support the Deadline Dames and buy a copy (or two) of SHADES OF GRAY today. Stick around; there may be a contest at the end of this post.
One thing when it comes to writing heroes in urban fantasy: there’s gonna be a fight scene. Or twenty. Fighting seems to be key in fantasy (urban or not). Heroes don’t just talk the bad guys down (well, unless they’re lawyers — and even then, the lawyers from Wolfram & Hart weren’t exactly passive, were they?), and as we’ve seen time and again, diplomatic negotiations tend to break down into bloodshed. Heroes in fantasy are active. They may think before they fight, but there’s no question they have to think with their fists. Or feet.
Well and good. But what does a Flirting With Forty bespectacled lady author personally know of the fine art of fisticuffs? Sure, I used to play a mean game of Mercy when I was a kid. But that was about it.
So I’m only half-joking when I quip that I take tae kwon do for research purposes. (Actually, it’s a phenomenal stress reliever. I get to kick the hell out of people. And they not only don’t sue me; they want me to do it again!) I’ve been taking lessons only for a few months, but I’ve already learned a lot that I can apply to my urban fantasy writing.
1. White is not a flattering color. Especially for those of us with, shall we say, extra padding. Not only does it reveal every lump and bump, it also gets dirty easily. Sweat stains under the pits? Not flattering. So be careful if your heroine wears white.
2. Wearing protective gear is sweaty. Seriously. You know you’ve worked out a lot when you have to peel off your arm and shin guards. Ick. And doing warm-ups while wearing a chest protector? VERY HOT. And not in the sexy-hawt way. Yes, your hero is going to need some sort of protection when he or she is fighting. But just keep in mind that after, they’re gonna stink. Unless they have the power to sweat roses.
3. Punch from the hip. There’s a difference between pushing a punch and throwing a punch. You want to throw a punch. Keep your hands chambered, and wait until the last second before snapping your fist straight out. If your hero cocks back his arm before punching, well, he’s basically telegraphed what he’s going to do.
4. Wearing tight pants makes it impossible to kick high. Or well. Or, er, at all, unless you don’t mind splitting a seam where it really matters. Ditto wearing a tight skirt. So if your heroine is walking around in leather pants, they should probably be LOOSE. And do you remember that episode of Friends, when Ross was sweating in his leather pants…and then he couldn’t get them off? Me too. So wear leather with caution!
5. High heels are a weapon…especially for the wearer. Hey, YOU try performing a roundhouse kick while wearing three-inch heels. Now make those five-inch thigh-high leather boots. Yeah. There’s a reason why both Catwoman’s and Silk Spectre’s high heels magically morphed into flats during the action scenes in Batman Returns and Watchmen. Even Wonder Woman has taken to wearing sensible boots. If your heroine fights in heels, be prepared for a sprained ankle, or worse.
6. No one is born a martial arts expert. Okay, maybe in some canons you can wake up undead and suddenly be a martial arts rock star. Unless that’s the case, you have to practice. A lot. I go to classes 3 – 5 times a week, and I still have a reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally long way to go. If your heroes aren’t practicing their skills during their down time, well, the next time a baddie comes gunning for them, they might just be too slow to stop the fangs or claws.
7. Knowing the theory doesn’t help in a fight. See, the thing is, I know how to throw a perfect roundhouse kick. I know how to punch someone to disable him or her. I do. I know these things. But that doesn’t mean I can actually do those things yet, especially when I’m sparring. My kicks are still severely lacking in power and speed, and my technique is far from perfect. So just because your heroine has studied various fighting methods doesn’t mean she won’t get taken down in a for-real fight.
8. Yelling isn’t just for girls. Throwing a punch or a kick is one thing; doing them with a mighty bellow is another. This isn’t yelling out of fear; it’s yelling to intimidate the hell out of your opponent, and to give you more energy. When your hero is fighting, have him kiyop (however it’s spelled) during crucial contact.
9. Stretch. Dude, after working those muscles, you better stretch out, or your body will make you pay the next day. (Trust me.) So after a big ol’ fight scene, assuming the hero isn’t running for his life, he really should work out the kinks and cool down. Otherwise, instead of an alpha swagger the next morning, he’ll do the Old Man Shuffle.
10. Your opponent won’t always be your size. Now, I’m barely five feet tall. And I promise you, nearly everyone is taller than me. Many people are much taller than me. You try a head shot when your crescent kick barely grazes someone’s torso. Adjust as you need. My instructor told me that in a real fight, he’d never go for the head shot — too much risk that you’d get your foot caught, or would be off balance. Instead, he’d groin-kick his opponent, and when the dude is doubled over in pain, THEN he’d go for the head shot. (I am so going to write that in a book one day.)
And there you go: what I’ve learned so far about fight scenes, thanks to tae kwon do. With luck, I’ll be a blackbelt in a few short years. I see my business card now: Jackie Kessler — Vegetarian. Blackbelt. Bestseller.
Hey, it’s good to visualize. 😉
Contest!!! To celebrate the release of SHADES OF GRAY, I’m giving away a signed copy of BLACK AND WHITE. All you have to do is reply to this post and let me know which book or movie has some of your favorite fight scenes. For me, there’s nothing like the over-the-top gore-fest that is Kill Bill. Winner to be picked at random on Sunday, June 27, 2010. Have at it!