How To Research A STOMP Scene
by ML Brennan
Writing an action scene involves a lot of elements – knowledge of combat techniques, knowledge of how weapons work, a clear awareness of how much damage bodies can realistically sustain, and of course a pinpoint understanding of where every actor in your action scene is at every moment during the fight. So, with that in mind, obviously the best way to research a STOMP scene is to be a professional fight choreographer.
To any aspiring writers reading this – work on that. It should go right at the top of your research list.
So, that works out well for about .00000001% of you. What about everyone else, including me?
To write a strong action sequence is going to require research. But in order to do that, first you have to make some definite decisions about what your project is. Are you writing the kind of book where characters or creatures can punch each other indefinitely with no visible bruising or injury? Or is this going to be as realistic as you can make it, with cracked ribs, bloody knuckles, and actual sweat and exhaustion? Is it flowery language and beautiful swash-buckling, or is it knees to the groin and semi-automatic weapons? Will your fight scenes end with tousled hair and cinematic dabs of blood in the corners of mouths or will they end like Tarantino-esque bloodbaths?
The tone of your fight scene needs to fit with the overall tone of the work. If you’re writing a light-hearted comedy, you might not want to detail knives being driven into kidneys. If you want this to be gritty and grim-dark, then the consequence-free extended-punching scenes of an Indiana Jones film might not be the right direction to go in. An action scene should never be inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the work, because that takes the reader out of the story – which is what you never want. It’s also a good idea to make sure that every action scene has a purpose – if the purpose is that you’re not sure what should come next, so you add punching, then that can be a problem. Action scenes need to drive forward one of two things – plot or character development (double points if you do both). Remember – random encounters are only fun when you’re playing D&D and need to build up some experience points.
Okay, so you’ve decided on your tone and your level of gore! Hurray! Now you can get to that all-important research bit. Now, here’s where I add a disclaimer – everyone writes and researches differently. What I’m going to be describing is my own method. If it contradicts something that Jennifer Estep wrote a few weeks ago, that doesn’t mean that one of us is wrong – it just means that we use different methods. Pick whichever one appeals to you the most. (but probably you should pick Estep’s – she’s pretty awesome)
Here’s what I do – I don’t read books.
I know, I’m writing a book. That sounded like a weird statement, so let me clarify – I love reading when I research. Background on weapons, biology, landscape, art history, whatever you need, there is undoubtedly either a book or a really interesting blog devoted to it. And that’s fabulous. But I don’t read other people’s books to figure out my own action sequences, or get ideas for them. The reason for that is that it’s easy to lean too hard on a source and start losing your own voice – so if you’re writing urban fantasy, don’t spend too much time looking closely at other people’s urban fantasy fights for ideas. Sources bleed through. (quick exception – if you’re writing about big epic battles, feel free to steal liberally from descriptions of historical battles. after all, who among us hasn’t taken a pinch out of the Battle of Agincourt, am I right?)
What I like to do is watch movies and TV. For one thing, action scenes are going to involve a lot of those basic elements that are all in the wheelhouse of a really good fight choreographer – weapons, fighting styles, damage, and fighter location. By watching TV and movies, you can benefit substantially from someone’s expertise without having to go through the hassle of cold-calling fight choreographers. If you want your heroine to fight like Sydney Bristow from Alias, then your best research is to watch a whole bunch of Alias episodes, taking careful notes during all the fight scenes. Sometimes you can see a fight scene that fits just what you need in your novel or short story, and you adapt it enough to suit you. Other times it can be a matter of just figuring out what characters of a certain fighting ability can do in certain situations that gives you enough to start writing confidently. But what’s most useful about using a visual medium as research and inspiration is that the words that you’re using are still entirely your own – and better yet, you can start picturing what you need in your mind while you’re figuring out a fight scene.
So it becomes a question of, what works best for you? Do you need Jason Bourne or Black Widow? Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn or Agent Peggy Carter? Feel free to mix and match, and happy action writing!
Dark Ascension by M.L. Brennan
Series: Generation V #4
Published by Roc on August 4th 2015
As the “wickedly clever” (Publishers Weekly) series continues, reluctant, slacker vampire Fortitude Scott learns that nothing is more important than family—or more deadly….
After a lifetime of avoiding his family, Fort has discovered that working for them isn’t half bad—even if his mother, Madeline, is a terrifying, murderous vampire. His newfound career has given him a purpose and a paycheck and has even helped him get his partner, foxy kitsune Suzume, to agree to be his girlfriend. All in all, things are looking up.
Only, just as Fort is getting comfortable managing a supernatural empire that stretches from New Jersey to Ontario, Madeline’s health starts failing, throwing Fort into the middle of an uncomfortable and dangerous battle for succession. His older sister, Prudence, is determined to take over the territory. But Fort isn’t the only one wary of her sociopathic tendencies, and allies, old and new, are turning to him to keep Prudence from gaining power.
Now, as Fort fights against his impending transition into vampire adulthood, he must also battle to keep Prudence from destroying their mother’s kingdom—before she takes him down with it….
ML Brennan is giving away one signed copy of Dark Ascension to a US winner.