If I haven’t made huge mistakes in the trauma/recovery area, I’m thinking I can wrap up revisions on Breath of Stone by the end of the weekend. I’d like to say sooner, but I’ve perhaps a couple hours a day for it through the next seven days. (When I sell more books, I’ll get to do fewer non-fiction projects…) Then I must draft cover copy, and that’s just… SIGH.
I’ll be posting a couple chapters for patrons over at Patreon, along with this month’s article on injuries and trauma and healing.
There is a second Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off underway! I’m thinking of putting Sword and Chant in the mix. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel. Even some of the most complimentary reviews mention it’s difficult to define. And it’s written in omni viewpoint. More than ever, the response will depend on the reviewer randomly assigned the odd thing.
I’ve found new places I want to camp! Pawnee Grasslands, Toadstool Geologic Park, Paint Mines, Palo Duro, Bisti Badlands…. And of course these longings are strongest when over a foot and a half of snow sits outside my door.
Have you see the schedule for the Nebulas? There is cool, cool stuff happening there, and the cost of the conference itself is, in my opinion, darn good. Alas, the Chicago location is far too expensive for me. Maybe next time.
I’ll still be taping my own NOTx talk on the most important aspect of self-publishing! I was trying to set up a small audience, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, alas, so it’ll likely just be me talking to you.
Lastly, the ankle is improving more quickly than I would have anticipated. Just walking, there is nothing but a lingering tightness. Going upstairs is quite workable. Going downstairs happens slowly and stiffly, one stair at a time. Side to side motion isn’t all that fun, and rotation doesn’t feel very good at all. But progress! It’s healing!
And if you haven't yet picked up your latest StoryBundle, please amble on over and do so. Our charity this time is Girls Write Now--a fantastic group dedicated to mentoring girls and improving their writing skills for success in all life endeavors. You'll also find in the bundle ten great reads from ten fantastic indie writers whose creativity, style, and craft is exceptional!
And now, back to work!
My sis and her family live on a military base, and I’m on and off the base a few times a week to help care for my nephews. The road through the base swings around a field of about five or six acres near the family housing.
As I was pulling onto that road last week, I saw a boy walking, leash in hand, toward a beautiful and tall Husky sniffing around the side of the road. Behind him, his parents were splitting up to close off escape routes. I drove a little farther down the road, stopped my car beside a couple other cars, and joined a half dozen folks who had the same idea I did.
The Husky walked back to the boy, ducked his head… then tore off for the field with his tail up high.
For the next half hour, I was part of an impromptu mission to capture the pup. Men and women — some in uniforms, some not — running back and forth in lines and arcs to keep the pup from bolting for the gates, and to gradually shrink his romping area.
And romping he was! Head up, he pranced and sprinted and leapt all over that field. Time and again, he bowed down in front of one of us, tail swinging, waiting for a single twitch to tell him where we were going to play next.
Everyone was laughing. Sure, it was important we catch that pup, but it was so clear the pup was having the absolute time of his life! And as orders and warnings were called (“HOLE!” was the most common, since the field was riddled with prairie dog dens), we humans played his game in the bright sun and cool breeze until the pup stopped, shook himself from nose to tail, and trotted over to the woman holding his leash.
More laughing, an exchange of waves, and we all piled into our respective cars and went on our way. I passed that kid I’d first seen, now holding a leash with a tongue-lolling dog on the other end, and grinned all the way home.
As I was driving home, I thought, “This is one of those things that would happen to asakiyume!” Then, in the next moment, I thought, “No, her stories have changed the way I see things, and that’s an incredible thing.”
And then I thought I should tell her, and tell all of you, about the Husky and the military folks and the laughter and the sun, and the power of perspective to change a story and a life.
I might have gotten teary-eyed in there somewhere, too.
Darlings, I am so excited about this one, and would love to have your support in seeing these great writers connect with a wider audience!
“Ten fine bloggers and blog-sites spent a year considering almost three hundred self-published fantasy books to bring you their ten favorites. It’s hard to imagine you won’t find some gems among them.” — Mark Lawrence
This is a unique bundle to curate as its books were chosen not by me, but by reviewers who took part in the first Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off organized by Mark Lawrence. Each reviewer received over twenty-five books and a mission: Choose one. This bundle contains the books those reviewers put at the very top of their list.
The SPFBO Bundle includes some of the coolest indie fantasy around. Crista McHugh’s A Soul for Troublegives you a witch named Trouble, possessed by the god of chaos. William Saraband’s Shattered Sands follows a slave girl suddenly empowered by forces older than the desert itself. You’ll delve into the more-than-murder mystery of Matthew Colville’s Priest, and follow another priest trying to save the world after the gods disappear in Barbara Webb’s City of Burning Shadows. And The Weight of A Crown from Tavish Kaeden serves up the deep epic of a recently-united realm on the verge of fracturing.
There is the sharp warrior who knows the value of leaving heroism behind in Under A Colder Sun by Greg James, and the ruined hero who chances into a way to surmount the past in David Benem’s What Remains of Heroes. Plague Jack delves deep into a brutal world of conspiracies, consequences, and backlash against a conqueror in Sins of a Sovereignty. Ben Galley smacks a young man into a frontier Wyoming filled with blood magick and secrets in Blood Rush. And Michael McClung’s The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids—the novel scoring highest in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off—races along with a sassy, smart thief who must find an artifact everyone thinks she already has before she’s killed for it.
StoryBundle lets you choose your own price, so you decide how much you’d like to support the writers. For $5—or more, if you’d like—you’ll receive the basic bundle of five novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $15, you’ll receive all ten novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting different charities such as Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now. Over the years, StoryBundle and its participating writers have donated thousands to support awesome charities doing great work.
The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off Bundle is available for only three weeks, so now is the time to pick up this unique collection of reviewer-beloved fantasy novels, and discover new independent writers who want to take you on thrilling adventures through worlds you’ve never seen with characters you want to know (even if a few of them are rather terrifying).
So here’s how you get your hands on this marvelous collection:
For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you feel generous), you’ll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format worldwide:
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If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more:
- Sins of a Sovereignty by Plague Jack
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The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!
It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.
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StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.
Honestly, I did think I'd at least get an audition. The topic and the credentials I offered--the creative control and opportunities offered by self-publishing--seemed to fit perfectly with their theme of "Make + Believe," and I've over two decades of public speaking and teaching experience. But I must have failed to make it compelling enough at the "query" stage, or perhaps mistook the oddities of the online form as an indication they wanted brevity. (Any form that requires odd key strokes to create paragraphs...)
For whatever reason, I don't get speak.
But since my topic was on the empowerment of self-publishing, the cultural shift happening within the community of writers, and the way readers are embracing the creative diversity... Since I'd intended to speak on the impact of no longer needing to gain third-party permission for one's creative choices, and the new-found passion so many writers find in creative control...
In that spirit, I figure I'll write up the presentation and record it myself. It'll be my NOTx Talk, and be no longer than eight minutes. Why the heck not, yes? :)
More to come, as I put the pieces together...
This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting. So if you like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!
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Run away when you can! First rule of self-defense!
Hang around martial arts and self-defense instructors long enough, you’re bound to hear this advice given over and over. Some would tout it as the most important advice, but it’s most akin to, “Major in engineering (or whatever is financially lucrative),” or perhaps “Always eat organic foods.”
The temptation to make “run away” the foundational principle of self-defense lies in its simplicity. But since the advice is usually given rather than taught, its limitations are rarely considered, and how to use it as a successful and integrated portion of an overall strategy isn’t much discussed.
The most important piece of self-defense advice is actually, “Avoid the fight, or make it as short as possible.” That’s the defining strategy to avoid harm to self and others. “Run away” is but one of many possible tactics in support of that strategy. But the conditions under which it’s the best option are limited, and teaching it as one’s primary technique is as responsible as teaching everyone in the world to take the stairs instead of the elevator in order to improve their health.
Since most self-defense instructors were taught by—and teach, and are themselves—people of a certain baseline fitness and physical mobility, the assumptions behind “run away” aren’t always examined. So let’s take a look at them, and narrow down the circumstances under which running is indeed the best option.
First, understand running away is not a passive act. It is resistance. It is an escalation.
The moment a victim chooses to run, the attacker must decide if the victim is a lost opportunity—not worth additional action—or a threat to survival. If the fleeing victim is thought to pose a threat, the attacker must then decide whether the best way to neutralize the threat is to escape it by doing their own running, or to capture and control it. And if capture is determined to be best, the victim is no longer running from a fight. He’s being chased down by one.
Mind you, I’m not against running. I am for understanding and teaching its limitations. Such as…
1. Running-is-best assumes you have both greater speed and stamina than your attacker, and you happen to be wearing more running-appropriate clothing and footwear as well.
Certainly some folks can train well and hard to increase their ability to run. Certainly folks can choose to always wear run-friendly shoes (or, as some advocate, learn to run like the wind in heels). Certainly many more folks would sigh over those options because…
2. Running-is-best assumes you don’t have a limiting physical condition. Asthma, gout, arthritis, injuries, third-trimester pregnancy, vertigo… I can’t tell you how many self-defense teachers will brush those concerns aside with, “Adrenaline will make it possible!” or “You’ll be surprised what you can do when you have to!” or the most toxic “You can do it if you really try!”
And if we all clap our hands and really-o truly-o believe, Tinkerbell shall fly again.
Y’all know by now I deal with hip dysplasia. That hip has collapsed unexpectedly while I’m just walking. I and others who deal with similar and more severe issues know better than to count on The Think Method as our primary means of escaping trouble with a capital T.
3. Running-is-best assumes you aren’t in the company of someone who needs your help in the face of a threat. A child. An older parent. A partner or friend who uses mobility aids to get around. Someone who has, say, hip dysplasia.
Most assuredly, you might still be able to run. But it’s bad form to leave behind those who can’t run away from what you’re escaping.
4. And running-is-best assumes you have a place to run to that is better than where you’re running from. I understand the urge to believe anywhere is better, but that’s a false—and therefore dangerous—belief.
Consider the 11-year-old boy who, lost in the woods, hid from would-be rescuers for four days because his parents had been very clear on “stay away from strangers,” but never added, “go toward these people.” And all it takes is one wrong turn to go from a populated area that might discourage an attacker to a deserted alley holding no deterrence at all.
To sum up: The tactic of running is most likely to succeed when you are alone, dressed to run, fit and able to run faster and farther than your attacker, and have a safe destination in mind.
So… what about all those other times?
Buy time, and buy it loudly.
As I said above, every act of resistance—every choice that is not total compliance—is an escalation of the encounter. The attacker’s response to the escalation is not within the victim’s scope of control, but the victim can do things to deter or narrow responses.
Chase down a victim is not the same decision as chase down a victim who already jammed fingers into my eyes. Or rammed knuckles into the windpipe. Or whipped a cane against the knee. Or swung a loaded diaper bag across the nose.
You see, every single act of resistance before the running (or the jogging, or the limping) adds a variable to your attacker’s plans. Increasing the number of variables tends to decrease the assumption of success.
Unpredictability increases the likelihood of failure, and failure for an attacker means physical pain, public discovery, loss of freedom, and possibly death. Merely running gives the attacker a single calculation to perform. Striking and screaming before running exacerbates the attacker’s doubts.
Since I know I can’t count on my hip to hold up under pressure, I will choose my strikes according to how much they’ll slow pursuit. I will always choose a kick to the knee over a punch to the jaw, a sharp jab to the eye over a shove to the chest, and a fist to the throat over a knee to the gut. I might be able to sprint; I might have a leg collapse in mid-stride. Thus I want to leave my attacker struggling to breathe, or see, or limp rather than capable of chasing me down in rage because I bopped him in the mouth.
And do not for a moment buy in to the judgment of, “If your attacker is so close you can’t run away, you’ve already done something wrong.” It’s a snooty philosophy that assumes telepathic and precognitive skills alongside a life lived either in utter solitude or perpetual paranoia.
Yes, it’s true: a well-trained person will have the skills, calm, and reflexes to attempt to talk an attacker down, or redirect the aggression, just as a well-trained person in the right circumstances can indeed run away without suffering further consequence. And it’s really nice to think of running away as an element of non-violence without its own moral cost.
But everyone else in the world–everyone who does not at this instant have amazing, or even foundational, physical abilities, and everyone who does not at this moment have two, three, five, fifteen years of training–deserves to have options right now. And brushing away that truth with, “Hey, just run away!” isn’t all that helpful.
So why, you ask after all that, is running touted as the bestest and most common self-defense advice?
Quite simply, because most teachers teach only the able-bodied, or the close-to-able-bodied. Most instructors never have to answer a fearful, “But what can I do?” from a man using a cane or a woman a month from giving birth. Most instructors don’t even mention the cascade of decisions that come into play when a person must consider what their choices will mean for the six-year-old at their side.
Telling someone to always run away first is simple. Following such advice often isn’t.
So absolutely run if you’re able to run, and if the consequences of running are acceptable to you. Just know your intentions, understand your assumptions, and consider your options before you do.
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Between swings of cold weather, there were two days that looked perfect for a quick, early-season outing–clear skies, warm temperatures, and an almost-full moon as a bonus. Shortly before the trip, the forecast called for a bit of wind and rain on the second day, but I’ve camped through Indiana summer thunderstorms (and a tornado outbreak), so I didn’t have much concern for a slight chance of a maybe-rain event in the high desert.
Compared to Indiana, Denver is pretty darn dry. Compared to Denver, Pueblo is damned dry. Truly, it’s been almost twenty years since I’ve spent significant time in the desert, but there is no mistaking the distinct feel of the air on the skin and in the lungs. It isn’t just the low humidity (which dropped to around 5%). It’s the smell of dust and–if you’re lucky–the heat-pushed scent of twisted little trees and determined brush. Breathe it in long enough, and you’ll be able to discern the distinct scent-feel of plain water, too.
When I stepped out of the car and took a few deep lungfuls of that air, I felt as if I were visiting a long-lost home.
It didn’t take long to set camp. I was one of two campers on the loop, with my nearest neighbors way on the other end, and we couldn’t see each other without stepping around the stunted trees and table covers between us. We waved from afar, a nice little acknowledgment and mutual agreement to ignore one another. Really, when you deliberately choose a campground as far as possible from everyone else–not to mention a short hike from the bathrooms–you recognize others who do the same.
In comfortable and quiet isolation, I settled down to bask in the sunshine with a bottle of water (my third since arriving, and I was still thirsty!) and my Kindle for a session of what was essentially self-chosen slush reading.
I looked up as tumbleweeds rolled between me and my tent. The next one rolled through even faster. Sitting in the shelter’s lee, intent on my reading, I hadn’t noticed the rising wind. But now grit was scratching my eyes and my mouth felt a little dusty, and the tent was rippling. Then a new gust shoved the tent, squishing it down to about half its height, and I thought I might have a problem.
After a few hours of checking and re-checking tent stakes, weighing down the leading edge of my tent to keep it from pulling up, keeping track of everything else that kept trying to blow away or blow over, and consoling Gambit where he’d decided to curl up under the table and shake, the wind abruptly stilled. My tent had not blown away, its poles hadn’t snapped under the strain, and I just might get a decent camping trip in.
The moon was so bright that night, I sat out writing notes for book-plotting long after the sun went down. And those other campers at the other end of the loop? Musicians. Every now and then, light guitar melodies provided a quiet accompaniment to the few insects chirruping in the night. Owls hooted. Coyotes yipped in the distance.
I turned in early, thinking to catch up on sleep, but awoke shortly before midnight with Gambit nosing me. He never asks to go out in the middle of the night at home, but does so when we’re camping. So we took a moonlit hike, not at all needing a flashlight, up and down the shale-scattered hillside around the campground with nothing but a light breeze for company.
The next morning, rested and ready to spend the day in combination of book-plotting and brief hikes, I checked the weather alert that had come through my phone. It was another high wind warning, set to begin late morning and go late into the evening, with predicted wind gusts exceeding 60mph for hours and hours. And Wednesday’s forecast was even worse.
Staying would have been little more than a decision to battle the wind all day in the hope I’d have enough energy left by nightfall to accomplish what I’d actually come to do. So I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, gave the sausage intended for the next day’s meal to Gambit (HAPPY DOG!), and packed up. The wind starting rising while I was taking down the tent. That made it extra fun, I tell ya. Driving through those winds coming home made for a long and tiring two hours, too.
And so it was, tired and dust-covered, I rolled up back home. It was not a wasted trip. After all, I screened a few novels, mapped out plot points and essential elements of two others, and plotted two novels of my own. Gambit was thrilled to scout new stuff of his own–he has earned the privilege to wander off-leash under certain circumstances–and I felt absolutely ALIVE to reach even the edge of a desert again.
But within a few hours of being home, the headache started. Out of curiosity, I checked the weather.
Surprise! Blizzard warning! Six to twelve inches, consistent winds around 30mph and gusts over 50mph. Set to begin in the very early morning, and be at its worst just about the time I would’ve been attempting to drive home had I stayed that extra night. Yep, I’d have been looking at a 100-mile drive in blizzard conditions.
Had the winds not been so terrible in Pueblo, I would have stayed that extra day. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to check the weather in Denver. I’m not an experienced enough Colorado resident to assume blizzard potential in March. Lesson learned.
Over a foot of snow has fallen here already, and it’s just early afternoon. We’ve at least three more hours to go. Denver International Airport shut down, as have numerous roads. Even the snowplows are getting stuck. And the winds around Pueblo, where I was camping? Today, they’re gusting over 80 mph.
Home is good. Really, really, good.
Usually when I record stuff, I’m working from a script or, at the very least, a PowerPoint presentation. Usually when I’m answering questions and such, I’m doing so in front of a group, in person, where expressions and body language make up so much of the communication. Recording a podcast based on questions asked by folks I couldn’t see was absolutely nerve-wracking!
You’ll hear those nerves in the opening ten minutes or so. Fortunately, Michelle, Giles, and Emily were great chatting companions, and I had a great time once I relaxed.
So take a listen and tell me what you think! I hope you’ll find something in there useful to you.
Before I hit the tactics, I want to share this most marvelous video by Karate Culture on the grappling techniques within traditional Okinawan kata. If you’ve read my articles for awhile, you’ll know I’m not a fan of teaching throws as a universal self-defense technique because their application is limited mostly to people who are quite able-bodied, well-trained, and being targeted by a single attacker. That doesn’t mean I don’t like, train, teach, and use grappling! Just check out the awesomeness of that video. You won’t regret it.
1. Applying good craft to writing fight scenes is 95% of the battle.
Grammar is about writing well and properly—a necessary skill if we want readers to sink into our stories rather than decipher odd and misleading sentence constructions.
But storytelling? That’s the craft I’m talking about.
You understand how to structure a scene, describe a new setting, and define a character’s role in the secondary world you’ve created. You know how to portray a character’s stroll through the prison yard or verbal argument in the mess hall. You’ve shown the joy they feel partaking in gardening, the intrigue of hunting for secrets in a library, the fear of creeping through a forest on a moonless night, the simple process of walking from personal lodgings to, say, the riverfront.
You successfully write action as part of building plot and character.
Fight scenes are no different. Really, truly, my darlings, they are no different.
The fight scene isn’t something separate from the story itself, no more than describing setting or revealing backstory or creating the dialog of an argument is a break from forward action. Apply the same tools of craft you use everywhere else.
2. Communicating combat principles is more important than relaying combat details.
I’m certain someone will ping me for saying so, but it’s true.
The make and model and emissions output and towing capability and average heat generation and speaker alignment are the most important elements of a car chase, right? Or maybe it’s the composition of the road’s asphalt, angles of the corners, temperature of the tires, and the history of road construction that readers most want to know about while the bad guy speeds away, yes?
Oh, please, no. While all those things will impact a car chase, rare is the reader who wants to have all those elements related in detail in the midst of a car chase as if they must soon solve a word problem based on the available listed data.
Do you want me to tell you how the materials of the tires interact with the hot pavement on that Texas road? Or do you want me to describe how the stink of burned rubber and smoke made me grit my teeth and squint as I chased after the murderer who knew the Texas backroads better than I ever would?
Don’t get mired in step-by-step instructionals on body positions and fist trajectory. Use instead the principles of fighting. Speed, mass, leverage, and momentum. Pain, focus, struggle, and fear. Expectation and surprise. Determination and exhaustion. Landing the punch is damned important, but the consequence of the punch and the reason it was thrown is what moves character and story forward.
Besides, a reader shouldn’t need to pull out a slew of action figures to envision what’s actually happening. (On the other hand, you might need those action figures, depending on the complexity of the fight. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve staged stuffed animals on my office floor to keep track of things. A little sheepish, maybe, but not ashamed.)
3. Do not mistake sport fighting and performance fighting for actual fighting.
The past few decades have seen an incredible rise in tournament martial arts, particularly for children. As a result, a great many martial arts schools teach primarily techniques with an emphasis on strikes and kicks that will score points, and discourage, through penalties and punishments, techniques intended to end a fight quickly by seriously injuring your opponent.
These rules are appropriate for the setting. Few parents want to see their middle school child get her throat smashed in and her knee dislocated. But the rules have consequences when the distinction between sport-centered training and fight-centered training is smudged over student-teacher generations. In a high-pressure hurt-or-be-hurt confrontation, those students won’t go for the fight-ending attacks unless they have been trained to fight in non-tournament settings.
There is also an entire tournament track for martial arts weapons performance, some of which involve setting routines to music. There are staffs and swords twirled and tossed, or nunchaku whirled in tight circles around the body, and there are often jump-kicks and back-flips thrown in for flash and dash. These have as much to do with the act of fighting as rifle drill teams do with shooting, or majorettes do with stick-fighting.
Yes, they all take skill and have roots in combat training, but no soldier is going to start twirling and tossing his gun in the middle of a fight. And critical and high-stakes fight scenes shouldn’t read like a retelling of a tournament.
When characters fight to prove ability or dominance, sparring techniques and targets are appropriate, just as it’s considered appropriate to punch a person playing grab-ass without consent but not considered appropriate to carve remove the person’s windpipe.
But a trained fighter trying to avoid being killed won’t expend a bunch of time tagging the villain’s jaw and punching to the gut. Knuckles to the throat work much more quickly. Fight scenes shouldn’t be one-blow affairs, but a person fighting for life itself is highly motivated to keep trying to make it so.
Indiana Jones opted out of using his whip to defeat the sword-spinning man in the marketplace. And Han shot first. Smart characters.
4. The most interesting fights focus on revealing weaknesses, not forcing greater strength.
I never much liked watching sport fighting. It all looked like little more than two people bashing on each other until one just couldn’t take it anymore. Then I learned what went into a fight—angles, footwork, targeting, drills done so often the body moved without hesitation, experience that turned those base reactions into flowing responses—and realized brute strength was the lesser power in comparison.
Such it is with writing the fight scene.
We like to watch the protagonist find the strength—of body, of will, of heart—to drag herself to her feet one… last… time… to take down the villain with a final, all-encompassing blow. We cheer the grit, the perseverance, the determination, the spirit of well-earned triumph. The final battle! The climax! The victory over self and enemy!
But the truth is, the protagonist wins because she also finds, attacks, and exploits the villain’s weakness—just as the villain has done to her all along. Rather than expend all your writerly energy building up the protagonist to impossible levels of power and strength, invest it knowing too the villain’s weaknesses.
What the characters choose to do with each others’ weaknesses usually creates greater depth than forging a bigger, badder weapon.
A battle of power against power requires constant escalation, and that stops being interesting after awhile. Searching out and evaluating weaknesses is a twisty, curvy process of surprises and unpredictability. It happens quickly in hand-to-hand combat, to be sure, but it happens nonetheless.
(This is applicable to plots, too, btw.)
5. Know the expectations of your target audience.
This is where all the possible nuances of advice items #2 and #3 come into play.
Readers of different subgenres hold unique expectations of how worldbuilding or technology or character emotions should be presented, explored, and emphasized. The same goes for rendering fights and action. It isn’t a matter of one subgenre wanting more or less of a fight than another. Rather, readers expect different aspects of a fight to play greater or lesser roles in the narrative.
A paranormal romance reader wants a fight scene that is just as well written as a military SF reader does, but wants different pieces of that fight to receive more attention.
The differences expose why one reader bounces off a flashy, drawn-out fight scene that other readers rave about, or finds depth and realism in a fight scene that seems to have little physical description amidst a great deal of emotional reactions. And that understanding circles back up to the first point: fight scenes require the same considerations of craft as any other part of the writing process. Know what your readers expect from your action scenes, and construct them accordingly.
Questions? Comments? Disagreements? All are welcome!
The fabulous writer and person Judith Tarr has been facilitating a read of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels, first published in 1970s. Tarr also wrote this great post on her discovery of Kurtz’s work, and its impact on opening up her own writing directions.
Tarr just happened to choose the writer who had more influence on me, as a reader, than any other.
Kurtz boosted my writing as well in a couple remarkable ways—I’ll get to that in a little bit—but her stories did more for me as a young person growing up odd in a decidedly conformist environment, as an innately curious person being educated mostly by people who judged first the appropriateness of my questions.
When I was fourteen, my family moved from the high-crime sprawl of southern California to what was then a bit of a backwater tourist town inland of Santa Barbara. These days the town of Solvang and the surrounding valley bustles with an outlet mall, bunches of wineries (thanks to Sideways and the Firestones), lots of spas, and a massive casino. But three decades ago, it was cattle and horses and a couple struggling wineries (thanks to the Firestones) surrounding a Danish-themed town of fake windmills and aebleskivers. We high school students worked the shops and restaurants—most of us wearing quaint Danish costumes—and our sad running joke was how exciting it might be to one day have a Taco Bell to go with our little McDonald’s in the neighboring town.
I could go on and on about the experience of moving from a high school of five thousand students to one of 700, and how my parents’ intention to keep me safe from teenage drinking and drugging by making that move backfired wildly. But the bottom line is I went from a tight group of friends who Got It—we used to roleplay quests and escapes at Disneyland and in city parks, and perform musical theater numbers in random parking lots and shopping malls—to a stifling social group of girls who would have deemed me beyond crazy for such things. My closest male friends did sword fighting and such out in the woods, and I learned a few bits of play, but it was mostly No Girls Allowed. I was so insecure at that age and time, I played along in order to get along.
And so it was, at fourteen and lonely while pretending everything was just dandy with the whole drinking beer and kissing boys thing, I walked into a little place called The Book Loft.
To that point, my SFF reading had been limited more to whatever works my father had around interspersed with military books and films. I’d read Sword of Shannara, and I’d tinkered on the edges of D&D, but my practiced interests in fantasy were more along the lines of costuming, Shakespeare, and learning about historical daily life. Since I didn’t know anyone who shared my interests, I did my roleplaying and cosplaying (a word that didn’t exist at the time!) in my bedroom, alone, in secret. I assumed I was just a little daft, but not so daft I didn’t know I ought to hide it.
When it came to actually reading, horror was my first choice for fiction. I’ve often blamed my pre-and early-teen reading of numerous King and Bachman stories for what others consider brutal violence in my own work. After reading Rage and Cujo, I considered my own choices somewhat tame, alas.
But my overreaching reading interests? Anything supernatural, whether it was classified as fiction or non-fiction. Witchcraft and ghosts and legendary evils. Folklore with bloody endings. Divine interventions, druids, crystal skulls, aliens among us, werewolves, ESP, and Bigfoot.
I loved all things fantasy, but at the time had little idea it existed as a genre in adult fiction. Really, I knew one other person who’d read Sword of Shannara, and she was my age, and by the time I moved from southern California, we hadn’t really been in touch for a couple years anyway.
So into The Book Loft of Solvang I wandered one afternoon after school, thinking to check out the horror section. As you might imagine, a bookstore in such a small community—even one subject to the surges of tourism—had a rather small selection. I ended up crouched in front of some shelves that my memory places in the store’s back corner, scanning paperback spines. I pulled out Deryni Rising.
Hook, line, sinker.
I read every one of her books I could get my hands on at the time. (Cue back-in-my-day tales of waiting weeks and weeks for an ordered book to arrive.) I checked constantly for new ones. (Cue back-in-my-day tales of never knowing exactly when the next of a series was due, and having no way to look it up.) I read the Deryni books, and also her co-authored Templar and Adept novels. My favorite Kurtz work, above all others, remains Lammas Night.
And over the decade and a half I read and re-read her novels, my perspectives changed. But it took re-reading some of her work, more than twenty-five years after discovery, to realize her impact on my worldview.
Kurtz gave me a framework through which I could see religion and the esoteric are cohesive elements, rather than mutual and threatening enemies. I didn’t need to see mysteries as threats to either science or religion. It was all right to not only acknowledge mysteries existed, but to be awed by both their existence and our inability to decipher them. It was even all right to be joyful in the face of mystery!
This was particularly important to me at age fourteen, sixteen, nineteen, twenty. I’d been raised in the Episcopal Church, in a congregation led by a remarkable man filled with love, compassion, and an incredible tolerance—no, incredible respect—for us young people who came to him with challenging questions of faith, of applying teachings, and of reconciling a loving god with world events. But the church in our new region was led more… judgmentally. More… divisively. More like… like the power-politics-driven bishops in Kurtz’s novels. There were no burnings at the stake, of course, but the undercurrents of intolerance were the same.
I came to understand, at an empathetic level, Kurtz’s recurring refrain of, “Humans fear what they do not understand.” I almost called that a theme, but to do so creates a negative half-story of her work, methinks. The true theme Kurtz comes back to again and again, story after story, character after character, is the emotional and spiritual power of fearful people choosing to risk life and soul in order to understand one another.
Internalizing that philosophy has led me to seek understanding of those who believe things so very different from my own beliefs, even if those beliefs violate my deepest moral beliefs. Even if those beliefs violate what I consider the most basic boundaries of human behavior. Personally, I fail often to be a glowing demonstration of this principle. But I try, and Kurtz is in large part the reason.
(Because this is The Internets, I’ll make clear there is a distinction between understanding the motivations behind belief and actions, and condoning them. Understanding does not nullify judgment.)
I mentioned my favorite novel of hers is Lammas Night. More than any other, that one gave me in-depth perspectives of what drives honor and sacrifice, especially when the one striving for goodness is not perfect. When one is afraid. When one doubts. When honor is a choice set upon a shifting foundation we’d like to think was built by those beyond reproach, but might really be constructed of our own assumptions. And it’s about choosing sacrifice even if it might seem futile. Choosing service in the face of threats. Choosing honor despite the cost.
Everything surrounding us is presented as a reduction to This or That. Right or Wrong. Left or Right. Real or Fake. Worthwhile or Worthless.
But honor is the Also that fills the spaces in between. It’s the ideal we wish we could reach even as we tell ourselves it’s impossible. Kurtz taught me it isn’t impossible, but we will indeed pay a price for it.
Lastly, Kurtz gave me the concept of religious evolution as a natural path rather than an ungodly act. She was the first person to articulate the perspective that the fundamental difference between the Old Testament and the New might be less about God’s changing assessment of humanity and more about humanity’s changing comprehension of God.
That shared notion didn’t come from one of her books, though. It came from an actual, in-person conversation at a convention, where she kindly spent a couple hours talking and listening to my young writer-self even though I was so nervous, my hands and voice shook almost the entire time. And she’d agreed to spend that time with me because she remembered we’d exchanged letters four to five years before. She even—believe it or not—read an early, early version of my first completed novel that I, with her permission, shipped all the way to Ireland twenty-odd years before it became Sword and Chant. Her response is tucked away somewhere in my papers—a kindly worded assessment that boiled down to, “Highly derivative, but shows some promise.”
And I had to look up “derivative.” :)
So yes, Kurtz’s work opened new pathways for writers in general, and women writers in particular. Yes, she shifted the ground upon which we build fantasy, historical fantasy, and religious magic today. And yes, she was my doorway into fantasy reading (which, awesomely enough, included finding Tarr’s work!).
But I don’t today cherish her work primarily because of any of that. Instead, I will always hold most dear the changes she made in me.
Just a few days ago, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Cat Rambo, marvelous writer and president of SFWA (who also has a Patreon you can find here).
She is an absolute delight! The kind of writer who knows her craft and her business, and is excited about sharing her knowledge and connections with others. The sort of person who is genuinely interested in others, and damned interesting in her own right. Our time together, chatting about everything from family dynamics to SFWA projects, was immensely enjoyable.
I drove home from our meeting buoyed both by her encouragement and her expressions of creativity. And I’m looking forward to jumping back into SFWA matters the moment I complete Breath of Stone.(And really, I so need to be jumping back in. Everything got sidetracked right before the holidays, and must needs be sorted out by spring.)
But nothing is being done before I complete Breath of Stone, darlings. Nothing. (Erm, expect a way, way overdue beta-read for a friend...) I’m down to one new chapter that needs composing and a couple that need some extensive revisions. Then it goes out to beta readers who have been so damned patient and supportive, I feel unworthy. Hopefully, those betas will enjoy the novel more than they feel the need to rip it apart. Once I hear their feedback, I’ll have a good idea on the upcoming release date.
The last year has made a few things abundantly clear: I cannot write a massive novel in the same twelve months I must shepherd my homeschooled son through the last year of high school, train a replacement to take over one business, move cross-country, and set the foundation to launch a new business in a new location. I don’t believe I’ll be willingly taking on that level of insanity again!
A few additional quick notes:
–A new Patreon article will go up next week! In this one, we’ll look at the key principles that’ll strengthen any fight scene, regardless of how simple or complex you want it to be. And the Patreon is only $35 away from adding author/fighter interviews and fight scene breakdowns as regular, monthly features, and about $115 away from adding a monthly video. (Yes, a video. I’m insane.)
–Remember that podcast on fight scenes I recorded for Beyond the Trope? It’ll be available for listening in a little more than two weeks! I’m hoping it sounds half as good as it was fun to record. As soon as I have the link, I’ll send it out to y’all. Okay, as soon as I have the link, and have listened to it myself, and have decided I don’t sound like an idiot… then I’ll let you know. :)
–I am registered for 4th Street Fantasy! I had a marvelous time last year, and can’t wait to not only connect with the cool folks I know through Viable Paradise and the awesome people I met last year, but to meet new people as well.
And now… back to the chapters!