Don’t Try This at Home

Bound & gaggedThat’s right – don’t try this at home. I’m a professional…professional lunatic, perhaps. Although my good friend and martial artist Dennis Lawson once told me that because I’m a published novelist, that makes me eccentric. Otherwise I’d be certifiable.

It started in New York City while I was working on my first novel, Lust for Danger, with a screenplay writer (Mykel). She’d read the draft my agent gave her and loved it. We were in her office, and she got to a scene in which Special Agent Night was nearly discovered snooping for evidence during an illegal search. There was only one place for my agent to go – under the suspect’s desk. Mykel said she wanted more depth – more suspense – in that scene. I was stumped.

“Have you ever tried hiding under a desk?” Mykel asked me.

In fact, I hadn’t (that I could remember). What could it hurt? I figured out how much time it would take for the suspect to do what he had to do in the office, set a timer, and crawled under the desk. Wow. It’s amazing how perspective changes…how suddenly the space closes in around you. Mykel was quite pleased with my re-written scene.

You realize, of course, she created a monster. Continue reading “Don’t Try This at Home”

Getting It Right: Throwing a Right Part 2

[This is part 2 of a two part “Getting it Right” series by author and martial arts instructor Mark Jacobs. This series is aimed at helping authors understand and add meaningful and convincing detail in writing fight scenes. Part 1 can be found here.]

The Principles of Unarmed CombatAnother fallacy is that a trained martial artist can kill an opponent with a single blow to the heart. Though I’ve previously written about my enjoyment of the martial arts action/adventure novels by author Eric Van Lustbader, and have even praised some of his written fight scenes, when he starts describing the deadly “heart kite” strike, he strays into the realm of fantasy. Yes, in rare instances, people do die from blows to the chest that interrupt the heart rhythm – it’s occasionally happened in little league baseball games when fielders are hit with a line drive – but this is essentially a million to one shot that could never be done intentionally by a fighter.

Even more ludicrous is the concept of a “delayed death touch,” a strike that can be timed to kill a person at a later date. Again, a person might receive an injury during the course of a fight that later causes him to fall over dead but this is sheer bad luck and not something anyone can intentionally do to another person.

Besides technique fallacies, the second major category of mistakes seen in this area are the simple informational/factual errors that authors commonly make when writing about the martial arts. Years ago, it was common to refer to “the judo chop.” But anyone who bothers to do a little bit of research will quickly discover judo is a wrestling style and has no “chop.” That is a karate technique, where it is more commonly known as a “knifehand” or, in Japanese, as a “shuto.” Continue reading “Getting It Right: Throwing a Right Part 2”

The Fighting in Writing by Mark Jacobs

The Principles of Unarmed CombatAfter recently participating in a thread on a book discussion group regarding great literary action scenes, it got me to thinking of what are the best written fight scenes in literature and just what it is that makes a great fight scene on the written page.

The latter questions is, perhaps, the more difficult one to answer. A sense of knowledgeability on the part of the author leading to some realism in the scene is obviously helpful. A great example of a writer who has “walked the walk” is Thom Jones. A former U.S. Marine and amateur boxer, Jones has written some brilliant short fiction, a few revolving around the dark places of human experience that combat can lead to. His story, The Pugilist at Rest, contains a short but memorable description of what it’s like to engage in a boxing match you’re not quite prepared for:

“He put me down almost immediately, and when I got up I was terribly afraid. I was tight and I could not breath. It felt like he was hitting me in the face with a ball-peen hammer. It felt like he was busting light bulbs in my face.”

Unfortunately, most authors are not known for their pugilistic skills. As a group, they often tend to be observers and thinkers, rather than doers and brawlers (Besides Jones, there are a few other odd exceptions to this rule. Hemingway was known to step into the ring on occasion but, sadly, “Papa” did not depict that many fight scenes in his work). Consequently, most written fight scenes, at least to the expert observer, lack a sense of veritas. However, there are exceptions to the rule in which even unrealistic fight scenes have been portrayed in gripping passages. Continue reading “The Fighting in Writing by Mark Jacobs”