Writing Fighting: Action as Character & Conversation (Guest Post Sample)

A post in which I review what I learned about writing action scenes while working on The Sword of Kaigen.

With 2019 coming to a close, I realized that I’ve actually written far more Theonite-related content for other people’s blogs than my own. This isn’t something I regret; I don’t believe I’ve ever mistaken myself for a blogger or led anyone else to do so.

However, I do want all of these posts to be easy to find, here on this site where people are most likely to be searching for them. So, what I’m going to do over the remainder of 2019 is post introductory samples of all my guest posts, one at a time. These samples should be just long enough to give you an idea of whether you’re interested in clicking through to the full post on the host’s blog.

The content is easy to find, the hosts still get the traffic, everybody wins!

The following is the first of seven guest posts I wrote for The Sword of Kaigen Blog Tour, hosted by Karina at Afire Pages from 11/11 – 11/29/19. This one covers my relationship with action scenes and the way they function as character development in The Sword of Kaigen.

Writing Fighting: Action as Character & Conversation

“Power was born into a person and lived in the wordless depths of their soul. The strength of a bloodline wasn’t something you sang about; it was something the holder knew and others witnessed… Real power needed no words. It spoke for itself.”
– Matsuda Misaki, The Sword of Kaigen

The Sword of Kaigen was the first martial arts story I’d ever written. By ‘martial arts story,’ I mean that most of the main characters are well-trained fighters and combat is an integral part of the narrative. I’ve always harbored a vague annoyance at the way the media treats martial arts, but it wasn’t until I was deep into work on The Sword of Kaigen, worrying if my action scenes were engaging enough, true to the art, true to the characters, that I started to analyze that annoyance from a craft perspective.

Most books, movies, and TV shows treat fight scenes as flashy filler between the intellectual meat of the story. This can work fine in a story about non-martial-artists, whose main mode of expression is not action. And it makes sense considering that most stories are written by, well… writers, people who express themselves through words, not combat. I don’t say this to slight the word-oriented thinker. I am one.

Prior to The Sword of Kaigen, I mostly wrote point of view characters who were not practiced in martial arts and were, like me, more academically inclined. Action scenes in those stories consist of clumsy blurs of motion, impact, and sensation that affect the plot but don’t themselves develop anyone’s character. They don’t have to, because that burden falls on the dialogue, reading, and research scenes appropriate to a non-combatant point of view character.

I had been doing martial arts for over a decade before I glimpsed the strange landscape of a fighter’s brain—what, to my writer’s brain felt like madness—a place where physicality dominated and words disappeared. Good martial arts writing is, I think, an exercise in translating that wordless experience back into words, not glossing over it to get to the ‘real story.’

Fonda Lee, author of The Green Bone Saga, discusses media’s problems with martial arts in her article, “Martial Arts & Fantasy – More Please, But Better,” which I highly recommend to anyone at all interested in martial arts fiction. The line that really resonated with me was Lee’s insistence that “In martial arts stories, the action scenes are character scenes”…

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