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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Demure and Dangerous: Writing Female Self-Defence Scenes with Rayne Hall

When Rayne asked to do another post about writing fight scenes, I jumped at the chance to hostess. And it couldn't have come at a better time since I'm at the point with Boulevard of Bad Spells and Broken Dreams where Kira needs to kick some ass--and she still has no idea how dangerous she can be. The villains are counting on her not realizing her potential, but things are about to change.

Rayne's last post on Writing Fight Scenes engendered lots of lively discussion, and I suspect this one will as well. For those of you who don't know, Rayne's classes (and I've taken many of them) on fight scenes, magic, and magical weapons are a must for any fantasy writer. Her bio and links to register for her upcoming class is at the end of the post.

Without further ado, I give you Rayne Hall who, if you haven't noticed the Queen's English, hails from England.

Today's readers expect the heroine to fight her own way out of trouble. Screaming, swooning, and waiting for the hero to come to the rescue is no longer enough.

If your heroine is trained in martial arts, she has a whole range of techniques at her disposal. Half a year of martial arts training can be sufficient for a spirited defence.

For inspiration, watch self-defence demonstrations on YouTube until you find a maneuvre you can adapt for your scene. Here are some links to get you started:

For further YouTube clips, use the keyword 'self-defence' (or 'self-defense').

But not every woman is a skilled martial artist, or trained to wield a weapon, or drilled in self-defence. A novice can't disable a thug with a roundhouse kick, and a Victorian damsel won't fell her attacker with an uppercut. Fear may lend strength and courage, but it doesn't grant implausible skills.

Here's the solution: the heroine performs a self-defence move which doesn't require prior training. Although it won't defeat the villain, it will buy her precious seconds during which she can escape from his clutches.

Choose one of these six techniques:

1. She uses her feet. Attackers expect their victims to defend themselves with their hands, so they hold the victim in a way which prevents her from moving her arms. However, your heroine is clever: she stomps her heel down on his foot. This works especially well if she's wearing high heels. The pain makes him relax his grip, though only for a moment, so she may follow this with #2.

2. She kicks him in the leg. This makes him stagger and loosen his grip for a moment. Depending on how he holds her, she can kick forwards, backwards or sidewards. She can kick his shin, his calf, his knee, his thigh, or his crotch, as long as she kicks hard. Her kick has more power if she first bends her leg and pulls her knee towards her torso and kicks from this position. (In martial arts lingo: she chambers her leg.) This allows her to kick stronger and higher, but it needs to be done quickly.

3. If she's shorter than her attacker, she sags against him as if in defeat, then suddenly straightens, ramming her head under his chin. This hurts her head, but it hurts his jaw a lot more. As he loosens his grip in pain and surprise, she breaks free.

4. If she has a hand free, she spreads the first and middle fingers and stabs them into his eyes. This blinds him temporarily, giving her time to escape. It doesn't work if he wears glasses. The violence of this method makes it unsuitable for gentle forms of fiction, and the heroine should use it only against a bad guy, not against an honourable enemy or innocent prison guard.

5. She can go for his balls. Every woman knows that a man's privates are vulnerable, and if she can punch or squeeze him there, he'll probably be out of action long enough for her to make her escape. However, men are aware of their vulnerability. Only a very stupid attacker would allow a female victim to grab his bits. Besides, this method is so over-used in fiction that it has become a predictable cliche. You could make it less predictable by letting the heroine use her elbow or her knee.

6. She can use a skill from a different context, for example, from her hobby or her job, and adapt it as a self-defence maneuvre. If her hobby is yoga, she can use her flexibility to slip out of her attacker's grasp. If she's a ballet dancer, she can fell him with a fouette. She can also use a tool of her trade as a weapon: the archaeologist may do something nifty with a trowel, the hair stylist with the curling iron, the gardener with the spade. In real life, these would probably not work - but they feel realistic, because the heroine's special skill has been established.

Since the aim of self-defense is to escape the danger, rather than to defeat an opponent, self-defence scenes tend to be very short. Often, they are just a paragraph within a larger scene.

Readers love self-defence scenes, especially if it's a woman defending herself against a man. You may want to insert a self-defence scene - or even a single self-defence paragraph - in your novel. Perhaps the heroine puts up a spirited fight before the kidnappers overpower her. Perhaps she has to fight the prison guard who tries to stop her escape. Maybe she wards off a lecher's forceful advances. In romance novels, the heroine may even fight off the hero - of course only at the beginning of the novel, before they've become allies. Near the end of the book, she's more likely to fight at the hero's side against the forces of evil.

If you have questions about writing fight scenes, feel free to ask. I'll be around for a week and will respond.

Rayne Hall writes dark fantasy and horror. She has published more than twenty books under different pen names in different genres, and her stories have earned Honorable Mentions in 'The Years' Best Fantasy and Horror'. She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing, and teaches online classes.

Even if you've never wielded a weapon, you can write an exciting fight scene. Rayne will show you how in her workshop on 'Writing Fight Scenes', which starts on 1 June 2011: