Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I was greatly disturbed by this book.

You see, according to Rory Miller, author of Violence: A Writer's Guide, I’m a nice guy. Just one of the vast majority of ordinary folk who avoid conflict and know nothing about real violent behaviour. That means that probably I don’t do anything above merely manipulating people to get what I want (according to Rory Miller, indirect violence such as subtle manipulation and coercion, is still violence - just not violence that causes bodily harm). Any level of violence above that, including aggressive, assaultive and murderous behaviour would (and probably should) disturb me.

And that was the author’s point.

I found this book because I am writing wuxia – Chinese martial arts fiction, and I was doing research. Aside from a few schoolyard fights and a few years of Karate, I have very little experience. And aside from a few short chapters in writing books and a few web pages, there is very little solid information out there about writing action scenes*. So when I happened to find this little book at Smashwords, I was intrigued immediately. Now, just by the description I knew this was not going to help me with my martial arts fiction. The author is writing about realistic fights, not stylized, choreographed action sequences. But I needed a baseline for my own writing plus, I have other stories which rely on realism in fight scenes, so I put down the $5.00 for a PDF copy of the book.

I was not disappointed.

The author cuts through the bull**** and tells it like it is in simple, sometimes grammatically incorrect, language. The book looks and reads like it was slammed out in first draft in MS Word. It barely goes over 80 pages. But that is enough for the author to give the reader everything he needs to know about the world (professional and otherwise) of violence and violent behaviour. With his credentials, he does appear to know what he is talking about. Whether he is correct or not remains to be seen (but I wouldn’t suggest trying this stuff at home). He gives the reader a bleak and uncompromising look at the world of violence and even gives readers dire warnings about how real life muggers and crack-addled street thugs think (or don't, depending on your point of view).

The author then goes on to describe various weapons from blunt force weapons and knives to guns. He discusses how each are used and the mindset you have to be in to use such weapons. The book also points to several online resources such as real life videos (The Russian Mugging video is brutal and not for the faint of heart) or extra online material from his own website. It is all there to hammer home the idea that the violence we see on television and the movies and read about in books is vastly different from reality.

And why did he write such a book? In the penultimate chapter of the book, the author goes on a rant and discusses what bugs him about books and movies that "get it wrong". He even describes Hannibal Lechter as a scary bogeyman, but hardly a realistic portrayal of a psychopath. He wants writers to understand what real combat is like and how real fighters and killers think.

After that, it’s up to us as writers to pick up the mantle and write realistic fight sequences in our stories. Should you buy this book? If you are a writer who writes fight scenes, yes, certainly. Writers are immersive. We try very hard to understand the human condition and write about it. So if someone who purports to know what real violence is like, I would certainly give him a try. Just be prepared for some disturbing information. Whether you use these ideas is up to the individual writer.

So now that I know the facts, will I heed his words? For martial arts fiction, not likely. That is the stuff of heroic fantasy and I’ll probably continue the fictional dance. I imagine many other writers will do the same in whatever field they are writing because sometimes realism gets in the way of good storytelling. But in the back of my mind, at least I finally have a baseline of realism to fall back on for my other projects.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll heed his warnings and understand how a real street thug’s mind works.

*If you can point me to a great resource on writing martial arts or action scenes (online or in a book) please direct me there. I would certainly appreciate it.