Combat Micro-Scenes

(This was originally part of the Pro Class article on fight scenes, but that article covered so much material I decided to chop this useful bit out and post to the free, advanced class thread. While you won’t understand the nuance of writing fight scenes discussed without that article, YOU WILL understand the concept of working with Micro-scenes explained below.)

Micro-scene Fractal Structure in Fight/Combat scenes

Sounds like a mouthful, but this concept is pretty straight forward.

Fight scenes often contain a lot of moving parts (quite literally, the characters are in motion), especially the more robust ones. And once you get going with Action-Consequence panels, they can quickly spiral into wild beasts, difficult to tame. Let’s cook up a fight scene;

Your special ops Super Soldier confronts Red Ninja on the rooftop, but halfway through the fight, a dozen other black ninja jump in, while Red Ninja bails. Super soldier, brawls the Black Ninja for a minute, then dives off the roof and crashes into the truck Red Ninja is escaping in. The fight continues, but now Red Ninja takes out the vial of mutagenic slime intent on consuming it, so he can change into his super Sayan form. A drawn out game of try to drink it, don’t let you drink it, plays out.

So here’s a problem you’ll commonly encounter, we know we need to escalate everything, increase the conflict, jeopardy, and stakes, get our key turns in… but our plans are a little turned upside down.

Looking at our quick and dirty version of a fight scene, we notice something isn’t working out toward the end climax. At the beginning of this fight we have one on one personal combat action, then a whole bunch of crazy ninja action, but the end, switches from direct combat fighting violence, to a struggle to drink a liquid.

If your anti-climatic spider sense is going off big time, gold star for you.

One way to help manage more complex fight scenes, is to break them up into smaller, more manageable micro-scenes.

Just as we’ve taken much of core story structure and applied it to the fight scene as a whole, we duplicate this same process, applying everything we’ve just discussed to each individual micro-scene. Thus, the fractal nature.

Of course, in the real-world, you’ll pretty much never have the comic real estate to make every micro-scene a complete fight. Nor, would every micro-scene really warrant it. Most of the time, simply focusing on the turns and escalation of tension, is enough to flesh out each micro-scene.

Just remember, if and when you decide to break a larger scene down into micro-scenes, don’t forget to keep your eye on how the scene comes together as a whole and be sure to include the key turns in the fight at the macro level. Those key turns don’t necessarily have to take place in each micro-scene, but they must be somewhere in scene.

While you could assign your smaller micro-scenes arbitrarily, cuing off of character goals and stakes often works best.

For example, let’s read our ninja fight scene again;

Your special ops Super Soldier confronts Red Ninja on the rooftop, but halfway through the fight, a dozen other black ninja jump in, while Red Ninja bails. Super soldier, brawls the Black Ninja for a minute, then dives off the roof and crashes into the truck Red Ninja is escaping in. The fight continues, but now Red Ninja takes out the vial of mutagenic slime intent on consuming it, so he can change into his super Sayan form. A drawn out game of try to drink it, don’t let you drink it, plays out.

Looking at this, considering the problems we just discussed, how easily break down all of the following?
Intro
Struggle
Escalation
Climax
Denouement
including your Tri & Key Turns

Now, consider the same task, but instead of looking at the fight only as a whole, at the macro level, break it down into micro-scenes as follows;

Your special ops super soldier confronts Red Ninja on the rooftop, // <— Goal: Super Soldier wants to beat Red Ninja into submission and take him prisoner.//

but halfway through the fight, a dozen other black ninja jump in, while Red Ninja bails. // <— Goal: Super Soldier’s new goal is to pursue Red Ninja. //

Super soldier, brawls the Black Ninja for a minute, then dives off the roof and crashes into the truck Red Ninja is escaping in. The fight continues, // <— Goal: Stop the truck and take Ninja prisoner.

but now Red Ninja takes out the vial of mutagenic slime intent on consuming it, so he can change into his super Sayan form. A drawn out game of try to drink it, don’t let you drink it, plays out. //  <— Goal: Stop Red Ninja from drinking potion. //

If space wasn’t a concern you could apply the fundamentals of the Ultimate Fight Scene, to each and every micro-scene giving yourself an incredibly rich and engaging fight. Otherwise falling back on the turns and escalation of tension under the micro, while keeping a broad view of the entire scene,  will do more than a fine job. ▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.

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