Review: Fight Write

How to write believable fight scenes

By Carla Hoch

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Edition: Kindle, Paperback

Release date: 11 June 2019

Source: Netgalley digital ARC / paperback purchased by me

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


In Fight Write you’ll learn practical tips, terminology, and the science behind crafting realistic fight scenes for your fiction. Broken up into “Rounds,” trained fighter and writer Carla Hoch guides you through the many factors you’ll need to consider when developing battles and brawls.

I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC of this book when I went online and bought a paperback copy for myself. I already knew this was a reference book I wanted on my shelves. I imagine I’ll be dipping into it often.

I know nothing about fighting in real life and up until now I haven’t included many physical fights in my novels. This is partly due to my ignorance and partly because I don’t find long descriptions of battles and fights very interesting to read. But when this book came up on Netgalley, I thought it might be of some use on those occasions when I just couldn’t avoid writing about an aggressive physical encounter. I didn’t really have any expectations beyond that: a few tips to help me avoid looking stupid when I was writing fight scenes. I certainly didn’t expect to be blown away by what Carla Hoch has done here.

She has combined knowledge from the fields of physiology, psychology, sociology, statistics, language, as well as martial arts, battle strategy, and even law, into a handbook specifically tailored to the needs and concerns of fiction writers. And if that makes the book sound dry and academic, it isn’t. Hoch writes in an easy-to-understand style, with plenty of examples to illustrate her points. In fact, her tone is so casual, and at times even jokey, that it grated on me occasionally in the beginning. But this is a very minor criticism and doesn’t diminish the usefulness of the book in any way.

And that usefulness goes beyond fight scenes. There is good information here for deepening characterisation in all kinds of situations. For instance, one chapter, entitled Pre-Incident Indicators, details behaviours that can signal predatory intent and lead to an aggressive incident. This was gold. My mind went immediately to the villain of my current novel in progress, a manipulator who does end up perpetrating violence. I was pleased to realise that I had instinctively included some of the behaviours mentioned by Hoch in early appearances of the character. But I noted down a few other gems to sprinkle through relevant scenes. It was at this point that I bought the book.

The remaining three quarters of the volume contains detailed information about Fighting Styles, Weaponry and Injuries. I’ve never felt the desire to know how it sounds/looks/feels to be stabbed, but some day, I may need to know exactly that to write a realistic scene. Carla Hoch has my back.

Hoch doesn’t restrict herself to describing human conflict either. In the section on Fighting Styles, alongside many forms of martial arts, she includes points to consider if your character is fighting a robot, an alien or a mythological creature. There is even a short section on Psychological Warfare.

I unreservedly recommend Fight Write to writers in any genre who want to create vivid, realistic, heart-pounding fight scenes that also add richness both to plot and characterisation.

What I Read in June 2019

June was a pretty slow reading month for me. I read five books and began two others. My ratings for the five books I completed only averaged out at 3.4 stars, so it wasn’t a spectacular rating month either, although I did have one 5-star read. Here’s what I read:

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

I listened to half of this and read the second half. The wonderful Emilia Fox does a great job on the audio book. I hadn’t remembered how short this novel is! I really enjoyed it all, especially because we see so much of what Miss Marple is thinking, and how bored she is with nothing to investigate! She is very aware that her main interest in life is solving mysteries, whether it be small matters or multiple murders. Christie lays her clues and her traps with as much mastery as ever. I remember the first time I read this, she totally fooled me. A real highlight of Mission Marple.

***

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I thoroughly enjoyed the sequel to One Word Kill. My full review is here. But basically, Limited Wish is a sequel that doesn’t drop the ball. In fact, it keeps several balls spinning and then catches them all and takes a bow. The third book, Dispel Illusion, will be coming out in November. I’m expecting a satisfying conclusion to the series.

***


My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My gushing review is here. I loved this book beyond all reason – Augusta and Parfait stole my heart. Through their eyes, Joanna Glen takes us from suburban England to Burundi and Spain and also deep into the territory of the heart. Look, just read it, okay?

***

My rating: ⭐

No, I wasn’t too impressed with this non-fiction book about writing. The material was too basic for the premise, the examples weren’t very good and it was too rambling. If you want to know more, my review is here.

***

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

This one wins for best cover of the month, but the story inside is just okay. I think the premise of a detective with a clockwork leg investigating the murder of a druid in a steampunk world, with Fae, is fantastic, but the execution was a bit lacking. I enjoyed it, but there were quite a few flaws, mainly in the pacing. My review is here.

***

I also began two other books:

The Age of Arthur by John Morris (British history) and The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris (general fiction). I’m enjoying both of them so far.

So that’s it for my June reading. How about yours? What did you read last month? Did you have a great reading experience or a so-so one? Any 5-star books to recommend? One-stars to avoid? Let’s have a conversation.

Review: The First Five Pages

By Noah Lukeman

Genre: Non-fiction, Writing

Rating: 1 star

It had to happen eventually: the first negative review on this site. Oh, I thought about being tactful and just saying something like, “this book wasn’t for me”, but those weasel words refused to come out of my fingertips onto the keyboard. So what follows is my unvarnished opinion. You have been warned.

I was quite excited when I spotted this in a secondhand book sale last month. It’s rare to find books about the craft of writing in these places. I hadn’t heard of the book, but it seemed worth spending a couple of dollars to check it out and maybe find one or two useful tips.

To put it simply: even given such modest expectations, I was disappointed. For a start, the title and blurb are misleading. I expected a detailed analysis of how to construct and edit the first few pages of a manuscript. That’s not what I got. Instead, Lukeman discusses flaws that will cause a manuscript to be rejected at first glance by an agent or reader at a publishing house. The idea of “first glance” is important because that’s literally all Lukeman covers: the writing faults that are so obvious they can be spotted without the need to actually read the pages.

If you have read anything at all about good writing or watched any videos about it or done any kind of course or seminar, nothing in this book will be new to you. It’s the usual stuff you’ll find everywhere: don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs, show don’t tell, avoid too many dialogue tags, and so on. You know the rest. Honestly, if you haven’t already gone through your manuscript multiple times with an eye to such things, why would you even consider submitting it yet?

Not only are the topics themselves obvious, they are covered at an elementary level, only suitable for beginners. There would be nothing wrong with this if it was clearly stated from the beginning, but it isn’t. On the contrary, the blurb trumpets:

The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher – and more successful – level.

This simply isn’t true.

And the examples! They are so childishly bad that they’re no use at all. Even when Lukeman gives suggestions to “fix” them, they’re still terrible, even for a first draft.

There’s one final problem and it’s an annoying one: Lukeman talks about the importance of good style, but he doesn’t follow his own advice to write with clarity and conciseness. The text is rambling, repetitive and frankly boring.

For someone just starting out trying to write, there is some useful advice here, which is why the book gets 1 star from me rather than none. Although there are numerous books (and videos and podcasts and online articles) covering the same ground and doing it better. For anyone other than a beginner, don’t bother wasting your time.

Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

And Other Lessons from the Crematory

By Caitlin Doughty

3.5 STARS

This felt like two books to me: in one, Caitlin Doughty gives us stories from her time working in a crematorium. This is the reason I wanted to read the book in the first place and it was as enthralling, confronting, heartbreaking and heartwarming as I had hoped. Doughty is a good storyteller and she has some great material to work with, from the next-of-kin who want nothing to do with their loved ones’ remains and simply instruct the crematory to send them the ashes in the post, to the loving families who bring food and grave goods to be put into the coffin and even sing to the dead before the cremation. There are also some very honest and somewhat disturbing descriptions of dead bodies and how they are handled by those who work with them. This is all fascinating stuff.

However, then there is what I’m calling the second book: Doughty intersperses her crematorium anecdotes with information about death and funereal customs from other times and other places and philosophises at length about our own culture’s relationship with the dead and their mortal remains. She also gives us an eye-opening and somewhat scathing view of the modern American funeral industry. These passages kept breaking the flow of the narrative to such an extent that in the end I simply began skipping over them. It’s not that the material is inherently uninteresting or even badly written, but the two parts of this book simply don’t mesh smoothly together. I kept wanting to get away from the general and cultural and back to the specific and personal.

If Doughty had made the choice to simply write a memoir about her crematory experiences, with maybe just a word or two about how death is treated in our society and how she feels about it, I believe that could have been a 5-star book for me. As it stands, though, 3.5 stars reflects my reading experience more accurately. I would recommend this book, just be aware of its sometimes jarring dual nature.