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.

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.