In the last entry in this little series (link), I started detailing the process I used to craft fights for the 2017 Robin Hood Springtime Festival, which is in many ways the same process I use for crafting fights in my books. I spoke about how the situation informs the characters’ attitudes in a fight, so now it’s time to delve into how characters further play into fight creation.
A sequence I wrote for the show was a training fight for the heroes—a stock bit that gives the audience a little taste of action early on and whets their appetites for what’s to come—so I’m going to use that to illustrate how character affects various elements of a fight.
For this sequence, I used Robin Hood and his three key Merry Men: Little John, Friar Tuck, and his cousin Will Scarlett (who, in the faire version of the story, is a woman). That gave me four very distinct characters to work with, which means I had to take into consideration four very different sets of characteristics. Let’s break them down:
Robin Hood is a very experienced swordfighter; he’s been portrayed in some iterations of the legend as a former soldier who fought in the Crusades alongside King Richard the Lionheart. His attitude toward everything is rather cavalier; he rarely takes anything too seriously.
Little John is a large, powerful man and is not a nuanced fighter; he’s from peasant stock and never had any formal training in any kind of hand-to-hand combat. He tends to be gruff and blustery, and contrasts Robin’s attitude by taking everything a little too seriously.
Friar Tuck is a deceptively skilled swordsman, which is directly inspired by his portrayal in the Flynn Robin Hood. Physically he is no longer in his prime, and attitude-wise, he is similar to John in that he takes things more seriously than his leader.
Will Scarlett is a scrappy, rambunctious tomboy who models herself after Robin, to a fault; she takes things far less seriously and is more reckless than her cousin, and is consequently more likely to get into trouble because of it and less likely to know how to get herself out of it. She’s also quick-tempered and constantly out to prove herself. She’s an experienced fighter but has little formal training.
A further note on Will, which warrants emphasis: her gender has NO bearing on her ability to fight whatsoever. None. Arguing that her gender makes her weaker or less capable is sexist garbage, period, so basing any character’s capacity as a fighter solely on his or her gender is weak writing with no basis in reality.
Let’s take a closer look at the weapons being used in this fight.
Little John is using a quarterstaff, a six-foot length of hard wood that is a surprisingly versatile and effective weapon. It inflicts blunt force trauma, but as one of my stage combat instructors likes to say, it’s still trauma. A staff is unlikely to cause any cut-based wound (not incapable, but unlikely), but it can break bones and wreck joints easily. Its greatest advantage is its reach, and reach can make a huge difference in a fight, but of our four weapons, it’s the slowest — which, I’ll note, is not to say it’s a slow weapon in real life. An expert can generate a lot of speed with a staff, and thus a lot of power, but for dramatic purposes I’m treating this as a slower weapon than its real-life counterpart.
Tuck is using a proper longsword, a cutting and slashing weapon that has a blade ranging about 30 to 40 inches long. A standard longsword can be used one-handed (the other hand would be holding a shield) but is designed to be held with two. It doesn’t have the reach of a quarterstaff but is better in that regard than the other weapons. At 2.5 to four pounds, it can be moved with considerable speed (longswords, contrary to popular belief, are not slow weapons), but again, I’m slowing it down for dramatic and stylistic purposes.
Robin is using an arming sword, a one-handed cutting and slashing weapon with a blade in the neighborhood of 30 inches long. Such weapons weighed only two to three pounds, which make them pretty fast. Its reach is only slightly inferior to a proper longsword.
Will is using two daggers, which are primarily thrusting/stabbing weapons. These have the worst reach but the best speed, and give her the benefit of being able to attack two different targets at once, which is significant; it would be very difficult for John and Tuck to guard two targets at once considering they have two-handed weapons. Robin at least has a free hand to parry a second attack—as you will see.
Also, having researched knife fighting, I’ve learned that a trained knife fighter is absolutely terrifying. If they get within your range, you’re screwed. The best defense, aside from running away, is to keep them out of reach.
Now that I’ve laid the foundation, it’s time to actually write out some fights, and I’ll show you how to do that in the third and final part of this series.