I have an article on Chuck Norris dropping here on Return Of Kings. Action films and action stars has been on my mind a lot recently. As I pointed out in a previous article, I’ve been disappointed of late with recent action adventure fare. And by “recent”, I mean almost 10-15 years.
I think I can already predict one comment that might cause some debate: “Yes, Karate and Tae Kwon Do might not work best in a street fight but neither does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (you don’t want to be on your back on the street).” I mean no disrespect towards BJJ or its practitioners. In fact, I’ve started learning it myself. It does have some real world applications but some of it is wildly impractical. But that doesn’t matter. Learning any combat sport (or physical skill—like weightlifting) helps sharpen the mind. In reality, the best self-defense is 1) not getting in to fights or dangerous situations in the first place and 2) Using a gun.
However, as men, it is in our nature to be aggressive and harness aggression. It is a skill most of us would like to master. Martial Arts (I actually hate that term for specific reasons but I’ll use it anyway for lack of a better one) helps give one the confidence to deal with possible tense situations—even it just means handling ourselves with and projecting confidence so people won’t even think about starting something. Art also helps us process conflict vicariously to either inspire or challenge one’s thoughts about conflict (the essence of drama).
But most writers have lost their edge in this regard. Shit happens. And when it does happen, how does one handle it? What are the consequences (if there are any)? These are questions most writers are not prepared to face, so the result is a cookie cutter product or a masking of the deficiency by use of some convenient device (magic or computer effects).
When I started writing Down To Sheol, I knew it would be violent from the outset. And given the demands and expectations of the story, I felt the action had to be realistic.
Now, if you have read the article I linked to above, you know that I don’t mind fantasy violence in the proper context—especially if it’s done well. And as I observed (in the same article), story matters more than the action anyways. But if the story is great, then well-crafted action and violence adds another layer of intensity.
And the direction you take your story determines the type of action you will have.
As screenwriter Gail Morgan Hickman (Death Wish 4) noted (about vigilante films) that there are only two ways to do them: “One is to tell it really seriously about the moral implications of living in a world where you can take the law in to your own hands, what that does to society and what that does to you. If you’re not going to do that, if you’re going to make it into an entertainment, then it has to be a cartoon.” Both are valid choices but one must commit 100% to their choice for the work to have any lasting impact. If you don’t commit and waffle with the execution, the reader will sense it (the audience is smarter than you think they are).
As I hinted above, I chose to tell a serious story about crime and vigilante actions. The dark nature of the story demanded it. It is a violent novel but all the violence has real world consequences.
Martial Arts has always been a hobby of mine. I’ve dipped my foot in the water of different styles but my main experience has been in Kyokushin Karate (while living in Japan) and Kickboxing and MMA stateside. As I learned, I noticed there was something lacking the way violence was executed in fiction. The repercussions were never really presented. Granted, maybe the story didn’t demand that but I was writing a story that DID.
As I studied the work of real world violence experts (like Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller), talked to my brothers who experienced live warzone combat and just plain personal experience in the gym, I felt there was a hole in the way fiction presented the mental and physical repercussions of violence. It’s either a comic book presentation, where the protagonist moves from opponent to opponent with ease (of mind and physicality)—the comic book presentation—or they just deal with the traumas that are both contrived and superficial (because, face it, most writers these days are beta-males whose only fight experience might consist of getting bullied on the playground).
Since I chose to write a realistic vigilante novel, that meant when a character punched someone in the face, without gloves, they’d break their knuckles if the fist landed on the thicker part of the skull. It meant that when people would experience nausea and adrenaline dumps after a confrontation, it meant that if a man were to lose a fight, then they would replay said fight in their mind, pride wounded, or even worse they might feel a form of post-traumatic stress. In effect, my violence would be the very definition of gritty.
So, if you like your violence raw, you might like Down To Sheol.