“Them’s Fightin Words”: Fighting and Combat

 Fight. (v)

Old English feohtan “to combat, contend with weapons, strive; attack; gain by fighting, win” (intransitive; class III strong verb; past tense feaht, past participle fohten), from Proto-Germanic *fehtan (cognates: Old High German fehtan, German fechten, Middle Dutch and Dutch vechten, Old Frisianfiuhta “to fight”), from PIE *pek- (2) “to pluck out” (wool or hair), apparently with a notion of “pulling roughly” (cognates: Greek pekein “to comb, shear,” pekos “fleece, wool;” Persian pashm “wool, down,” Latin pectere “to comb,” Sanskrit paksman- “eyebrows, hair”).

Spelling substitution of -gh- for a “hard H” sound was a Middle English scribal habit, especially before -t-. In some late Old English examples, the middle consonant was represented by a yogh. Among provincial early Modern English spellings, Wright lists faight, fate, fecht, feeght, feight, feit, feyght, feyt,feort, foight.

From c. 1200 as “offer resistance, struggle;” also “to quarrel, wrangle, create a disturbance.” From late 14c. as “be in conflict.” Transitive use from 1690s. To fight for “contest on behalf of” is from early 14c. To fight back “resist” is recorded from 1890. Well figt þat wel fligt (“he fights well that flies fast”) was a Middle English proverb.


Fighting and Combat

If you are writing a novel that has fighting and combat scenes in it, it is important to consider what the reader will take away from it. Will they skim the every-last-detail and skip to the character-driven scenes and dialogue? How does a writer entice the reader to stay on the page and understand the character development that you have put hours into creating?

Think about Word Selection and Wordsmithing

Your choice of words can provide a crucial element or hint to the reader of what is happening in the story going forward, or bring it back to a certain point in a previous chapter. The way the protagonist fights, walks away, or uses dialogue to convey what they are thinking at that moment will keep your reader wanting more.

Also consider what the supporting characters in the room are doing during the fight. Are they chatting quietly, egging on the fighters, or placing bets on who will win while drinking whiskey?

What happens to that quiet character you’ve been showing on the page, does he get excited by the blood flow? Maybe that is a hint to your reader that there is more than meets the eye.

Who comes to help in the fight? Who stays out of the way? Maybe your character that everyone thinks would jump right in, will stay on the sidelines. The female at the bar, who one would not expect to help, will be fighting right alongside with her weapon that she has hidden on her at all times.

“Even if you’re not all that interested in firearms and knives, it’s worth getting them right because of how stories can hinge on the way characters use them. Did that revolver hold six shots or only five? In a critical scene, that could mean the difference between a character being alive or not. Are you sure that knife is legal for your character to carry? If it’s not, the knife might not match the character’s profile.”

– Benjamin Sobieck, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons

On my Pinterest Word List board, I have this pinned. I think it is a good reference when you find your fight scenes are lacking some color or action words.  If you are trying to craft the write (right) scene to jump off the page,  and have your readers thinking about the scenario and what happens next.

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Fulfill the promise of your book

Carefully research your weaponry and your fighting styles are true to your era to ensure you don’t break suspension of disbelief. Think about King Arthur and the Medieval setting  — broadswords, flails, chain mail, halberds, and horsemen’s axes.

Now consider a story set in a more contemporary era. What would be the weapon of choice? Guns.

A Civil War era novel would have the Henry lever-action rifle, the Spencer repeating rifle, or a Smith & Wesson Schofield.  But you would want to use AK-47s, or M16 rifles, if you are writing a novel set in post-World War II, for infantry combat.

In This Kind of War, historian T.R. Fehrenbach’s seminal work on The Korean War, he wrote:

“You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud.”

Here are 21 words that are obscure and may lead you down a different path in your writing. Did you know the suffix machy is Greek, from -mache, to fight?

Word Definition
alectryomachy cock-fighting
batrachomyomachy battle between frogs and mice; a burlesque poem attributed to Homer
cynartomachy bear-baiting using dogs
duomachy duel or fight between two people
gigantomachy war of giants against the gods
hieromachy fight or quarrel between priests
hoplomachy fighting while heavily armoured
iconomachy opposition to the worship of images or icons
logomachy contention about words or in words
monomachy single combat; a duel
naumachy mock sea-battle
pneumatomachy denial of the divinity of the Holy Ghost
poetomachia contest or quarrel among poets
psychomachy conflict between the body and the soul
pygmachy boxing; fighting with clubs
pyromachy use of fire in combat
skiamachy sham fight; shadow boxing
symmachy fighting jointly against a common enemy
tauromachy bullfighting
theomachy war amongst or against the gods
titanomachy war of the Titans against the gods

Hope you enjoyed “Them’s fighting words…”

For Further Reading:

Kyle Misokami’s The 5 Deadliest Guns of Modern War

The Middle Ages, Chivalry and Knighthood

Five Essential Tips for Writing Killer Fight Scenes 

Writing Tips: Guns, Bullets And Shooting With J. Daniel Sawyer

Benjamin Sobieck’s The Writer’s Guide to Weapons

Top 12 Western Classics

Word Chart courtesy of The Phrontistery

‘Fight’ definition courtesy of Online Etymology Dictionary

The Internet Movie Firearms Database

 

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