The internal scars of fight club

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A question asked of me recently on Quora was, Do you have any tips on how to write fight scenes? Not wishing to be anyone’s pro bono ghostwriter, I related to the question in the same way it was posed to me: personally…

fight_club_desktop_wallpaper_by_jaseighty6-d5wgva5JaseEighty6, DeviantArt

Just as there are a finite number of plots but near-infinite stories, there are countless fight scenarios. Assuming a physical fight, and not the kind of mental torment which can play in the mind forever, then it comes down to genre.

‘Show, don’t tell’ is most writers’ rule, each has their own style, and you’ll get a different answer from every author you ask. Experiment, play, throw away, and you’ll find something which works for you.

There’s a part of the writer in every story, whether it be a personality trait in a character, or a location from the fringe of memory. I write mainly science fiction, horror and surrealism, but whether one of those or something completely different (I write children’s stories too), I’ll always put myself in a story. If I was writing a fight scene, I’d place myself in one or more of the characters – probably writing in first person – so I’m in the thick of the action, either beating someone up or getting laid out myself.

Us writers we have only words, so the imagery is in our readers’ minds rather than on-screen, but we can engage all of the senses nonetheless.

Avoid cliches (we know blood is blood red), and think yourself into the scene: The way someone’s face contorts when you punch them in the jaw; and on the other end, a splitting sound, like a wishbone being pulled as a mallet hits you in the face. There’s a sharp, searing headache as your brain bounces around your skull and you fall, grateful as the concrete floor turns out the lights. You wake with a mouth full of gravel, and spit jagged pearls, marbled red like tiny scoops of raspberry ripple ice cream, and you smell iron, like the barbells at the gym, as blood congeals in your nose. As you tend your wounds in the mirror, you plot revenge.

Fight scenes are situations you need to have been in to tell the story convincingly. Some things in real life become impossible to relate, so the fight is in the words as they’re written on the page. It’s why I use a typewriter: the physical impact of metal platen onto pristine paper leaves not just a mark, not only words in ink like a tattoo, but an impression, and a much deeper scar.

If the battlefield is the kind of mental torment which can play in the mind forever, then this was a parable of the internal conflict I face every day in my head. That’s why I write, experiment, play and throw away: Writing as therapy.

Dialogue can help, and sometimes talking to yourself can be as useful as fighting your alter ego. The first rule of fight club in writing, is there are no rules.

In make-up with Max Headroom

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There are three people in all of us (and I’m one of them): The person we think we are; the one others see; and the third, inner (or shadow) self. I’m in touch with that third person, just as I can write from the perspective of others. I can read thoughts, then write them down for people to think about. I can be omnipresent in my virtual worlds, directing the thoughts of those there with me, and that’s where I’m finding myself lately, in an empty room. It’s where I left my ego.

Max Headroom in make-upJohn Humphrys at Frieze

A great philosopher never wrote this:

Imagine you’re in an empty room, with no visible means of exit: How do you escape?

Whether or not anyone had posited that mind experiment before, it was one I’ve posed to myself many times. In any case, I’d first ponder whether the subject might not want to escape. Then I’d propose one of two things: Stop imagining, or use your imagination.

I may not got out much (social anxiety), but I will if someone needs me and they can’t get to me. It’s far easier (mentally) not to go out, and have friends like me, who’ll make an effort when I need someone. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those.

I thought I did. Even as recently as my birthday, I was prepared to put my personal plans to one side to help a friend who said they needed a shoulder and an ear. Even if they didn’t need me on the day, I’d let it be known that I’d appreciate the company (to one who said they’d drop everything for a friend in need), but apparently it doesn’t work that way. I seem to be back living on one-way streets again, but that’s fine.

I’m used to being kerbside, just watching the world go by or hitching a ride, and my birthday told me where I stood: Far from alone in the real world life, but apart from most and not a part of many. I have to choose my own adventure, like the fighting fantasy books I used to read before I had anyone to play Dungeons and Dragons with (back in my teens, but no longer). All the geeks grew up and got jobs. I’m the only one who lost all their hit points and longed to be a teenage nerd again, but when memories are forgotten, they become stories.

Everyone else respected my annual tradition of wanting to be alone, on the one day of the year I can allocate myself to gather my thoughts. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, and the mind grows wiser, as I realised I’m better alone than surrounded by carrion feeders anyway. It seems some I thought were friends (in the mutual, two-way paradigm) are only that for their own convenience, when I have something they want, or when it suits them. A plague of rain and floods on fair weather friends, as no-one needs those, least of all when mental health issues make that one vulnerable (and causes one to refer to oneself as ‘one’).

In the virtual world, a quick scan of the (admittedly, quite a few) messages on Facebook told me more than a night out with all of them would (I wouldn’t have time to get round them all, it’d cost too much to drink with each, and I’d have to travel). There were many notable absences, which stung a bit, but that perhaps told me something too: they’re less likely to be there in the real world when I need them than I thought.

Truth is, people are frightened of what they (and I) don’t understand: my broken brain. Always the elephant in the room, laying eggs for people to walk over, I don’t have the luxury of avoiding me, because I live there. I can’t run away to escape my mind, and no-one else visits it, so I face the mirror.

Ever the cracked actor, this blog has always been both the mask I hide behind and some of what goes on behind it. I’m far more comfortable being someone else, but that’s often the person I want to be, in whom I feel comfortable, but who others can find overwhelming in real life. But in the virtual world, I can be that inner persona.

As a writer who’s been compared to others I admire in the various genres (Lovecraft, Kafka, King and Poe in horror; Douglas Adams for sci-fi; Paul Auster in my more complex writing; many children’s authors; and the surrealists, Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas for Cyrus Song), I’ve decided now’s as good a time as any for reinvention and a change of clothes.

My recent depressive episode coincided with the latest attack of writer’s block. Having worn so many hats in the past, I wasn’t sure which one to put back on. But then that third person in me suggested another way: don’t conform to any. Do something different, unconventional and surprising. Mix things up a bit and come up with the thoughts no-one has (like the two foundation ideas in Cyrus Song). There are a finite number of plots, but infinite ways to write them, each creating a new universe and all talking to me.

Be original: Your individuality is your originality. This could be a metamorphosis, a changing of the chameleon’s colours, or just another crack I’ve found in the actor’s mind, but I’ll see where it takes me and my typewriter as we make up and wake up.

Much of the writing I did in those recent troubled times, and which is in the notebooks I carried around and sat in front of the TV with, is all over the place, like I was. In amongst it all though, there are stories, and some like none I’ve written before. There are elephants in there: floating elephant heads, which walk on their trunks (eight each, like a spider), sucking up eggs and denying the birth of another life, preventing sentience, self-determinism and coping mechanisms.

There’s a plastic population: people who are part plastic (every human); there’s the hacking of human DNA; a quantum computer, becoming one with its creator; nano-drones, right under our noses, observing and interacting with us while we curse a sneeze; the tale of an escaped Schrödinger’s cat, back to tell tales of nine lives spent in parallel universes; and the world’s greatest irony, in a lake beneath the Kalahari desert, where the water is fossilised.

I don’t know what else might emerge. As a writer, I’m going to experiment, play, throw away, and I’m keen to find out. I’m stuck in a room, but I have an imagination. I’ll write more in that third person and occupy the shadow self. Making love with my ego. Like a leper messiah.

Cyrus Song is available now.