SPS-243: Fight Like a Girl: Crafting Believable Fight Scenes – with Aiki Flinthart

Just as with the choices characters make and their speech patterns, a good fight scene must accurately represent a character. It must also, ideally, move the plot forward. Aiki Flinthart is in a fight for her life, but even so, she shares with James her top tips for writing great fight scenes and discusses why that matters.

Show Notes

  • Starting a writing career so a child has more of what they like to read
  • Why knowing how physical combat works is a must for writers with fight scenes
  • What readers really care about in a fight scene
  • On the ways men and women react differently to adrenaline
  • Aiki’s checklist for writing a fight scene
  • Why a fight scene needs to be a complete story 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

HANDOUT: Aiki’s checklist for writing a good fight scene is here

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-243: Fight Like a Girl: Crafting Believable Fight Scenes - with Aiki Flinthart

Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Aiki Flinthart: I just want to write stories because I like writing stories and I'm not really into it for the money or the fame or the fortune or anything. I just like helping people and all my stories have some sort of theme to them that is designed to help people be better.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers.

Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It's The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Hello.

James Blatch: Hello, Mark Dawson. You're a busy man with your author career at the moment, which is interfering in my business which I do with you. So I'd like you to stop writing and focus.

I noticed this weekend you did an offer on book one of your series even to your list. Tell me about this strategy.

Mark Dawson: I did a KCD, so a Kindle Countdown Deal, which I haven't done for a while. I should do them more often because obviously they're pretty effective. You get the 70 percent royalty even if you drop the price down to 99 cents, so it can be quite effective. And I wanted to run one on the first in the series, knowing that the first sale of one book is worth more than just the 70 whatever cents I'd be getting on a 99 cent sale.

And if I look over there, I have a big whiteboard in the office with a fairly extensive Facebook campaign that I put together last week. So yeah, how many have we got? About 10 different ad sets UK and US, different targets, lookalikes, engagement lists, interests, all kinds of stuff. I'm running it fairly aggressive.

I wanted to spend a little bit heavier. My ad spend has dropped a lot at the moment. It's about nine percent of revenue right now, which obviously that's great and profit is quite high, but I wanted to invest a little bit in this campaign.

So I think I'm spending about $500 a day for the rest of the week to try and drive these sales. And I did a blast to the list yesterday as well and then immediately got five or six emails from readers saying, "I've gone over to the Amazon.com store page and it's weird." I couldn't easily replicate it from over here, so I asked in the SPF group and maybe 50 people were seeing the page was on some kind of automatic refresh loop, which meant that you couldn't get to the buy button before it refreshed. Which is quite annoying given I just sent out 100,000 emails.

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: And just fired off this Facebook campaign, so people wouldn't have been able to buy it. It was very weird. I emailed Amazon. Haven't gotten a reply back yet, but within an hour, as a few SPF community members suggested would happen, it cleared up. It looks fine now. So it's weird.

It's obviously happened before. Others said that this has happened to them. So just a heads up to anybody who is thinking about doing a KCD. It's probably worth letting it run for a couple of hours before you actually do anything to send any traffic to it and probably also check it yourself if you're in the US. It looks like it's only the US it's affected.

And maybe get other people in the US to check it for you because there's nothing more irritating, as I discovered yesterday, to send all this traffic to a page that can't convert.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: So yeah, there you go.

James Blatch: Now on another subject, we've had a few mentions in the group about Facebook campaigns being variously suspended for different reasons. I've had one this week, but it's just been clearly a glitch where you just get a note saying that your campaign has been picked up in breach of political campaigning guidelines or something and you ask for a review and it gets reinstated quickly.

Other people have said that they are starting to suspect that maybe Facebook doesn't like Amazon links in campaigns, which would be, let's face it, a massive blow to us if that was the case. But I've seen your posts and others in the groups and you're not convinced that that would be a serious threat.

Mark Dawson: No. Very, very far from convinced. It doesn't make any sense at all. The suggestion was, kind of the genesis was, someone made the mistake of speaking to a Facebook rep. And I've seen you even speak to a Facebook rep as well.

James Blatch: Is this a mistake? I got a couple of reps.

Mark Dawson: No, I don't rate them at all. They're sort of blanket statements and I'm sure there are plenty of good Facebook reps. Unfortunately I've never met any of them and some of the advice I've seen to community members has been, how shall I put this, tainted perhaps by "you should be running these campaigns."

Basically, these reps are not employed by you. They're not giving unbiased advice. They're employed by Facebook to make money for Facebook. And in my experience, their advice is variable, I'll be polite, at best.

So anyway, the issue was an author's VA, or assistant, contacted a Facebook rep and the Facebook rep said to her that you're not allowed to link from a Facebook ad to Amazon. So she posted this in the group. She was quite upset because I think she's had some issues with ads being shut down, possibly the account being suspended. This is obviously bad, so if she was doing very well, I won't name her, but she was doing very well with Facebook.

It was becoming a fundamental part of her career, really, her platform, and to suddenly have that taken down and then to be told you can't use Facebook ads to advertise Amazon products. So she posted this and immediately my reaction is that doesn't make any logical sense at all because Amazon is the biggest online retailer on the planet, unless there's a Chinese one that has caught up with it. But as far as I know, it's the biggest on the planet.

Why on earth would Facebook want to say to advertisers, "You can't advertise Amazon products". It just doesn't make any sense. So I started digging around. I contacted some people who I know who know quite a lot both on the Amazon side and the Facebook side specifically, and there's no confirmation at all that there's any issue here.

My campaigns that I just mentioned, they're all running. No issues at all. They're all going directly to Amazon. We looked at all kinds of reasons why it might be and the only conclusion that we could come to was that this was just a rep who doesn't know what he or she is talking about because it just does not make sense.

We looked at affiliate links. We looked at whether you're using short or long links or clean links. There was no consistency with people reporting issues with their ads. What it comes down to, I think, is that Facebook is shutting down tonnes of ads at the moment, as you say, partly because I think there's some glitchiness. I think they're being very sensitive about the US election and also they're changing their front end.

So the interface that we're seeing or the public facing side of Facebook is having a fairly significant refresh at the moment. I think it's a combination of all those things that's causing gremlins in the ad system that's shutting down loads of ads. Someone has then taken two and two and found five and before you know it, there's a minor panic.

But anyways, that's a very long way of me saying I don't think that's true. I've got no evidence that Facebook has any interest at all in shutting down the ability to advertise our books on Amazon with Facebook ads. None whatsoever.

James Blatch: Okay. As you say, it would make no sense, would it? Good.

I had quite a good chat with my Facebook rep. It took a little bit at the beginning for him to get over the basics, "have you heard of our new product campaign budget optimization?" And "I want to talk to you about dynamic creative." I knew all of this stuff.

But then when we got down to looking at some of the granular detail in the campaigns, the ones I drew away from. At first, I created a couple of new audiences on people who have interacted with existing campaigns and tried to create lookalike, or I did create lookalike audiences based on them, although then used what he said as tip, before you then try and use that audience, check the overlap with existing lookalike audiences, and it was quite significant, so probably not worth me running separate campaigns to them.

But I did quite like the way he picked out a little bit of audience that wasn't being well served in my current campaigns, which was women over 65. And he said sometimes when you see it, if you look down at those demographics and see quite a high click through rate, it might be worth pulling that out and putting it into a separate campaign to allow it to get more traction, more service, than it will get when it's boxed in with everything else and the algorithm is pushing the money elsewhere.

I thought it was quite a good tip so I will try 65 plus women this week, it sounds a bit odd saying that, and see if that works. So not all Facebook reps are alike. He seemed like a very nice chap from Ireland.

Mark Dawson: They're all nice. They're just not all very good.

James Blatch: Yeah. But it is definitely worth, if you're not in our Facebook groups, they're two very, very good groups connected with our courses, of course, Mastery and Genius, which is the one on one course and that's inverse order.

Mark Dawson: It's worth mentioning, the benefit of those, which you're probably going to say as well, take the credit for it anyway, was that we're selling books. So all the people in those groups are not selling widgets or courses or cars or tractors or lawnmowers, whatever you can sell with Facebook ads. We're all selling books.

So there are some specific idiosyncrasies that relate to what we do, how we do it, how we track the ads, profitability of the ads, read through. All of this stuff will be... basically, might as well be in Latin for your typical Facebook rep. It's not their fault, they just don't have any experience in the same way that we do. So my advice would be that there are some very, very knowledgeable advertisers who have sold hundreds of thousands of books in the Mastery group in particular for the Ads for Authors course. And my first port of call would be, and often is actually, we speak to those authors in that group because they will know a lot more than your common or garden Facebook rep.

James Blatch: The hive mind is very useful, indeed. Good. Okay. Right. We are going to move on to this week's-

Mark Dawson: Is your dog barking?

James Blatch: My dog is barking just looking out the window.

Mark Dawson: Who let the dogs out?

James Blatch: There's a decorator in at the moment and she will bark every time the decorator goes out for more than five minutes. She considers that then a breach of protocol to come back in, so she has to bark.

Mark Dawson: Basically she's making sure that you're not being ripped off.

James Blatch: Yes. Barking at Chris, our decorator, who it turns out is a [inaudible] fan, so I'm wearing my Cambridge United shirt today because Cambridge peaked Birmingham City at the weekend, which is fabulous, and I took three wickets yesterday in the cricket along with William, who took two, so I'm in the happiest mood you could possibly imagine today and very soon I'm going to be thrashing you at golf when we play golf.

Mark Dawson: I played golf twice over the weekend. First, Saturday was absolutely diabolical. Sunday it was quite good.

James Blatch: Define quite good.

Mark Dawson: Well, my first shot... this is going to be very boring for most people, but it was a par three but 160 yards and I landed it on the green about ten feet from the pin with my fair shot. Second shot, almost got my first birdie but just missed it and then tapped in for a par I was quite pleased with and only lost one ball yesterday. On Saturday, I lost six balls.

James Blatch: That is the frustrating thing about golf. You can approach it and sometimes you're on form, sometimes you're not.

Okay. Look, let's talk about our interviewee, Aiki Flinthart. Aiki is in Australia and she writes books that contain fight sequences or sort of fantasy books with a martial arts sort of a theme to them. Very successful author, very hardworking author, but she's into martial arts herself along with her husband. Her husband is also a blacksmith, I think I recall from the interview, but that means that she thinks about how to write fight scenes in a way that those of us who don't have that martial arts background and have never been in a proper fight probably don't think about it. So that's the adrenaline, how different people with different background experience will react when they're suddenly confronted in a fight.

All these things are incredibly useful to writers because your character might be someone who is set upon in a bar and is not used to that world at all. They are going to behave differently in a fight than someone who is trained armed forces background or whatever and this is everything she discusses in her excellent book How to Fight Like a Girl and talks about in this interview.

I should also say for people who know Aiki Flinthart and follow her online, I did not know before we started the interview that she's had a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year, which was a bit of a bombshell in this interview and sort of knocked me for six talking to her. But anyway, that's something, just to let you know, is discussed in the interview and obviously is a shadow over the interview from that point onwards, but Aiki is such a positive person, so into what she is doing, and seemed to really enjoy our chat together, which I'm pleased about.

And I think we got a lot out of it. This is not an area... in fact, the only other area we discussed on email afterwards is sex scenes. We don't really talk about how to approach and how to write them, but fight scenes appear as often as sex scenes, perhaps more often, in thrillers and so on and I think this is a good area for us to discuss. So here is Aiki and we'll be back for a chat off the back of this interview.

Aiki Flinthart, joining us all the way from Australia. Thank you very much indeed for coming onto the show. It always still puzzles me that all this works, this technology. You're sitting about as far away as you can from England, and yet here we are talking to each other, which is great.

Aiki Flinthart: It is. It's awesome, and thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. I love your guys' podcast. It's a lot of fun to listen to so glad to be on it.

James Blatch: Thank you. I'm really pleased to have you here. I'm excited about learning how to fight like a girl. I feel slightly nervous for saying that, but it is the title of one of your books and we're going to talk a little bit about writing fight scenes, particularly from a female perspective.

Let's hear a little bit about you, Aiki. I think you've been self publishing for a while now and I can see, glancing at the online retailers, you're doing well.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, not too bad. I was one of those random ones that I actually started writing many, many, many, many years ago and there are so many books in my drawer that will never come out that we all don't speak of. But about 2010, I wrote a series of five books for middle grade kids because my son was interested in reading adventure stories and I tried to get them published, but I knew nothing about the industry whatsoever.

I'm a bit of a control freak and I'm impatient so I just went, "Oh look, you can self publish. I'll just do that." So I kind of lucked out because I hit the beginning of the Kindle wave.

James Blatch:What year was this, Aiki?

Aiki Flinthart: 2010, 2011.

James Blatch: Oh, quite early on in the wave.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah and that series of five has actually had, I think, up to about half a million downloads now so that was kind of cool.

James Blatch: Wow.

Aiki Flinthart: But then I made a really stupid mistake and didn't realise it was actually doing so well because I have a life as well and I didn't write anything for two or three years. So the next books I put out were in 2015. So I kind of missed that keep your audience interested thing that you really need to do and put out more books, so the next block were harder to get sales on because I'd lost a lot of the audience. So my own stupid fault.

James Blatch: Best not to dwell on the fact that you didn't publish books in that gloriously fertile period.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: It's done now. And anyway, you've got a presence and I can see that now.

Did you do a lot of writing before this period? Was this something that just crept up on you or did you always want to be a writer?

Aiki Flinthart: I've always written. I've still got some of my really terrible things from primary school. And I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy and crime and romance and all of the genres, so it was just kind of natural.

My husband, I think, said to me, "You really should write. You tell really good stories," and I went, "Oh. All right. Yeah, I should." And then after the 80AD series went so well I went, "Hey, maybe I should take this seriously. This is really fun and look, people like it."

James Blatch: And your writing, I mean, I can see there is a bit of post-apocalypse sort of Japanese theme. Am I seeing that?

Aiki Flinthart: Well, I do a martial art called Aikido, so a lot of my heroines and heroes are also martial artists, just because you write what you know a lot of the time.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Aiki Flinthart: But I have one series that's urban fantasy that's actually set here in Brisbane, but current era, and one series that's not so much post-apocalyptic as science fantasy. So it's about 500 years in the future on a colony world which is settled by idealists from all cultures, so you get a bit of Asian, a bit of Arabic, a bit of Western, which was a lot of fun to research because I had to throw in all these random Asian and Arabic words that confused the hell out of people, but I figure people have got to learn these things.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Aiki Flinthart: We've got to be a bit more culturally aware these days.

James Blatch: And that's what it would be like if you were in that community.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah. If you've ever seen the TV series Firefly where they swear in Mandarin, that was the inspiration. I was like what a great idea.

James Blatch: Brilliant. You can get away with it like that.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: How many series do you have on the go at the moment? You finished the 80AD series, have you?

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, there's five in that series. There's four in the futuristic series, The Kalima Chronicles, which is these ones, Iron, Fire, and Steel. They were inspired because my husband is a blacksmith and I thought, "Oh, what happens if you have a world that has no iron deposits? How is the culture going to be affected if you suddenly find one when they've never had one before?"

And the urban fantasy, which is that series, has four in it at the moment. And I've just recently put out this one, Blackbirds Sing, which is a historical fantasy set in England in 1486.

James Blatch: Wow.

Aiki Flinthart: And that's actually, that was a challenge. That's a tapestry novel written of 24 short stories that all advance an overarching narrative with 24 different point of view characters, so that was exciting.

James Blatch: Sounds complex.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, it was but so much fun to write and that series is supposed to end up with I think seven books by the time I finish them all. I'm pretty sure I'm up to about 20 now, books altogether.

James Blatch: I was just going to ask you about your writing. Let me just pause for a moment and wind back.

Did you say your husband is a blacksmith?

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, that's where his hobby is. He likes to do blacksmithing. I do martial arts and archery. He does archery as well, so it's a bit of an apocalyptic family. So when the zombie apocalypse comes, we're fine.

James Blatch: You're fine. You're going to be in demand. So he's not a full-time blacksmith?

Aiki Flinthart: No.

James Blatch: People don't bring their horses up to the front of the house and he shoes them. Okay.

Aiki Flinthart: No, that's a farrier. Blacksmiths don't do that.

James Blatch: Oh, that's a farrier. I'm sorry. He makes swords. Those swords behind you, did he make those?

Aiki Flinthart: He actually did make this one, yeah. That's a short sword.

James Blatch: Wow.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, and the dagger that goes with it.

James Blatch: I should pay attention to Game of Thrones more. Okay. Good. Let me talk to you about writing, then. So your quite prolific by the sounds of it.

Talk about your process a little bit, your kind of word count and your timetable for book releases.

Aiki Flinthart: It's really tricky at the moment. You may not have seen the news because you probably don't follow me on Facebook, but I've actually earlier this year been diagnosed with terminal melanoma cancer. So all of my time releases went out the window and the last six months has just been oh my god, what am I doing, how do I make this life work now? Because they have given me maybe six to 12 months.

James Blatch: Oh my god.

Aiki Flinthart: I know it's a bit of an [explative] really.

James Blatch: Oh god, Aiki, I'm so sorry. And this was a bolt from the blue?

Aiki Flinthart: It was. I had a seizure on Christmas eve and went into hospital and they scanned my brain and went, "Oh well, okay. Here's the bad news." And yeah. It's just been trial and error, seeing what drugs will work, but unfortunately, nothing is working. So there's not a lot of time, but I really have six of these bloody books to write. I don't have time for this.

James Blatch: First of all, all our wishes go with you and I'm sure they haven't exhausted all the possible options for treatment yet. They're still trying some things? I know you've got to be careful with how you manage that expectation.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah. I was looking at a list the other day. I recently wrote a book to go after How to Fight Like a Girl but I wrote this one, which is How to Get Your Black Belt in Writing, which was basically just a consolidation of all of the things I've gone through in the last 10 years of learning how to write and how to market and how to get things out there.

And at the end of it, I went, "This is a list of all the stuff I've done in my life" and it's not that I've spent years doing lots of it. I spent many years doing martial arts and quite a few years now doing writing, but a lot of the other stuff, I've just done once or twice. So just this huge list of bungee jumping and scuba diving and random stuff that I've tried, and I'm like, I don't have any regrets. I've done everything except go to Mars, which was the only thing on my list that I can't do.

James Blatch: Yeah. So far. Well that's hardly compensation for what you're facing, the fact that you've lived your life to the full, but it's amazing and wonderful to hear. But anyway, best wishes from everyone here and I'm sure everyone listening as well is crossing everything and hoping that something somewhere turns around for you.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah. It is what it is. If something good comes, that's awesome, but to be honest, I've just been contracted by the Queensland Writers Centre to put together a workshop to help mentor new authors, and that's really what I've been doing for the last probably six years is workshops and mentoring and teaching because I just love it. I love the looks on people's faces when they finally go, "Oh, that's how first person point of view works" or "Oh my gosh, that's what showing not telling means."

James Blatch: I can see with your publications that there has been from the beginning, a teacher in you as well wanting to get other people going on this path.

Aiki Flinthart: Just a little.

James Blatch: Yeah, which is great as well. And you've obviously enjoyed your writing. You're enjoying that aspect of it and I think that's a really key part of imparting stuff because it should never be a chore.

Aiki Flinthart: No.

James Blatch: It should always be something that you want to do and that's going to make the books better and you've obviously got that going for you, Aiki.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, and I know there's a lot of philosophies out there about how many books you should write and how fast you should write them and what genre you should write in, and obviously each person makes their own choices based on what they want out of it and there's nothing wrong with any of those choices.

My personal choice is that I just want to write stories because I like writing stories and I'm not really into it for the money or the fame or the fortune or anything. I like helping people and all my stories have some sort of theme to them that is designed to help people be better.

James Blatch: Obviously since the diagnosis, things have turned upside down for you. Obviously priorities change.

Pre-diagnosis then, what was your writing routine and how many books were you publishing?

Aiki Flinthart: I was at the last couple of years doing probably four or so books a year. I've combined my own books with also editing anthologies for other writers, so putting short story collections together for people and teaching those writers how to write. So it's kind of a combination of mine and theirs. But I think I've generally been doing four books a year and the Blackbird series is meant to be probably two or three per year for the next three years because they are incredibly complex and involve a huge amount of research.

James Blatch: Right.

Aiki Flinthart: I think it takes me about four months to research one thoroughly enough to get it right and I'm sure people will still pick on me and tell me I've done something wrong.

James Blatch: They will. There's no question about that. That's how that works. So that is the challenge of writing actual historical fiction as opposed to fantasy. I can understand the Game of Thrones approach by Martin, to just shift it slightly into a fantasy world but more or less based in the world because at that point, you can just say to anybody who says to you, "They didn't have that type of iron" at that point, you can say, "they did in my world."

Aiki Flinthart: This one does have a slight fantasy element to it in that it uses the Fae, the Si, from Ireland.

James Blatch: Okay.

Aiki Flinthart: And that allows me to stretch the truth a little bit here and there. But words and characters are as real as possible.

James Blatch: Well, I'm guessing you've enjoyed that research as well.

Aiki Flinthart: Oh, yeah. The hard part is getting out of the bloody rabbit holes.

James Blatch: Yes.

Aiki Flinthart: I just spent three hours today learning how to swear in old Irish.

James Blatch: Well you never know. That could be useful.

Martial arts is a background for you and obviously is a bit of a passion for you. Was there a specific type, did you say, you did?

Aiki Flinthart: I tried several back in my 20s and martial arts is quite a personal thing. You have to find a style that suits you and a dojo and sensei that suits you because you can end up in a real dojo full of absolute meatheads and it just doesn't work for you, especially if you're a girl.

James Blatch: Dojo is the class and sensei is the instructor, is that right?

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, sorry. Yeah it is. Dojo is like the place where you go to train. And I ended up finding, with my husband training with me as well, we were learning an art called Yoshinkan Aikido, which is, if you've ever seen a Steven Seagal movie, that's what he does but without the bad acting.

James Blatch: Hey, don't dis the Seagal. I love a bit of Steven Seagal.

Aiki Flinthart: His martial arts is great.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Aiki Flinthart: I did that for about 20 years and that involves not only the martial arts side of things, it involves sword work and knife work and stick work as well. It's not great on groundwork, so it doesn't do a lot of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ground type fighting and it doesn't do a lot of the striking like Karate and things like that. It's mostly wrist lock and arm locks and joint locks and throws, take downs, strangles.

James Blatch: Okay.

Aiki Flinthart: So it's a great art. It's very disciplined.

James Blatch: And good for self defence, I'd imagine, if you've got that ability to put people into arm locks and stuff if they come at you.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, it's funny actually. You develop a different confidence when you walk around and you get annoyed a lot less when you have that mentality that okay, go for it. See how that goes. You kind of exude that and people stop annoying you so much. It's great.

James Blatch: Well, that's a good part of it, having that discipline, that calmness about you which knows that I can deal with it if it gets to that point, but I'd rather it didn't.

Aiki Flinthart: Yes.

James Blatch: Which is a good thing. Okay, so you've got this background. You obviously enjoyed that. I imagine you've done quite well in it.

You strike me as somebody, Aiki, who does well at whatever they throw themselves into.

Aiki Flinthart: I just worked myself practically to death to do well at everything.

James Blatch: I've often said on this podcast there's no special secret somewhere. It's just applying yourself. So you've introduced this into your books and I think it's helped inform the way that you write fight scenes.

And honestly for most of us, I once had a fight with Robin Ackroyd at school when I was 11. I don't really remember very much about it, but that is the beginning, middle, and end of my experience in physical combat. And I'm probably typical, or maybe I've got a little bit more experience.

We suddenly find ourselves writing about something we have almost zero personal experience of, so I'm guessing that's what you're bringing to some of the conversations you have with writers.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah trying to because people tend to write what they see in movies and that's just not ever going to work, mainly because it's incredibly boring to read hit, punch, kick, punch, hit, hit, hit, punch, punch, punch. It's really dull and movies are so visual and books are just not.

So you have to take advantage of what books do offer, which is that access to the inner workings of the character's mind and how they feel about the whole thing. I actually did a survey with my son, who is 23, and a bunch of his friends and just said okay, so what makes you skip a fight scene, because a lot of them said they did skip fight scenes.

And they said oh, we just don't care. We don't care. We just skip to the end to see who survived and that's all we want to know. So it made me realise that most people really are not interested in what kind of punch got thrown. They just want to know how the person felt about being hit.

James Blatch: Yes. And I guess some of your characters would be experienced fighters.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: And others will be set upon and flailing about trying to defend themselves and how you write from their perspective will alter.

Aiki Flinthart: Definitely, and that's part of what Fight Like a Girl goes through; it's not just about women, it's about the differences between how men and women actually both approach, handle, and react to violence in the whole sequence of it, because it's not just the fight itself, it's everything that leads up to it will depend on whether they're male or female, will depend on whether they're trained or untrained, what they see, what they don't see.

And as a writer, you get to use all of that to make the scene more immersive. If your girl who is out for a night on the town and has no training walks into a bar, sounds like a joke, and she sees the Midori on the shelf or the rum on the shelf, then that's what that character would notice.

But the girl who is trained might notice the slippery floor or the obstacles of the chairs or the exits where the bathroom is or the shotgun the barkeeper has behind the bar. And then as a writer, you use those implements to foreshadow and then actually be used in the fight scene and that informs the reader both about the character and about what sort of person they are based on what they see and how they fight. So there's a huge differences.

James Blatch: That already makes it more interesting, hearing it from that perspective. I always remember a poster I saw when I was a reporter and a police cafeteria or something had a load of safety posters up directed at the police, and one of them was something like, "Are you about to be hit? Are you about to be assaulted?" And it had a checklist of things to look for. So the suspects are backing away from you a little bit to give themselves space, avoiding eye contact just before and going calm, or triggers. And not necessarily people are very different, but these are things that... And I think most policemen said they after a while just develop that sixth sense that this person is about to have a go.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: That's the sort of thing you're talking about. Somebody who walks around thinking about that, looking for that, as opposed to the rest of us who are clueless walking into a bar.

Aiki Flinthart: Well you'd actually be really surprised how one of the big differences between males and females is things like women are really good at being aware of micro expressions, which is why often, and I don't know if you've ever been out with a girl who says, "Oh, this dude next to me is a bit of a creep" and her boyfriend might go, "No, he's fine. I know him. He's great."

But she's actually picked up on the micro expressions which say this dude is a creep and he may not have because it's a difference between how men and women actually see the world. And there's so many other differences.

Biochemistry is different, body language is different, how they handle adrenaline is different. There's just so many things that go into it, and even the aftermath. You're married, are you?

James Blatch: I am married, yes.

Aiki Flinthart: Have you ever had a fight with your wife, an argument, and you walked out of the room, five minutes later you're fine, you come back in, you try to patch it up, and she's just still going, "Oh no, this is so not over." Have you ever had that moment?

James Blatch: Do you know what? It's sometimes a little bit the other way around. She's incredibly sanguine and pragmatic and doesn't sulk.

Aiki Flinthart: That's good.

James Blatch: I'm the sulky one. I have to bring myself around. But I am aware of that dynamic.

Aiki Flinthart: Well yeah, because most women, the adrenaline curve is little bit askew from what men's is, so if they're really angry, they get angry a bit later and they stay angry a lot longer.

James Blatch: Right. That second wave.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, so you can bring all of that into the writing of fight scenes if you understand the difference between how men and women react.

James Blatch: You've done this brilliant checklist for writing a fight scene and I think some of the things we've been talking about are drawn into that. This is quite a detailed checklist and I guess some of it is, as you said first of all, what is the character's experience. You've got to be aware from how they're going to notice things or be oblivious to it or are they prepared, all the rest of it, and then you get into the fight scene itself.

Interestingly, your first point on this checklist is, is the scene necessary to advance the plot, which I guess is a question you ask about every scene, right?

Aiki Flinthart: It is, yeah, but so many people throw a fight scene in because they think it's a bit slow and they ought to speed things up. It's that and sex scenes, the two of them.

James Blatch: And in terms of POVs, some books are obviously just first person and they're restricted to that. Other books are omniscient or the rest of it.

Would you say a fight scene works better when it's written from one person's point of view?

Aiki Flinthart: It only has to be the person who is most changed that you're in the point of view of. So whoever is emotionally most affected by the fight. Now obviously that's not going to work if you're writing the whole book in a single point of view, in which case you might have to rethink the fight, but you've got to be aware that you're also using the scene to manipulate a reader's emotions, so you need to know what you want the reader to feel, and that also depends on your genre, because for some genres like a thriller, it's fight scene after fight scene after fight scene and there's pretty much no emotion in it anyway.

But if you're writing a romance, then most of what the reader is there for is the emotional element, so your fight scenes are going to be really short and from the person who is most affected by it, their point of view. So there's so much that goes into choosing which character to write it from if you've got the option to choose more than one. It's really hard to give a blanket, "This is the best character" because it's going to depend very much on the book and the genre.

James Blatch: Yeah, and as you say, the one who has changed the most out of it. The idea of the person who walks in and notices the exits and the micro aggressions or whatever from people sitting around, useful, I suppose, to set up something if you want the bar stool or the vodka bottle to be involved in a fight later to think ahead when you're writing the scene, have a little bit of that put in place. Foreshadowing, as we say.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: This is a detailed checklist and we're going to send this out with the podcast and people can come and get this.

Aiki Flinthart: That's not even half of it. I was looking at is going, "it's going too long. I have to stop."

James Blatch: Based on what we've said so far, do you have a higher level set of advice for people writing a fight scene that you can give us?

Aiki Flinthart: The key thing is how much the character is aware. Are they even aware that they're walking into trouble or not and how well equipped are they for dealing with it? How much have they noticed? How many weapons have they got? Are they trained for the weapons or not?

Are they male and female, because that makes a difference to how they handle the whole thing? And how much you can just things up to keep the reader interested. So you don't want to have one big brawl in a pub because that's boring. Find somewhere interesting to set it and switch it up halfway through or three quarters of the way through so that you get a new setting if you possibly can. And if you watch movies, you'll see they do that. They'll switch up the settings to ramp up the tension.

And that's one of the key things to fights is you've got to keep ramping up the tension all the way through until you get to the darkest hour where things are about to go horribly wrong and then suddenly your heroine or your hero triumphs at the end. It's almost like a mini full book, if you like, and each scene is actually, no matter whether it's a fight scene or not, really should almost have the same structural elements that a full book does. It's just all squished. Does that make sense?

James Blatch: It does make sense, yeah. It's got to be a journey, which is the word that Mark hates, but it is basically that, isn't it?

Aiki Flinthart: It is.

James Blatch: A little story in its own right. So in terms of the mechanics of a fight, I guess in most situations, you've probably got one protagonist who is good, they probably started it, and they think they know what they're doing, and somebody who is very likely suddenly defending themselves without any skills. So when you do your martial arts, you presumably envisage the scenario where you've got somebody who doesn't know what they're doing but is coming at you. Presumably you don't teach aggression where you start a fight against somebody who doesn't know what they're doing. But I'm thinking from writing.

Technically, do we need to understand what humans to do defend themselves and what somebody who knows what they're doing is going to do? Is that a useful set of skills?

Aiki Flinthart: It actually is incredibly useful because in terms of how people react emotionally, it is very different between someone who is trained and experienced versus someone who has no experience and no training. The set of chemicals that get dumped into your blood and how you manage that and how you are dealing with those chemicals is incredibly different based on your ability and skill and experience. So how you write the character, for example, if you are doing a close first person on someone who is untrained, it's all going to be a blur.

They're just going to be overwhelmed with adrenaline and fear and all of those feelings, whereas a trained person can handle all of that and sideline it and can still get the fight done without being completely swamped and not knowing what to do. There is actually a concept that an American general came up with called... oh gosh, I've just had a blank. But it's basically a loop that you get stuck in when your brain can't process things because it's never experienced it before.

James Blatch: Right.

Aiki Flinthart: And you see a knife coming, you go, "Oh, look, it's a knife. What should I do?" And your brain goes, "When have I ever dealt with a knife before?" And your brain goes, "Oh, I've never dealt... oh, I've been stabbed. Oh no. Hey. What do I do now? Oh look, I've been stabbed again." Whereas somebody with experience who has dealt with a knife before doesn't get stuck in that loop of "I don't know what to do because I've never done it before." Does that make sense?

James Blatch: Yeah, it does completely make sense. So from a survival point of view, having thought through things in advance is going to be a big help.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: Maybe had some experience. I do remember my hostile environment training back in the BBC days. We were taught by these SAS guys.

Aiki Flinthart: Cool.

James Blatch: Yeah, it was really cool. It was a week immersed in this stuff. Most of it was first aid, actually, because they tell you at the beginning that most journalists who die in war zones die from heart attacks and car accidents.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: But then a minority are kidnapped or shot. But they were amazing, these guys. I remember we had lots of guns to play with, holding a Browning nine millimetre and saying in simple terms, if someone comes at you with a gun, what would you do? And as I finished the sentence, he took it off me. He just smacked it out of my hand and he was holding it and I wasn't. He said, "Well, that's the first thing to do." And that's him living and breathing this every day of the week and as I moved the weapon towards him, realised that he could smack it without me even noticing out of his hand. So he's probably saved his own life a few times with that.

Aiki Flinthart: I actually do that demo when I give workshops for people, live workshops. I get someone to hold a plastic gun up and I just take it away from them while they're still going, "Whoa."

James Blatch: Exactly. And the stories they told us, I can't even repeat some of them, but they were serving in parts of the world where the people coming at them were amateurish. They weren't all like on the films, highly trained assassins. They were sometimes kids with guns.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: In parts of the world.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, it's not happy. Not nice.

James Blatch: No. Not at all. But key point here is really important, I can see it thematically in your checklist, is what is the world experience of your person you're writing because the way that they're going to envisage this, as you say, is going to be very different indeed. Yeah. Flailing about.

Aiki Flinthart: Flailing is the key response to the untrained person. It's just flail. One of the fun things is that women, untrained women, actually fight quite differently to untrained men, and I like to call it basically a 70 kilogramme cat. If you imagine a 70 kilogramme angry cat, that is pretty much how a woman fights when she's not trained.

James Blatch: Yeah. I'm never fighting a cat, I can tell you that now. Coming off second best every day of the week.

Aiki Flinthart: No.

James Blatch: Okay, well look, let's come up with a URL for this. We always do this live during the interview. I'll write it down and remember it. But if we say selfpublishingformula.com/fight F-I-G-H-T, I think that's a nice little URL and we will send out this, as I say, it's quite a detailed checklist.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: Mainly for female characters but you've got in brackets and male characters as well.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, because the book actually does deal with both options because you have to know both. If you're a female writer, you've got to understand the difference between how men and women fight, otherwise it's not going to come across realistic to your male writers.

James Blatch: Indeed. You always have to consider the level of detail you're going to go into depending on what level of visceral of detail you want in your book. Some books are going to be gore and violence and that's the fan service that they're serving.

Middle grade books are going to be written in a very different way. And there's a bit of a challenge there, isn't there?

Aiki Flinthart: I liken it to the difference between writing, say, the fight scene in The Princess Bride, which pretty much everyone has seen now. It's all witty banter and fancy footwork and no blood is spilled. And then comparing that to some of the horror movies, where there's guts and blood all over the ceiling by the time the scene is finished.

James Blatch: Yeah. It would be interesting to revisit Suzanne Collins. Is it Suzanne Collins? Have I got the name right? The Hunger Games.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: For writing essentially a young person's novel centred around visceral violence, because there's a trick to that.

Aiki Flinthart: I haven't read her books. I've watched the movies but I haven't read the books, so I'd be interested to know what she's done differently as well.

James Blatch: Again, I think the more you become immersed in somebody's own perspective about it is probably safer territory rather than being the sort of a camera view of the blood splats.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, and like I said, my son's friends and everything were quite adamant that they really didn't care about what kind of punch or how many guts got spilled. They just wanted to know how people felt about it.

James Blatch: Yeah. And just to round off the section on fighting, going back to the beginning, when you come up to this scene in your book, it's got to serve a purpose right?

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: As you say, you've got to drive through it and at the end of this, have been moved on in the book, otherwise there is no point in having it.

Aiki Flinthart: One of the things I really like to do in my books is to have the plot, the theme, and the character arc are all pretty much so closely intertwined that every scene has to affect all three of them, and that gives the reader a sense of satisfaction because the character has grown, the plot has been advanced, and you've underscored the theme of the whole story as well all in one hit. And if you can advance a subplot as well, then bonus points.

James Blatch: Yeah, brilliant. Well, your writing is obviously very strong, Aiki. In fact, I see you've won a few awards.

Aiki Flinthart: Well I've been short listed and top eight listed and finalist for several, but haven't quite managed to win one yet.

James Blatch: That's annoying.

Aiki Flinthart: They Australian speculative fiction Aurealis Awards are a very hard fight to win. The Australian spec fic writers are amazing. They're such good writers.

James Blatch: That's fantastic.

Do you find in Australia because of your geographic location to East Asia that you do get a little bit more of the martial arts, Japanese perhaps, influence in writing?

Aiki Flinthart: I don't know that I've noticed that it's any different. Martial arts is so widespread across the world these days in so many different types that it creeps into a lot of writing, even if people don't realise it.

James Blatch: Yes.

Aiki Flinthart: We'll blame Jackie Chan and his amazing movies for making it all popular and Jet Lee and Bruce Lee. But we certainly do, like a couple of my very good friends, Kylie Chan and a couple of others, Tracey Harding, they both write martial arts girls as well, which is great. There is this little group of us who all write these badass women, which is so much fun.

James Blatch: All of your books have female leads?

Aiki Flinthart: No, the 80AD series actually has two. It has a 14 year old boy and a 14 year old girl and they both get dumped into their 17 year old avatars in a computer game set back in 80AD, so it's equal. Equal points of view.

But one of the key things that I really do try very hard to do is write my male characters, the sub-characters if they're not point of viewed, I try to write them as equals to the women and the women equals to the men because I think that's a pretty important message to get across to people these days, is that okay, not all the characters have to be kick ass women to be equals. They just have to be women and they can still be on an equal footing even if they don't kick butt and kill people.

James Blatch: Just seen as unquestionable that there is equality.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah.

James Blatch: So Aiki, you've got this terrible news, devastating news, and have you planned your books over the next few months?

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah, I've actually been trying desperately to get them out this year, the ones I already had half done. So I got this one, which was a heap of fun. Does this come out the right way for you or does it come backward?

James Blatch: No, that's correct. Zookeeper's Tales of Interstellar Oddities. Sounds brilliant.

Aiki Flinthart: This was a collaboration between myself and Pamela Jeffs, who is another spec fic writer. We both wrote this science fiction series of short stories all set in a bar in space in the middle of the future 500 years or so. It was just so much fun to write all these amazing short stories and we're just like, "We've got to get this out this year."

And I really want to get the sequel to Blackbirds out this year as well and that's partially done too. So it keeps me going. It stops me from lying around on the couch, whining about my life.

James Blatch: I can't imagine for one moment you lying around on the couch doing nothing. You seem like a very incredibly purposeful person, Aiki. Thank you so much indeed for joining us, and particularly thank you for the insight on writing fight scenes, which now we come to talk about. I don't think we've ever spoken about this over three years of this podcast. I don't think it's an area that people really think about ahead of time, but what a difference it will make to the authenticity of the scene.

Aiki Flinthart: Absolutely, yeah.

James Blatch: To get insights or to understand in advance the different perspectives, how that's going to feel. And all I can say is good luck.

Aiki Flinthart: Yeah. It'll be fine. Either way, it's all good. I'll end up in Valhalla with Thor and swilling ale or something.

James Blatch: Yeah, watch out for Odin. You know what he's like.

Aiki Flinthart: Oh, Odin's not bad. It's Loki you've got to look out for.

James Blatch: Oh, Loki, yes. That's it. Well look, it's inspirational hearing how you're dealing with it. I would be in a crumpled heap on the sofa.

Aiki Flinthart: Been there, done that. Then went out and picked up my throwing knives and threw them at the brain scans that showed me my 13 tumours. It was very cathartic.

James Blatch: Good. Best of luck, Aiki. All we can say to you now and stay in touch, let us know how things are going, and if we can help you, let us know.

Aiki Flinthart: Will do. Thanks, James.

James Blatch: Have you had many fights in your life, Mark?

Mark Dawson: Oh, frequently. Can't you tell? I'm vicious.

James Blatch: Didn't you punch a rock star once?

Mark Dawson: A rock star tried to punch me. Lemmy from Motorhead took a swing at me at the Rainbow on Sunset Boulevard, which is about as glamorous as my life ever got. And yeah, he missed. He was quite drunk. He missed. I ducked underneath it and ran away, basically. But no, I'm not a big fighter. It might not be a surprise to anybody.

James Blatch: So when you write these fight scenes, where is your knowledge coming from? You presumably have fight scenes. Well I know you do because I've read a couple of your books.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I think you just put yourself in their imaginations and think about, I think for me, language choice is quite important. You don't want to have flowery language that detains the reader too much. You're not trying to write beautiful fight scenes. They should be visceral and staccato and short sentences, very short paragraphs, to convey a sense of pace and threat and things like that. So that's how I've always done it.

Obviously we've both watched lots of film, so I'm sure that how I write those scenes and how I write everything is influence heavily by the films that I've seen. And that could be Bollywood films, it could be Wing Chun films, so Chinese films. All kinds of different things. Hollywood blockbusters, the Borne films, shaky handheld, all this stuff is all kind of mixing and merging to form an experience that I can draw on when I'm writing those kinds of scenes. I think I don't do a bad job. I'm quite good at that, but you can always be better, so this is a good interview.

James Blatch: Yes, and just to repeat that we mentioned in the interview, there is a handout to go with this to help you craft more realistic and exciting fight scenes if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/fight, F-I-G-H-T, you can get that from Aiki.

And all we can do is just wish Aiki well. I find it quite inspirational listening to her talk and how she's dealt with it. She's described that she's been through the desperate phase of it all and staring into the abyss and is now, I think, coming to terms with something I find almost impossible to come to terms with and has planned things out. My heart goes out to her and her family and we just wish her... Well, all we can hope for is some sort of miracle, but we wish her that.

Okay, thank you very much indeed. Thank you Mark. As we mentioned in the first half of this show, don't forget that we do have Facebook groups you can join if you just search Self Publishing Formula on Facebook. You'll see the genre specific groups and then the big community group SPF Community group, I think it's called, which would be a good place for you to check in first when you start to get those alarming emails from Facebook and other people. That's it. We'll be back next week, so thank you. All that remains for me to say is goodbye from here.

Mark Dawson: And goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with The Self Publishing Show.

Leave a Review