- by Chris Marie Green
This is going to seem like a really random topic for a writer’s blog entry, but I was choreographing a fight scene the other day for the first book in a new “post-apocalyptic urban fantasy noir” series. I considered punches, new-fangled weapons, and harsh words as components, and during my brainstorming, I even thought about using a slap to escalate the tension. But for some reason, it felt too…
That made no sense at all to me until I started really thinking about the significance of a slap and what great weight it holds (and how every gesture matters when we carefully choose our words for a scene).
Consider the power of a slap in these examples:
* While Indiana Jones is chasing down a Nazi with his father riding in that silly motorbike sidecar in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, the pair comes to a halt at a crossroads, not knowing which way to go. Indy gets testy with Jones, Sr., using a curse that earns him a smart slap from his dad. When I saw this, I actually sucked in a breath. This was the best example of slap-emasculation I’ve ever seen. Indiana Jones, of all heroes, has been smacked and is just sitting there looking like a cowed little boy. In Indy’s adventurous career, we’ve seen him get punched, kicked, and even burned with fire, but the slap was the one thing that seemed to really disable him. The horror.
* In JAWS, when good Chief Brody fails to shut down the shoreline after the initial shark attack, the grieving mother of a young victim approaches him and slaps him. The worst part about this is that you can see in his expression that, if he could’ve slapped himself before now, he would have. The slap is mortifying and enraging, because Brody takes responsibility for what happened even though others are at fault. Unlike Indy, who falls from hero-hood ever so slightly after his slap (until he rises up again), a hero is actually born in Brody at this point.
* After Bruce Wayne almost turns into a public vigilante, nearly shooting the man who killed his parents in BATMAN BEGINS, he unburdens himself to Rachel Dawes. In return, she slaps him once. Then twice. One could say that this knocks some sense into him and he embarks on his heroic path at this point, but for me, it caused a raging hatred for the Rachel character. Somehow, during the previous two slap examples I listed above, the slapper retained my sympathy, but after Rachel’s second slap, she was dead to me. One slap would’ve been enough, but with two, she got out the scalpel and went to work on Bruce’s most vulnerable parts.
So why is a slap, which is so much less physically damaging than a punch or kick, so stunning? Does it hearken back to parental disappointment in some way, no matter who’s doing the slapping? Why is it more of an attack on our ego than a well-laid punch (because if we can take a punch, that’s kind of studly. But who cares if we can take a slap?)
Back to my original thought about creating my fight scene: I ended up not using a slap, but I have used it in the past, and I had even saved “the slap moment” for when I thought it would decimate the most. In my third Vampire Babylon book, BREAK OF DAWN, I had one character-a mother figure-slap my heroine, and it indeed hurt more than any full-on vamp fight would have. So much emotion was contained in that slap, so much bitterness, and in the time it took for it to burn away from my heroine’s cheek, the slap allowed her to suffer the worst punishment possible-that parental disappointment I mentioned. (Of course, the heroine was also slapped in NIGHT RISING, Book One, which is being reissued in mass market format tomorrow…PLUG! But that slap was practical, to get her out of a shocked haze.)
What do you all think? Is there any kind of “little action” that holds as much power for you in life or in a fictional scene? Can you recall any effective slaps from fiction that was so effective that it made you want to crawl under the movie seat in sympathy for the character? Someone who comments will win a copy of FIRST BLOOD, which contains a Vampire Babylon novella. (I’ll announce the winner Thursday.) Meanwhile, if you’d like to see the book trailer for the re-release of NIGHT RISING, you can check it out at www.vampirebabylon.com.