30 May, 2010

Questions From the Back Seat



"Daddy, can Han Solo's blaster shoot through Iron Man's armor?"

"Let me think about that... no, because Iron Man's armor is magnetically shielded."

"Like the door in the garbage masher on the Death star?"





"Daddy, when is it a quarry and when is it a mine?"

"It's a quarry when they dig up stones to sell. It's a mine when they dig through the stones to get to something that's worth more, like gold. Or bauxite."




"Daddy, is Superman a daddy?"


"But he's a grownup, and he has a mommy and a daddy"

"Everyone has a mommy and a daddy, but not everyone IS a mommy or a daddy."

"But Daddy? Why isn't Superman a daddy?"

"Because he never... well..."

Melissa chimes in: "Remember he's an alien, Henry. He might not be able to have babies with a human woman."

"Honey, do you really want to open that line of questioning?"


"He has to get married first, and he's not married."



"What, Henry?"

"Daddy, what are pirates?"

"Robbers who rob people in ships."

"Why are there robbers?"

"Because some people are too lazy to get jobs."



"What happens when lightning hits you?"

"You can die."


"That much electricity can stop your heart or give you burns."

"For real?"

"For real. But I read about a park ranger who got hit seven or eight times and lived."

"Seven times? That lightning not very strong den."

"No, Henry, it wasn't."

28 May, 2010

In Praise Of The MacGuffin

It's hard to have a thriller story without one. It drives the plot, it gives the characters a reason to kill and die and love. It could be anything, anything at all and we call it ... the MacGuffin!

Fig. 1: Featuring Backbacon

No, no, not a McMuffin, a MacGuffin! Hitchcock said it best:

"We have a name in the studio, and we call it the "MacGuffin". It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is almost always the papers."
So, how do they work? Well, it really could be almost anything. It could be something impressive, like an object of imaginable power that moves nations and empires and will change the balance of power in all the world. I call this the "Power MacGuffin". For example the Sausage Elven MacGuffin with Invisible Cheese, pictured right.

It's obvious in Tolkien's story why everyone is after the One Ring. The author sells it well from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf is afraid to touch it. Effing Gandalf the Grey! That's some serious mojo. And Tolkien doesn't even tell us right off why or how the ring is so powerful. That falls to Elrond the High-Elven Lord of Copious Backstory. (And yes, Dear Wannabe Author, Tolkien got away with putting 4000 words of uninterrupted backstory in the middle of the book. You can't.)

And here's another great MacGuffin, pictured left. It's very similar to the Sausage Elven MacGuffin in power and function except that it's much harder to carry. But the Double Bacon Fried Nazi Cheese MacGuffin does give the wielder great power, and has the side effect of destroying a wielder who isn't suited for it. The Lost Ark also has another great feature common to MacGuffins: in the end, it just doesn't matter. It disappears into a giant warehouse never to be seen again. The purpose of the Power MacGuffin is not for its power to be used, but for the threat of its power to drive plot.

Next up we have the Intrigue MacGuffin. This kind is the necklace or papers Hitchcock mentions. The consequences of having or not having this MacGuffin might be limited to one person--for example that necklace had better be dangling in Lady Bottomfeeder's cleavage at the opera tonight, or else Lord Bottomfeeder is going to know that she's given it to that rascal Captain Doublet to pay for the mercury he needs to cure his crew's raging syphillis infection. My all-time favorite Intrigue MacGuffin is the transit papers in Casablanca. I don't have a picture of them because I'm not sure we ever even see them. They are not an impressive object that glows and shoots fire. What they do is drive one of the most masterful plots ever constructed. The point of Casablanca is the human story and the Egg and Transit Paper Kiss is Just A Kiss MacGuffin is what pulls characters together and drives them apart.

Finally, the WTF MacGuffin. I love this one because it strips away all pretense. The author simply tells you that the object is important, and the characters sell the importance with their actions alone. This one appears in many formulaic plots and can be a Particularly Cheesy MacGuffin. But in the hands of a master like Dashell Hammett, the fact that we never really know WHY all the characters are after it is irrelevent. In fact, it may add to the mystique.

Fig. 4: Yeah, Bogie, I don't get it either. But it certainly gives you an excuse to slap Peter Lorre.

I'm sure Faithful Readers can come up with many more types and examples of the venerable MacGuffin. Like its close homonym in Figure One it can be cheap... but it is filling. It is cheesy... but there's a slice of meat in there too. It can take but a moment to consume... but hours to digest.


21 May, 2010

The Forty-Year-Old Soccer N00b

The last time I played soccer was my freshman year, 1984. I was quite proud to have made the junior varsity team, as I didn't know that they pretty much took everybody. I even bought one of those wool jackets with the vinyl sleeves in the surety that I'd get to have my mom sew a letter on it in a few years. I have no idea what ever happened to that jacket.

I'm not sure I ever played during a game in regulation. I remember always coming on in the 'fifth quarter', 15 minutes for the kids who hadn't gotten to play. My scrawny body and lack of skills were only part of the reason I didn't play much; attitude was the rest. I never quite got it in my head that everyone on a team has a role, and maybe for a while mine was to play the position they assigned me and do my best to learn. So, I quit.

A couple of weeks ago when I found out about the lunchtime pickup game at work, I went right out and bought cleats and shinguards. I even got a pair of long black socks so I'd feel... well... like a right footballer. And today I played.

I don't like the expression 'youth is wasted on the young'. I agree that when we're young, we do a lot of things wrong. But I don't like the idea that we miss our chances. Sure, the body might not respond to training or heal injuries quite as fast as we age, but it's never too late. No, no, it can't be too late.

I did a lot of things wrong today. I didn't know how to properly mark a man, so I let quite a few get past me be either coming in too close or giving him too much room. I don't have a strong or accurate kick, so I put a few balls where I shouldn't have. And worst of all, a ball came right at my head... and I ducked it. I couldn't believe it. How 1984 of me.

But I did a lot of things right too. I played damn hard for sixty minutes. I had some sort of idea where I was supposed to be, and I ran there. I beat more than one younger guy to the ball--what I did with it when I got there was another matter, but I gave myself chances to do something useful. I even sprinted to fetch balls kicked out of bounds. I guess effort was the only thing in my control, given my lack of skill, and I wanted to at least show that. I made a couple of decent tackles, and at least one better-than-half-bad pass. And once I knocked a dangerous ball out of play with a jumping header... after ducking that first time, I was going to put my head on a ball that game if it killed me.

I got to my afternoon meeting still sweating after the shower. There's a blood blister covering the whole pad of my left big toe. I am so playing again next week. I'd like to think I'm going to get good at soccer, but I know I won't. The best I can do is run hard, be where I'm needed, and try to remember not to duck.

17 May, 2010

Anachronism? Prithee, nay!

Some fellow authors who've read sections of my novel Saint Mark's Body have commented that the voice sometimes sees out of place for the 9th century A.D.--or worse, that some of the Venetians sound *gasp* American! I respectfully submit that often a modern voice is the best way to tell an old story.

First off, we need to understand that we are reading in translation any novel set in a time or place where modern English isn't spoken. Even an author with a Mel Gibson-sized ego can't write an entire novel for an English-speaking audience in Aramaic or Incan. Books do not have subtitles. (well, yet... I suppose all things are possible with ebooks).

The author's job is always to make us feel as though we're witnesses to the action. When the characters are all speaking, for example, 15th century Swiss German, the situation is complicated. It's as though the author gives us the gift of tongues--somehow by peering through the veil of the printed page, we understand 15th century Swiss German.

C.W. Gortner does this well in his novels of the old Spanish court, for example The Last Queen. Every now and then he throws in a Spanish phrase most people will understand, or uses a more obscure one but skillfully works in a quick translation. It helps that Gortner is fluent in both languages, so his Juana chooses words we read in English that feel to us like old Spanish (even if we don't understand old Spanish, or any Spanish at all.)

Readers have the same expectation of books set in old-time England. They want to feel like they're right there, and they understand what everyone is saying... but in this case, often forget that once again they are reading in translation. Drop any one of us moderns in Robin Hood's England, and we'd be completely lost for a while. There are enough common words between our English and the 11th century version that we could probably order coffee and get directions to the train station (if either existed) , but fluent communication would be difficult.

However, most people don't realize this. Most think that Medieval English was just like ours, except you call peoply 'thou' and tack 'est' onto the end of every other verb. Speech in that format, even if it's as wrong for the period, sounds 'oldey-timey' and correct. Why?

Because that's the way Errol Flynn did it, that's the way Hollywood does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.

Fig. 1 : And he was a terrible fencer. Yeah, I said it.

It reminds me a bit of gunshots on stage. In a theater, a real gunshot doesn't sound like a gunshot. A blank round sounds like a gunshot, because that's what audiences are used to. We learn our version of reality from the contrivances of fiction, and then disbelieve fiction that matches reality instead of the contrivance.

So, why do my Venetian sailors use modern swear words, contractions, and other things that don't sound oldey-timey? Because I want the reader to be there with them on the ship, and I know that 'thee' and 'belayest ye sheete!" is as much an anachronism as Valley Girl speak, there being no language recognizable as English in 827 anyway.

And I do want my Venetians to sound just a little American. I'll get to the 'why' of that in another post.

14 May, 2010

A Fighting Writer's Review of KICK-ASS

This was a movie I thought did a great many things right, and only a few wrong, in presenting belivable and engaging violence on-screen. I'll discuss it in terms of Characterization, Fight Techniques, and at the end, Call Shenanigans.


Kick-Ass himself has a perfectly believable set of non-super superpowers: due to significant injuries he has a lot of metal-reinforced bones, and can't feel a lot of pain. His fighting skills are minimal. However he's in decent shape, completely ruthless (I mean, the boy carries two truncheons), and his powers enable him to keep fighting even after his more skilled opponents beat him down.

Hit Girl is close to cliche (as I discussed last post) what with her mastery of weapons and screen-ninja marital arts abilities. However, he background as presented in the film makes this somewhat plausible. She is, essentially, a child-soldier no less deadly than the kids who shoot each other up in wars all over the developing world (and in many cities of the 'developed' world). Lethal violence is a game to her, and it's clear that she's had an upbringing that focuses exclusively on that.

Big Daddy is an ex-cop with good weapons skills and heavy body armor. His hand-to-hand skills are good, but not as good as Hit Girl's -- which is appropriate, since he had something of a normal childhood.

The Fights: What I Liked

Kick-ass gets his ass kicked by better-skilled fighters in every single scene. He keeps getting up, like a Rocky outclassed by an Apollo Creed, and 'goes the distance' so we root for him even though he's a loser. Actually he's such a noble and believable loser he wins. Kick-ass's techniques are appropriate for the character's skills. He doesn't swing a truncheon or a fist the way a trained fighter does--he's wild, with big wide actions that his opponents usually dodge. He doesn't have an effective defense, and they score a lot of hits on him. Every fight he's in is perfectly consistent with his character ideas.

Hit Girl is also mostly believable. I can buy that a kid taught nothing but martial arts from an early age can execute the crazy maneuvers she pulls off. Appropriately, she is not knocking out 200-pound men with her size 2 boots. When she takes a man out, it's with a knife, a gun, or (aweseomely) a sort of double-ended naginata. When she goes unarmed against a large man with martial arts training inferior to hers, she has a lot of trouble with him. WHICH IS RIGHT. She can hit him ten times to his one, but she can't really hurt him. His strikes hurt, and he also has a reach advantage which the fight director made apparent. There are a couple times when he delivers a kick while she is still out of range and setting up her attack. Great use of DISTANCE (the tactical kind) throughout her fights to tell the story.

Big Daddy is mostly in shootouts, so little comments here other than I liked that the bad guys could actually hit him at close range with their handguns. (that is, they did not train at the Imperial Stormtroopers School of Marksmanship) He's wearing body armor heavy enough for us to beleive he can shrug off those shots.

What I Didn't Like

Not much! I found it a little annoying that every time Hit Girl emptied one of her pistols she had to turn the whole thing and look at it (exactly like a character in a first-person shooter videogame) to verify it's empty. She should be able to tell her pistols are empty from her ordinary view over the gunsight because the slide locks back on the last shot. There is one scene where we see her take down a bunch of goons from her POV, and this works as an homage to FPS games... but elsewhere it's annoying.

I Call Shenanigans!

But only once. Hit Girl is in a shootout and empties both of her pistols simultaneously. She ejects the magazines, pulls two new ones from her belt, THROWS THEM IN THE AIR and somehow they land in the pistols with enough force to seat themselves in the mechanism so she can chamber the next rounds. Even if her mad ninja skillz allow her to catch two spinning magazines in the grips of her two pistols, I think there just isn't enough kinetic energy to seat them in the pistols after a fall of only about a meter. So, shenanigans... however it was awesome to watch and a very creative reload.

Overall: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and added to my list of Great Fight Movies.

10 May, 2010

Usually, An Irresistable Force Should Squish a Soft Object

A reader asked me about a situation in her novel that comes up very, very, often in fiction. The heroine--athletic, well-trained, small--is up against a big goon. What happens?

Well, what usually happens in fiction is that the little girl wins. She executes kick after flawless kick to the big guy until he goes down hard. It's almost a reverse lock: in an action movie you can sometimes assume that the smaller and prettier the heroine, the more ass she will kick. And then there's Figure 1.

Figure 1: Shenanigans, Lucas!

The sad truth of the matter is that a big, fast, well-trained person is going to beat a small, fast, well-trained person most of the time. Seeing as I weighed in at 70 1/2 kg today in the gym, I wish this weren't true but it is. That's why there are weight classes.

Of course in a work of fiction anything can happen, right? Well no, not really. In fantasy anythign can happen. In fiction we at least ask for plausibility. So we've discussed writing the fight in two posts-- one on character and one on outcome. We haven't even gotten to techniques yet. So, suppose your character is a 50 kg firecracker in a skimpy bodice and she needs to defeat a twenty-stone (I know I'm mixing units.) deviant psycho. How are you going to write your way out of this one?

I know what you're all thinking.

Fig. 2 -- What You're All Thinking

But is that really going to work? I think usually, no. Otherwise guys would kick each other in the nuts all the time. There would be entire martial arts with thousand-year histories devoted to the art of kicking another man in the balls. Don't think we don't do it because of some sense of honor. That's ridiculous. We don't do it because it's a low-probability strike and it doesn't do quite as much damage as you'd think. Yet in fiction, it's presented as the One Weakness that can bring down any big goon, just as long as the person trying it is sufficiently small and weak-looking enough to be allowed to stoop so low.

Come to think of it, the Kick in the Balls is kind of like the thermal exhaust port (just below the main port) on the Death Star. It's an instant win, and it can only be accomplished by cute little bitty starfighters.

But I still haven't told you how to get your 50kg lovely away from the goon. Look, all of the obvious things really can work. You just have to avoid making them cliche.

I Know Kung Fu -- Superior training can do a lot, but it should help equalize a disparity in size rather than make your tiny ninja completely invincible (unless you're writing fantasy) Why not,

  • Actually let small size be a disadvantage! You know, let her get grabbed, even picked up off the ground. The goon's arms are longer--let him hit her a couple of times. It's not fair, it's frustrating, but it might be good fiction.
  • Let the overdogs win sometimes. That builds credibility. At least in Episode IV the stormtroopers managed to slaughter some Alderanian marines and the Jawas.

A Weapon -- It can be lethal or not, intended or improvised. Even fingernails, keys, etc.

Cliches to avoid:

  • "The goon is ALWAYS surprised by the weapon and goes down with one shot." Let the weapon equalize the fight but not end it. A weak arm swinging a baseball bat is still a weak arm.

  • "Every action hero or heroine is an expert in every stinking weapon." I'd like to see some unfamiliarity--like a sword expert forced to adapt her techniques when all she's got is a lawn chair.

An Ally -- The cavalry to the rescue! This one is pretty straightforward.

The classic cliche:

  • In the Nick of Time" Well, of course they have to be in time. Just please, no ridiculous delays. If the audience is yelling "why doesn't he just shoot her already?" then you've missed your mark.

Go for a Soft Spot! -- The eyes, face and yes the infamous Ball Kick

Cliches to avoid:

  • "A direct hit starts a chain reaction that destroys..." Why not have that ball kick miss, or just not be effective, and the heroine has to try something else?

  • "The bad guy is never expecting it" Why not have her set up the Soft Spot hit rather than go straight for it? Flail around at his head with that lawn chair and THEN go for the nuts. Please, just ANYTHING but the Unstoppable Lethal Ball Kick.
Didn't Bring the 'A' Game (thanks to Jessica--I added this after her comment)

Right--so, what if the Goon isn't trying as hard as the teensy hero?

The classic cliche:

  • Fatal Overconfidence: "Ha! I could just shoot you with my bazooka, but that wouldn't be sporting! Instead I will tie one hand behind my back and give you this spear." In my opinion this sort of thing is moustache-twirling on a grand scale, an Evil Overlord level blunder. If it's a fight with lethal consequences then the bad guy should "just shoot her" unless there's a good reason not to.

Better Ideas: Both of these fall under the heading of "Differing Goals", which we established in "Settings"

  • I didn't know you were serious about this!: Goon only wants to teach the little girl a lesson, and doesn't think he needs to hurt her to do it. But little girl puts all 50kg on the goon's kneecap, and breaks it. This reminds me of one of my favorite Heinlein quotes: "Never frighten a small man. He'll kill you."
  • "There's one! Set for stun!" The goons need to capture the Princess alive, but she has no
    qualms about whacking a few Stormtroopers before they do.

06 May, 2010

Writing the Fight -- Setting

Setting means more to me than simply the stage on which the fight takes place. Here I mean setting to include all the factors that influence how the characters (which we discussed in the last post) are going to fight. This includes (but isn't limited to):
  • location
  • environment
  • victory objectives
  • plot outcomes
  • character outcomes

Location and environment are important and can add color. Is the fight on a bridge? Is it raining? Is this a personal combat in the middle of an artillery barrage? Time of day? Position of the sun? Like the setting for a non-combat scene, the more detail you have in your mind the better, but it doesn't all need to come out on the page if it interferes with action or doesn't advance the plot.

Victory objectives is one of those things that might seem obvious in retrospect, but you'd be surprised how often fight writers don't think of an objective greater than 'winning the fight'. Rocky's objective in his first fight against Apollo was to 'go the distance', and playing the fight out that way made it all about the quest for self-respect that defined his character.

What does each fighter consider a win? Think carefully. In my example fight, Batman wants to capture the Joker and his goons and bring them back to his own time. Theodore Roosevelt wants to remove the ability of the Joker to keep the Russo-Japanese War going. Note that the team-mates have slightly different goals: were this not a bedtime story, T.R. might accept killing the Joker but Batman would not. On the other side, the Joker's objective as always is to cause havoc and have a good laugh. His goons want to escape jail and/or serious injury.

Plot Outcomes: Setting your outcomes in advance bounds the problem. You're the writer, you know how it has to end. In the case of a story for a five-year-old, this is easy. The Joker and his goons will be captured. No serious injuries are allowed.

Character Outcomes: Remember, the fight tells a story and it tells us something about Character. I look at a fight as an opportunity to show (not tell) the parts of a character's soul that are only visible under duress.

Action focuses the reader. He stops skimming and starts READING for anything that gets the heart beating faster whether that's sex, terror, or violence. You've got his full attention. What are you going to tell him?

In my admittedly infantile example, we are going to learn that Batman is completely awesome. T.R. is a brave, brave man and a worthy leader of the Free World. Both exemplify Daddy's recurring story theme that it's a good idea to exercise and eat all your vegetables. We will further learn that the Joker is weak and cowardly, mostly because he drinks too much soda. The goons are expendable, there will be no character development for them.

A story told to someone over the age of five will have more complex character development, of course. Rocky proves to Apollo, Mickey, Adrian and himself that he is not a bum. Luke refuses to finish off his father, and his father dies to save him and redeem himself. Achilles shows that he is the finest man of his generation, but that he's just a little too caught up in his own bad self.

Get this right, and your fighter might just dust himself off and find he's the stuff of legend.

04 May, 2010

Mystery: More than a Genre

Genres have rules, and one of the key ones in classic Mystery is that of Fair Play--the Reader must have a sporting chance to guess the killer given only the information presented in the book to the sleuth.

This seems to me a pretty good rule for mysterious elements within a non-Mystery genre novel. When it's broken, readers can feel cheated. When it's followed, readers can fell all smug and wonderful because they think they can guess where the author is going--until, of course, the last chapter when we swerve them so hard their little heads spin.

"Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?"

--Oath of the Detection Club

Most novels include some element of mystery, even if it's not the important part of the plot. Who's really behind the nefarious plot to blow up the Guggenheim? How does dashing Mister Ploofery know so much about Miss Winkel's ill-starred past? And what's the meaning of that mole?

Of course when we're reading a good book as simple readers (if as authors we can do that anymore) we enjoy it even if we have absolutely no clue how it's going to turn out. After all, this is a published novel! There has to be a payoff! I mean, a Real Published Work of Fiction would never just leave readers hanging, right?

Fig. 1: What the what?

Most novelists, however--and by this I mean the most of us who haven't quite gotten to be published yet--can't get away with these sorts of shenanigans. Because the reader--whether it be beta buddie or agent--doesn't quite trust us to pay off. Nor should they!

I mean, suppose you had a Mysterious Character. One that only shows up in a few scenes, and maybe has only a couple of lines. A rookie, unpublished author might do something stupid with that character, like kill him off for laughs and no clue as to his origins or why he's so mysterious. No published author or Real Successful Filmmaker would ever do something so against the Conventions of Mystery and get away with it. Right? Right?!!

Fig. 2 : I call shenanigans
on you, Lucas!

Right. I think it's a bit like horse racing, which I firmly believe no one would bother watching if they could not bet on it. If you give a reader enough information to form a theory, then that reader has an investment in your plot. He wants to stick around to see if he's right or not. Who ever bet a measly $2 on a horse race and then left in the middle?

02 May, 2010

Writing the Fight -- Characters

Designing a fight has to begin with an understanding of the combatants. One good reason is so that the actions in the fight fit the characters, but that's not the best reason--the best reason is that a GOOD fight helps DEFINE your characters.

"You never truly know a man until you fight him"

-- that kung fu guy, Matrix Reloaded

Rrrrighht. So let's begin with some of the things you need to know about your characters before you start having them beat on each other. By the way, this kind of understanding of the characters is important whether they're the fight designer's creation or not. The fight designer does NOT have control over the characters if he's creating a fight for a play or film (the director and actors have that responsibility) and the fight designer has limited authority over character if he's dealing with a historical figure.

For this example I'll use a fight I designed for a bedtime story for my son. The combatants are,

President Theodore Roosevelt and Batman


The Joker and Some Goons

This fight occured when Batman traveled back in time to help the President end the Russo-Japanese War, which started because the Joker planted a whoopee cushion in the Tsar's chair and blamed the Japanese ambassador for it. (That's not important right now, but it's funny.) We'll concentrate on T.R. since this is after all a historical fiction blog.

President Theodore Roosevelt (1905)

Describe the fighter's physical characteristics: The President is a big man, probably a bit over 200 pounds at this point and in decent physical shape but not optimum. He has a desk job but he works out when he can. He is very nearsighted and must wear spectacles to have any chance at ranged combat.

What training does the fighter have? T.R. is an experienced amateur wrestler and boxer who has taken a few judo lessons. His abilities with edged weapons are limited to pointing a saber in the direction of the enemy, or skinning a deer with a Bowie knife. He is a good shot with small arms and can handle large-bore rifles with no trouble. Superb horseman.

How tough is the fighter? Once finished a speech with a bullet lodged in his chest. 'Nuff said.

Before the Fight: Belligerence and Aggression:
Is this character accustomed to using violence or the threat of violence to achieve his goals? How does he react when threatened?
T.R. made implications of violence ("the big stick") a centerpiece of American diplomacy. On a personal level, I think he would make it clear he is willing to fight but not do anything unseemly like put up his fists unless the other fellow already has. If confronted with a belligerent he believes honorable, T.R. would most likely "call him out" for a fair and non-lethal contest, for example a fistfight. As a younger man (and not a sitting President) he could have gotten himself into a pistol duel under the right conditions.

Winning the Fight -- Ruthlessness and Limits:
Will he go all-out? Can he finish the job? If T.R. gains an advantage he will likely continue to attack until he incapacitates his opponent: he will not, however, continue to punish a defeated enemy. He will shoot to kill in a gunfight, and will try to knock an opponent out or force him to submit in hand-to-hand combat. He knows at least a few ways to do this with his hands (punchout, wrestling holds and throws, possibly a chokeout)

Losing the Fight:
Is Surrender an Option? Being more concerned with his legacy than his personal safety, T.R. will put on a 'bully good show' until the bitter end if he thinks his death will have some value. However, I think he would surrender to an honorable enemy if necessary, or especially if it would save the lives of troops he commands.

Situational Questions:
There are too many to answer here or even list them all, but some good ones are: How does he react if surprised? Cornered? Wounded? What tricks does he know? Does he have reasons to fight or not fight that aren't related to the battle at hand? Will he try to use an improvised weapon if he's unarmed? What sort of fight is 'in his element', and what will he do if it's not his kind of fight?

I recommend answering as many of these situational questions as you can think of. It's not about whether or not the character will encounter this situation in the fight you're writing--it's about understanding how your character will react in combat, which not only helps to design a good fight but will give you insight on his overall nature. Remember, "You never truly know a man until you fight him."