“Writing Fights”: An Interview with Preconference Academy Instructor, Teel James Glenn

The Historical Novel Society is excited to welcome Teel James Glenn to instruct at our Preconference Academy. His two workshops are entitled “Fighting Writers” and “Writing Fights,” and both utilize his talents as a fight choreographer and a novelist. Today, TJ visits our blog to tell us a little bit about himself and about the workshops we’re so eagerly anticipating.


victor morton 2Your bio shows a varying list of professions: “stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, actor and haunted house barker.” What came first for you–the writing or the fighting? How have the two intertwined throughout your career?

TJG: My path to where I am is only slightly convoluted—I started in art school (though I made short films while in high school) and the night before graduation met a fellow who was casting for a film. On a whim I auditioned, got the lead and then, it turned out he needed someone to do a fist fight. I had a great love for the old movie serials and had read considerably about stunts, so I offered to storyboard and choreograph the fight. I did it. No one was hurt, but I knew I could do better…. Skip a bit to when I was writing a book that had a sword fight in it, so I took a class called “Swashbuckling 101” (really) to learn some basic sword fight skills.

The moment I held a sword in my hand I knew I had found my destiny. I kept studying sword, stage combat, martial arts and gymnastics for the next two decades. While all this happened, my art career faded into the background to an acting and stunt career, although my art skills always came in handy doing storyboards, designing costumes and camera angles on plays and films I worked on.

Now here I am, sixty Renaissance Faires, over a hundred films and countless plays later as a performer/fighter/choreographer, teaching stage combat from Florida to Muskoka (Canada), and I still consider myself a beginner.

Incidentally, along the way, I have written over 40 books, a couple hundred short stories, and a couple of films. One of those books is Action for Authors, breaking down ways to approach action scenes on paper.

TJ saberguild hairIn your “Fighting Writers” workshop, you’re going to demonstrate fighting styles with different swords from different time periods. Can you give us a little preview of what to expect? And what time periods will we time-travel to?

TJG: I normally teach what I call “Hollywood Sword,” which is a mix of sabre, rapier and single-handed broadsword, and I will use the dowels to show the difference with those. This takes us from roughly 1400 to 1800 in terms of “styles.” I will also have daggers to show some basic rapier and dagger technique, à la Romeo and Juliet and Three Musketeers.

I make sure to differentiate the styles and try to show the evolution from one into the other.

aislin&tj Qstaff 2011In your second workshop, “Writing Fights,” you’re going to dissect what makes a scene of literary violence “work” and show us how to create believable action scenes in our own fiction. What’s the most important thing we’re going to learn in this workshop?

TJG: The main thrust of my talk/demo will be about how the action has to be connected to the plot and how it can be used to illuminate and humanize the characters. I follow the rules of journalism in that: Why is the fight there, who is involved, what is the style/weapons involved, where does it take place (and how does that relate to the story) and when (i.e. at what point in the story), and how pivotal is it (or isn’t it) to the whole of the story.

I point out some of the accuracy pitfalls many writers fall into and show techniques to help non-fighters create fights that feel real!

TJ, thank you so much for giving us the scoop on what your workshops will look like!

For those attending HNS2019, there is still room to register for TJ’s workshops. If you have already registered and want to add on a Preconference workshop, you can log back on to your registration info to make changes. 

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