Fight scenes are incredibly fun to write. They’re action-packed, fast-paced and full of ‘OMG! Did that just happen?’ moments that will keep your readers on the edge of their seats.
However, fight scenes can also be one of the most challenging to get right. In the spirit of this post, let’s just cut straight to the action and take a look at my top tips for writing better fight scenes:
Let’s begin by diving into some writing mechanics. To write a good fight scene, you need to get the pacing just right. Keep the majority of your sentences short and snappy.
Cut out any unnecessary words, technical language or details that slow the pacing of your sentences. For example:
She spun around on her heel and lowered herself into a crouched position before drawing her knives. She slashed and stabbed at his legs violently. He stumbled backwards. Seeing her window of opportunity, she thrust her leg up high and kicked him in the chest, slamming him into the brick wall.
She spun on her heels and dropped into a crouch. Drawing her knife, she slashed at his legs. He stumbled backwards. With a swift kick to the chest, she slammed him into the wall.
Which version reads better? The second one, right? That’s because the sentences are short and to the point, keeping the pacing high and the action intense.
Before you even begin writing a fight scene you need to make sure you have a firm understanding of its purpose in your story. Is it to kill off a character? To scare your hero? To hint at a weakness that the villain may have?
Once you understand the purpose of the scene and the role that it will play in your story, it will be 10x easier to write.
Write a brief summary of what happens in the scene. Afterwards, write an explanation of why this fight scene needs to happen. Refer back to this when writing and editing the scene.
Is your protagonist a martial arts expert or a nerdy kid who hasn’t thrown a punch before? If it’s the latter, don’t make the mistake of writing the protagonist as this kick a** hero that destroys the bad guys with one swift jump kick.
The scene won’t honour the protagonist and will feel out of place in your story. Yes, adrenalin can and should have an effect on their ability to fight, but try limiting this energy to just a few blows.
If your protagonist has 0 fighting experience, have them stumble, fall, get injured. Perhaps they win the fight because of luck, or, maybe, they are saved by another character that will later teach them the skills they need to fight their own battles. Think outside the box.
You’ve spent a lot of time researching and crafting that setting, it would be a shame not to use it. Have them flip over a table, pick up a hot poker from the hearth, push someone overboard on a ship. Immerse your reader in the scene and the action by making use of the setting.
This one may seem obvious but I thought it still worth a mention. Your protagonist needs to be at some sort of disadvantage in your fight scenes
— particularly the final battle.
Their disadvantage does not need to be a reflection of their skills, it could be related to a time limit, hostage situation or, perhaps, the hero could learn something that may throw them off mentally and second guess themselves (the villain is their long lost sister).
If the battle is too easy, your readers will lose interest relatively quickly. Keep the stakes high.
Don’t get swept away by the action of the fight scene and forget about the true essence of your story — your characters. Let your readers peer into their head. Briefly describe how they are feeling. Remember: Show. Don’t tell.
One way to do this is to use the character’s 5 senses to show your reader how your protagonist is faring during the fight. Are they tried? Are they having trouble moving? Make them feel the sting of sweat in their eyes. Taste the blood in their mouths.
Don’t tell me that your villain has knocked out one of your hero’s teeth, show me him/her tracing the gap with the tip of their tongue. Describe the taste of blood or the throbbing pain along their jaw.
Do you enjoy writing fight scenes? Have any tips of your own that I did not mention? Share them in the comments below.
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