Tips for Writing Fight Scenes
On day 18 everything seems to be going according to plan. Your character should be working hard on accomplishing her goal, which often means that she will be in the middle of a fight. Writing fight scenes can be intimidating, and many good writers often struggle in this area. Everyone will have a different approach to fight scenes, but here are a few guidelines to get you started.
Don’t bring a catapult to a space battle.
Your weapons should be historically logical. (Yes, I know about lightsabers, but that is truly the exception.) If you want your contemporary UF heroine to run around swinging a sword, then you really need a good explanation. Sorry, but guns are way more effective.
What about fantasy worlds?
The rule still applies. There is nothing humans have proven themselves more capable of than building machines to kill each other. Even during the “dark ages” while most classical knowledge faded into ignorance, somehow military technology found a way to improve. People will always use the best weapon available. Don’t bring a catapult to a space battle.
If your weapon of choice is magic, you will need to identify a magic system and keep the rules consistent. (Soft magic is more difficult to portray in battles since it is too easy to make consistency errors or Dues ex Machina solutions.)
Keeping it real?
You need to know how realistic you want the fighting to be. This is a question for fantasy writers. When characters have extraordinary abilities, they must be consistent throughout the entire book. A character who can jump off a ten-story building should not break their ankle on a tree root five chapters later. So make sure character abilities remain consistent throughout the entire book.
Do your research
Mike Loades (if you don’t know this guy, you should.) Mike Loades is an expert in weaponry from pre-history through WWI. Also, his knowledge is not limited to European/American weaponry. His website and youtube pages are a great resource.
If you can’t find what you need here, youtube is filled with videos on almost every fighting technique you could imagine. Spend an afternoon watching videos. Notice how difficult it is to fight for long periods of time. (Fantasy writers take note!)
Then forget most of it.
While it’s important for you to be able to visualize what is happening to your characters, trying to describe this on paper often falls flat. Why? Fight scenes need to have short MRU’s (No, it’s not going away, so click here if you need a refresher.) Describing every tiny action means choosing between slowing the pacing or cutting out emotion. Since readers connect more with emotions, the bullet list of who hit who where gets tedious.
Identify the purpose of the fight.
Is the real story the external battle, or the character’s internal struggle?
In this excerpt, the actual fight isn’t important. The real story is what the main character learns during the exchange. Notice most of the fight is summarized.
He struck first. Low and tentative. She beat it back. He crossed left throwing out another short sequence. Predictable. If she took the offensive, she could beat him.
Her injured back flared again. Or she might cripple herself right before their final trials. Better to hold back and wait for Stone to make a mistake. It wouldn’t take long.
His pace increased. Perhaps he was getting bored too. He began what she could only assume was the Queen’s Sequence, the usually beautiful calligraphy transformed into hapless, wild swinging. Two backward steps kept her out of the fray. It also gave her a glimpse of the Captain. Narrow black eyes questioned her.
In the second excerpt, the fight is the more important aspect. But I’ve broken another “rule” by intentionally pulling the camera back to give the reader a better view of the action.
As she retreated, the intensity of the strikes increased. Stone’s attacks grew wilder, unfocused. Trapped by rage, he ignored the forms and hammered away at her instead. It was sloppy but effective, and it was giving him time to regain control of his emotions. She had to end this soon.
She found her opportunity when Stone stepped into a hole, momentarily throwing him off balance. Her sword arced toward the opening. The edge of his mouth twitched into a smirk. It was a ploy! The tip of his blade caught her guard, ripping the weapon from her grasp. He thrust toward her heart.
She dropped to the ground and slammed her boot into his groin. Then, she rolled away in a desperate move that landed her on top of her sword. Stone drove toward her with a murderous snarl.
Grabbing the long sword, she blocked the downward slash inches above her head in a frantic defense that forced her to grip the blade with her off hand. The blow drove it into her palm. She threw him aside, slamming the hilt into his forehead. He staggered backward giving her the opportunity to stand. She got as far as her knees before a violent tug on her hair stopped her.
Notice in both these examples, most of the actual swordplay is left to the reader’s imagination. This allows the reader to focus on the story, rather than the choreography. The reader needs to know the character’s thoughts and the results of the fight. (who was injured, etc.) Important events, like her ‘dirty pool’ move and the moment she almost died, are shown, but the majority of the fight was summarized.
But isn’t that telling?
Yes. Not all telling is bad. In this case, summarizing the details of the fight allow for better pacing and move the focus to more important elements, like internal dialogue or the results of the fight.
If you are writing in deep POV, pull the camera in close for fights and ignore anything that isn’t right in front of the POV character.
Writing fight scenes does take some special consideration, but they don’t have to be difficult. Make sure you keep the reader focused on the story and your fight scene will move the plot along.
You are now more than halfway through your novel. End this scene with an indication that things are about to go horribly wrong.