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How to Write Fight Scenes: a little tutorial by me!

Hello again, I actually said quite a while ago that I’d write this post, and now I am! As you can deduce from the title, this post is going to be about how to write fight scenes. If you Google it, I’m sure there are quite a few things like this, but I want to write it because I enjoy it, and that’s all that matters right?

Writing a fight scene is actually really fun and it adds some extra action to your story. But a bad fight scene can leave the reader a little confused. For example, if two characters fight and it seems like one of them died, but they reappear a few chapters later, the reader is going to go back and go ‘wait, I thought they died!’ which doesn’t make for an exciting story. But a good fight scene leaves readers on the edge of their seat and their heart beating a thousand times a minute! It can be hard to write a good fight, however, but I have a few tips that may help.

First of all, don’t describe every single blow. It can get really boring and repetitive. Describing a few main or important blows is good, but if your characters get into a pattern of doing the same movements, it takes away all the excitement from the fight. It’s effective to say something like “we carried on like this for long minutes” after describing some sort of move, because it makes it seem like the fight has gone on for ages, and the reader’s imagination can fill in what you didn’t describe. If your fight lasts loads of pages, you can get away with describing more blows, but don’t go too overboard. Take breaks from the fighting to describe other things, like the next tip…

Don’t make it all fight, but don’t make it too reflective. If you’re writing in first person, this can be quite good. It gives a little break from the action if your character notices something in the background, like a crowd gathering to watch the fight. But I think the characters fighting won’t notice too many visual things, as they’re too focused on fighting, but they might notice other things that they can hear, smell or feel. Saying something like “I heard the crowd roaring louder as I executed a series of skilful blows, felling my opponent” can be quite effective, because it gives the fight a bit more of a setting, if you get what I mean. If you just go into the beginning of a chapter with a random fight, readers might just imagine the characters fighting in a nondescript blank space. That’s not good, is it? It’s good to have the fight somewhere that the reader can visualise. So you could mention the weather, or little things that give away where the fight is. But don’t go over-the-top with it and describe loads of details while the fight is going on. Do you think your characters will notice such detail if they’re absorbed in a fight?

Make sure your moves can happen in this universe. By that I mean make sure the moves make sense and can be done by an actual human (or animal, if you’re writing an animal fight). For example, if one character jumps into the air, they can’t really head-butt their opponent while airborne, unless they jump many metres into the air and do a flip really quickly. Remember gravity. As Adam Savage from Mythbusters says… ‘gravity: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!’ You can’t break the laws of physics, unless you’re doing a really unique and mind-blowing sci-fi/fantasy story which I would so read.

It’s good to have high stakes. If you have loads of meaningless fights in your book, a fight that’s actually important won’t be as tense. Only have fights if you really need to, and they will change the story somehow. Even in Tacita, which is about gladiators, I don’t randomly have fights break out between the characters. There are fights in the arena, but each one has a purpose, even if it’s small. If there’s a fight outside of the arena, it has to be for a really important and story-changing reason. OK, that wasn’t really to do with high stakes… Let me carry on. So a fight to the death is always a good example of high stakes, because obviously one of the characters will die, and they don’t want it to be them! It doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly massive, like the world will explode if one character loses, but if a character has a reason to fight the scene will be a lot better and a lot more interesting!

Don’t let your characters do things they wouldn’t do. They are still characters that have personalities and things they would and wouldn’t do, even in a life-or-death fight. If you have a character that is completely opposed to killing who is fighting in a fight NOT to the death, they would never even dream of killing their opponent. But in a fight to the death… now you’ve got an intriguing concept you could explore in your story! But alternatively, a ruthless killer would probably aim for a kill in whatever fight they participated in. So the point is, don’t make your characters do things that are out-of-character!

A fair fight isn’t that interesting. I mean, you can still have them, but a good fight scene has fighters that are completely different. The Romans knew this too, with their gladiators; you’ve got a secutor, who’s heavily armoured, fighting a retiarius, who isn’t wearing much, and has a completely different weapon. It makes the fight a lot more interesting. Other examples could be two people of completely different sizes, or one’s armed and one’s not, or one’s a good fighter and one’s not. But you can get too carried away with this and put someone who’s never fought ever against a trained fighter. It’s obvious who’s going to win, unless you pull a deus ex machina that would never happen in real life ever. Make sure it’s still quite unclear who will win, which makes the fight all that more nail-biting!

Be aware of the consequences. The fight scene should have an impact to the story. If one character has been near-fatally stabbed, they can’t be embarking on any adventures any time soon. If two best friends were just at each other’s throats, they’re not going to make up and forget about it the next day. The fight scene carries on for more than just the fight. A good one can change the story forever. I would give you examples from Tacita, (and there are a few) but it would be a major spoiler alert and ruin the entire story for you. I’ll give you an example from a book I’m reading called Lords of the White Castle: in the beginning, the main character Fulke FitzWarin is playing chess with Prince John (who turns into King John!) and he’s accused of cheating. John grabs the chessboard and smashes it into Fulke’s little face and they start fighting. That fight makes them enemies forever and it makes life a lot harder for Fulke throughout the book! That one little fight, which seemed insignificant at the time, had a huge impact.

I think that’s all the tips I have for now. I hope this has helped and it’s not been basically a copy of other tutorials out there, because I didn’t mean it to be! I hope I’ve given some interesting tips and you’ve learned something new. Maybe you’re inspired to write, or write a fight scene of your own?

Your fighting blogger, Jaz


One comment on “How to Write Fight Scenes: a little tutorial by me!

  1. Good thinking, Jaz

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