It’s not a stretch to argue that every writer has struggled with writing a fight scene. I sure have.
I don’t know, there’s something about writing a fight that’s daunting to me. I’ve got to make a realistic fight with the perfect combination of action, dialogue, prose, and plot… all while torturing my poor characters. And that is emotionally scarring. *hides under piles of pillows*
But, for some reason, fight scenes are also super interesting. They can push the story along exponentially in a short time, reveal new secrets, and break all the stereotypes. So we bear our crosses and keep writing those heartbreaking action sequences.
Though I struggle with writing grade-A style fight scenes, I recently got really inspired to find ways to improve in that aspect. There’s been trial and error, but I’ve learned at least a few tips that’ll make fight scenes easier to execute. Here are five pieces of advice to other writers with a fight-scene dilemma!
Dialogue during fight scenes is definitely not an unwelcome occurrence in literature, and it’s no surprise why. You can use exchanges in a billion different ways to up the ante, reveal big mysteries, add some humor, or simply keep the reader on their toes. Dialogue is my favorite thing to write by far, and recently I’ve been obsessed with finding creative ways to weave speech and action without overloading on either.
I personally have never liked dialogue in fight scenes unless it’s short and to the point, such as taunting or quick snippets of information between allies. With all that fighting, it seems like characters don’t have the time or energy to go through a monologue.* Of course, there’s a time for everything, but I can’t imagine going through an entire fight and then recounting my entire childhood. Just… no.
When characters are fighting, the last thing on their mind is being 100% coherent in their speech. They’re being beaten physically, mentally, and maybe even emotionally. You have to find a sort of balance in fight scenes that aren’t a part of the equation most of the time. In any other circumstance, it’s confusion + explanation = character knowledge and reader satisfaction. Here, it’s confusion + added cofusion + clipped information= a scene that keeps characters and readers on edge.
*The Bad Guy’s Evil Plan Reveal In Which He Is Distracted And The Hero Finds A Way To Win™
experiment with pacing
Which of these two paragraphs sounds more heart-pounding?
Jack’s heart raced, and it pounded against his ribs so hard he could feel it through his whole body. His blood pulsed through his fingertips, hot with energy, and it seemed static and electric. At that moment he knew he would have to make a choice, now or never.
Jack’s heart raced. It pounded loud against his ribs, deafening. The sound resounded through his body, made alert every inch of his skin. Hot blood pulsed through his fingertips. Static. Electric. He thought — no, he knew — he had to make a choice. Now or never.
I donno about you, but my vote’s on #2.
It’s sharper. Faster. I can practically feel the adrenaline flowing through Jack. It’s like I AM Jack. BRING IT ON, BUDDY. I’M READY.
Your pacing can make or break a fight scene because — honestly — who wants to sit and read eight paragraphs chalk full of boring? HAHA NOBODY. Prepare to be skimmed.
Another thing: quick pacing makes the scene easier to imagine. Instead of explaining how the baddie keeps throwing punches, THE HERO’S ALREADY BEEN PUNCHED! FRIED! K.O’D!! Your reader is just as thrown off and disoriented as the hero is.
Though making your reader ‘disoriented’ sounds like a bad thing, it’s actually a really creative way to keep them distracted or in suspense. If you’ve ever watched The Hunger Games movies, you might have noticed several scenes with shaky shots, especially when Katniss is confused, angry, or in a fight. That movie is a great example of how, when a scene is presented in the right way, it can keep viewers (or readers!) on the edge of their seats.
the bad guy doesn’t always have the upper hand
Bad guys cannot be all powerful 1839274% of the time!! They! Have! Flaws! Even Superman has Kryptonite.*
Another reason why I am obsessed with Ninjago: FIGHT SCENES. No, I don’t mean the actual moves; it’s actually kind of awkward to see a little Lego figure trying to attack one of its own. What I mean is strategy. On this show, the enemy knows when it’s time to retreat — namely, right after they narrowly escape from the army of 3-inch, brightly-colored ninja.
After these episodes, they don’t keep fighting. They regroup. They gain back lost recourses or make better ones. And, most importantly, they let the heroes think they’re winning when they’re really about to be hit with a bigger blow.
It’s not wrong to let the good guy think he’s winning every once in a while. In fact, that victory will make the next defeat even more crushing for our heroes and the next victory that much harder to earn.
Which leads to our next point.
*i tried to find a bad-guy example but i don’t watch a lot of superhero stuff so *helpless shrug*
other helpful posts on writing:
- How To Find Blogging & Writing Inspiration – Turning Real Life Into Brilliant Ideas!
- Getting Started With Editing Your NaNoWriMo Novel
- Why You Need A Writing Community (And How To Find One!)
the good guy doesn’t always win
quick spoiler warning for star wars: revenge of the sith 🙂
Ever been in a sour mood and had someone shoot you a ‘life ain’t fair, sweetheart?’ My mother is particularly fond of that line. I used to find it super annoying. Ah, well, I still do. *smirks* But it’s actually kind of true.
In Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith, our favorite Jedi, Anakin and Obi Wan, don’t quite complete their mission. Anakin becomes a Sith Lord. Darth Sidious gains control of just about everything ever. Almost all the Jedi are dead, and so is Padme. Obi Wan and Yoda go into hiding.
In short, their mission doesn’t go very well.
Nevertheless, the Jedi aren’t done, seeing that there are about 10000 sequels planned for the franchise. The Jedi empowered by their defeat. They’re even more anxious to take on the Empire.
Life ain’t fair for your heroes. They’re going to get kicked, punched, beaten, battered, and everything in between. But in the end? It’ll make them stronger.
So let them have it. Let them see the thing they’ve been working for whisked away. LET THEM FAIL!
take from your own experience
Okay, so we’re not all James Bond or Katniss Everdeen. But we can still make our actions scenes believable and relatable.
You know when you have a cut in your finger, and when you concentrate you can feel the gentle throbbing of your slightly-swollen hand? And when you’ve just been hit on the head, you may have to shake away the dots in your vision? Let’s start thinking about the little details we overlook in real life. It’ll make your fight scenes much more believable.
Something I greatly suggest: take a martial arts class! I was in martial arts for five years* and lemme just say, the techniques that go into each punch, kick, and jump are small but absolutely vital to performing the moves. Plus, after three years of sparring, I know full well what getting pummeled and beaten feels like. Experiencing the same things your characters will in your story? Utilize it!
Of course, not everybody’s going to sign up for karate, so do the next best thing. Watch movies. Read books. Look up ‘cool ninja moves’ on YouTube, if you’re at a true loss.
Just watch out for the ones that aren’t so realistic. If you can’t find any way to recreate the move yourself, maybe don’t use it…
*and, yes, i do have a black belt. i’m a real ninja muahahah!!!
Lemme ‘fess up — I’m not the biggest fan of action, writing or reading, but these five tips have really brought more energy and creativity into my fight scenes. What about you? Let’s get talking in the comments. Are you a fan of writing action, or are you a little wary of it? What helps you create interesting and relatable fights?