How Fight Scenes must Advance your Story
Everybody loves a good fight scene, right? An intense, at-the-edge-of-your-seat scene with epic fighting, witty lines and all-around badassery?
Well, the truth is I’ve sometimes skipped pages of pointless fights to get back to what interests me : the plot.
In the end fight scenes are like any other scene in your story. They need to advance the plot, advance the character arcs, raise the stakes … all the while describing a full-on battle. No pressure.
Because of everything you need to intertwine without loosing the pacing and flow of your scene, I find battles can be the most difficult to write.
That’s why I decided to write this series of 3 posts about everything there is to know to tackle fight scenes.
So you’re ready to write epic fight scenes? Then keep reading 😉
Make your fight scenes advance the plot
Violence is actually boring.
Even with awesome magic spells or a fire sword (a sword made of fire, how cool is that?! ) if your action scenes are nothing more than a show off, they’re boring.
I have been guilty of this as I find good badass fight scenes difficult to resist. But the truth is that your readers will see the empty scene and they simply won’t care for pages of grunts and punches. They want plot advancement and suspense and unexpected directions all wrapped into one.
Readers are tough cookies.
You have to figure out IF and WHY you need a fight scene. They must be in your story to serve a purpose, to advance the plot or the character arcs.
Here are a few reasons why you could need a fight scene:
- The fight scene is an essential step to move the plot forward.
- You want to show a new aspect of your character : his willingness to fight, the way he fights, …
- The fight scene would provides a clue for the plot to move forward ( ex: the antagonist inflicts a particular injury that could explain the wounds of a victim the character had previously discovered)
- The fight scene would increase the suspense : it raises the stakes, raises the danger, the character could get an injury (emotional or physical) that would slow his future progress…
Be careful of fight scenes designed specifically to kill off one of your characters. Of course life is unfair, and well… shit happens but if you planned a character’s death that won’t move the plot forward, it is essentially useless. Readers can sense if that’s the case and they generally don’t like it (look at all the backlash for Game of Thrones character’s deaths if you need convincing).
Make the fight personal for your characters
Readers must care for the characters, otherwise they don’t care how the battle ends and who wins.
Every fight should advance the characters’ arcs.
You should take the elements of battle and intertwine them with your characters inner and outer conflicts. The scene will become even more complex and intense if you develop your characters’ journey during the fight.
Show how the fight affects his purpose, his motivation and what he is willing to do, his beliefs and relationships, how others see him…
Use your battles to show character.
Show how they act, how they apprehend the fighting, especially in comparison to others in the same fight. Does your character act according to his intentions? Does he surprise the readers with a hidden anger or an empathy that makes him hesitate to pull the trigger?
The way your protagonist fights or choose to walk away, tells your readers a lot about them. It’s a great way to use the ever-so-true “show don’t tell” rule.
Don’t just stop at your protagonist and his opponents, also think about those watching the fight. Does an innocent bystander spring into action? Or one of your character reveal a bloodthirsty streak?
Create suspense and intensity
Readers are a tough crowd to please. You need to hook them to your story, then make sure they stay and don’t get bored. That’s why you need a killer plot to keep them interested and great characters, so that they care.
But there is a next step : you want them literally squirming to turn the pages? That’s where suspense and buildup come in.
Fight scenes are a great opportunity to raise the stakes, reveal the true price of failure. Everything is more intense, your characters are under pressure, the “enemy” is closing in. And your readers can’t put your book down.
Because you showed your character motivations, their fears to loose.. The fight will take a life of it’s own and it won’t just be about who just got punched in the jaw.
A good buildup will often last longer than the fight scene itself.
We’ll remember the fight because of the dramatic engagement of the characters. Without it, the action is just a blow by blow scene. The buildup of the fight is almost more important than the fight itself. It is during the buildup that we understand why it matters, what’s at stakes for your characters and for the story.
You should think of your fight scene as a little story within the story.
It should have a beginning, a middle and an end. There should be a plot, characters and a setting. It must have external conflict and also internal conflict.
All those elements are established during the buildup, everything is intertwined so that when the action starts they all come crashing together.
The fight stops being just a conflict, it becomes a climactic focal point for the dramatic elements in your story.
Now that you’ve figured out the “behind-the-scene” of your fight, it’s time to learn how to create it!
Check out the next post in this series: How to write an Amazing Fight Scene for help in researching, choreographing and overall making your fight come to life!