Craft & Techniques Writing Department

How to Create an Amazing Fight Scene

Welcome to our Complete Guide to Fight Scenes !

Part 1 – How Fight Scenes must advance your Story

Part 2 – How to Create an Amazing Fight Scene

Part 3 – Writing Techniques for Fight Scenes

 

Fight scenes can be key elements to your story. They advance the plot whilst revealing more of your characters and keeping the intensity.

At first they appear as honey traps to glue your readers to the action. But in reality you can loose a lot of them along the way if you offer them a tedious blow-by-blow description, away from the character-driven drama that they’re invested in.

Fight scenes are quite troublesome and require some specific writing skills.
So if you want to learn how to write engaging, at-the-edge-of-your-seat scenes, just keep reading !

Research is key

As writers we create worlds, characters and problems we most likely know nothing about. The “write what you know” thing is all good unless you want to write something like a historical fiction, spy novel or a *gasp* post-apocalyptic story.

The truth is a skilled writer is very good at researching and using his imagination to fill in the gasps.

 

Unfortunately, fight scenes are tricky business. They need realism and small textured details to become convincing. And how can we sound realistic when we’ve never been in a brawl in our life, you might ask? Well here are a few tips:

  • Read and dissect as many fight scenes as you can. They’ll teach you everything you want to know like what to write and what not to write, sentence structures, how to describe movements and actions… So go take a look at your bookshelves and highlight your favorite fight scenes !
  • Search for as much information as you can : watch Youtube videos of martial arts demonstrations, MMA combats, watch action films or read books and articles on weapons … Don’t forget to specifically research if some of your character have unique fight techniques or use a certain weapon.
  • If you can, try to live it : take a self-defense class, attend a workshop on fighting, go hit a punching bag … Better still, enlist a friend to help you act out your fight scenes. You have no idea how much details you’ll gain that will enrich your scene and make it come to life.

And it’s pretty damn cool to choreograph and act out a fight scene during work hours, no?

Lee Pace as Thranduil in The Hobbit

Lee Pace as Thranduil in The Hobbit

Visualize your scenes

Now here comes the real job : creating the fight.

Choreograph the fight in your head. Assemble the blows and movements, hits and dodges until you have a coherent ensemble.
Try to get a clear picture of it in your mind, like a movie scene. If you, the writer, cannot visualize the fight expect the readers to have trouble as well.

 

But don’t try to be overly thorough. Fights are messy and fast.
For example, you won’t write that your character shifted his weight so he could kick his opponent on the sternum using the heel of his right foot.

 

If you feel stuck, take a look at your research and come up with a basic sequence of moves and blows. You don’t have to come up with an elaborated choreography full of twists and unique kicks. Your characters are fighting to win and/or stay alive, they don’t care for fancy acrobatics. They just move to hurt and incapacitate.

 

Some tips to creating the fight

Use your setting to make your fight more interesting. Whatever environment your characters are in, use it to make the action real !
Fighting is dirty and your characters are trying to win/stay alive. They’ll use whatever they can get their hands on and can be thwarted by whatever stands in their way.

For example, a bar contains lots of chairs, pool tables, other people that your character can push towards his opponent. There are bottles, glasses, chairs, pool balls and cues to use as weapons.

Don’t be afraid to change the setting. As the writer, you can choose the best place to make your character get into a fight. If you’re in a restaurant, you could move the fight to the kitchen which is full of knives, hot water and pans instead of staying in the dining area.

 

If the fight is in a public place, think about the bystanders. People will react to fighting. Some will pull out their phones and start filming. Others will call the police or intervene and try to stop it. Then some people will want nothing to do with it and either leave or ignore it.

 

Stay realistic. It can be difficult for those of us who don’t have fighting knowledge as we tend to go maybe a little over-board. So try to stay simple with your actions, don’t throw in countless superhero moves. And keep a look out for these traps :

  • Training level. It goes without saying that learning how to fight doesn’t come overnight. It takes regular practice and having the right muscles to support your punches. However, even beginners can access an awareness of their surroundings and certain reflexes. So keep that in mind !
  • Gender. I’m all for women kicking ass, that’s like my favorite thing. But the truth is that women are not built like men, it’s just science. There is an advantage in big, heavy and strong that women simply don’t possess. But with enough training, women can definitively win fights against men.
    They’ll have to focus their training on their strengths (women are generally faster, more agile and flexible) and use men’s weaknesses against them.
  • Acrobatics. Hollywood movies have the potential to tempt us writers, to use cool and impressive moves. But our characters are just in for the win.  It’s just simple logic to inflict the most damage to your opponent while saving your energy.
  • Amount of weapons. The last trap to look out for is to consider your character as a walking-breathing-armory. If the fight took him by surprise, he’s most likely not going to carry any weapon or at least not a big one. No one walks around with a crossbow, a couple spears and daggers strapped all over their body !

If his weapon has just been knocked out of his hands, then he has to come up with another one (cue setting opportunities). And if he carries a gun, he’ll maybe have two spare magazines and that’s it, so he won’t shoot blindly but use his ammunition sparingly (that’s the same for any throwing knives character).

 

The aftermath

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Avengers.

Fighting is nasty.

So if your hero always gets away scot-free or just gets up and carry on fine after that, your fights will lose the element of danger that makes them interesting. Your characters become essentially invincible and the action looses its intensity.

However if you show your characters getting up from the ground, dealing with their injuries, recovering from shock…; you show their human sides and make them more believable.

 

Make your characters pay for their mistakes, show that actions have consequences. Make them fight hard for their victories and your readers will share the tension !

  • Fighting hurts all over. If you’ve ever been to a self defense or martial art class, you know how exhausted and bruised you can end up. So be careful how you write your characters afterward.
  • There has to be injuries and pain. You need adequate medical care and a realistic recovery period. As an aside, wounds and injuries can add a good element of additional challenge for your characters to overcome : even a skilled fighter can loose a fight because of a lasting injury.
  • The adrenaline may dull the pain during the action, but it will kick in once the fight is over. And then there’s the adrenaline crash with its own set of possible problems (nausea, shaking, exhaustion…).

 

Helpful Ressources

For more on adrenaline rush during a fight, check out these two sites:
http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/adrenal.htm
http://www.realfighting.com/adrenaline_rbd.php

 

For more on Writing killer Fight scenes, check out these posts:

Writing Fight Scenes by Fantasy Faction

How to Write Fight Scenes with Alan Baxter by The Creative Penn

Writing Action and Fight Scenes by Writer’s Digest

Now that you have successfully created your awesome fight, it’s time to put it on paper !

Check out our last post in this FIGHT SCENES series to learn all about the writing techniques of fight scenes : the sentence pace, what you should write, how to describe the action…

 

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