Writing Techniques for Fight Scenes
Welcome to our Complete Guide to Fight Scenes !
Part 2 – How to Create an Amazing Fight Scene
Part 3 – Writing Techniques for Fight Scenes
Fight scenes can feel like dangerous waters for writers.
They have to be quick, not weighed down by long description and yet crystal clear.
They must be intense, make your readers’ hearts race, as if they were the one fighting for victory on the battlefield.
So you see, there is a lot that goes into a fight scene, a lot that happens behind the scenes. In this post, I’ll share with you all the best writing techniques and tips that I’ve found work wonders for epic fight scenes !
The post will be divided into 3 parts:
- Choosing what to write and what not to write
- How to describe it
- How to write it
You want gripping, action-packed scenes for your story? Then let’s get to work !
Choosing what to write?
Slay the details and focus on the big picture
Too much detail has the tendency to bore readers and pull them away from the scene. You want a balance between the necessary informations for them to understand, and leaving blanks so they can construct the scene in their head as they’re reading it.
Focus more on actions and feelings than objective informations (like the positioning of your characters, their placements during the fight…)
If you’re not sure of what you should keep, here’s what I like to do : I write it all, immerse myself completely in the scene.
Then I read it out loud, pretending that I’m seeing it for the first time and trying to understand. You should see the parts that aren’t necessary easily enough.
If that’s not the case, try and let it rest for a few days. Or you could ask a writing buddy to take a look at it.
Your goal is to thrust the reader into the thick of the action, making them experience the fight through the character. And your key to doing this is to stay in the character’s Point of View. Hovering around the fight, objectively describing the action sets a limitation of how gripping the scene can be for your readers.
Of course, that’s not to say that you have to suddenly adopt the first person.
The trick is that the writing, and thus the reader’s experience of events, should come from your character’s perception. So only what he sees, only what he feels.
For example: instead of telling us that someone pushed him; you should say that he tried to save himself from falling.
The scene should be all about your characters. There’s more than just whacking each other over the head.
Try to think about what your character is feeling, what YOU would feel if you were him : the rush of adrenaline that makes you get up at the last possible second before the hit, the powerful rage that cloud your vision and then there’s nothing left standing between you and your enemy…
Focus on the inner conflict for your character : what is at stake here?
Is he feeling disturbed by this fight in any way?
Is he desperate for his opponent to stop fighting so he could explain himself?
The goal here is to immerse your readers into the action. Suck them into the scene and make them experience everything alongside your characters.
Describing the setting of the scene is necessary for the readers to understand what is happening. However it doesn’t matter as much to describe the fight itself because it doesn’t play a big part in immediate, physical situations. Fighting relies deeply on instincts, on senses.
The taste of blood, the ringing in your character’s head, the pain from their injuries, the way he is blind to everything except his opponent ; that’s what they will focus on.
You should try to mix simple, physical act and then following it up with the feeling.
As the main character gets slammed against the door frame, does his vision becomes dull? Does his head pound and makes it harder to think of a way out?
His lip just got split from a blow, can he taste the metallic tang of blood?
He wonders if he can make it through the fight when he’s hurt all over and his arm is out of its socket; but is he using the pain to focus on the fight and keep his vision clear?
Mixing it all up
As we saw, there is a lot more that goes on during a fight than just who hits who.
- There is possible inner conflict for your characters, what the stakes are for them …
- What they are seeing/smelling/touching,
- What they are feeling (pain, rage, despair, surprise, fear…)
- Are they trying to remember their fighting lessons? Are they overwhelmed by memories of a previous fight? Are they anticipating what their opponent will do? Are they attempting to buy as much time as possible without killing their opponents?
Now when you’ll construct your next fight scene, remember all those elements and try mixing them together. That way you’ll keep your scene entertaining and intense for your readers. They’ll be at the edge of their seats, begging for more !
How to describe it?
One of the many pitfalls we can face as writers, is a lack of clarity. When anything gets confusing in your story for your readers, you can be sure you lost them.
I feel this is a big issue in fight scenes where it’s easy to try and fit too much information in a single scene, making your readers wonder what the hell is happening. Or you could lay out a blow-by-blow description, and bore them.
Clarity is key here.
Your readers will sigh in disappointment if they can’t work out where the combatants are standing at a critical moment. But they will roll their eye at any shift in your character’s stances or wonder what the heck is an “overhand punch”. There is a fine line between too much details and not enough. That’s the trick.
You have to stay comprehensible AND simple at the same time.
I like to make up a list of all events occurring during the fight from start to finish : the big blows, the important character movements but also the critical sensory informations, decisive emotional realizations or thoughts … Everything I NEED the readers to know. After the scene is complete, I go back and make sure that all the events are covered.
Beware of overwriting
There is a rule in writing that you should leave as much to the reader’s imagination as you can. This is especially true for fight scenes.
If you describe every single action of the fight, not only are you going to bore your readers, but your pacing and flow will collapse.
By its very nature, fighting is chaotic and unpredictable. You’re writing a conflict between people intent on killing each other as quickly as possible. There are a lot of things happening at once besides who’s trowing the punches : standing on a slick of blood and trying to keep your balance, missing a blow, the man besides you dying, the way you shift your weight on your good leg, the pain radiating from your shoulder that’s making your hits sloppier…
So many things can affect the course of a fight in a single second, you don’t need to write all of it.
So give your readers the outline of the fight, enough insight into the action that they can build the scene in their minds. It’ll be a more vivid and realistic experience for them because they are “creating” it. Besides, sometimes things like “they wrestled on the ground” gives a far more vivid picture than describing exactly who’s on top of who.
Show them early on in the fight how the weapons move, how the combatants fight – with a lot of strength or quick and precise, moving at the speed of light… Make your readers feel it as if they could actually pick up the weapons and start fighting. Then you’re free to focus more on the personal, emotional motivations of your characters.
Your readers will fill in the action while you describe what your characters are thinking, what’s showing on their faces.
How to write it?
To speed up the pace of your story, the best advice is to shorten your sentences.
Long sentences tend to slow down your action’s momentum. But an intense pace communicates the immediacy and tension of the conflict. Short, to-the-point sentences keep the reader at the edge of their seats. Besides, fights happen quickly so your description needs to match the rhythm.
Another tip is to avoid long descriptions. Only use details and descriptions that are related to the action, otherwise cut them all out.
However, there is a risk of too many short sentences that look and sound exactly the same. So you should try to mix it up.
Use longer sentences with multiple clauses and sharp language that pushes the action forward relentlessly. That way you can convey a frantic edge to the action until readers are gasping for breath.
So that when you do use shorter sentences, you surprise your readers and keep them interested.
The trick is to build an intense rhythm, but steady. Make everything flow nice and easy and them – bam! – hit them when they least expect it.
Fight scenes demand brevity, speed.
Adjectives and adverbs are usually great to help describe your scenes but in the case of fighting, they just weigh down your writing. Most of the time the information you are adding is not really relevant, and you should get rid of it. You want your sentences to match the actions : short, simple and fast.
Spice up your verbs.
Fight scenes are really a repetition of moves, punches and hits. Which means that describing everything without using a million times “block” or “hit” becomes a nightmare.
Whenever I write action scenes, I find that the holy grail value of the thesaurus has just been multiplied by a thousand. It is life.
- For example, if you just used the word “block”, try using “parry” next. But beware of too technical verbs that your readers won’t understand.
- Use synonyms to get rid of those unwanted adverbs.
For example a “savage swing with a sword” might become a “slash”. Instead of “she hit him in the chest hard, again and again” use “she pounded at his chest”.
Leave us a comment below about how you write your fight scenes or any tip & advice !
Post Image credit : Elodie Yung in G.I Joe Conspiration