Writing a fight scene is always a tough first-time experience for most fiction writers. Even for the most seasoned authors, writing a great fight scene is usually a challenge, because unlike in a movie or stage play, there’s no music or visuals to help you add things like tensions and transitions to your scenes.
And… Most often than not, when we write a fictional brawl, we’re usually writing about something we haven’t experienced firsthand so we’ve to be both skilled and careful enough to create fight scenes that are enthralling and believable.
Bottom line? It’s not easy creating a fight scene that will stimulate readers. But, most of the time fight scenes provide the writer to conclude tensions and conflicts. They can also add to the story’s conflict, so the benefits are countless.
But as I said, writing a good fight scene requires delicacy, practice, and an appreciation of the dynamics of a real fight (fistfight, cut-and-thrust, etc.).
Types of Fight Scenes
1. Armed Combat: Fighting using weapons is more technical because you have to know how the weapons operate and what type of damage they can inflict. You can write about gunfights, sword fights, etc.
2. Hand-to-hand combat: These are my favorite fight scenes. Hand-to-hand combat shows the character’s raw physical abilities and exposes their weaknesses. You can write anything from raw bullfight type of brawls, fights involving martial artists to professional boxing matches. Although there are a lot of fighting styles that you can use, a fistfight doesn’t require a lot of technical knowledge because your characters can fight anyhow without rules or special moves.
3. Superhuman Fights: Fancy writing superman-Esque fighting scenes? Most fight scenes that showcase your characters’ superpowers can thrill your readers as they introduce them to new science-defying moves and scenes. But… you should be careful not to create childish scenes with fights that are unbalanced and too unreal.
4. Fights on the run: Some of the greatest fight scenes take place in more than one setting or location before concluding. The fight might start in a warehouse, move to the streets, and end in a private jet. The continuation of the fight scene through locations aided by a fast pace will surely leave your readers engrossed in the story.
How Hard Is Writing Action Sequences?
One of the challenges that you encounter when writing action is engrafting the fighting in your overall narrative. Fights are meant to advance your narrative, not a hive off from that or the story. A fight can be used to help create some of the elements of a good story—whether it’s the rising conflict, climax, or another element of your story. A good writer, therefore, is one that seamlessly engrafts fight scenes into the story.
But that isn’t the only problem, some fights might require the writer to use some technical terms. The thing is, you have to describe some of these technical things without boring or losing your reader with unnecessary babble. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do some research on the technicalities of fights or that you shouldn’t use them, but you should describe each action scene (in detail, if you must) without unloading a barrage of supererogatory dull technical terms on your reader.
Tips on How to Write a Fight Scene
Tip #1: Fight Scenes Advance the Narrative
Every fight must be made to advance the narrative or story (remember that story and narrative are not exactly the same thing). In fact, every scene—not just the fight scenes—has to advance the story. A fight shouldn’t just pop up at any point in the story, that happens in real life but it isn’t good for your story if it’s not intentional or planned to advance the narrative. It doesn’t matter if the fight’s exciting or not, if it doesn’t advance their story, throw it out.
Tip #2: Be Creative
To turn the fight that you envision in your head into a written description is “easier said than written.” That takes a lot of creativity and mastery of written storytelling and you have to add exciting bits to the original, sketchy fight in your head.
Tip #3: Borrow A Leaf from Great Authors
You can study the works of great fiction writers who are good at writing fighting scenes like Robert B. Parker and John Connolly. These two are part of a large contingent that has used great action scenes to win the hearts of the readers.
By studying these writers’ action scenes, you will learn one or two things about using fight scenes to provide suspense, intensity, and liveliness to the story.
You don’t have to copy everything that these greats do. You can just use them to learn how to write vivid descriptions, rapid fights, and fights that evoke emotions from the readers.
Tip #4: Avoid Adverbs
Always remember this: fights can kill your characters, but too many adverbs will kill your story. One or two adverbs, in their rightful place, won’t do your story any harm but if you stuff your fights with lots of adverbs, you’re going to end up bloating those scenes.
Tip 5#: Avoid the Use of Passive Voice
Using passive voice might be okay for a blog post like this one because no one is really marking my English (or are they?).
But seriously, using passive voice works perfectly in other types of writing because it is employed intentionally to present a calm tone or censor some things out of the writing.
Your writing has to be direct, and a passive voice won’t help you do that.
How to Create an Exciting Fight Scene in 4 Steps
Step #1: Know Weapons and Fighting Moves
First, you decide on what type of fight scene you would like to write about. Hand-to-hand, cut-and-thrust, or whatever fits the context. If you’ve never written or experienced that type of fighting, then you need to do some research on the kind of weapons and fighting moves that the characters are going to need and use during the fight.
Some of your readers are pros in certain fighting styles and expect you to write aspects of a fight scene that are basic but relatable.
Step #2: Prep Your Characters
You could decide to surprise the readers with a fight scene out of nowhere, that is if you twist the narrative so that the origins of the fight will come to later after the readers have enjoyed the scene.
Still, you have to prepare the characters because regardless of whether the narrative put’s the fight’s motivation or the fight itself first, there has to be a plausible motivation.
The catalysts for the confrontations can also be used as elements of character development or to show rising conflict. This way, the motivation not only explains the reasons behind the fights but also adds depth and complexity to the story.
Step #3: Use spine-tingling descriptions
You might be feeling great about the fight you’ve conceived in your head, but your readers won’t share your excitement if you don’t use very pictorial descriptions. You can’t risk having bored readers during a fight scene—you want them to feel as stimulated as your fighting characters.
To give your readers this type of excitement, or fear, you need to use descriptions that indicate rapidness, directness, and stimulation.
In simple words, your descriptions have to bring the reader into the fight, not leave them in their bedroom. Remember tip number 4 in the previous section? You can strip your fight scenes of adverbs and use stronger verbs. In addition to that, you can describe the way your character(s) felt (breathing, pain, tiredness, etc.) and also use their thoughts to tell the reader the characters’ imaginations, intentions, plans at a point in the fight.
Step #4: Mind the Pace
When writing a fighting scene, you should make sure that the pace fits the tone. For example, you’ve probably heard that short sentences and fragments can give your fight scenes elements of immediacy and that an action scene requires.
For an explosive short fistfight, that’d work just perfectly.
But… that doesn’t apply to all the fight scenes; some fight scenes require you to be a little bit poetic. Take Japanese sword fights, for example, it wouldn’t be befitting to rush through such fight scenes. If you’ve seen a movie with a Japanese sword fight, then you know that those people take their time and their fights are almost ritualistic.
Even during the fights, some things have to be slowed down for the reader to have a better view of the fight.
Step #5: End the Fight
Oh! So it was so good you didn’t want to end the fight?
Don’t worry it’s not the end of the story. Heck, if the fight occurs at the beginning of the story, you might bring it back during the climax or some other point—but for now, it has to be resolved.
I talked about using fight scenes to advance the narrative, you can pick up the narrative after the fight’s resolution. Whatever consequences arose from the fight can be used to bring the story to the next phase.
For example, if a character gets killed or injured during the fight, the story might follow a course of revenge or healing from the wounds.
Conflicts are an ever-present element of fiction writing, and fight scenes help resolve the conflicts so when they end, some of the conflicts end with them.
How Many Pages Should a Fight Scene Be?
I have read fight scenes that lasted only half a page. That’s a very short flight, but the average fight lasts a couple of minutes, meaning that most take up a page or two.
You shouldn’t have the page restriction when writing a fight scene, although it’s better to prune the fight if you feel like it’s taken longer than you’d like. If it’s a war, the case is a bit different; the fighting usually takes more pages than two, whole chapters sometimes. The fight scenes in a war story are given to readers in bits, and those bits aren’t always long.
List of Words You Can Use When Describing a Fist Fight
You can use thousands of words to describe a fight, but we neither have the space nor time for all of them on this post. So instead, I’m going to list a few that you can use if you’re looking for words suitable for describing a fight scene.
I had to go through a couple of PDFs and blog posts to compile these words; here’s the list:
- a quick one-two
- a deft swing
- rapid one-two
- good, swift
- high-octane emotional
- hard intentional
- immensely powerful
- cold, clammy
- fairly decent
- quick and powerful
- bruisingly hard
Let The Fight Begin!
We all know that you don’t just become a good fiction writer overnight, it takes a lot of work to be a wowing writer. Writing fight scenes is even harder because most of us try as much as possible to run away from real-life violence, and having to write it convincingly doesn’t come naturally.
But with time, studying, and practicing, one can write better scenes that are both exciting and compelling.
Research is a very important aspect of fiction writing. You should always assume that your readers are well-learned individuals (because they are!), and writing uninformed things can easily annoy them. It matters less whether you’re writing a fictional story with some resemblance to real-life places or events, or writing fantasy with an imagined world and mythical creatures.
But when it comes to fight scenes, you have to do some research on fighting dynamics and, sometimes, physics.