Writing Realistic, Fight Scenes.

I love a dramatic, action-packed scene. As a reader, there’s that build-up that comes in the pages beforehand. My adrenaline rushes and I’m yearning to see the fight between the characters unfold. I relish it, soaking it in until I’m fully involved.

So, how do we as writers create these action scenes?

We don’t rush it. As I’ve already alluded to, truly dramatic scenes take pages to build-up to. No jumping in there. You have to ramp the tension up and make your reader’s fingertips burn to turn that next page to see what happens. But once you’re there, and you’re ready to deliver the action scene, here’s a list of things to take particular note of.

Remember the five senses. Sight, smell, taste, feel, and speak. Make sure you show and don’t tell.

  • With a fight scene, what’s the space like? Open or closed? Are there weapons close by that can used to battle it out with? A lot of regular items can be used as tools to harm. A broken chair leg, a smashed bottle, curtaining. Anything you can imagine can be pulled into a fight scene.
  • Don’t forget the blows. Watch the reactions for both characters and describe them. Did they fall? Stumble? Grunt? Snarl? Lip bleed?
  • Are there other people there? Are they trying to stop the fight? Or do they join in? Are the other bystanders screaming for them to stop? Or egging them on?
  • Ensure your hero can’t do it all. What I mean is, give him faults and make him sweat.
  • Know how the fight scene ends. Does the villain get away in order to plot his next attack? Or is he captured?

I hope you enjoy this small taste of a fight scene below. I find it’s important to add a showing to my posts, so I’m throwing this together for you. It will give you a taste of the five senses I’ve referred to above. To set the scene, two warriors are battling it out in an arena, one a champion who is seeing if the younger warrior has what it takes to join the ranks of his best. They have been fighting for some time and the younger warrior is tiring.

He pushed back the sweaty strands of his hair plastered to his forehead, blinking to focus. Around him the crowd roared, the two-tiered arena packed to capacity, the people wearing a sea of colors that blurred one into the other. Sword. Shield. Don’t falter. It was the mantra every warrior recited.

A snarl of sound coming close on his right, meant he was too slow. His opponent plowed into him, the metal edge of his shield slamming into his side.

“Ugh.” Planting one foot back, he skidded on the soft grains underfoot. Not enough friction. His knee twisted and he crashed to the ground, landing with a jarring thud on his back that rattled his teeth. The metallic taste of blood exploded in his mouth.

One massive man, his red tunic slick against his skin loomed over him. His opponent lifted his sword-arm and held still, the midday sun glinting off the blade. “Yield. Now.” The demand was a blistering one, issued with all the authority of the champion he fought against.

“Never. Not while there is still breath in my body.” He rolled to his side, the champion’s weapon cutting through the air and slicing into the ground where he’d just laid. Hell, that was too close for any man’s comfort.

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18 thoughts on “Writing Realistic, Fight Scenes.

  1. I generally agree with this but there’s plenty of room for improvement in your guidelines. The most important of which is ‘make the hero work for victories’. Its not an absolute.
    1. Prolonged fight scenes can get boring and if they happen repeatedly they get predictable.
    2. ‘making sure’ its a close call can reveal the hand of the author, and no one wants that. If the hero has a grand advantage going into a fight then ‘a close call’ is hard to justify.
    3. Padding. A long fight scene and seem like this if not handled well.

    Throwing in short and quick battles will keep the audience guessing while hiding the author’s hand

    1. Hey Brian, I fixed up the piece in the blog where I said the hero had to work for his victories, because that was really only referring to the romance genre, yet I hadn’t said that. My oops. So your comment there was spot on. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

      Interestingly, I’ve just had a tweet from Lorna. She has 30 years experience with martial arts training/instructions, with 12 novels written–now there’s someone I could pick some great stuff from and do a real in-depth blog on fight scenes about.

      You also mention having short and quick battles to keep the audience guessing–this is a must too. I love how those hide the author’s hand. You’re the best for picking these things up.

      I’d love to get a discussion going too–I’m not sure where everyone is. Was there a public holiday in the US on Monday? Maybe that’s had an impact. By the way, do you have any other great pointers?

      Joanne

    2. Not this monday. The public holiday was last monday. Anyway as regarding pointers; you covered most of it. Placing the fight in a solid-five-senses enviroment is key to the realism. I just wanted to point out that one bit about the sweat. Though there is a related point I could bring up.

      On TvTropes we have something called “Holding Back the Phlebotinum” which is more or less ‘a character could take a reasonable action within their power which would resolve the conflict instantly but the author doesn’t want them to do that’. If this comes up in a fight, then the fight will NOT be realistic because the audience doesn’t buy it.

    3. Yes, that’s a good point you make about “Holding back the phlebotinum” so the fight is the realistic option and the reader understands that. That concept is used in other plot lines as well, so that the author keeps just enough back so the book’s story can continue without coming to an abrupt resolution. But the realism has to be there, as you’ve said.

      I’ve also read the odd book where there needed to be a wonderful fight scene at the end, and the author resolved the conflict too early. That was annoying. I was all geared up for the battle, and it never happened. I felt cheated. Although that was in a young adult book for 15+, but still, violence can be toned down to make it age appropriate.

      Thanks so much, Brian. I’ve loved your comments.

      Joanne

  2. Hi Joanne great job on showing a fight scene. I really like it when an explanation of something is followed by an example of a scene. It helps me a lot with understanding how it fits together.

    1. Hi Donna Jean. I’m glad you like the scene to show how it all fits together. Another author told me it’s like I give the ingredients first on how to “bake a cake” then I show how to “actually bake the cake.” It was a lovely analogy–and it made me smile. Thanks for leaving a comment–I truly appreciate each and every one.

  3. Thank you Joanne, you always come through with the little things that need to be said. I have several fight scenes in my book that is going through copy editing right now. I plan to spice them up to make the tension more dramatic and my next book is filled with even more as war rages between the King of my planet and those who are being oppressed by his rule. It will be bloody and filled with unexpected twists as a world in turmoil fights to gain its freedom of a tyrant King. Thanks for the help.

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