Fighting in Fiction

I have always had a hard time with fight scenes in fiction. Whenever I write a fight I always feel like it’s a clunky beast of a hot mess. Yes. A hot mess.

Why?

I have a hard time with describing all the chaos and confusion that happens during a fight. Fights are not well choreographed and elegant affairs. No one knows just what they’re going to do next. It’s easy to try to simplify a fight just to make it easier to write, but that’s cheating out on your reader.

So how do you capture the chaos of fighting? Well, to admit it freely, I’m still learning. I went to a great panel about writing fight scenes when I was at Fandom Fest. The panel had a lot of suggestions but the general idea was to be straight forward.

Don’t overscript anything. Unless it is a fencing duel (and you better be very familiar with fencing to try that) then there is nothing elegant. No, ‘He slashed his sword and she parried while backflipping over his head in an elegant twirl.’ No.

'And then kittens flew from the sky!'

Fights are dirty, ugly, nasty affairs. People get hurt, people die. It isn’t a pretty elegant ballet.

‘He smashed the bottle over her head as she drove the blade into his gut, slicing upwards. He felt himself falling but he lashed out, catching her under the chin and knocking her back, shattering the table.’

It’s ugly, it’s not a clean affair. Things are happening all at once, not movement by movement. Think about a video game that uses a turn based system. In that world, the monster hits you, you hit the monster. You each take a turn, no one hits out of turn and you can take as long as you want to decide what to do. In real time battle, everything is happening all at once. You can’t stop to evaluate what to do, you have to simply react and that leads to some crazy actions.

So, here are a few tips I took from that great panel that I think will help (I know they’ve helped me.

  1. Act out what you want your characters to do. Make sure it’s physically possible.
  2. Carry around and move a weapon similar to what you’re describing. (Try swinging around a broad sword. One swing will probably steal your breath)
  3. Watch videos of re-enactments or different fighting styles on youtube or somewhere else. Watch the movements.
  4. Read it out loud. See how it flows, make sure it makes sense.
  5. Don’t overuse pronouns. If there are two guys or two girls fighting using ‘he’ and ‘she’ too much can be really confusing. Which person is doing what? Make sure that is clear.
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2 Comments »

  1. Thank you! For fantasy, I enjoy reading Salvatore’s novels and his fight scenes are incredible, but I really lack the attention span for them. In my own writing, I’ve been wondering how to manage that. If I can barely stand to read it, writing it should be a challenge.

  2. Laura Said:

    Another good tip: play Assassin’s Creed a lot. XD


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