On Writing Fight Scenes (RWA 2010 Blog Series)

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Today I’m sharing some of the tips I learned from Angela Knight’s “Writing Fight Scenes” workshop.

I’ll admit it.  I’m weak at writing fight scenes.  I’d much rather have my characters making love than fighting. Smile  But a good story (at least the kind of story I write) needs both, and Ms. Knight is quick to point out that fight scenes and love scenes have a lot in common.  Both are scenes that require strong, clear emotion. 

What are some tips for writing great fight scenes?

  • Your villain should appear to have overwhelming odds of beating your hero.  He shouldn’t be a weakling.  Make him a dark mirror of your hero.
  • Plan fights for about every 100 pages (so a 400 page manuscript will have at least 4).  Plan when, where and why they will occur, and what the consequences will be.   Even if you are a pantser, you can try doing this to prevent the dreaded sagging middle.
  • Save your biggest fights for last.  Seems like common sense, but you need to make sure your fights escalate in what’s at risk.  Take hostages, if necessary.
  • Take your surroundings into account.  What is your hero/heroine feeling while he or she is fighting?  If you can make things harder for your hero, do it.  Fog, sun, and smoke are all good ways of making things harder for your hero.
  • Serious injuries or innocent bystanders automatically add tension to a fight.
  • Evil minions are a writer’s (and the villain’s) best friend.  Use them often, and have the hero kill them to show his strength.  This is especially important if you have a fight scene between the hero and the villain earlier in the story where the villain beats the hero.

Mechanics of a fight scene

  • If someone throws a punch or strikes, they must either hit or miss.  Make sure you include the result of each strike.
  • Vary the hits or weapons.  Rarely in real life would someone attack in the same way over and over again.  So why would your characters do it?
  • Don’t forget to include sensory details such as the hero’s fear and exhaustion.  Draw your readers into your world by making them experience the scene.
  • Narrow the hero’s focus is on the person he is fighting, just like it would be in real life.  Use short sentences and fragments to amp up the urgency.
  • Remember that people generally don’t talk while fighting for their life.

So what do you think?  Do you know an author who is exceptionally good at writing fight scenes?  What is it that makes those fight scenes so memorable?


11 thoughts on “On Writing Fight Scenes (RWA 2010 Blog Series)

    Rebecca Rose said:
    November 3, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Wow, great advice! Thank you.

    Have a Sparkling Day!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 3, 2010 at 8:57 am

      Thanks, Rebecca. 🙂

      Angela Knight is a pro when it comes to fight scenes. It was fun hearing her sage advice on how to approach them.

    Jennifer Spiller said:
    November 3, 2010 at 8:56 am

    LOL. I take it you went to the Angela Knight workshop? It was awesome. Thanks for posting this. You did a much better job of taking notes than I did. Even when we *know* these things, sometimes it helps to refresh our memory and bring the knowledge front and center!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 3, 2010 at 8:59 am

      She gave a great workshop. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for tips or a refresher on fight scenes. And even though she only focused on fight scenes, I liked her point about how they are quite similar to love scenes.

    Debra Holland said:
    November 3, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Great article. 🙂

    As a second degree black belt, I have one exception:
    If the fighter is trained, he or she might very well throw the same punch if it wasn’t blocked the first time. That’s a weak area of the opponent to be taken advantage of. Or they could deliberately use the same punch as a set-up, then when the opponent expects it a third or fourth time, goes for another undefended area of the body.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

      Ooh, great tip, Debra! Sounds like a great way to keep the action fresh. (Oh boy, right now I’m really wishing I’d done some sort of martial arts training when I was younger :-(.)

    Debra Holland said:
    November 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    You don’t have to be young to take martial arts. Just find the right studio. I teach a class and my oldest student is 82. He started 6 months ago. I have him do a lot of balance, stretching and strengthening exercises. Little by little he’s learning the techniques, too.

    I started when I was 36.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

      That’s a good point. Probably not a bad idea for those of us who write fight scenes but have never been in a fight.

      I guess the other option is picking a fight to see what happens, but I don’t believe in suffering for my art to that extent, LOL.

    Marianne Stephens said:
    November 4, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Never thought about the in-depth suggestions for fight scenes. I thought you would be talking about hero/heroine “fight” scenes! LOL
    Now those are interesting verbal exchanges…and eventually lead to that HEA.

    Thanks for the info!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 4, 2010 at 7:19 am

      Yes, those hero/heroine fight scenes are quite important. 🙂

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