There's nothing like reading a great fight scene that has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what's going to happen next, wondering who could die in the scene, and what the stakes are going to be. Writers who write convincing fight scenes have a real chance of succeeding. Fight scenes can greatly reveal how well a writer has mastered their craft. In this article, you'll find some pointers to help you write a damn good fight scene.
Allow your reader room to imagine
When writing a fight scene, it's very easy to write it exactly as you imagine, but sometimes that can come across as staged and won't allow your readers to imagine the fight scene themselves, which will take them out of the story. Take the below passage as an example.
"I took a step back and lifted my right arm to his buckled nose, the sounding crunch satisfied me. Then, my left leg swooped to his groin, his body twisted to a ninety-degree angle and slumped to the floor. I towered over him, my fist curved to meet his left eye, then his right as my legs buckled under themselves. His right arm towered over mine and grappled me to the floor, his body angular across mine."
The above text has too many stage directions to the point where it doesn't sound like a story at all, and rather an odd version of a script. The slowness of the pace takes the reader out of the story, making them feel bored and, for a fight scene which is usually the beacon of action in a story, your reader most certainly shouldn't feel bored. When writing creatively, make sure you don't include as much detail or stag direction to provide the reader with room to imagine the scene for themselves. For example, instead of saying, "I lifted my right arm to his left eye." You could say, "I found my arm lifting to meet his bloody eye." Already, just by leaving out the 'left' and the 'right', the sentence reads better.
Show, don't tell
It's the advice we've heard time and time again and yet it's so easy to fall into the trap of explicitly telling your reader every single detail. Use strong verbs to strengthen the imagination of the reader. Here's an example.
My legs buckled underneath me and I tumbled to the floor, shaking. My enemy towered over me, watching with a perked smile.
Another great aspect of all fight scenes is to use the senses to strengthen how the character(s) is feeling. You could use what your character is feeling, hearing, seeing to advance the scene. Take the below paragraph as an example.
His fist slammed across my jaw as my tooth landed on the ground alongside a splutter of blood. An iron taste formed in the back of my throat as the blood trickled down and a pounding sounded in my ears. He grabbed the collar and, although his face had become blurred as my eyes swelled, I saw his crooked smile twist deeper.
Pacing is everything
If you're writing a fight scene that is pages upon pages long, your readers are going to get bored and eventually want to see what happens next. A general rule of thumb is to keep a fight scene to as long as it would generally take in real life which is usually just a few minutes. There is a technique that is quite common and used to not only keep a sensible pace but also create tension and suspension, and that is the 'new line' technique. Take a look at the below passage.
He advanced towards me, staggering.
My eyes shifted around me, watching for another to appear.
But it was just me.
He jabbed the knife towards me.
Just a little on my upper shoulder.
Each sentence here is short and matches the sudden movements taking place. Due to its short nature, it also helps build suspense and create excitement for the reader.
Use emotion and motivation
A great fight scene has something extra behind it, a driving force that answers the question of why your characters are fighting. Could it be that one has done a great betrayal to the other? Maybe the entire plot has led to this, the basis of revenge? The more devastating the reason, the more interesting the fight scene. The more you're rooting for the character.
Once you've figured out the motivation as to why your characters are fighting, next use emotion to strengthen the fight scene. For example, is your character feeling sorrow because their best friend has just been killed by the person she's about to fight. Maybe they feel angry because the person they're fighting has always made your characters life difficult, and they've had enough. They could even feel humorous if they're teasing the person trying to fight them, for example, a little child who is trying to act tough, but is really making a fool out of themselves.
How will it end?
A great fight scene is written in a way that leaves the reader either feeling greatly satisfied or wanting more. Not only do you have to think about the actual fight scene itself, but also how it ends. Will the characters agree to a truce? Will the main antagonist be killed? Will your main character lose but are left more motivated to win the next time around than ever before?
Think about what would realistically happen after the fight scene. Someone rarely leaves a fight scene unhurt, especially if there are weapons involved. Maybe they'll need to be seen by a healer, or they're left covered in scratches or are struggling to walk. Have others died in the scene? What will happen to the bodies, will they be buried, or burnt or left to be covered by thick snowfall? This transition from fight scene to what happens next is important because it allows the reader to feel the full impact and feel all of the emotions of the fight.