The Left, Right, and Uppercut of Writing a Fight Scene
How do you write fight scenes?
The question comes up in writing circles around the world, and action-adventure writers pull their hair out striving to perfect that classic one-two punch.
Here are a couple of tips for fight scenes that I roll with:
Table of contents
- Use short, punchy sentences
- Don't tell the reader your character is scared
- Let people get hurt
- Know a good fight length
- Throw in a chase scene
- Get the adrenaline going
Use short, punchy sentences
I recommend short, punchy sentences for action. Overly long sentences will kill the pace quite often. Don't bog down the reader with how colorful and beautiful the sky is when they’re getting clobbered. And avoid lengthy or overuse of internal dialogue.
Use short, quick sentences.
This also means don’t over describe the fight. "She slid her left foot forward with the knife in her right hand. She sliced from right to left, then repeated. When she ducked two feet to avoid the three-meter wide wrecking ball, her heart beat fifteen times, but in slow motion. She blinked twice…"
Don't tell the reader your character is scared
Don't tell the reader your character was scared. Use actions that show how your character feels. "Heart jackhammering in her chest. Pulse racing. Lump in their throat." length
Let people get hurt
For me, action goes hand in hand with a little gore. If I'm writing a fight scene, someone is going to get hurt. Or worse. Even if you don't go all-in with dismemberment or decapitation—blood spurting everywhere and pooling on the floor— don't be afraid to throw in a broken arm or leg or nose, or a couple of scratches, cuts, or bruises at the very least.
Know a good fight length
While it's important to keep the pace quick and sentences (for the most part) short, that doesn't mean keep the fight brief. I hate when I read a fight scene and say to myself "Wow, that was over fast" or "What? Come on. Nobody even got a scratch."
Don't. Be. That. Writer!
Don't draw out the scene too far either. Strike a balance.
Throw in a chase scene
The chase scene and fight scene are closely related. Have the antagonist chase your protagonist during the fight. Nobody wants a fight scene just standing there unless yours is a story about a boxer or MMA fighter. Even then, I’d expect to be thrown against the ropes, into the corner, against the fence, and slammed down onto the mat.
I'm always trying to conjure up the next vhase scene, and the more unique the better. One of my favs is the chase scene in Zootopia, when Sgt. Hopps chases the weasel into Little Rodentia. The chase between the hamster tubes is hilarious how they contort themselves to get through. The concept is fresh. Different. I think to myself "Very cool. I want to do that."
Get the adrenaline going
Spike the adrenaline. Crank the tension up to max! How about adding a ticking time bomb? The Martian is a good illustration of using this plot device, but any good action-adventure book or movie has them, especially if the fate of the world is at stake. Armageddon also comes to mind and the Alien franchise how the technology tracks the distance of the enemy closing in and counts down the meters until hard contact. Heck, this fight tip list is a ticking time bomb.
And the fuse is at its end!
One of the most important things to remember is “WHY” the protagonist is in a fight. Are they trying to hit the self-destruct button before that antagonist’s bomb detonates? Are the goons trying to off the hero so they don’t discover the evil secret plan? They can’t just get into a fight for the sake of fighting. So, what is it? Save the world. Rescue a friend? Protect the helpless? The reasons are many, so make sure you identify yours and keep it just out of your protagonist’s reach until the last second when the clock ticks down!
Written by: Michael Holiday
Edited by: Matt Ronchetto (@doamatto)