Writing Fight Scenes with Punch

This month for Writing with Rae, I’ve been asked to provide tips on how to write an awesome FIGHT SCENE in your novel.

First thing’s first! Do your research and learn the vocabulary. If you’re characters fight with swords, you better know what a “parry” is. If hand-to-hand-combat is more of your character’s style, know the difference between a “roundhouse” and an “uppercut.” Learn your weapons and make sure they fit well with your character. You should know a broadsword is heavy and cumbersome and requires tremendous upper body strength to wield.  Rapiers are light and swift and rely on a lot of leg work. You’ll also want to know what era these weapons were used and what modification have developed over time. You want weapons that fit well within your novel’s worldbuilding.

You will need to be versed in fighting styles too. A knife fighter will stab and slash quickly multiple times until an opponent falls—there is no once and done in true knife fighting. Different swords require different fighting stances. Do your research—knowing is half the battle! (catch my GIJoe funny?)

Lastly, don’t overload your fight scene with technical terminology. Just because you know what a full tang on a blade is doesn’t mean you should talk about it in your fight scene. More than likely, your reader couldn’t care less. It’s knowledge you should know, but don’t show, unless of course it has a specific purpose within your storytelling.

Now that you know what you’re talking about, let’s discuss verbs.  Action scenes require action verbs. Make them strong and one-syllable heavy: “block,” “shove,” “crush,” “slam,” “punch.” Like short sentences, quick verbs support the quick pace of a fight scene. Don’t forget about verbs that give the weight of the fight, both physically and emotionally. During the fight does your character “fear,” “defy,” or “gloat?” What about pain? Does it “sting,” “burn,” “shoot?” Get in your character’s head AND body.

You’ve got research & words. It’s time for some tips in not letting your readers get KO’d. You need to grab their attention and keep them in the ring. Keep the stakes high! Give your hero a worthy adversary. If the opponent is not a legitimate threat, then you run the risk of losing your reader’s suspension of disbelief. You also don’t want to write a play-by-play! Watching a fight scene and reading a fight scene are not the same. Documenting every punch, kick, and roll makes for a tedious read. Finally, be sure every fight scene moves the plot forward. Something must change as a consequence of the fight. If the scene before and the scene after still makes sense without the fight scene in between, then get rid of it.

Now it’s time to dive deeper. A successful fight scene happens out of the character’s head. Trust me, they aren’t thinking about how they feel about fighting their opponent. There’s time for that before and after, but not during. Introspective characters would get killed in a real fight. You are allowed to add verbal exchanges though. Readers don’t care for lengthy fight descriptions, so mix it up with dialogue. What words are exchanged between your character and his or her opponent?  

A successful fight scene also utilizes all of the senses! Sight is the easiest, but don’t ignore the others. Besides, who doesn’t love onomatopoeia? “The blow KNOCKED the brute’s head into the brick wall with a SMASH and his body fell with a THUD.” Also include environmental smells, touch, and taste.  Try to avoid the word “felt.” It’s usually a sign you are beginning to “tell” instead of “show.”

What about a battle scene? Most fights are frenetic, but battles are outright chaotic. Your job as the author is to make the scene clear to your reader without bogging him or her down with too much detail. Make sure you have mapped out the environment for your knowledge. Battle scene will have far more clarity when the orientation of buildings, water, trees, etc. are consistent. Contradictions lead to confusion.

Also be sure to avoid flowery words, similes, and metaphors. The last thing you want to do is slow down the action by not being straightforward and specific. Avoid passive voice.  Allow your characters to interact within the environment.

Another great tip is to utilize “found objects” and opportunity within your fight scene. What resources are available when your character is disarmed? Which opponent on the battle field will your character target? What happens when your character reaches a fallen comrade? 

If your battle is massive and epic, think about giving multiple perspectives from characters amongst the battlefield. And be sure you have done your research on basic battlefield maneuvers and strategies.

Congratulations! You’ve written a fight scene! I appreciate you being a part of Writing with Rae.  You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @RaeHardingbooks to receive notice of upcoming #WritingwithRae posts!

If you would like to learn about a specific writing topic or technique, drop me a suggestion in the comments! See you next month!

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