Okay, it’s time to fight! Of course, we’re talking about writing a fight scene in your short story or novel (why were you putting on boxing gloves?). At Writer’s Relief, we know creating a realistic fight scene that also moves the story forward isn’t easy. Fortunately, our writers here have some tips that really pack a punch! Here’s how to write a great fight scene for your story or book.
How To Write A Fight Scene With Impact
Determine why your characters are fighting. Before the brawling starts, make sure you’ve set the groundwork and have a convincing reason for the characters to come to blows. What events led up to this conflict? Have the characters met before? Do they have a long-standing dispute? A fight between strangers is different than a fight between characters who have a history together. You need to set the stakes and make sure your reader is invested in the outcome before the fight scene begins. You might want to make sure the characters have said all they need to say before resorting to violence: Once the fighting breaks out, you won’t want to slow down the action with lots of dialogue.
Consider the surroundings. Use your story’s environment when you write a fight scene. Where are your characters fighting? Take into account all of the possible dangers and tactical advantages a given setting offers. If a fight breaks out in a bakery, will the combatants parry with long loaves of Italian bread, or knock over racks of cooling doughnuts? Having that same fight occur in a museum display of swords and mallets ramps up the danger and invites a more violent outcome. By bringing in elements and obstacles specific to the location, you’ll make your fight scene more engaging for the reader.
Engage all the senses to bring your readers into the fight scene. Sure, a character will feel the impact of any blows. But does the air smell of saltwater? Are police sirens blaring in the distance and getting closer? Does the protagonist see a street sign as she stumbles off the curb? Can the character in a barfight taste blood and alcohol?
Know your characters’ fighting skills. Determine each character’s fighting experience and what strengths and weaknesses they possess. Your characters’ fighting styles should reveal their personality and backstory. Is your character a brutal fighter or someone who is trying to minimize inflicting injury? Does she know seven different ways to break her opponent’s fingers, or is she going to brandish a flyswatter in her defense?
If your protagonist is a couch potato, odds are that character isn’t also a Krav Maga expert who can easily disarm an opponent. However, if you are going to present such a glaring discrepancy between fighting ability and presumed skills or personality, it should be explained and supported by the plot: the couch potato is ex-secret military, or the geeky high school kid with excellent sword skills is a vampire slayer by night. Otherwise, you could derail your story and bring your reader out of the action.
Have the damage be realistic to the characters and the world. Have a realistic outcome. Be familiar with your genre and the levels of damage that are believable for the types of characters you are writing. If you’re writing sci fi or horror, your alien or supernatural character might be able to withstand an unusual number of injuries. But if you’re writing a romance or novel about average humans and the jilted lover punches someone in the face, there should be a sore jaw, cut lip, or black eye, and the injuries sustained should match the force of impact.
Don’t drag out the fight scene. Your fight scene should always serve the purpose of moving the story forward. Consider writing in short sentences to mimic the fast, kinetic pace of the action. And unless you’re writing about an epic battle, keep the fight brief. You don’t need to detail every punch. You can include how an opponent didn’t block a roundhouse kick, or describe a character’s clenched fists so a reader can visualize and imagine what is happening, but keep it short—edit out unnecessary words and descriptions.
By following these writing tips, you’ll be able to create a fight scene that keeps your readers’ attention, is integral to the plot, and doesn’t slow the pace of the story. And when editors and agents think your writing’s a knockout, you’ll boost your odds of being a winner in the fight to get published!
Question: Do you find fight scenes easy to write or difficult?
That was really helpful! Especially about taking into account the environment and the characters’ fighting skills. Those factors can really be used to make the scene memorable. Thank you for this post!
I’ve done a few fights and large scale battles, some very useful pointers. I enter the fighters minds, searching for the quarry in a mass of bodies. The dying thoughts, the anticipation of a first encounter etc.
Fight scenes are exceedingly easy for me to write, probably because of my background which includes extensive training in several fighting disciplines, seven years spent doing metro police work in a horrendously violent locale, and ten years spent as a convict behind bars (yes, really.) The thing to keep in mind is that the worst thing you can do to disrupt the authenticity of the scene is exaggerate the competence of one or both of the parties to the fight.
The idea that a 130 pound karate expert could dominate a 200 lb street fighter or boxer is ridiculous no matter what the skill of the karateka. Another thing is that even the most highly skilled fighters seldom use flashy techniques, like high kicks or intricate joint locks, in a real fight. In a real fight, a person with extensive skill and training is a lot more likely to kick you in the nuts than in the head.
Rather than geeking out on skill you should concentrate on the blows thrown and the effects they have on one or both of the antagonists. No matter how good a fighter you are, getting punched hard in the face is painful, disturbing, and not something most people can just shake off. Also, bleeding is common, particularly with a style like boxing that concentrates a lot on the head as a target.
Assuming you enter the scene with the POV confined to a specific character, no matter how mean or how tough or how skilled this character is, you should make sure he bleeds, he experiences considerable pain, and most importantly makes mistakes that could cause him to lose. If you want to write a scene of one super-duper character utterly dominating another to the point of impunity, why waste your time? Just write a scene of a big adult beating a small child to death and be done with it. And your scene will be just about as exciting, which is to say not exciting at all because if your character can’t lose then there’s no drama to it or suspense. You’re just going through the motions.
A good fight scene should leave the victor of the fight bleeding and in considerable pain, and maybe even in need of medical treatment. There are very few fights of extreme violence that don’t leave both parties filthy, exhausted, injured, and often in agony. A secret-agent special forces type jock spinning like a ballerina and knocking people out with his foot is a dull, boring, unimaginative, and stereotyped fight scene. Only unimaginative talentless amateurs write scenes with characters like that.
A scene where your protagonist undergoes agonizing injury and bleeds and makes stupid mistakes and miscalculations but wins ANYWAY, now that’s an exciting fight scene. I’ve been in more fights than I can count, some of them which could have easily resulted in my death; on the street, in prison, and fighting full-contact in a ring. I’ve been stabbed in fights, I’ve wrestled loaded pistols off people. And there’s no such thing as a fight that doesn’t have unpleasant consequences whether you win or lose.
The smart and experienced fighter who wins most of his fights still avoids them if at all possible because, well, fighting hurts. Simple as that.