10 TRICKS FOR WRITING GREAT FIGHT SCENES
1. Choose an unusual location – the quirkiest place that’s plausible in your plot: a cow shed, a castle ruin, a catacomb. Involve the setting in the action: the fighters may slip on the muddy slope, leap across the fence, slam their opponent against the wall.
2. To create a fast pace, use short paragraphs, short sentences, short words. These convey the breathlessness and speed of the action. Instead of >Looking at his face, she could see that he was thinking, and concluding that it was his intention to strike her, she decided to move to prevent the blow from from landing.< write >She read his intent and blocked the blow.<
3. Make sure the fighters use only fight skills they actually have. A Victorian damsel isn’t likely to throw uppercuts and roundhouse kicks. Establish beforehand what kind of skills the fighter has.
4. Stay in the PoV. Show only what the fighter sees in that moment: his opponent’s face, his opponent’s hands, his opponent’s weapon. He can’t afford to look elsewhere, because if he takes his attention off the fight for even a second, he’s dead.
5. Sounds create excitement, so mention noises. Mention especially the sounds of weapons – the clanking of swords, the pinging of bullets – or the thudding of of flesh on flesh and the cracks of breaking bone.
6. If your fighters talk while fighting, use very short, incomplete sentences, to convey the breathlessness and to keep it real.
7. Fighting hurts. There have to be injuries and pain. Although the adrenaline may dull the pain during the action, the pain will kick in once the fight is over. Depending on the type of novel you’re writing, you can emphasise the violence with realistic injuries and gore, or play it down by giving your hero just a few bruises and minor flesh wound – but there has to be something.
8. Use weapons which really exist. When writing historical fiction, make sure the weapon was available in this period. Also make sure that the weapon of your choice can really be used the way your protagonist uses it: not every sword can cleave a skull, not every gun can stop a running fugitive. If you invent a weapon, model it closely on existing genuine weapons. Most of the fancy zig-zag shaped swords invented by writers wouldn’t work in reality.
9. Before the fight begins, write a paragraph (or more) building suspense for the fight. Use all the suspense-building techniques you know. This paragraph can also serve to describe the terrain and convey other important information.
10. When the fight is over, write a paragraph (or more) describing the aftermath: The pain hits. The survivors take stock of the situation, mourn their dead comrades, bandage their wounds, repair their weapons. If you’re aiming for great realism, you can describe the corpses – brains spilling from split skulls, intestines hanging out of abdomens, flies circling and crawling. You can also describe smells – after a fight, there’s often a terrible stink, because fighters lost control of their bladders and, in death, of their bowels. There may also be a smell from the weapons used, e.g. gunpowder smoke.
This post is open for discussion. If you have any questions or would like to add some experiences in the comment boxes below, they are welcome.