I love writing fight scenes. And I’m not just saying that to stand out or anything. I know a few writers who hates it with a passion. After all, the process of writing a fight scene is usually seen as going against everything about the normal idea of storytelling we writers learn of.
Fight scenes are short. Fight scenes don’t progress the story. And aside from the occasional one liners, you don’t get a lot of chance to display a character’s personality. Or do you?
I’ve been known to write entire chapters, sometimes, even two, solely made of fight scenes. So today, I’ll do my best to teach you the how-to and nuances of a fight scene. Let’s get started!
How to Write Longer Fight Scenes
This is perhaps one of the hardest thing to grasp. It’s hard to write a long fight scene when in modern time, a single gunshot would kill almost anyone.
But a fight does not start when you swing a sword or pull a trigger. If you are writing from an attacker’s point of view, the preparation is also part of the fight. If you are writing the attacked, the lead up is also part of the fight. That is why, instead of relegating a fight to the last pages of a chapter, you should instead focus an entire chapter solely on building up the battle.
In my thriller novel, 139: In Evening, the entirety of Chapter 32, all 2,800 words of it, is a fight scene. In it, I spend the first third of the chapter setting up a fight from the protagonist’s point of view. This helped to build up an expectant. You know a fight is coming, but not when.
For the next third, I started off with the antagonist, who was about to be ambushed. At this point, you, as a reader, knows the fight has already started, but one of the character is still out of the loop, thus creating an element of tension. This can work in any situation, where you have a character go about an ordinary day, only to be taken by surprise at the end.
Then, there is the action build up. This can work two ways. With a professional or a inexperienced character.
An experienced fighter will be able to process thoughts more quickly and have more control. You can turn all that thoughts into words, and if done well, it will give the illusion to the reader that the mind is racing. A lot of thoughts bombarding the head at the same time.
This can be done by referencing situations in the fight as the thoughts are being told. The shifting of the legs, a movement in the shadows. These all periodically bring attention back to the fight without advancing the time much.
An inexperienced fighter on the other hand, will move mostly by instincts. Turn this into action. The flailing of the arm. How clumsy they feel holding a gun or a sword or any other weapon. The implication of death, nervousness, ticks and shakes of the body. All these can be turned into words on the page.
Out of the whole of Chapter 32, the only part where any ‘fighting’ was being done filled out about 800 of the 2,800 words, mostly towards the end. Remember, a ‘fight’ is a story in itself. The battle is a climax in the story, and everything else should be treated as the preparation for it.
How to Progress the Story in a Fight Scene
Show. Don’t tell. That’s a golden rule all writers try to abide by, and that’s the same with a fight. In fact, it should be easier to do so in a fight scene, since everything is just action.
In Chapter One of In Evening, I set up one of the most important element in the story during a fight scene. Fight scenes are kind of a cheat code for exposition, as things can and will happen in a fight that are not prone to happening in other daily circumstances.
Within the process of the chapter one fight scene, which lasted only a third of the chapter, I managed to set up a recurring antagonist, a universe lore, the main protagonist’s motivation, and the conflict the deuteragonist of that chapter faced.
Such story progression can be done by the dropping of objects like I did in the chapter, or the slipping of words. Remember, you are writing slightly different characters in a fight, people who are pumped with adrenaline. They might let slip plot points, drop key items, or otherwise behave abnormally.
You can also set up future plots points by using the fight as a motivation, or extend relationships between characters. A fight scene need not be solely about the battle, since all the characters got into it for a reason. But having an exciting punch can help.
How to Portray Characters in a Fight Scene
Chapter 26 is my favourite of all the fights in In Evening. It had the largest gathering of protagonist in a arc climax, making it incredibly fun to write. It also allowed me to play around with writing fights for characters with different personalities, because everyone handles stress differently, as do they with battles.
A hard headed character would charge in with just the clothes on their back. A resourceful person would do their best to make the most out of their surroundings and situation. A calm person may fight seriously, and a self-centred one might start monologuing when they have the upper hand.
One of the best part to really let a character shine in a fight is the immediate aftermath. When they are either dying or have won. All the stress is lifted and the façade vanishes. At that point, your characters can be at their most primal, and you can get really emotional with that scene that would otherwise seem out-of-character to some.
Now you might be wondering, “Aden, this is all well and good but, why are there so many references to 139: In Evening?”
To which I will answer, “Okay, you got me.”
I’m actually also shamelessly promoting the eBook release of 139: In Evening, which is now available for purchase from 10 different eBook retailers, including the major ones like Nook, Amazon, and Kobo. You can check them out under the ‘books’ tab above, or just click here!
So, thanks for reading everyone! I hope you have taken something good away about writing fight scenes. If you enjoy what I write, do consider supporting me by buying my books. I will see you next time!