Battle Scenes 101

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So many great utilize fight scenes, but they’re extremely tricky to write. How much detail is too much detail? Do you need to get technical? The most important thing to remember about fight scenes is that they are still scenes.

You Are Not a Boxing Commentator

You don’t need to describe every strike. When you think of your favorite fight scenes from movies, you don’t count parries and thrusts. You think of a flurry of glittering blades and a few distinct moves. Remember every step of choreography from Jack Sparrow and Will Turner’s first fight in Pirates of the Caribbean? Of course not. You probably do remember the quips, moving scenery, and ridiculous rafter stunts, though. Give your readers the same experience. Just as you don’t describe the exact way a character walks through a room, you shouldn’t give a blow-by-blow of each fight. Build a scene with atmosphere, impressions, and dialogue. The fighting is only part of that scene.

You Are a Storyteller

Every fight needs motive, and it must support your characters’ goals in some way. Why are they fighting? What are they thinking as they fight? What led to this confrontation? Focus on these questions rather than the blow-by-blow commentary many new authors slip into by mistake. Readers want action – yes – but they want it in the context of a story rather than a martial arts manual or a spectator sport. Every single fight must advance the story. Just as meandering conversations bore the reader and bog down the plot, pointless fight scenes push your reader away from your characters.

Make each fight as unique as other story events. If every conversation is the same, your readers will get bored. If characters use the same moves in the same situations in similar settings every time, all those scenes will blur together. Use settings, advancing plot issues, and shifting goals to change things up. How will characters use the landscape to their advantage? Do they have different weapons? What makes this fight memorable? Your fight scene may be the defining moment of your story. Just think of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Star Wars, Wonder Woman, etc.

Your Fights Should Work with Your Characters

Use characters’ individual quirks and personalities to makes fights more interesting. It isn’t just a fight. It’s a fight between people your readers have grown to love, hate, and laugh with. The Princess Bride does this beautifully. Characters grow, secrets emerge, and we all remember the quotes. The people doing the fighting really do make the scene. Every fight is different, and no one would ever confuse the duel by the Cliffs of Insanity with Inigo’s final showdown with the Six Fingered Man. Each fight adds to what we know about the characters, follows their goals of the moment, and entertains the audience.

Bring your voice to your fight scenes. Although taking ideas from the greats always helps, add your own flavor to the way you write combat. Write as yourself, not the way you assume combat scenes are meant to be written.

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