Any fight scene should be well-researched, but female fight scenes should be even more so. It’s all in the details. As female protagonists and female/female-identifying writers become more and more relevant, the once-male-dominated landscape is changing. What can you do to bring authenticity to your action scene?
Fight like a girl.
I was once on a panel about feminism in SciFi culture and I mentioned that, when I see a woman fighting with her hair floating around beautifully, I know a man wrote and directed that scene. If she knows she’s in for physical conflict, any woman with long hair will pull her hair back before she engages in a fight. It’s just that simple.
So what does it mean to fight like a girl? Women are different from men. In many cases, we are not as physically strong. In the Western world, we do not greet one another with shoves and slaps on the back the way bros do. If we enter physical conflict with one another, there are huge implications psychologically for a woman. Unless this female character was trained in combat, that scene is going to mess her head up.
Therefore, it’s important to show both the build-up and the long-term impact of female fight scenes on the characters. The following are important questions to ask:
- What do I want to achieve in terms of plot/pacing/conflict by having my female character fight?
- What events brought this character to this conflict?
- What skills does my female character have in order to engage in this physical conflict?
- How will this affect my female character post-trauma?
But I’m not a girl.
After I mentioned the hair-tie thing at the panel, a young man raised his hand and said, thank you, I never would have thought of that perspective. I’ve always had short hair and this never occurred to me. I don’t blame him for his ignorance of hair-ties and their integral role in defense. How could he have known?
Wisely, this young man asked how he could avoid things like this in the future, my answer was simple–find a female to read your work. A mother, sister, cousin, friend, co-worker, or anyone in an online writer support group might be happy to look at that scene from a female perspective and give you some tips you never thought of.
Avoid stereotypes. Instead, defy them.
For goddess sake, please don’t make all women in fight scenes cower and wait for a man to protect them. Or even worse, like in action movies, when there’s only one female on either side of a conflict (and, again I question, why only one token woman?) why do women fight the only other woman in the room?
Other things to avoid:
- No slapping, scratching, hair-pulling, or rolling around on the floor tearing at each other’s clothes. Cringe.
- Avoid using the term ‘catfight.’
- Scantily clad warriors. Seriously? What man fights in lingerie?
Try to defy. Women can do anything–shoot guns, arrows, rocket-launchers. We can ride horses, wield swords, and fight with our fists. We just might do it a little differently than men.
Please show the next generation of women that they can do these things and stop perpetuating the image of a bikini-clad warrior who scratches at other women’s faces with her fingernails.
Do your homework.
First and foremost, you must do research. If you’ve never been in a knife fight before, you should probably talk to someone who has and if you can’t find anyone, YouTube is a fantastic resource. I’m sure you can find a video on how to properly defend yourself in a knife fight if you’re female.
People do notice these inconsistencies and it will suspend belief in your writing. You want your readers to trust you, right? So don’t let her down.