So your characters tried to talk it out, but one of them has a raging temper. And maybe that character’s fist collided with someone’s jaw all by itself. What happens next? I don’t mean the description of their trip to the nearest emergency room. Rather, you’ve gotta flesh out the fight that happens before. Maybe it’s a hard slap that leaves a welt. Or better yet, it’s a kick to the groin, moving the squabble to the floor.
The difficulty with writing fight scenes is that everything happens so fast. It also has to be easily digestible by the reader without requiring any diagrams or visual gymnastics. How can you simulate the immediacy while keeping your book consistently un-put-down-able?
Below, I’ll share some of the tips I’ve learned from both my own writing, as well as that of a fellow author who rocks these scenes. Like anything, the key to developing a fight scene (or any scene that’s giving you trouble) is getting peer feedback from an opinion you trust. No matter what you do, the relationships between your characters will be forever changed. it’s up to you decide whether that’s for better or worse.
1. Keep it snappy.
Any unnecessary words will kill the rhythm. That’s why it’s crucial to edit out anything that slows down the action, making the tone feel forced. Boil it down to the physicality of the scene – who does what. The “why” can and should wait until afterwards.
2. Write fights slowly, feel them fast.
Short, quick, choppier sentence rhythms work best for this. You can vary your rhythms a little of course, but the majority should be quick and to the point. Focus on faces, tones, and moods. Is it an angry spat between lovers? Or is it an epic fight-to-the-death between sworn enemies? Each of these situations is going to read very differently on the page.
3. Bring the reader into that space.
I mean this both literally, and figuratively. Literally, make them feel the tension in the air, and the risk that’s involved. Also, explore the senses that your character experiences. Maybe it’s the metallic taste of blood in their throat, or the cold air irritating an open gash. Provide real-world examples of sensation that the reader can ground themselves with.
4. Fight with purpose.
Don’t just throw in a fight scene for fun – it must forward the plot in some way. Maybe it’s the turning point for your character, and they realize their true purpose. Or maybe they learn that despite years of jiu-jitsu training, they’re actually epically bad in a real-life fight. It can be funny, or meaningful. Whatever you do, just make it count. Also, think about the different angles you can (literally) attack from. Floor, balcony, or rope ladder – anything works. And bring the character’s full body into the experience. You have more at your disposal than just fists; use feet, nails, foreheads, and even teeth. Just as long as your choices fit the personalities of the characters you’ve devised, you really can’t go wrong.
5. Bleed accordingly for your genre.
Level of gore is subjective – and so much of it depends on who you’re writing for. Middle-grade readers would probably want to avoid graphic descriptions of protruding anklebones or severed limbs. That being said, lots of Young Adult readers and up actually expect that stuff, especially if it’s a horror or war story. When in doubt, just look to tried-and-true relevant examples and follow their lead on that front.
6. Be realistic.
If you want to cut off a character’s foot, the other character needs more in their arsenal than a plastic butter knife. That’s a silly example, but the truth in that statement remains the same – make sure everything you write is plausible. Granted, genre is still king here, and maybe you’re writing a campy space opera where the laws of physics don’t matter. But for everyone else, you might find yourself searching online for very odd, niche things. This is so important – and if you can, chat with a family member or friend with real-life experience or knowledge on the topic. For fight scenes, anyone in the healthcare field is probably your best bet to learn how our bodies really react to an altercation.
7. Have fun!
If you’re bored by what you’re writing, your reader definitely will be too. Keep things fresh and new by adding in plot twists or foreshadowing during the fight. Sometimes, it’s best to stick in a tiny detail that doesn’t seem initially important, but then changes everything later. For more help with adding in a good dose of suspense, read this article HERE.
Did your fight scene hit the mark? The best way to find out is to have lots of beta readers from all different genres read it. Ideally, you want your pivotal scene to appeal to as many different demographics as possible. Sometimes, you might opt for it to be super niche, but otherwise, this is a huge part of the developmental process. Sharing is caring, so do so liberally. That way, when it all hits the fan, you’ll know that your readers feel every punch and kick.