How to Write Better Fight Scenes

So, back when we were writing posts on writing tips every day, I went over on the YWWC and asked everyone which of a number of post ideas they'd like to see, and promised to write on the top three topics. The result of that is here on this blog, but one topic was suggested that I hadn't thought about: tips on writing fight scenes.

At the time, I just replied that I didn't have enough experience writing fight scenes to help out with that, but I realized that I had written far more than I could remember. So here we are, the post that was once asked for and never really expected!

There are many types of fight scenes throughout the many genres and settings that exist. I've written quite a few of them, and while each one can be and often is completely unique to itself, there are a few main kinds that get used. These are all very different, as the stakes and strategies vary in many different circumstances. A fist fight is very different from a sword fight, just as a gun fight is different from a fight with superpowers. However, despite these differences, the strategy for writing these kind of scenes are very similar.

First of all, the most important thing to remember about fight scenes is that description is everything. You have to be able to make your readers truly see what is happening. Don't just list the moves and events as they happen; paint a picture with your words. They need to hear the clash of metal, feel the heat of the flames, and smell the sulfur in the air.

Also, using metaphors and similes are also helpful, because switching a line from "He crouched and waited" to a line like "He crouched like a lion waiting to pounce" makes a difference. Your readers can envision the scene better, because most people know exactly what a lion looks like when it's stalking its prey.

Think of each scene of your book like a scene from a movie, and figure out the best way to describe and portray each move and blow. But be careful. Don't go overboard with the descriptions. If you start describing each and every action in a ridiculous amount of detail, like
"She spun ninety degrees to the right and took a short breath, the sun glinting off her three foot blade, before she sliced the cool metal through the air with a powerful thrust and twist of her wrists".
No one wants to read a book where every line is that insanely detailed. It's unnecessary, but it's a trap we sometimes fall into whilst trying to write detailed enough. Writing something closer to "She spun around and sliced her blade through the air with a swift twist of her wrists". We know that she's breathing, and we don't really care whether or not the sun is reflecting off her sword. The time to put breaths and descriptions like that is before the fight, or if there are breaks between the clashes. Otherwise you're just distracting from the quick-paced action.

Now then, since everyone loves examples, I'll give you a few for some of the kinds of fight scenes I mentioned above. Each are different styles of fighting, which should obviously show, but again, they are very similar. I'll start off with a couple of sentences that just tell the reader what's happening, and then change them to a better, more descriptive form of writing. I'll be writing in third-person, but this works in any point of view.

And for the sake of this post, our MC's name in these examples is Jack. Jack's going to go on a lot of adventures today.

Let's start with a good, old-fashioned fist fight. Every action hero needs one of those, right?

Jack watched the guards moving towards him, waiting for the fight that he knew was coming. The first guard aimed a punch at his face, but Jack dodged the blow with ease. He kicked his foot out, hitting the other man in the chest and knocking him down. Then he turned to deal with the other guard. 

So that's not bad, but it's not great either. It'd be acceptable, but it could be way more descriptive. Let's try that again.

Jack kept his eyes trained on the guards who circled him like sharks waiting to strike. The first guard lunged and struck out a fist, but Jack ducked past the blow and retaliated with a swift kick. His aim rang true as his heel slammed into the other man's chest, sending him to the floor. With one guard momentarily taken care of, Jack shifted in anticipation of the other. 

That's better, because know we can envision the way the guards are moving, how Jack is dodging, and we have a better picture of the exchange as a whole. Also, one thing I've noticed with fight scenes and sentence structure is that it flows more smoothly if you separate sequences of movements by the sentences. Meaning that separating parts of an attack can, in many cases, make things choppier. In this case, that'd mean if I had written it as
"The first guard lunged. He struck out a fist, but Jack ducked past the blow. Then he retaliated with a swift kick, and his aim rang true as his heel slammed into the other man's chest. That sent him to the floor, and meant that one guard was momentarily taken care of." 
See how that's choppier? A lot of times, it's not going to be that big of a deal or difference, and generally you will find yourself writing with a very natural flow anyways, but I thought it was something interesting to be aware of.

Moving on, let's try a sword fight.

Jack blocked the swing aimed at his head. He exchanged a short look with his opponent before spinning away from him. The began another exchange after that, until Jack saw a chance and swung his sword as hard as he could. His sword slammed into his foe's, knocking it from his hands.

Again not bad, but not great either. It could be a lot better. For example:

Jack swung his sword over his head, catching his opponent's blade with a clash of metal. For a moment, time seemed to stand still as their eyes locked, and then with a twist Jack was spinning away and they were off again. After another rapid exchange, Jack found a window and swung out with all his might. His sword sung through the air before slamming into the other man's blade, tearing it from his hands and sending it flying. 

See, that paints a way better picture. You can picture the scene as clearly as if it were happening in front of you. One tip that I would add, which I have used but not mentioned, is to use as many of the senses as you can. Not just sights, but also sounds, smells, touches, and even tastes if you can. These snippets are a little too short to show that to the full extent, but with full blown fight scenes, I do this more. Especially if there are explosions (which happen more often than you'd think, although it is an action-y novel), since then you have a whole new level of chaos to add in.

Okay, so last but not least, let's try a gun fight. This is one I'm not the greatest at, as most of the combat I've written is up close and personal. I was considering also writing an example of a fight with magic and/or superpowers, but because that can vary so much depending on the ability, I realized it wasn't really going to work as well as these. There were a couple other options I also thought about, but let's stick with these three.

Here we go. This one's a little different, because obviously if guns are involved the opponents aren't in each other's faces. There's distance, which allows more time for other descriptions and thoughts to creep in.

Jack knelt behind the crate, looking at the enemies across from him. Bullets were hitting all around him, but he ignored them. Squeezing the trigger, he fired, taking out a guard. He could only use one shot for each, because he didn't have a lot of bullets left. If he was right, he had just the right amount to succeed. He kept firing, taking out each guard as he tried not to get hit.

This one actually quite a bit longer than I planned to make these snippets, but that's how it goes with gun fights, I suppose. Like I said, there's more time for descriptions. Let's make it better, (and longer), now.

Jack knelt behind the crate, staring down his sight at the enemies across the warehouse. Shots were ringing out around him, some landing far closer than others, but he maintained his focus. With a swift squeeze of the trigger, he fired, taking down one of the many guards with a single shot. That was all he could afford, as his ammo was running low. If he counted correctly, he had just enough to get through this. The smell of sulfur lay thick in the air as he continued firing, picking them off one by one as he avoiding getting picked off himself, the sound of his heartbeat ringing in his ears over the chaos around him.

So this rewrite included more description, and a better picture of the situation, as all of the others have. Gun fights are different, as I said, but they are still very fun to write.

To recap before I end this off, here's what you need to remember: Use descriptions that paint a picture. be clear, use as many senses as you can, and make sure the flow feels natural.

I hope y'all enjoyed this post, and that you picked up a few tips. This was a fun post to write, considering it gave me an excuse to randomly write some fight scenes, which are probably my favorite to do.


Until Next Time, Your Sister in Writing and Christ, 

~Arella Noreen

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