How to Write a Fight Scene, Even if You Don’t Know Shit About Fighting — Part 1 : Introduction
Welcome to a mini-series! It was supposed to be a single post, but as it got longer I decided to split it in three. Which I should have done with that title too, I bet! Part 1 shall be an overview, Part 2 a look into making those scenes work double time for you, and Part 3 shall be an actual example, with commentary!
Part 1: An Overview
I’ve been writing fight scenes in my fantasy since forever. It helps that when I first put words down, I was playing DnD, which involved a lot of sword swinging and spell-flinging. Roleplay and novels are two widely different beasts, however.
So how do you write a good fight scene in your novels? The answer is both exceedingly simple and quite complex:
You tell a story.
Fight scenes are like any other scenes in their composition. They require the same ingredients and are built through the same tools. Think of your fight as a discrete unit, which must have its own introduction, its own dark moment, its own triumph—in short, its own tiny narrative arc.
Building blocks of a good fighting scenes
Stakes. Before you engage into epic swordfighting, make sure you (and the readers!) know what your hero is fighting for. What is at stake in this battle? What would be the consequences of failure? Use that information to draw the tension up a notch.
Advantages. Your hero has qualities, right? How does their personality and physical form advantage their in a fight? What about him could give him an edge? Brainstorm how that could play a role in the coming fight, how it orients the battle.
Disadvantages. The cool thing about flaws is the wide number of ways they can screw your hero over. Fight scenes are a perfect way to highlight a flaw in unusual circumstances! Think about the physical traits and personality flaws that could drag your hero to the verge of losing this fight. What fatal mistakes can they make? Consider adding a “darkest moment” to the fight—an instant when the hero no longer sees a way to win.
Environment. Use! Your! Setting! Fight scenes shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Where are they fighting? What around them can be used in a fight? Environment is a great way to create a fight that is absolutely unique. Just think of that fight scene between Will and Jack Sparrow at the start of Pirates of the Carribean. Between swords, donkeys, catapulting planks and ceiling, they used all they could! Obviously that might be a tad too epic for your circumstances, but don’t hesitate to add interesting elements to the decor and use them in the fight.
Emotional state. Fight scenes are intense and physical, but don’t lose track of your character’s emotional state. How does it evolve with the battle? Is a sense of dread mounting? The thrill of impending victory? How do these things impact on the character’s strategy?
Physical exhaustion and wounds. Even with adrenaline, a fight will take out a lot out of a character. Don’t forget to implement that if it drags on, and don’t hesitate to wound your hero or their opponent. These can serve as a way to tilt the battle in a new direction, keeping it dynamic.
So these are your primary tools and considerations. They’re elements you can and should play around with, arranging as you see fit into a coherent mini-narrative, full of twists and excitement.
And in the next post? I’ll throw some thoughts on what else can a fight scene do for you. Stay tuned!