Last week, we talked about sex scenes. This week, we’re talking about fight scenes.
So, literally the opposite type of tension resolution.
I love a good fight scene. Whether I’m reading or writing, I need action in my books. But if the fights are all cheesy or forced or physiologically impossible, then it just ruins it.
And no one wants that.
(Side note: magic and supernatural abilities will alter some of these things. Exhaustion, pain, strength, endurance, etc. That’s a topic for another day, though.)
So, here’s a few tips to make sure your fight scenes are up to scratch.
First, do you even need a fight scene? Much like sex scenes, people tend to want to include a fight more often than they actually need to.
Does it fit with your character’s personalities? Is there enough on the line for them to come to blows over it?
If not, write in a shouting match, a heartfelt conversation, or some passive aggressive, bullshit move.
Whatever your character would actually do.
Because no matter how much you want to ramp up the tension in your story, sticking to what your characters would really do (according to their personality, their background, their opinions, and what’s at stake for them) is more important than forcing a fist fight onto the page.
Second, do some research.
Take a self defense class, watch a bunch of videos online, maybe even learn martial arts if you’re feeling particularly plucky. You need to know something about the fighting style your character is supposedly using. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to know something.
At the very least, spend some time on the internet for research.
Second, exhaustion and pain are very real. They will take a toll.
Training helps people deal with them more effectively.
Adrenaline helps to keep both of them at bay, to an extent. But it wears off. And the human body can only take so much.
Study the limits.
You’re a writer. I’m sure your search history is already on a few watch lists. What’s one more eyebrow-raising search?
Google whatever you need to in order to attain a relatively realistic fight scene.
Don’t expect your readers to believe that a 105 pound, 5’1″ woman is going to take three punches to the stomach and a slap to the face from a mountain of a man, then run three miles and climb the side of a building to escape.
That bitch is probably going to puke. A lot. And she’ll have to stop to breathe. A lot. Likely puking even more. She will not look pretty doing any of this. Her sweat will not be a graceful glitter upon her skin. Bitch is gonna drip sweat. Like…too much of it.
The world will tip and sway beneath her feet, and her face is going to scream in pain from being slapped.
Bloody nose? Sure. Temporarily seeing a bright light? Sure.
Getting slapped is no laughing matter.
A three mile run and then free climbing? Not gonna happen after that level of assault from a big ass dude.
Honestly, it could result in internal bleeding or broken ribs (if he didn’t quite hit the fleshy part below the ribs, which might poke something vital), and she could die before she gets to that building she’s supposedly going to scale.
Now, when the adrenaline wears off, your character will feel it. They will crash. They might shake or cry. They might do both, or some other thing. Research is your friend, here.
Third, don’t focus too much on their surroundings. During a fight, the person is obviously going to be paying attention to the fight. They probably aren’t going to notice a lot of their surroundings unless they have a lot of military/police training or perhaps specialized in a field related to that particular aspect of their surroundings.
So don’t tell me what period the art on the wall is from unless they teach art history at the college level and happen to throw someone up against that painting.
In that case, they might lament the destruction of such a thing…as their opponent tears the canvas.
You need the scene to be fast and gripping, not bogged down by excess details. Don’t worry about the pattern of the lace on the tablecloth by the window across the room, painstakingly stitched by the character’s great aunt on their father’s side of the family before she died of natural causes, disappearing from their lives quietly in the middle of the night.
Worry about the look in their opponent’s eyes or the feeling of a drop of blood dripping from a busted lip. Focus on quick breaths and all-consuming rage burning them from the inside out. Show us clenched fists slamming into a nose and the ensuing crunch of cartilage.
Keep the scene moving forward. It’s a fight.
It needs to be active.
Fourth, people get distracted.
Emotions tend to seep in around the edges. Unless they’re a trained fighter, maybe even then, they’re going to think about the reason they’re in that fight. Maybe they’re worried about the person they’re trying to save. Maybe they’re worried about their own impending death.
If they duck behind cover or get tossed like a ragdoll, they might think strategy. Or they might dwell on the mistake that landed them in that position.
If chaos and fear sink gnarly teeth into their bones, they might spiral a bit, focusing on their tendency to make mistakes.
Just don’t spend too much time on stuff like that. Again, you want it to be fast and punchy. Always bring it back around to what’s actually happening in the conflict.
Fifth, use the appropriate amount of gore.
Certain genres and age groups tolerate/crave different levels of gore. YA contemporary calls for far less gore (probably almost none, maybe a bloody nose) than adult splatter punk (all the gore).
Unless you’re writing splatter punk or something akin to Dexter, you probably don’t need as much detail of the blood and body parts as you think.
Additionally, consider the effect it will have on the scene. Does the extra description add to the emotional value of the scene or slow it down?
If your character finds a loved one dead and cradles them to their chest, describing the blood that comes away on their hands or clothes could add to the weight of the scene. But it isn’t necessary to count each drop or describe the way it runs through every crease of their palm.
They won’t be focusing on that.
They’ll be focusing on the fact that…that blood should be inside their loved one. Not on their hands.
As for my own projects, I’m finally approaching the “landscaping their enemies to death” portion of my current WIP. So I’m heading for violence in that one. (Currently sitting at 48,817 words)
I’m nearing a lot of fighting in my edits of Where Darkness Leads.
And all the promo stuff for the April 21st release of World for the Broken (dark post-apocalyptic romance) is ironed out. And that one is chock full of fights.
Now, go forth and fill your books with as much violence as they call for.
Keep reading. Keep writing.