I would be hard-pressed to say that creating a fight scene is one of the most effective ways to convey a conflict in a story. It is far too easy to dismiss combat scenes as being the most direct form of increasing tension in your tale, but I find this to be far from the truth. A fight scene, when handled by a thinking writer, is capable of both symbolizing an internal conflict and being an entertaining read to boot.
But you might ask yourselves, why in the nine hells would I need help in creating a fight scene? I mean, it ought to be fairly straightforward…right? Mr. Hero punches Sir Villain across the face, only to be parried by Sir Villain’s fist and so on and so forth. But here’s the delicious thing about writing, especially when it comes to fight scenes.
They are so easy to mess up.
In my time, I’ve come to find a grand deal of pet peeves that I have with novels. Be it a certain character type, plot device, and anything else along those lines. But there is one peeve that stands out above all the rest. And that is the poorly written fight scene.
Never has there been anything that takes me out of the experience, more than this. And you would be surprised at how prolific this is among a great deal of indie authors I’ve read on Amazon. There’s something jarring about a bad fight scene that makes it stand out against other examples of bad writing, and I’d argue that this is due to the amount of motion that usually goes into them (or is supposed to, anyway.). It’s very easy to ignore a conversation scene that was written by a less-than-stellar writer, as it requires less energy to immerse someone in an interaction that doesn’t even require that much description. However, in a scene with a lot of movement, it requires attention into the way that it is
being written unlike any other scene, as one word has the potential to drag your audience out of the action.
So if you feel like your readers would have more fun reading the transcript of an encounter in a Final Fantasy game than your battle scene, I’ve got three tips that could redeem your prose!
- Paint Broad Strokes
When a man is being hurled halfway across a bar, chances are that there’s going to be a plethora of details you won’t catch during his flight. For starters, I doubt you’ll even bother trying to discern the surroundings inside of the pub, the exact grapple that was needed to throw him in the first place, or his style of clothing—it might even be impossible for you to notice! And this ought to be common knowledge amongst all people, not just writers!
But time and time again, people make the mistake of describing EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL.
A fight is something that occurs rapidly and is hard to keep track of by its very definition! When there are two men holding each other at sword point, it’s fine for you to describe the kinds of slashes and parries that go on every once in a while during the fight, but when it gets to the point that you’re describing every gash, all the times the sword switches direction, the result of every slash, the result of every parry, the result of every thrust, and much MUCH more, then you should consider toning down a bit.
A fight is a messy occurrence by its very nature, and toning down the description will help to give this sensation. So instead of describing each jab that a boxer gives to another boxer, just say that they descended into a flurry of fists, instead of describing every stroke in a sword duel, say that the clangor of steel resounded across the whole tavern.
- Your language is limited, use it wisely
So yeah, you’re fully aware of the fact that you can’t just waltz about a fight scene and describe every single thing inside of it. Congratulations on your “revolutionary” discovery. No, really.
So now you’re going to open up you’re laptop,
click on that word icon, and start getting writing fight scenes with less text than you used before. But this only solves half of the problem. When you realize that the amount of words that you should be using is now limited, it does not mean that you can just write less words willy-nilly, it means that the quality of your language must increase to exponential levels.
This is where you bring out your active voice, you’re descriptive verbs, and all that other wonderful stuff. A lot of the advice that is given to individuals whom write short stories can easily be given to anyone that’s writing a fight scene. You have to find verbs that are precise and also carry a lot of detail in them. Use metaphors that create a clear image of the slash you’re trying to write rather than just describing everything step by step, instead of saying that the enemy was slashed by you ought to be saying that the hero slashed the enemy, or even better! Instead of saying slash, you should say cleaved, ripped, sheared, pierced, hacked, or any other synonym of slash that gives a clearer picture.
People appreciate it when you shorten your text, but you shouldn’t go about it in an arbitrary manner. As always, be careful in the words that you choose and the tone in which you write them. One descriptive word can say more than a paragraph could ever hope to.
- Zoom in on the action
I’ve spoken about the importance of an author knowing that he is writing the story from a “bird’s eye” view in the past. And this can be an advantage depending on the type of story that you are telling. However, since the most common POVs nowadays are Third Person Limited and First Person, when it comes to fight scenes, you’ll have to zoom in on the story a little more than you usually would.
What you’re trying to accomplish is to give the impression that your POV character is actually experiencing that combat. So describing with senses other than sight becomes imperative in fight scenes, and I’d argue even more-so than in scenes that just build setting. Allow me to give an example.
Example 1: Gerrick slashed his blade upwards and it landed on the steel edge of Rodry’s sword. Rodry parried the blade and sent Gerrick reeling backwards. Gerrick regained his balance and lunged forward at Rodry, pure ire burning in his eyes.
The description I mentioned above is not necessarily poorly written. On occasion I used words such as “lunge” or “reeling” which can give the reader a clearer image of what is happening. But it is still missing a crucial aspect, I need to appeal to other sensory details if I want to give the impression that this is actually a fight.
When you get hit, you never pay that much attention to how the strike looks like while it’s coming in your direction. What you would notice is the burning pain in your cheek as the knuckles imprint themselves on you, or even the sweaty stench coming from the fists of your opponent. So let’s try pimping out that description with a more realistic portrayal.
Example 2: Gerrick cleaved his blade down at Rodry’s steel blade, and the two swords sounded like gongs when they collided with one another. Gerrick clenched his fingers along the frigid grip of the hilt, but his hands came reeling backwards as Rodry batted his sword away. Gravel crunched under his boots while he planted them on firm ground, and his lungs were smothered in pain. He raised his sword aloft, and lunged forward with a murderous glint to his eyes.
You see, the image presented here gives us a better sense of immersion within the POV character of Gerrick. Instead of only describing Gerrick’s actions through the use of sight, we included the sensory details of sound and touch to give the impression that we were walking in Gerrick’s shoes. And it is this kind of diversity within your description that is necessary if you wish to paint a vivid image.
Fight scenes can not only be the most exciting points in your books for the readers, but they can also be fun for you provided that you write them properly. All of it is a simple matter of employing the right tactics. As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.