10 TRICKS FOR WRITING GREAT FIGHT SCENES
by Rayne Hall
1. Choose an unusual location – the quirkiest place that’s plausible in your plot: a cow shed, a castle ruin, a catacomb. Involve the setting in the action: the fighters may slip on the muddy slope, leap across the fence, slam their opponent against the wall.
2. To create a fast pace, use short paragraphs, short sentences, short words. These convey the breathlessness and speed of the action. Instead of >Looking at his face, she could see that he was thinking, and concluding that it was his intention to strike her, she decided to move to prevent the blow from from landing.< write >She read his intent and blocked the blow.<
3. Make sure the fighters use only fight skills they actually have. A Victorian damsel isn’t likely to throw uppercuts and roundhouse kicks. Establish beforehand what kind of skills the fighter has.
4. Stay in the PoV. Show only what the fighter sees in that moment: his opponent’s face, his opponent’s hands, his opponent’s weapon. He can’t afford to look elsewhere, because if he takes his attention off the fight for even a second, he’s dead.
5. Sounds create excitement, so mention noises. Mention especially the sounds of weapons – the clanking of swords, the pinging of bullets – or the thudding of of flesh on flesh and the cracks of breaking bone.
6. If your fighters talk while fighting, use very short, incomplete sentences, to convey the breathlessness and to keep it real.
7. Fighting hurts. There have to be injuries and pain. Although the adrenaline may dull the pain during the action, the pain will kick in once the fight is over. Depending on the type of novel you’re writing, you can emphasize the violence with realistic injuries and gore, or play it down by giving your hero just a few bruises and minor flesh wound – but there has to be something.
8. Use weapons which really exist. When writing historical fiction, make sure the weapon was available in this period. Also make sure that the weapon of your choice can really be used the way your protagonist uses it: not every sword can cleave a skull, not every gun can stop a running fugitive. If you invent a weapon, model it closely on existing genuine weapons. Most of the fancy zig-zag shaped swords invented by writers wouldn’t work in reality.
9. Before the fight begins, write a paragraph (or more) building suspense for the fight. Use all the suspense-building techniques you know. This paragraph can also serve to describe the terrain and convey other important information.
10. When the fight is over, write a paragraph (or more) describing the aftermath: The pain hits. The survivors take stock of the situation, mourn their dead comrades, bandage their wounds, repair their weapons. If you’re aiming for great realism, you can describe the corpses – brains spilling from split skulls, intestines hanging out of abdomens, flies circling and crawling. You can also describe smells – after a fight, there’s often a terrible stink, because fighters lost control of their bladders and, in death, of their bowels. There may also be a smell from the weapons used, e.g. gunpowder smoke.
Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series and editor of the Ten Tales anthologies.
Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat sanctuary. His name is Sulu and he’s the perfect cat for a writer – except when he claims ownership of her keyboard.