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How to write fight scenes

How to Write Fight Scenes

writing skills Oct 07, 2023

Introducing fight scenes to a distrustful audience?

I love a good fight scene as much as I love riding a rollercoaster. The intensity, the adrenaline, the not knowing if you are going to make it out alive… it does something to my brain.

Now, I know this is not everyone's cup of tea, the same way I know not all of my friends want to join me when I suggest watching a horror film. Is not everyone's favourite, and I get it.


If you let me show you why I love these scenes so much, I bet you could use some tips to explore the suffering, the tension, and the absolute excitement that comes with the danger.



Ordinary life

I write and read fantasy, among other genres. In these specific worlds, it's very common to have physical fights as a way of solving problems, right? It’s also very easy to get in trouble. Without the adventure, the story becomes boring and unprovocative for the reader.

But if we leave the fantasy aside, is it possible to use these tips to write, for example, an emotional fight between two lovers? Or exes? Or siblings?

What interests me today is to think how we can apply the following advice into, not only fantasy and physical motion, but also emotional conflict in any genre. Fights that exist in the ordinary world can also be intense, loud and graphic. We don't need to have a fist fight while fighting, but we could think of some ways of representing feelings and emotions according to these tips. 

Is it even possible? I'm not entirely sure, but we are going to figure it out together. Now, all warnings made, are you ready to begin our training? 



5 tips to make a reader enjoy a fight scene


1. Make it fast.

The rhythm is everything here.

The narration has to be fast, the levels of intensity should increase as the scene moves forward. Speeding up these scenes will help the reader run along with the tension, and it will make it more realistic.

For example, if someone slaps you – and I hope this doesn't happen to you very often – is the movement fast or slow? Can you see it coming or did it take you by surprise? Can you imagine someone, in the heat of the fight, saying: “wait, I have to think this through” before losing their temper and going nuts? Well, no… Usually, it doesn't happen like that. 

Scenes like this are all about impulse and intensity. Think about explosions, accidents, situations with a lot of movement, when our minds just can't follow these actions as fast as they’re happening.

Also, always, the tension must grow. Think of it as a graph, the speed equals the intensity, and you have to write a scene that’s always in crescendo


A tip for this: if you’re having trouble writing, listen to energetic music that settles the mood.


2. But make it clear.

Make it fast, but make it clear.

This is very important, the most important piece of advice I could give you. Fight scenes, as they’re supposed to be fast, need only what makes the reader understand and follow the motion of the character.

These include: the who, the where, the how, who gets hurt and who survives. Weapons, wounds and places are important too (Especially if a wound is going to be important for the story. A cut in the cheek is not the same as a broken leg, right?).



When writing a fight scene, you need to prioritize making the information clear for the reader, so they can follow with the speed that is intended. Make it clear, precise, coherent and short. Drop the lovely metaphors for later. Use strong verbs. Don't describe too much, just what's necessary, we don't need to know what color are the leaves of a tree, but we do need to know where every character is standing – next to each other? Back to back? – so we can deduce their following move. 

Don't be afraid to tell the reader what’s happening, this is the only exception to the “show, don’t tell” famous rule. 


3. Follow one point of view, and stick with it.

Something that might help make it clearer for the reader is showing the fight through the eyes of one character, and nothing more.

Experiencing it close to the person that is living it, and avoiding unnecessary description. You may think that the reader is gonna lose something (If you experience FOMO, try multiple views!) but this doesn't apply here. Is more important to understand some things, than to see everything but lose what’s important.

And what is important? Here goes number 4.


4. Feelings and emotions.

Going back to the beginning, what I like – as a reader – is to experience things I will never get to in real life, and Thank God for that. But if you only tell me that I'm fighting dragons with my bare hands, and leave behind the reason I’m doing this, then it is meaningless. 

Your character has a purpose, a motive to act. It doesn’t matter if the character is active or passive, they still have a reason to survive and go through all that trouble. That is kind of the spirit in these types of scenes – are they fighting to save someone? To gain something? Some kind of power, a needed cure? Are they fighting to save the world from some evil power? Or are they just surviving and fighting as a reaction to someone's attack? This is what lies beyond the surface.

Their purpose is the essence of the story. And this is what changes everything, because here is where we connect. When the scene actually says something.

The questions you should ask yourself are these: How are they feeling? Are they confident enough to win? Are they insecure? Do they feel fear? And if so, how do they deal with it? Is there a voice in their heads that says something inopportune? Maybe they realized they forgot to feed their cat in the middle of the battle.



Whatever it is that they are feeling, that’s what catches the reader. And this is why we use one side and one POV, because in our medium, it's very hard to show everyone's moves. It’s not like on TV, we don't have ten cameras going through the scene. But we have a good trick up our sleeve: we can look inside their heads and show their thoughts and feelings, as strange as they might be.


PS: This scene from Arcane is EVERYTHING. She is not fighting here, but making a statement as dangerous as possible, and we, as an audience, can see what lies beyond: the ghost of their friends, who used to be everything for her. We see their pain clearly, and that gives that action a new meaning.


5. Push the limits.

By this point in the story, it must be clear as water what the weaknesses and the strengths of our characters are. Do not, and please really don't, start to explain them now. This is not a moment of readers-getting-to-know-the-character. It’s a moment of I-know-them-well-enough-to-know-this-is-gonna-hurt. 

If the readers know their strengths, what they can and cannot do, what bothers them and so on, it will allow us, writers, to raise the stakes. This is when we, sadomasochist writers, have our fun.  

'Raise the stakes' is a term usually used in gambling, but also, many writers use this concept in anime. If you pay attention, you see how adventure anime are not less than 300 episodes. At the beginning, the character often gets beat up by other stronger characters – there has to be these types of characters, otherwise, it's really boring to see someone who is good at everything and never fails –.

By the middle of the story, it's expected that the character gets better, maybe it discovers a new power or it gets a better control over their abilities. But the battles and the villains that follow, have to match up, and get even worse. So the character – though it improved a lot from the first chapters – still has to struggle, and find a way to get through the end. This is the same as building up tension. 

As the danger grows, the character loses faith. There is a state of mind – close to the end of the novel – when the mission feels impossible. When just fighting is an act of faith



Get your character hit rock bottom, so they can rise again.

Make them fall as many times as you want, but keep in mind their limitations, and raise the risk over it, so every battle feels difficult, and yet, different. Not only is there so much more to lose, but there is also a major connection from the reader to the character. We've been here all along, we watch them fall and grow, and now we desperately need them to win. 



Ok, so that's the advice. Now, how do we convert these “physical tips” into something emotional that can be used for any genre you fancy writing?

The thing that I love most about fighting scenes is how raw and exciting they are. If the scene is well written, I can feel it in my whole body. And that is huge, that is immense. Imagine what you can do with that, while describing a break up, a family fight or an injustice.


What is lost

In the end, the fight scene is all about knowing what can be gained, and what can be lost. In other words, what happens if the hero fails?

They could lose the war, they could lose their power, face death or some kind of torture. Worse, they could lose a loved one. In the real world, the main character might lose themselves in hysteria, lose faith, lose a friend or a lover. Fights, in real life, are lingered to miscommunication, to envy or jealousy, to the fear of losing someone, something. 

These are always moments when the character discovers something about themselves that changes everything. The reader not only grieves next to the character for what is or could be lost, but something greater: if there's a battle, of any kind, there's a chance to win it


But what can be gained

This is the heart of the story, right? The hope that the character can survive through it all, gives us hope for our own personal lives. We admire these people who get beat up and still find the strength to rise up.

This is why I adore fight scenes, battle scenes, these so-called “final girl” scenes. I do love a good bloodbath, of course – how could anybody not? – But the hope, that's what makes it for me. Even if the character loses (and they should lose more than they should win), I stick to these pages to see if, at the end, they will get the victory. Because if they get beat up and still find the strength to rise up, it leads the reader to think we all can do the same thing.



Juliana Palermo
Written for The Plottery

Juliana Palermo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She's 22 but hasn't learned how to do her taxes yet. She works as a freelance editor and book cover designer, but you will find her drinking coffee and daydreaming during working hours. She is currently writing her first fantasy novel.

If you need her, you can say her name three times in front of a mirror and she will appear with a cynical smile. But let me warn you, her jokes are not as funny as she promised, and if you invited her in, there's a chance she will never leave. 

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