Writing Fight Scenes

I’m deep in edits right now so thought I’d share a post I wrote 2 years ago on writing fight scenes. Enjoy! I’ll let you know how the revisions go when they’re over.

A few weeks ago a writer friend asked me for some help with her fight scene. She gave me her chapter, minus the fight, so I could get an idea of what was happening in the story. The chapter was good, but I couldn’t help her with the scene just yet. I needed more information.

To begin with, I had to know what she wanted to accomplish with the fight. Did she want the hero to knock out the bad guy? Maim him? Kill him? What are the hero’s and the villain’s experience and skill as fighters? We’ve already learned from a previous post, Perfection of One’s Character, how important characterization is. Therefore, knowing the Hero’s background is key. A boxer fights differently than a karate man. A karate man fights differently than a grappler. A grappler fights differently from (insert your style of choice here). Do the characters have police or military or combat training? Know your characters!

I also wanted to know what kind of an exchange she wanted to have happen. A quick exchange of a few blows or an all out brawl? If she wanted to knock the guy out quietly, the hero might put the villain in a choke hold until he passes out. If she wanted a lot of action and movement, then she could choreograph a fight scene with punches, blocks, kicks and throws.

Was there a weapon involved? In this case there wasn’t, but remember in a fight anything can potentially become a weapon, even dirt in the eyes to blind the other guy, sticks, garden gnomes, you name it. Just because there is no obvious weapon like a gun or knife doesn’t mean you can’t improvise one. More on improvised weapons in this post.

What is the setting? Is it day or night? Are they indoors or out? What is the lighting? The weather? The terrain? Take all these things into consideration when planning your scene. If your characters are outside a home, they can throw each other into the side of the house, a tree, a car parked in the driveway, the rose bushes, a swing set. This is your chance to create an exciting and unique fight scene. Have fun with it.

Pay attention to the character’s distance from each other. If they are further away, they might use kicks (See Melinda’s post on different types of kicks). When in striking distance, they can punch and block and slug it out (See Melinda’s post on punches). If they are in very close, they can uppercut under the chin, into the neck, into the solar plexus, or into the groin. Maybe a character takes the other guy down and they start grappling (wrestling). Arm bars, locks or chokes can be used either on the ground or standing. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Just remember that a fight scene needs to be important to the story, not gratuitous. The fighting must be within character and believable. And if you aren’t sure something will work, get out of the chair, find a willing partner and experiment with your fight choreography together.

~KM Fawcett

2 responses to “Writing Fight Scenes

  1. Fight scenes are always the most difficult to write. You need to be very careful about it so that the reader can picture it clearly in their head. Most of the time I just tend to avoid them altogether. xD

  2. This is a great breakdown of designing an effective fight scene for the stage as well. Too often a stage or demonstration fight makes no sense, and while having technical excellence and flashy moves, doesn’t add anything to the story besides “and then they fought.” I saw a production of As You Like It that had a fairly bland fight scene, until an acrobatic muay thai move was used to end the fight. Neither character fought like a mauy thai fighter, and it was surely somebody using the move to impress the audience. A fight scene written with your post in mind would strengthen the story, rather than detract from it. The choreography in The Hunted is a good example of that.

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