Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writing My First Fight Scenes

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

I wrote my first fight scene a while back.  I’ve never been in a real fight, not like the one in my story. I didn't realize how difficult it would be, and I felt like I was taking a stab in the dark (sorry- couldn’t resist). Reading fight scenes in a novel or watching a movie with fighting is not the same as having first hand knowledge or experience. For this scene, I tried to visualize the fight and each movement, and that is what I wrote down.

Fortunately, most of the fighting in my novel involves magic (or will, once I write it all). I can create the rules, to some degree, about what is possible and plausible. However, there are still things I have to attend to. How many people can one person (magic or no) fight at once? How do groups fight? How many blows to the face and head can a person really take before toppling over?

I’ve always found movie fight scenes ridiculous. Men in movie bar fights land punch after punch to the head and torso and their enemy doesn’t fall down and they don’t seem to tire. Now, sometimes this is all part of the hyperbole of the story, like in the “Kill Bill” films, for instance. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m trying to create a fantasy world that feels real to my readers, so I don’t want my heroine taking down hordes without breaking a sweat. 

Over at, I found an article titled “Writing Fight Scenes.” It gives some good basic advice on sentence length and flow. You know: don’t write super long, detailed sentences; vary the length; keep the action flowing; and leave some movement to the reader’s imagination. I’m going to use these tips and others from the article in my first draft revising.

Even though I said that I thought that the magic element made it easier for me to write the action on the one hand (because I’m making up how the magic works), it presents its own challenge on the other. I’m realizing that I haven’t thought through my magic properly, yet. Not only do I need to really think about and document precisely how the magic works, I need to figure out how to describe it.  I think I did a passable job in this scene, but I want to think it through more so that the descriptions will be consistent throughout the book.

Finally, there is a third element of this scene I want to discuss: my character behaved in a way that shocked me. I’m thinking about changing her history so that she has known all along about her secret identity. The fight scene has shown me that, not only has she known exactly who she was all along, but she has had some training. And she can kick some serious ass if she needs to. The violence of the scene has shocked me a bit. I didn’t know she would be capable of such things, but she was, very. This changes everything. Again. The tone of the book, the character, her history - there is a different color to it all now. The book started out a little too cutesy and now it has taken a turn to some serious adult violence. I don’t know if it was excessive, though, given the situation. I feel like I need to take this all in and have it inform my re-drawing of her character. 

My MC did what she had to do to survive, but she did it with lethal precision. There was no wounding and getting away. Also, I don’t think she’s ever killed anyone before and now she’s killed two people. Maybe I need to reevaluate the level of violence and decide whether or not to tone it down.  How does this affect her? I read this article by a SF writer, Simon Morden. In it, he muses about writing violence in general, but offers some good points about when and why to use it in a novel. Lots to think about.

All I know is, this is going to be one hell of a re-write process. This first draft is turning into one long note taking session. Everything is going to change. Should be interesting to see how it all comes out.


  1. Isn't it fun when your characters do something unexpected? I was shocked to discover my MC was a killer.

    Regarding the magic, it's nice to be able to make up your own rules. My only advice is to try to make it consistent. Also, I'm not a huge fan of the "Eragon" series (OK, I liked the first book, but started losing interest as the series progressed), but one of the things I really liked about it was that the magic had a cost to the user. He couldn't just fire off spells all day, the magic drained him, took something out of him. I thought that was good.

    Fight scenes are tricky. I tried to keep the one in my book short, and went more for impressions/feelings rather than blow-by-blow descriptions. I know every punch, kick and scrape in my head, but the reader will get it boiled down quite a bit.

  2. @JeffO: It is fun when the MC comes to life like that. It actually made my whole story better, and I can't wait for the re-writes.

    I'm with you on the magic (and on "Eragon"). Once my first draft is complete, I'm really wanting to spend some time on defining my magic. I hate flimsy magic when I read a fantasy novel.

    I didn't expect the fight scenes to be so hard to write, since I can envision them in my head. The fight scenes have been some of my most challenging writing - but also some of the most fun. Definitely going to need some second opinions on them.