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How to Write a Fight Scene

From the blog of fiction writer September C. Fawkes.

By
September C. Fawkes, Writing for
Episode #489

What Did You Bring to the Fight?

The characters, their abilities, motives, and emotions feed into the action scene. The stakes feed into the scene. And so does the setting. Sounds obvious right? Let's look at some examples.

In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, one of the characters, Al, doesn't have a body. His soul has been bound to a suit of armor. This suit of armor is his body, and this gives him some advantages. He doesn't get tired, and he doesn't get hurt, though he can get damaged to the point where he can't fight anymore. The only way to defeat him is to break a seal inside the helmet because he's hollow.

In one scene, Al is up against some villains. He's a pretty good fighter. He's had training. One of the villains gets the idea to jump inside Al to try to stop him from moving. She puts her arms and hands in his, her legs in his. While she can't stop him completely, she slows him down so he can't get away.

And it's interesting.

Moments later, a third person comes and attacks the villains. Now the girl inside Al wants to get out, but he won't let her. Eventually, the third-party attacker shoves a sword down Al, killing the villain, but not him. So now he's stuck on the ground, in shock and horror, with a dead body inside him. It's morbid. But look at what the writer did. Did she go for the cliche fighting tactics? No, she used what was unique about Al to create an action scene that was fresh.

Another character, Pride (named after one of the seven deadly sins), is a creature that can only move and exist in shadows. The more shadow he has, the more powerful he is. When the heroes fight Pride, they have to work around that, by altering the setting, either by making it pitch black so there are no shadows, or throwing flares up to minimize shadows. The tricky part is that everyone casts a shadow, so he can lurk in those as well.

The writer played with what her characters brought to the scene. She didn't go for cookie-cutter fights. It's easy to see how this can apply to fantasy, but the same principle applies to any genre. Is your character a gardener? How can that influence what he does in action scenes? Does he go for the nearest shovel to swing at someone? Is your character a black belt who wants to defend himself? Or an inexperienced maiden who only wants to escape? They react to dangerous situations differently.

Check out your setting. Can it influence the fight? If people are dueling on a rooftop, can it start raining to make the roofing slippery? A hide-and-seek chase scene in Disneyland would be very different from one in a cave. Look at what you can play with for that scene in a theme park versus what you have to work with in a hole in the earth.

In the book Writing Fight Scenes, Rayne Hall states that often the action starts in a part of the setting that's a only a little risky. As the fight progresses, the characters move to more dangerous parts of the landscape, until, at the climax of the fight, they are battling in the most dangerous spot. She also talks about how interesting settings can offer interesting surprises. A fight in a kitchen can lead to a house fire, for example.

In short, here's what I'm learning right now. Look at what is brought to the action scene--what you have to work with--and sit down and brainstorm. Then brainstorm some more. And then a little more. (Because the cliches are usually the first thing you brainstorm).

That piece was written by September C. Fawkes. You can find a longer version of this post with even more examples and many other posts about writing fiction at her blog septembercfawkes.com.

Note: If you're looking for the entire transcript of this week's Grammar Girl episode, check out "Dialogue Tags," and "Dialog or Dialogue?"

More Great Fiction Writing Tips

How to Write Great Dialogue

How to Craft Strong Voice

How to Write with Two Point-of-View Characters

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how to write a fight scene

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About the Author

September C. Fawkes, Writing for Grammar Girl
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