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How to Construct Gripping Fight Scenes

by Whitney Carter (originally posted on

Like a lot of my how to pieces here, this one came from my own developing of a fight scene. I used to be really good at writing them as a teenager. I used short, choppy and frequently fragmented sentences to develop the abrupt feel of a fight, choosing active words and keeping dialogue and description to a minimum unless the need to describe an object or wound arose.

And while these are still things that I tend to do, fights just don’t come to me like they used to. They’re one of the things that I lost the ability to write when I stopped actively developing my technique, right around the same time that I got my first job and had to be a full fledged adult for the first time.

But fear not! As with all things that I’m working on myself, I’ve got you guys covered too. Here are my tips for constructing a gripping fight scene.

Decide your level of description. This is where you want to start as it will determine how detailed you need to be. This is the difference between the setting being an alley or a cramped, damp space with molding cardboard boxes and a trashcan with red knuckle marks against the chainlink fence at the back. This is the difference between a punch being landed and spit, blood and teeth sailing away from an opponent’s jaw in slow motion like the movies.

Research. Everything. Regardless of the details of your fight scene, you need to know everything there is to know about the little details. Things like armor, weapons, terrain, training and fighting style will dictate certain facts to the scene. Facts that you should be constructing the fight around. Men dressed in full plate armor are not going to swing at each other for hours (they’re lucky to get a few minutes before becoming exhausted). Left and right handed people have different advantages and disadvantages in a fist fight. These things are important.

Morale and mentality. Determine this for each of the fighters because this too will determine how strong they are, how capable of fighting each is, if any of their buttons have been pushed, and if they have concerns about winning or even walking away alive. Their determination and strength will pair directly with your research.

Decide on your style. I prefer nitty gritty and fragmented sentences to convey the jarring, often ugly nature of a fight, but there’s also the option of broader descriptions that can leave more to the reader’s interpretation. Do avoid description overload though; you want the focus to be on the physical actions, taking breathing moments in things like brief descriptions of objects before they’re smashed over someone’s head.

Triple check your vocab. Seriously. Your word choices here are almost as important as in the sex scenes.

Understand Injuries. This one might have your search history looking kind of sketchy, but you should know the basics about injuries your fighters are going to receive in the battle as well as any that they might have had beforehand. Know how these might hinder the battle as well as what happens after the fighting stops. Always remember that every blow alters the protagonist’s chance of winning.

After the fact character impact. Most people aren’t natural fighters, and even if one of yours is, there are always physical and mental exhaustion that set in once the adrenaline stops pumping. Take these into consideration, along with any injuries sustained and the impact of anything said during the fight. Keep in mind too that if the fight happened in the middle of other big plot points, the rest of the story is unlikely to wait for your characters to recover.

Don’t write a fight just for the fight’s sake. I know this can be tempting when things are progressing in a calm and boring manner. “It will showcase my character’s ability to handle surprise or give someone a mortal wound for added drama!” Like anything else in the story, the fight needs to progress the plot, so if you find yourself inclined to write an unplanned fight scene at least tie it in.

Write! Take all of this and go create an epic fight scene. Right now. I’ll be back.

Guest post contributed by Whitney Carter. Whitney is an avid fantasy writer and blogger currently working on her debut novel, Alpha Female. When not writing, she can be found either under a large pile of purring cats or amid collapsed bookshelves. You can find more of her work here.

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