Part 1 looked at the ways writers can come unstuck when writing fight scenes and the common errors they should avoid, particularly with clichés, stilted dialogue (and action), and info dumps.
This week we’ll look at the ways to formulate fight scenes and “choreograph” them properly so that they appear dynamic, interesting and compelling for the reader. More importantly, they should appear realistic as opposed to unrealistic and completely unbelievable.
The important thing to these kinds of scenes – or any with conflict – is the actions and reactions of your main character, based on his/her personality and character, which has already been established within the story. In other words, if your character is a mild mannered type of person who is rather laid-back and has no specialist knowledge of martial arts or combat, then his fighting skills should reflect this.
With practice, fight scenes can be much easier to get to grips with than writers think. Creating realistic fight scenes relies on several factors to make them work well.
Every fight scene is about the balance of power – it’s about how your character will fight his way out of a situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to win the fight – but rather that the reader is aware of the balance of power within that situation. If the reader knows the villain is a much stronger character, their expectation is that he will win this particular fight, therefore it builds the tension towards the next fight/conflict, where the balance of power will have shifted in favour of the hero, because naturally the writer has to escalate these things to create the require tension and drama.
Balance of Power
The story of David and Goliath is interesting to us for a very good reason – it’s about the weaker character defeating a powerful one in the simplest way. This principle makes the fight scene that much interesting for the reader.
In most stories, the main character is the underdog, and therefore weaker, so instead of relying on deus ex machina to let your hero defeat the henchmen with superhuman strength and fighting knowledge hitherto dormant and unknown to the reader, you use the David and Goliath principle and find a way for your main character to defeat the villain in a simple but effect way, something that keeps the reader interested because of the tension and drama.
Often these fight scenes rely on your main character using brain against brawn by outwitting the aggressor. This always makes for an interesting read, because it’s not always what the reader expects, but it’s satisfying for them nonetheless.
Every Fight Should be Unique
Approach each fight differently. Don’t use the same formulaic sequence over and over again. Every fight in real life is different, and therefore fiction should reflect this.
A good writer will vary dramatic tension in fight scenes, or show different perspectives. Try to write your fight scenes differently in order to make them unique. Some writers make their fight scenes almost poetic and visceral, while others might go for brevity with short, sharp descriptions or raw bluntness, so the way the scenes are choreographed with description helps the reader “see” the scene in their minds.
Not only that, but actions have reactions, so any fight scene will have a series of actions and reactions between the characters. If the villain grabs the hero’s weapon, how will the hero react? If the hero is in the position to overcome the villain, how will the villain react? And so on.
It’s how fight scenes are constructed that makes them interesting, tense, dynamic and distinct.
Every Fight Happens for a Reason
There is always a reason behind conflict, so fight scenes should happen because the story demands it, not because the writer wants to amuse and titillate the reader in a bid to keep them interested. Lots of fights and explosions might work in the movies, but in fiction it may not.
Fight scenes are and should be plot driven – a natural element within the story that develops from the conflict and tension between protagonist and antagonist, rather than an orchestrated contrivance deliberately created, which readers will easily see through and won’t thank you for.
Let fights scenes develop naturally. Don’t force them.
It’s surprising how many writers forget the physicality of fight scenes. While size is no guarantee of strength, generally speaking, if a teenager is up against a large, muscular opponent, the chances are he’s not going to win that fight – unless he has the advantage of weapons...or an army hiding behind him.
Always take into account the physicality of your characters when constructing fight scenes. Think about how they move and react. Would a man’s punch to a young boy knock him out? It’s very likely. If he’s slim and agile, would he be able to move around more swiftly than his much bigger, bulkier opponent? It’s possible.
Always have that element of realism in your mind. If it’s too far-fetched, the reader won’t want to invest in the story.
How you describe the fight sequences makes a difference to the story. Any fight scene involves a range of emotions - adrenaline, fear, determination, panic and so on. Writers tend to forget to include emotions, but fights are not always emotionless. Emotions and sensations are always present. As a writer, you have to place yourself in that situation and imagine those emotions, for example:
Tony tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Before he had chance to turn, he caught movement over his shoulder and spun round, his heartbeat loud in his ears, like thunder, and he felt Ash’s hot breath against his neck.
The first punch stung his face and rocked him. The second punch slammed into his cheek and this time his legs buckled.
His ears hissed, and for a second he felt helpless against the tinny sensation, but he held his arms up in a defensive block and kicked out at Ash’s legs, then again, the determination rising above his fear.
Ash stumbled and lost his footing.
Tony raised his legs and slammed his boots into Ash’s thighs with the force of pistons and the big man slumped...
This example gives a variety of things for the reader. It gives a sense of balance of power between the characters, there’s no convoluted dialogue to scupper the pace, there’s exposition, emotions and sensations – fear, determination and that funny ringing in the ears after a hit to the head – and it shows actions and reactions and the pace runs along nicely.
- Use the balance of power
- Fights should be unique, different.
- Fights happen for a reason – they develop naturally from the plot.
- Take into account your character’s physicality.
- Include emotions and sensations.
- Use actions and reactions.
Next Week: Creating Realistic Fight Scenes – Part 3