Creating Realistic Fight Scenes – Part 3

Part 2 looked at the various elements writers can use to construct better fight scenes, and more importantly, more realistic ones.

Realism, physicality, exposition and the balance of power etc, should play a part in the construction of fight scenes.  Think about who your characters are, why they are fighting and what it may or may not achieve. The fight/conflict must move the story forward and there must be a reason behind them.

Let’s look at some different examples, starting with this one:

Dave jolted forward and swiped his hand across John’s throat; defensive, desperate.

John fumbled with the gun, his nerves shattered. Then it was in his hand.

Dave sidestepped and snapped a leg out, hard and quick, his hot breath lodged in his throat, his heartbeat loud in his ears.

John crumpled, the gun still in his hand. Still a threat.


Dave kicked again. No hesitation. Then another, harder, with anger...

In this first example, the description is fast and punchy and gives the reader the perception that everything is happening very quickly. Not only that, but there is some emotion – a sense of panic and fear and adrenaline that gives the character, Dave, a ‘fight or flight’ response.

This second example is written differently, but still retains the dramatic effect that fights scenes rely on:

The soldier ran from the darkness like a salivating wolf and aimed at the boy.

Dmitry sprawled against the dirty floor as bullets thumped into the wood around him. He managed to fire off a couple of shots into the darkness, not knowing where the bullets hit. He didn’t hear the shots, but instead he heard a surreal cacophony of screaming and shouting and the metallic clink of empty shells that poured like a coppery stream onto the wooden floor. His body remained stiff and his face creased against the flare of dust. But in his mind the fear of the moment almost drowned his thoughts, that any moment he would die, ripped open by grey-uniformed ghosts.

Another close shot snapped against the wooden railing and startled him.

In this example, the use of more description makes the pace a little slower, thus giving the reader extra time to process what’s happening. Although still a fight scene, it’s allowing the reader to take in the imagery and be more involved, more so than a faced paced scene would do. By deliberately slowing down the perception of the narrative, it appears as though the event is happening in slow motion.

These type are effective and unique fight scenes. They’re slightly different and not the usual cliched fight scene so often seen in movies. Instead of the usual breakneck speed and explosive nature normally associated with a fight, especially with weapons, instead this one takes a measured, logical approach that incorporates the character’s own thoughts and emotions to create the same dramatic impact.

There is a tendency for writers to over-describe sometimes with these types of fight scenes, but in truth the reader doesn’t need to see every movement, every punch, every kick or every stumble, otherwise reading it will become a chore.  As with all description, it’s about balance. Give the reader drama, but make it visual.

It’s worth reiterating that the hero isn’t superhuman and should not win every fight.  Your characters must be flawed and sometimes vulnerable, but as the story progresses, the character grows and develops, and learns from previous encounters. That way, future fights will be in his or her favour.

Compared to the other examples, this one is more raw and gritty:

Deke’s eyes blurred. Blood, snot. Trickling sensations.

Jenson’s fist connected with flesh. Again and again, arms swinging, and all Deke could do was push and flail while breath rushed in and out of his chest and made it hard to breathe, while the sound of Jenson’s exertions filled his ears as their heads clashed.

Senses fizzed. Desperation made Deke pummel Jenson’s torso in a flurry of awkward punches, anything to get away...

In this example, we see the scrappy, uncoordinated side seen in  real fights. This is more representative of real life and shows a more realistic balance of power between the characters.

These examples make use of the various useful elements that make fight scenes tight, pacey, believable and realistic for the reader. Whether you want something fast and dramatic, something with deep perspective and more description, or whether it’s scrappy realism, know what kind of fight you want to construct, know why and and, of course, know what it will convey to the reader.

Remember, don’t force fight scenes or depend on deus ex machina to make them work. They happen for a reason, which is important to the plot and the main character. They happen in order to enhance the narrative, characterise and push the story forward.

Next week: How to write dramatic dialogue


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