Writing a novel

How to write a half-decent fight scene

I hate fight scenes. I loathe fight scenes, in fact. They are the bane of my existence. All because I suck at them. Luckily they’re short. I’m so bad I rush through them.

But I know I suck at them, so I can sort that out. Job half done, as they say. (I don’t know if I believe them  yet.)

My fight scenes look like this:

John stabbed Jane. Jane fell to the ground. Blood pooled to the ground under her body. John stabbed her again.

Apart from John being a nasty SOB, this passage is also terrible because it has repetitive sentence structure, simple sentences, formulaic verb choices and repeated nouns. Plus it has no tension and no voice. It’s all bad, basically.

So, this week I made myself work on these fight scenes and I came up with a method that works (mostly).

Jade Lee wrote a great post on imagery in characterisation. Apply this to a fight scene and watch it come alive.

Take Earth as the grounding element for the fight (no pun intended. Really). Gather a list of words – nouns, verbs and adjectives – that suggest heavy movement, solid weight and gritty soil. Sit in a thesaurus or on thesaurus.com for 20 minutes to build a giant table with these three columns and a plethora of punchy words. E.g.:

  • Crush -> smash, cudgel, pummel
  • Weight -> solid, stone, marble
  • Rough -> coarse, grainy, jagged

Pull up this list of words in a separate document while you write. Then, ensure you use a different word each time. It should give you some visceral, evocative words to choose from.

To fix the sentence structure, I just needed to pay attention more. Make sure that each one had a different structure, simple to complex to compound. And every 3-4 sentences, I added a character reaction. Varied, so it didn’t end up formulaic, but it keeps your protagonist right there in the fight. If she’s hurting, she’s going to think about that for a second. Her mind might linger on a glint of light if she thinks it’s a knife.

Finally, break it up and rearrange it. Pace and tension levels can be improved at this stage, always keeping the stakes in mind. Your army of words stands ready. Go crazy.

You can always press delete.

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