Write of Way #9: Fight Scenes: How and Why
So you wanna write fight scenes, huh?
Good choice! Nothing adds color to a story like a little bloodshed.
Okay. Rule number one: write from experience.
Recall those glorious memories of red days on the field of battle, of driving back your enemies, of slaking your blade’s thirst beneath a deluge of hot blood.
Hold up. What do you mean you’ve never been in a battle?
You’ve never lost yourself amidst the adrenaline-pumping carnage of a merciless fight to the death? What do you even do with your weekends?
Well then. I went into this thinking y’all had at least some experience.
Let’s start again.
Fight scenes are commonly the source of lively discussions in the writing-verse.
Some think it best to have descriptive fight scenes that detail each and every movement of the combatants.
I like this approach because it allows the reader to experience the battle from an emotion-driven perspective. In the midst of a fight there isn’t much time to think, and whisking the reader along through the combat, driving them from one pressing danger to the next, is a great way to emulate that.
If allowed to go on too long, however, this approach can grow tedious.
On the flip side, others propose it’s better to have a more general scene that focuses less on individuals in favor of the ebb and flow of the battle as a whole.
This is a great way to ensure readers have an understanding of the conflict on a macro level. If we can’t see the tide of the battle, a fight between two combatants among hundreds means very little.
If not used carefully, though, this approach can be too distant and fail to capture the emotion inherent in such a primal act. We don’t want readers to imagine they’re simply observing the fight from a distance, we want them to feel like they’re a part of it.
To me, the sweet spot is somewhere in between these two approaches. I don’t want to lose the individual actions but it’s also important to show how the fight is playing out on a larger scale.
I’ll often start with a widespread image of the battle to set the scene, then zoom in to focus on individual fights happening within it. I’ll allow some time for the reader to get swept away in the chaos before zooming out again to show how the battle has changed.
It’s worth noting that the point of view you’re writing in can limit how you do this. Think creatively, though. There are effective ways to handle this from every point of view (except 2nd person perspective. Forget that noise).
When using this concept it’s important to do so organically. Allow yourself to be caught up in the battle, let it carry you away a bit. Then drag yourself back to reality and remember you have to show the large scale as well.
This approach is about blending the factual information you must present with the emotional chaos you should present, and tying it all together in a big ol’ heapin’ helpin’ of action.
It should be said, though, that a battle is no small thing, and combat of any sort changes people, often permanently. I think it’s a disservice to those who have experienced the hell of battle to present it as anything but.
As writers, we have the ability to influence culture. I believe it is our responsibility to ensure we don’t glorify acts of violence. Writing them is fine as long as we do so carefully and responsibly.
And finally, one last thought.
As with every scene you write, fight scenes should have a point.
They should contribute to the story in some way.
Whatever the point of the scene is, it should be at the forefront of your mind while you’re writing. Let it guide and shape the scene.
If you want to show how uniquely gifted your character is in combat (or how uniquely inept), that changes how you write the scene.
If you want to show how war is a violent, wasteful prelude to a more civilized solution, that changes how you write the scene.
Put simply, write with purpose.
Don’t include battle scenes solely to sate a taste for blood. If they don’t have a purpose that contributes to the plot in some way, they are nothing but wasted words.
So, there you have it. Now you’re ready to go out and stain pages red with the blood of your enemies! Or your characters’ enemies. Or your characters.
Just remember, capture the emotion, explain the big picture, and write with purpose.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. How do you write fight scenes? What advice have you heard that’s stuck with you? What’s the most interesting reason you’ve had for writing a fight scene?