This week I want to talk about fight scenes. As always, your mileage may vary. I’ll be talking about how I create fight scenes and this may or may not work for you and that’s fine. It’s what works for me and, if you’ve got something else that works…
I going to be restricting this post to fights between a pair of individuals, or a small group engaged in hand-to-hand combat – which includes fighting with weapons. I’d call anything larger than six people involved a “Battle” and that would be the subject of another post.
There is a part of me that wanted to include handguns, but I think there’s enough of a difference to separate it out as well.
Every fight has to have an inciting incident. Something needs to happen which will make the fight, not only happen, but inevitable. That “Something” needs to be significant. Your characters are going to come to blows over this (or worse) – whatever it is. Think of the kind of emotional involvement it would take for you to want to make someone’s face do this:
That’s what I’m talking about. Get your Main Character to touch it off. If you can get her to touch it off unintentionally, so much the better.
Now the inciting incident doesn’t need to happen immediately before the fight. Like lighting a long fuse, you can start a fight pages and pages before the fight actually takes place.
But that incident has to be there, somewhere, otherwise the fight won’t make any sense.
Yes, I know, in real life senseless fights happen all the time. But this is fiction, damn it, and when you make stuff up, it has to make sense.
Like everything else in your story, your fight should also do multiple things. Yes, it’s a fight, but it should also move the story forward, or show character (or lack thereof), etc.
OK, so the gloves have come off.
Well, if you’re anything like me – and by that, I mean if you are primarily a visual person – you play out the fight scene in your head while you’re getting it down on the page. See every action and reaction. One should be a natural extension of the other. It should flow like a dance.
You’ll want to pay attention to the surroundings. What can be used as a weapon, or a shield? How will one character get to that weapon or shield? How will the other stop them?
You’ll do this throughout the entire fight, moving over the environment, advancing, retreating, until you get to the end.
This is the most important part of crafting a fight scene. You might do it as you’re writing the scene, you might do it during revision but, to me, this is one thing that you really can’t afford to let escape your notice. Ready?
Every fight is a story in miniature. It needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And, like every story, you need to be concerned with pacing throughout.
Yes, fights are frenetic and quick. They are also exhausting. The human body can’t keep that kind of pace up indefinitely, and your reader will want a mental break – even if it’s just to come up for air for a second before plunging back into the fray.
How can you do that? Probably the easiest way is through dialogue. Chances are, your physical fight started out verbally. Keep it going. Have your characters challenge each other, taunt each other. A great “one-liner” piece of dialogue in the middle of a great fight will stick with you long after the fight is over.
So you’ve got your fight started, it ramps up, reaches it’s peak, and then it ends. Pay attention to that ending. A fight doesn’t simply stop. There are after effects that may ripple across your entire story. These may be physical or emotional injuries that took place during the fight. Say your character loses, and it has an impact on their self confidence. Say they win, but break their hand doing it. These are on the extreme side of examples, but even something as minor as a split lip, cracking open later on, can show the lasting effects.
I thought about trying to find an example to show you, and I came up with – and discarded – several.
I decided on a hallway fight scene from the “Daredevil” series produced by Netflix. I think it encapsulates the story within a story idea I’ve been talking about. This clip doesn’t use dialogue to break the fight up into separate chunks of action. It focuses on the physical effects. Watch it once for fun, then watch it again and focus on Daredevil. He is totally spent by the end of the fight. The clip isn’t long enough to show the lasting after effects of the fight but, from what I’ve seen, I know that they are there.
Here’s the link
Time: 11:45 am – ish
Music: Bon Jovi – Lay Your Hands on Me