Friday, May 3, 2013

Notes on Writing Fight Scenes

These are notes my friend Sanan took from PAX last year regarding fight scenes. I really liked them, so I'm plastering them on my blog for all to see. :)


  • Consider and focus on the feelings of the character in the situation—angry, afraid, excited?
  • Don’t force the scene, make it fit into the story. Make the fight scene feel like a natural point of progression in the story.
  • Use the fight scene to offer insight into the character(s). Are they noble? Vicious? Bloodthirsty? Cowardly? Let the fight demonstrate qualities of that character that wouldn’t be evident otherwise.
  • Know the purpose of the fight scene. It should reflect the progression of the story. A fight resolves something, but should also introduce elements to continue the movement of the plot. It can be a way to develop characters in a “sudden” way, and bring about a realization or a moment of change. A character could be badly injured, no longer being able to do things they used to. Could have to face the realization that they really LIKE battle, or that they cannot stand the idea of hurting anyone, no matter what. The fight scene can create a crisis moment for the character.

Make It Interesting

  • How does the character react? Bring in the emotions of the character in the situation, and consider how that influences their actions.
  • Build up to the fight. Know the characters beforehand—why are they here, what are they doing to bring them to this point?
  • Use the environment in the scene as well—rather than a static scene, have the characters interacting with their surroundings as well as one another. Consider levels—can they go up, down? Does someone run up the stairs? Climb onto a wall? Slide down a hill? What is around that the can use? Does someone throw a chair? A rock? What about the weather? A knife-fight in the rain on a ledge vs. a couple knights in heavy armor on a blazing hot day (does someone collapse from heatstroke?)
  • Know what your characters can do, what their skills are, and remain consistent.
  • Consider events that change the course of the battle.
  • Know the goal—“where” will characters be at the end of the battle, physically, mentally, and emotionally?
  • In long fights, plan “pauses”. Use factors to interrupt the battle—fighting is tiring, give the characters a moment to catch their breath.
  • Consider fighting styles and weapon choices, and how those fit the characters. Look at improvised weapons. A teenage girl in the market suddenly being attacked by zombies might be using her shopping basket as her weapon (an example used by one of the panelists from one of her books.)
  • Make fights memorable. One way is to make readers uncomfortable (severe injury, dismemberment, etc.) (IF it fits with the style and audience for your story.)
  • Build up characters before killing them. Character death should be meaningful, and should evoke a response from the reader.
  • Keep balance in mind in a fight. Weapons vs. magic vs. other forces—this goes along with keeping things consistent. If the wizard knows a Super-Powerful Insta-Death spell, why isn’t he using it? Know the boundaries and limits of the powers in your world. (Of course, adapt this to fit your genre.)
  • Remember that when facing powerful enemies, the goal of the scene doesn’t have to be a fight and victory. It can also be escape—characters can run away. Also, you can involve multiple elements. Get two powerful forces battling each other, and make the characters’ goal that of escaping without getting smashed in the midst of the fight.

Writing Style

  • In a fight scene, use short, quick sentences. Make them concise, easy to read, and active. Use speed and motion. Keep the scene moving.
  • Focus on the character’s emotions, not thoughts. React, don’t ponder.
  • Use senses beyond sight. Consider the sounds, the smells, even touch and taste.
  • You don’t need to be over-detailed. There is a lot of activity. The character can’t see everything at once, and can’t take in everything at once.


  • Remember, characters don’t always win the fight. Make it clear that losing is a possibility. A battle that the characters are obviously going to win isn’t interesting.
  • If the characters fail, make the failure add to the story. Loss leads to reevaluation and forces a change.


  1. Thanks! Fight scenes are so hard and I really needed this.

  2. I've written more than a few fight/combat scenes. This post's suggestions definitely point in the right direction.

  3. Great tips. Fight scenes can be hard to balance staying in the character and their thoughts about what happens and the tension of the scene.

  4. These are some awesome notes. I love how it's broken down into sections and includes writing style. When I went to LTUE there was a presentation about action, but all the guy talked about was what kinds of guns to put in the story and proceeded to make up characters and such. It wasn't helpful at all, but this gets right down to it. Thanks for sharing!


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