Writing Fight Scenes: Fast and Furious

I admit it. I’m a skimmer. Show me a bloated chunk of descriptive text and my eyes glaze over. I don’t care about every detail in a room, or each step that must be performed in making a sandwich. I have a decent enough imagination. Fling what’s relevant at me and I’ll sketch out the rest. If you bog me down, I swear I’ll skim! Might even leapfrog to the good stuff (Ahhhhh, dialogue…). My request especially applies to fight scenes. Have mercy. Please be brief.

Tips for writing an exciting fight scene from an author who has the attention span of a gnat (My next blog post: Cliches: Are they really so evil?):

1. Don’t Overload

Most readers aren’t using a piece of fiction as a step-by-step guide for learning kickass Kung fu moves (They’ve got Youtube for that). So don’t be tedious. Provide the skeleton for the scene and allow the reader to fill in the meat. They won’t visualize the blow-by-blow the way you do anyway. They’ll see it the way James Cameron does. 😉

2.   “KA-POW” And Move On

Have you ever thrown a punch? A fist comes at you fast. There’s little time to compute before impact, if you even see the blow coming. This is the feel you want to create in your writing. Pulses will race, if you keep your sentences succinct. Write them like a wallop. Fast and furious. Choose powerful verbs and leave frilly adverbs be. They’ll only drag the action down.

3.  It’s More Than A Fight

Battles need to amount to more than busted noses and kicked in teeth. The fight should reveal the inner workings of your characters— the good, the bad, and the ugly. For example, in the Cassidy Jones Adventure series, violence brings out “the beast” in my teenage mutant, Cassidy Jones. As she is pummeling her opponent, she is also fighting her feral side, trying not to cross the line. Sometimes she wins, sometimes the beast does, and sometimes Cassidy capitulates. Her “partner-in-crime,” Emery Phillips, displays no moral conflict in the midst of combat. A means-to-an-end sort of fella, he does what has to be done, calmly and efficiently. There are times I suspect ice runs through that boy’s veins. I want the reader to feel the same uncertainty.

4. Get Visceral

The whole smell-sound-taste-touch thing— yeah, do that. It doesn’t take much to awaken the senses. Cartilage snapping, knuckles cracking, blood rushing, heart pounding, sweat flying, the smell of BO, the taste of vomit— all good sensory stuff. First and foremost, make your readers care. Insert the reader into your character’s skin, or else they won’t give a hoot what you do to the poor bloke. So get visceral. Make your readers feel what your characters feel.

5. Learn From The Experts (And The Self-Proclaimed Ones)

If you aren’t an accomplished black belt like I am (in the art of donkey dust), Youtube can prove to be an invaluable resource. Watch fight matches, lots of them, and take notes. I even watch instructional videos so I can somewhat understand how to perform and counteract specific moves. I won’t bore readers with foot placement and whatnot, but it helps me to know execution in order to choreograph a “realistic” fight scene. Then I run my realistic fight scene by my sister who is an accomplished black belt. If I get a thumbs-up that the scene is plausible (in the implausible world of superheroes), then it’s a wrap.

I hope this has been helpful. It has been for me. The entire time writing this post I’ve been dying to read over the fight scene I finished last night. I suspect there’s an adverb or two that needs to be demolished. There always is!

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Elise.Stokes1.crop5x7.0045Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate girls to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence. The stories in Cassidy Jones Adventures are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds. Cassidy Jones and the Secret FormulaCassidy Jones and Vulcan’s GiftCassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant, and Cassidy Jones and the Luminous are the first four books in the series.

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21 thoughts on “Writing Fight Scenes: Fast and Furious

  1. Terrific post, Elise and spot on! Books these days need to follow the path of movies. If you look at a movie made in the seventies or earlier, you’ll see a lot of slow panoramas, fade ins and outs, and shots tend to be farther away. Nowadays, cuts are fast and brutal. Information is presented at a furious rate and the only time things slow down is when a bullet whizzes by the hero’s ear. 😀

    1. Thank you, Alan, and excellent! I totally visualized that last part. 🙂 Yes, so true! My kids can’t sit still through an “old” movie (70s, 80s, 90s). I don’t recommend the new Daredevil television series to a younger audience. It’s over-the-top brutal, but the fight scenes are superb. I’m literally on the edge of my seat throughout them, in awe of each flip, kick, punch. Now to capture that sense of speed and movement in writing!

  2. I have the attention span of the same gnat, Elise. Yet, I enjoy a book that slows me down and causes me to sink into a gentler world. Authors do that without lavish description but by using their words well, so I think your wisdom fits most types of scenes.

    1. Thank you, Onisha! And, yes, I enjoy the escape, as well. If I’m forced to fight through description, though, my mind wanderers, and I start thinking about everything I was hoping to get a rest from. Basically, the same effect a textbook has on me. 🙂

    1. That is very kind of you, Diane. Thank you so much! Actually, I’m reading one of your books now and really appreciate your style and pace. I haven’t come to a fight scene yet, but considering the theme, I know there will be one. I have a feeling it’ll be the sort I can really get into— just enough to spark my own imagination. 🙂

  3. Good post, Elise. I particularly like the part: The whole smell-sound-taste-touch thing— yeah, do that. It doesn’t take much to awaken the senses. Cartilage snapping, knuckles cracking, blood rushing, heart pounding, sweat flying, the smell of BO, the taste of vomit— all good sensory stuff.

    I love doing that with my readers. That and onomotopia… Nothing like boots squelching in mud to give the imagination something meaty to feast upon. 🙂

    1. Oooooo, I love that. Boots squelching in mud— I can hear it. 🙂 Thank you, LRW. I appreciate your reading and commenting on my post, and tickling my senses. We have amazing imaginations. Readers need very little to form a mental picture. Always makes me smile when a reader praises me for putting them into a scene. They don’t realize they’ve done it all themselves, with just a few prompts from me. I always wonder how different the scene they’ve pictured is from my own. If we could take a snapshot and lay them side-by-side, it might not even look like the same story. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Debra! I’m glad that I decided to write about this subject. It certainly made me think through what draws me in, gets my blood pumping. Very good when in the midst of writing an action-adventure. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Michelle! I appreciate that. Writing this post really made me think, despite the punchy mood I was in. I will certainly be taking a closer look at the action scenes in my current WIP. May we never stop growing as writers. 🙂

  4. I couldn’t agree more Elise! I hope to be able to find this post again the next time I am getting bogged down with too much description. The bain of my existence is the pursuit of simplified text. OY.

    1. Hahahaha, Lisa. It is my pursuit, as well! I think I’ve been as influenced by our fast-paced world as my kids have been. Things need to click along quickly to keep my interest, even in my own writing. If I’m reading through a lengthy paragraph in a draft and my mind starts wandering, I show no mercy. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

  5. High fives on this post, Elise! Yeah, too much fighting and the reader will forget about why the characters are smacking each other down in the first place! Love these five tips! Considered shared, girl!

    1. LOL, Sharon! Thanks for the laugh. Yes, we don’t ever want our readers to forget why our characters are beating the living tar out of one another. Though it’s certainly fun to have them do so. I love writing fight scenes and figuring out where I can add a dab of humor. Works well with a superhero genre. Thank you for reading and sharing the post. Still smiling 🙂 Love your comment.

  6. Loved this post, Elise. Too often I get caught up in the mechanics of a fight scene. Readers don’t care how our hero punched the villain, they care about what our hero experienced and was his punch effective, or is he in deeper trouble.

    Good stuff.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Dana. So funny that would be your view of your writing, unless you shave description down. Kyle’s fight scenes came to mind as I was writing this post. You give the perfect amount of detail and choose great action verbs. I can totally picture Kyle’s brawls, and they’re awesome! 🙂

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