Have you ever read a fight scene so riveting it stole your breath? One that had your pulse pounding, your eyes tearing through sentences so fast you skipped words, and your hands gripping the book tight enough to make a librarian squeal? And by the time you finally looked up at the clock—it was 2:30am and you were vicariously spent? That’s the kind of fight scene I’m talking about. That’s the kind of fight scene every author wants to write and every reader wants to read.
But fight scenes are deceptive! The feverish, frenzied pace of such scenes make it easy to miss the technical wizardry authors employ to keep their fight scenes fierce. And in the absence of understanding, it’s easy to fall back on blow-by-blow descriptions, backed by the literary equivalent of the shaky cam. But this will only ever approximate the flash and bang of your favorite fight scenes. (And it will make some of us dizzy and nauseated.) Besides, I know you want a fight scene that’s at least 20% cooler.
So! In pursuit of coolness, I’ve identified four things key to my favorite fight scenes. These things, when absent, can turn the most brilliant idea into a slog of a scene. But when present? They can transform a fight scene from meaningless filler into that heart-stopping, epic fight scene we all dream about.
Clarity is so important. Confusing fight scenes achieve the spectacular triple-threat of forcing me out of the immersive experience of the book, not letting me understand what’s going on, and making me it feel like it’s all my fault for not being a smart enough reader. And for that reason, I’d say the number one most important thing in a fight scene isn’t the creative use of props, or freakishly accurate fighting styles, or even a proper breakneck pace: it’s clarity. Take it from me: it doesn’t matter how brilliant your swordplay is—or how accurate the physics of your chartreuse slime ogre—if I can’t tell what’s going on, I am not going to enjoy your fight scene.