Make Your Fight Scenes 20% Cooler

Writersdontcry Emoticow BattleHave 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.

Write Clearly

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.

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Comments (7)

This article is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand

Posted by: GED Online | Monday July 23, 2012 at 3:58 AM

This post is so timely. I've been working on a 'killer' fight scene. I thought I had nailed it but after reading your post, I'm going to be doing a rewrite. My goals is, like you said, steal the reader's breath away, make time stand still for the duration of the struggle of the hero/heroine. Thank you.

Posted by: Feather Stone | Monday July 23, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Feather--I'm glad you found it helpful! Good luck with your fight scene :).

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Monday July 23, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Really Sue, 20% cooler?

Posted by: Joel | Monday July 23, 2012 at 10:27 AM

Susan, you said that you identified these suggestions as common elements in your favorite fight scenes. That leaves me wondering: what are your favorite fight scenes? If we wanted to see good examples of these ideas in action, where should we look?

Posted by: Brom | Tuesday July 24, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Let me guess - are you going to point us toward R.A. Salvatore?


Posted by: Brom | Tuesday July 24, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Feather: Good luck on writing your fight scene! I'm glad you found this article helpful :)

Brom: Hehe, yes. I'd say Salvatore is a great example of strong fight scenes. Good catch! :)

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Monday September 17, 2012 at 12:24 PM

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