Fight scenes are really fun to write, and if done right, can really make a story shine. I’ve talked to a lot people about how they have issues writing action sequences, so I figured I’d do a little guide on how to write a fight/action scene. Now remember, this isn’t necessarily the only way, but these are a few things I do when writing some of mine. The first thing to remember is that action scenes need to be fast and flow succinctly. One action needs to move into the next, without breaking stride. Imagine every battle scene you’ve seen in a movie. There isn’t a pause to take in the scenery, you’re moving from one moment to the next, caught on the edge of your seat. You want to give this same effect to your readers.
Keep It Real
It doesn’t matter if it’s a street fight, a boxing match, an epic battle with swords and sorcery, or war; you need to keep it real. A street fight doesn’t last long. Typically a person gets in a few good hits and then it’s over, equaling to maybe ten or thirty seconds of actual fight time. Boxing matches have clocks, so if someone doesn’t KO within the time limit, the bell strikes. War is gritty, and ten minutes can feel like three days. Consider what kind of fight is going to happen and make sure you don’t extend beyond that. Readers will get bored if it lasts too long. Most fight scenes should only be a few paragraphs, unless they’re intense battles. Like sex scenes, you don’t want to drag it out for a hundred pages. Dragon Ball Z can get away with it, but you can’t.
Short and Sweet
Short and sweet is the way to go, both for length of the fight and your sentences. To make the action seem fast pace, it’s better to use less. This isn’t the time to use long descriptive sentences. Keep them brief, broken up, and with only what needs to be told. Don’t stop to describe eye color or the way someone’s hair moves. Don’t give descriptions on how the trees move. We’re getting this through one of your character’s POVs, and they wouldn’t be noticing any of that. So only give us what they would see. When describing the actual actions, such as a fight move or a chase, use short sentences to describe the movements. It’s not about the description, but about getting the feeling of the action its self. You want to make your reader feel like they’re in the fight.
Use Action Phrases
Remember to use a variety of bold adjectives. The wrong word can completely ruin a scene. So take your time to consider what is going on at the moment. Instead of saying “William ran around the corner” try “William sprinted around the corner” or “William bolted around the corner”. It gives it more of a sense of urgency, which is key in building up tension. You want to have your readers on the edge of their seats, anxious to turn the page.
Nail Biting Tension
Like horror, you want to build up the tension. Will he win the fight? Will she kill him? Will they succeed? Utilize action phrases, sentence structures, and pacing to slather on that tension. The fun part about fight scenes is that you don’t know where they’ll go. This creates a page turner, which is the exact thing you want.
The Devil’s in the Details
I know I said details don’t matter, and for the most part they don’t; but certain details do. Pay attention to your word choices and what you do describe. Details like specific moves, spells, or body parts shouldn’t be confused or messed up. If you say a character is struck in their solar plexus, make sure that’s what you really mean. Also give an accurate response to an attack or situation. A throat punch is going to do a lot of damage, leaving a character choked, winded, and disabled for a few seconds. Research weapons and locations before you write. Don’t confuse a short sword with a broad sword, or an M16 with an AK-47.
Know Your Target Audience
Who you’re writing for really matters when adding a fight scene. Not only for what kind fighting and choices characters do and make, but also for gore factor. Middle Aged and Young Adult novels may not be heavy on the splattered brains. A romance novel could have a brawl or car chase scene, but maybe you won’t stop to describe how Bad Guy A’s organs glistened as they spilled from his split belly. Research the genre and target audience, that way when it comes time to write, you can make an accurate and responsible judgment call on what’s appropriate for your novel and what isn’t.