Don’t Forget the Fight in Your Write

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currently playing on my iPod: Crash Land by Twin Atlantic

On Saturday, I led a workshop for the RWA’s Nashville chapter on writing fight scenes. It was a fun meeting complete with hair-grabbing, knees, and numerous references to Katniss and Kit Harington. Needless to say, fun was had.

A few participants requested I post the gist of my workshop, so here goes.

Writers, when you shape a fight scene, or any kind of altercation, there are three major things to consider.

1. Your Character’s Childhood Mental and Physical Attributes/Experiences

-Were they abused? Do they have triggers that could make them pause or freeze or lose control in a confrontation?

-Are they active? Are they playing sports or training in ways that will show lifelong improvement in their hand-eye coordination and reflexes and speed?

-Have they seen death and pain? How did it affect them?

2. Your Character’s Near Past and Present Mental and Physical Attributes/Experiences

-Are they currently injured? Do they have an old injury that could be a problem? Are they well-rested, fed and watered?

-What are the stakes? What is motivating them in this fight?

Who is nearby? Their children? No one? More enemies? Help on the way?

-Have they been hit before this fight? Have they been training? People who’ve never been hit, will most likely crumble into a worthless ball at the first real strike. If your character won’t be doing that, you better prep the readers with a specific upbringing or past event to make it believable.

-What is their weight/size compared to the antagonist? No matter your training, size matters.

How long have they waited for this confrontation? One hour? A lifetime? They just popped out of the closet like Woah?

Who are they fighting? Evil-faced bad guy? Mom?

3. Setting

Ground is important. If it’s steady and strong, you can use it to push off from and kick harder. If it’s slick, you won’t land a strike as easily. It hurts to fall on hard surfaces–wrists are broken, elbows injured.

Weather can play a role. Wind can kick up dirt into eyes. Rain can keep your character from hearing the bad guy’s approach. Heat can drain and slow reaction time.

Obstacles create opportunities and dangers. If a table sits near the fight, a character can grab another by the back of the head and slam him into a corner. Fight over. Or they could trip over said table. People are obstacles too. If your character wishes to protect them, it changes the fight, the angle, the emotion involved in every little decision in the scene.

Weapons are everywhere. Your character may be trained in the fine art of invisible swords by purple sparkly dragons, but if Senõr Angry grabs the fire poker, the fight might not go so fantastically. Where walls meet, there are corners great for smashing people into. (Don’t bother me about that sentence. I’m in GRRR mode.) Even the innocent looking Febreeze bottle in your contemporary story could do serious damage to the bridge of a nose. Be creative. *rubs hands together with evil grin*

Lighting changes things. If it’s dark, dude with the glasses might become your character’s best ally. He has better hearing than everyone else. If your character is trained and knows body mechanics, he will have a better guess as to where the next strike is headed when that lightning blows the electricity at exactly the wrong moment. Smell is important when your character can’t see well. People who have been running after someone, smell strongly like sweat. Maybe bad guy stinks like tobacco or that alien reeks of moon rock algae. Your character might locate them just listening to her nose. ; )

All in all, fight scenes are complicated. Just like real life. Fights are messy. Even when people are highly trained. I’ve worked with professional fighters who train multiple times daily and when they step into the cage, punches sometimes slip. They fall. They are human and they err.

Remember when you’re writing a fight scene, stick with concrete actions. Mick hit Othello and the bigger man went down. Not Mick’s elbow soared through the air like a spear I saw once on a trip to the Egyptian flea market. Give your reader short sentences to keep up the pace. Don’t give them a blow by blow. Only I would want to read it because I’m obsessed. And lastly, make certain to give readers a line here and there to tell us where everyone is. They need some blocking to keep the picture in their heads and not become dizzy.

So get out there and write your fight scene, champ. May the bodies hit the floor.

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