New Writer looking for 'fight scene ' help

4 years ago | ForestRage (Member)

Hello, I am a new writer presently in my first web novel The Red Lands. I have found myself in a bit of trouble. How to create a gripping fight scene. My story has mostly followed the kingdom building path, but the next arc is going to entail some group battles and some one on one fighting. Like I said I am very new to writing so help on some particular format I can follow or even some gripping examples would be great. One thing to note is that I prefer to have the scene end in cliffhangers. Examples or chapters from other stories would be very helpful. Thanks in advance!
P.S crossbows, swords and daggers. No magic for now.

Scribe of The Red Lands web novel

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  1. Rhodeworks (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    A gripping fight scene depends on the characters, not necessarily how it is written. The advice I've been given by published authors is just to, basically, try and imitate (note, not copy) what you like from the action scenes you like in books. But that means you need to read and reflect on what you like, why you like it, and how the prose creates that 'like' in you.

    So, for me, a good/gripping fight scene comes down to: a character/s I care about, prose that's more about the impressions than the blow-by-blow, prose that is short, sharp and to the point, and it can't really be summed up entirely as 'then I won'.

    Looking at some of the fight scenes I consider memorable, from preamble to conclusion they run about 1000-1200 words.

    The worst thing -- and a lot of serials do this, primarily for reasons of word count -- a fight scene can be is a long list of things that is basically 'Then Johnny Hugefist threw a punch with his left hand and Reginald Kickflip dodged it, but Reginald kicked with his right leg and Johnny backflipped over it and laughed' and it goes on for over 2000 words. I like to call it screenplay or storyboard writing because it reads more like that, a set of directions for the actors and crew to precisely visualize a scene, than a fight scene in a novel.

    Of course, that's not to say published novels have good fight scenes. I find Lee Child's action scenes boring because of how much detail he shoves into them, describing exactingly how many circles Jack Reacher moves in and so on. This links back to my first point: find fight scenes you like, reflect as to why you like them, and use that reflection in your own writing.

    An obvious tip is to look up how people fight with crossbows, swords, daggers, and so on. This information would probably be incredibly useful, but then you can't fall into a similar trap to the above one where you recite all this academic information. A little bit of terminology and jargon can be great, but too much of it renders the scene incomprehensible to someone without that knowledge -- particularly with sword fighting. I imagine most people understand slash, stab, parry -- but how many people understand, say, riposte?

  2. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    As with most things, the "show, don't tell" rule is in full effect. Fight scenes are, well, inherently boring. It shares this condition with *many* other events that can come up in a story. Such as art, music and sex. I know, it sounds like I'm talking out my ass to say that, but it's true.

    Music's an easy one to prove. I could sit here and list every note of a sonata... and basically nobody would find it interesting in the slightest, save perhaps an accomplished musician. Why? Well, because it's pure detail. I assure you, normal people can look at a page of sheet music all day and feel nothing (except perhaps boredom), because it *means* nothing to them.

    Alternately, I could do what they did in Amadeus...

    Mind you... that movie competes with Pocahontas and 300 in (lacking) historical accuracy. But nobody can deny that the scenes were *powerful*. They took something as bland as sheet music and made it meaningful to the viewer through its meaning to the character(s).

    Because they describe passion, not particulars. How it feels, why it means so much to the character... the mechanical 'what happened' means so much less than the personal 'how it felt'.

    That's what a scene, no matter the scene, needs to capture. The emotions, and if possible the consequences. Of course, Amadeus won a bunch of Oscars and dozens of other awards, so don't be too disappointed in yourself if you aren't that good... the number of people who are is minuscule.

    Still, you can learn from its lessons. Don't mention a bolt flying through the air... describe the whistle of sound, describe the feel of the wind and the dirt kicked up by a narrow miss from a shot they didn't even see. Don't deflect a sword with another sword. Describe the ringing of the ears and metal vibrating in hand.

    And even more than that, describe the consequences and aftermath. War, as they say, is hell... and there's a reason why All Quiet on the Western Front is still one of the most significant pieces of literature ever written, and arguably the best war novel of all time. Despite virtually no actual combat anywhere in the text.

    My personal favorite writer for fight scenes is Orson Scott Card- Ender's Game and the Ender's Shadow series, especially. Because they spend very little time describing the fights themselves. Literal battles to the death last only, like, two paragraphs. The Final Ultimate Battle was resolved in maybe 2,000 words. The emotional consequences, on the other hand, stick with the characters for the rest of their lives. They stick with the reader, too.

    That is how you recognize great writing.

    Author of Price.
  3. ForestRage (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Thank you very much. Your insights were very informative. My problems are exactly like you guys mentioned. My web novel chapters normally contain 1500-2500 words. Dragging a scene that covers the entire chapter is asking for a beating. I like the feedback on length and the advice how to keep it simple. I don't want to be too descriptive so I will take the advice to keep it simple where all could understand. The lessons of describing the happenings in the surroundings. To be honest I would have focused solely on the combatants. Thank you for this informative feedback!

    Scribe of The Red Lands web novel
  4. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I only occasionally write action scenes, but my approach to it is to make it feel vivid and intense by writing it in a way that reflects a person's state of mind during an adrenaline rush.

    Whether it's life-or-death or even just a sports game, people become more primal when their blood is up. Thoughts are simpler, so I use short sentences, sometimes just sentence fragments, and simple vocabulary. Senses are hyperfocused on the elements that are important for survival/victory, and everything else pales, so I don't mention anything that's not directly involved in the action and there's absolutely no detailed descriptions. People don't consciously control their every move when doing something they're trained in, and don't consciously process their opponent's moves, so I only describe the general flow of battle rather than the specific movements. Finally, there are usually powerful emotions involved such as fear, desperation, or triumph to convey.

    Then you have the aftermath. As the adrenaline leaves, the pain and exhaustion the character didn't notice before settles in. There might be a couple of injuries they hadn't noticed before. They struggle to calm their breathing. Their ability to reason returns. More complex emotions settle in; they could feel guilt, horror, or regret at something they did in the heat of battle. They have to deal with the consequences of what just happened.

    I'm not a fan of "show, don't tell" during action scenes because the effort to describe around what happens than writing what happens tends to make the writing more long-winded and less vivid. While the ring of metal against metal would be loud and attention-grabbing to an observer during a swordfight, it would just be extraneous background to the combatants. It's all personal preference. You can write a fight scene as an observer would notice it, or how it feels from the combatant's point of view (which is not to say it depends on whether you're writing in 1st or 3rd person. There are plenty of 1st person narrators who have a very detached view of the world they live in and plenty of 3rd person narration that is very vivid.

    Hope that helps!

  5. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I wrote quite a bit on how I approach fight scenes for the Pen & Cape Society website. I reposted it on my site:

    I draw parallels between fight scenes in stories and musical numbers in musicals. Your mileage may vary.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  6. Dary (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Think of words as time. Short sentences are like quick cuts, while a lengthy description of a single action is equivalent to bullet-time.

    As a rule of thumb, I equate 500 words (2 pages) with about a minute of film.

  7. sinjinstories (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I'm not really big on writing fight scenes myself, but I've been reading up a little on them lately. covers many topics on how fighting works, as well as different aspects of fighting, from the technical to the psychological. More of an "all-purpose" resource.

    I'd also suggest scouring Youtube for sword-, dagger-, and crossbow-fighting demonstrations that fit in your novel's particular setting. (The channels that I have bookmarked are relevant only for medieval European arms and martial arts, unfortunately, so that's not of great help here.)

    Writing a superhero murder mystery:


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