Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Tips for Writing a Fight Scene

So last weekend I attended the League of Utah Writers' annual conference. It was great! I got to reconnect with old author friends I hadn't seen in a long time, network with new authors, my book won an award, and I learned lots of stuff. Couldn't have asked for more.

The first class I attended was taught by Christine Haggerty (click link for her site) and it was about writing fight scenes. Christine is both an author and a black belt in martial arts, so she's uniquely qualified to teach such a class. These tips were things I gleaned from her lecture, so I must give her full credit for them.

Here are 7 things to keep in mind when writing fight scenes:

1) There are 3 parts to a fight scene. The setup (basically the bulk of the novel that leads up to the fight), the actual scene of the fight, and the recovery (the state of the characters after the fight, including injuries, state of mind, how long it takes to heal, etc.). All three of these phases must be taken into account and fleshed out for the fight scene to be effective.

2) While writing the scene, make sure you keep the writing chunky. To build suspense and propel the reader through the scene, make the sentences short. This is an easy edit for your second draft. No compound sentences with connecting conjunctions. For this scene in particular, keep it staccato.

3) During a fight, your characters' senses will be heightened. When writing it, pretend they have supernatural hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Focus on the senses and what the character is observing with each of the five from minute to minute. It will make the fight jump off the page all the more.

4) Make your character reactive in all ways. Even if at some point they charge, they're still reacting to the consequences of that charge. They have to react to what their 5 senses pick up, to their environment, their injuries, and especially their opponent. A fight is a time for the character to be reactive.

5) Don't use interpretive narrative during the fight. The adrenaline should be through the roof, which means they're observing things at high speed, but they don't have time to stand around and think about it. Leave the interpretive narrative until after the fight, when their heart rate has returned to normal and they have time to bask in hindsight. Having it during the fight will feel unrealistic and slow down the action.

6) Hash out the environment. It might be useful to do a rough sketch of the area the fight is taking place in. Nothing artistic. Just so you can see the things they might trip over, fall against, or hurt themselves on other than their opponent's body or weapons. Environment can make a big difference in a fight.

"Then we shall fight in the shade." (Source)
7) For the recovery, keep in mind that your fighter will always have more injuries after a fight than he/she registered during. That's because adrenaline will numb them to a lot of the injuries, and when they crash, they'll suddenly have all kinds of bruises they didn't make note of before. Keep that in mind during the fight scene as well as afterward.

8) Okay, I said 7 tips, but I'm adding one. Have fun with your fight scene! While fight scenes can be a lot of work--sometimes more work than the entire rest of the novel combined!--they should also be all kinds of fun to write. The great thing about these scenes is that, if you've done your setup correctly (i.e. made your readers care about your characters) and then put your characters of a situation with possible bodily harm, where they have to fight tooth and nail to prevent it, your readers will be oh-so-much-more invested in the story by the time the scene is over. So have fun with your fight scene. Make sure your readers can't possibly peel their eyes away before it's over.

What do you think about these fight scene tips? Do you have any to add?