This week’s wonderful guest is my friend and fellow writer, Ryan Mitsui who discusses his method of constructing fight scenes in a novel. Enjoy 🙂
Well first and foremost, you have to know what a good fight scene is. In the end, a “good fight scene” isn’t any different from any other “good scene.” Be it a romantic scene, a sad scene, a happy scene, a party scene, etc.
Having a mindset where you think one type of scene is intrinsically better than another, is what I think leads to many bad fight scenes.
As a writer, I feel you should never think that one thing is superior to another. Just because I’m not big into drama, doesn’t give me the excuse to treat it with less respect and effort as something I enjoy far more, such as an action scene.
So, with that all said, let me tell you what I feel constitutes as a good fight scene. At its core, a good fight scene is one with a lot of action, ingenuity, suspense, a conflict, a high point for your protagonist, a low point for your protagonist, and a conclusion that keeps within the realm of logic that you created in your world.
Now, that last part is the part where most bad scenes go wrong. You NEED to have consistency, and that goes for everything you write. I’m going to bring that word up a lot, but that’s because it’s absolutely necessary if you want your story to be well received. The only time you can break consistency, is when you explain why it happened and even then, that HAS to be consistent within the rules you made up for your world.
Okay, so, how do I build a good fight? Well, first, you have to develop a setting. Answer these questions:
- who is fighting,
- who’s gonna win.
This is going to be your basic framework.
Second, you need to dig into those answers even more.
With the “who is fighting”, you need to know what their strengths, weaknesses, skills, and personalities are; and what, if any, items they will bring to the table. Some examples: do they know martial arts, do they know how to use a gun, are the smart, are they dumb, are they big, are they small, are they fast and agile, or are they slow and powerful?
With the “why are they fighting”, you’re trying to figure out a reasonable explanation for why the conflict is occurring. Did one insult the other, is one objectively a bad guy, is this your protagonist’s final boss, etc. There’s an infinite amount of reasons you can come up with to have your characters throw down, but you need to make sure the reason is consistent with your story and the characters.
With the “where are they fighting”, you want to come up with a place that makes sense in your story. You can’t have a couple of guys start a fight on the street and then when the fight starts, suddenly have them on the top of a building.
This one in particular is where you get to flex your writing muscles as you paint the scene with colorful words. Sure, you can just say “they fight in the parking lot at Denny’s.” It gives you a location and a basic idea of what to expect, or you can give it some flare.
Describe stuff, give it some emotion. You don’t have to go crazy and describe every make and model of every car, but give the reader what you think your characters would feel fighting there. Is empty and large like fighting on an asphalt desert, or is it full of cars and claustrophobic like a blacktop boxing ring?
With “who’s gonna win” there’s not a lot you have to think about. The story will dictate who will win before you come up with intricacies the fight.
Third, so now you have all the info sitting at the tip of your fingers, and itching to hit the page. This is where I have the most fun and just start putting things down. Just brain dump onto the page for now, because this’ll be your rough draft or outline. Try to keep in mind how you want your reader to feel after or during this fight. And, in my opinion, the “rule of cool” always comes out on top.
Forth, now that you have this giant pile of ass-kicking, we need to arrange it so it makes sense. I like to think of fight scenes like tiny stories. They need a beginning, middle, and an end. But, for a “good fight scene”, you want to inject some tension—some back and forth. If your protagonists goes into an even fight and wins no problem, then to me, that makes no sense, and I’ve lost my immersion.
A good fight is going to have its ups and downs. Having your protagonist getting hurt in the fight makes them more relatable. Never underestimate the power of the underdog. So make sure to keep this in mind as you assemble your fight.
Fifth, so now you’ve written a fight scene, but like any scene, you need to polish it up. I personally feel that fight or action scenes need a bit more polishing that most other scenes, mainly because of physics. Now, you don’t have to go Einstein on this, but you do need to keep in mind what is actually possible within the world that you created.
For example, if your character is based off a normal human from our normal reality and tries to shoulder-charge something like a car, typically the human loses and bounces off. This, again, is another place where you need to keep consistency. If you already established that your character can win in a car v human shoving match, then make sure they always do, and if they don’t, explain it.
It gets really tricky around here as well, because there’s a big balancing act you have to always keep I mind. That is: you can’t over-inform your reader, nor can you under-inform them.
By over-inform, I mean you don’t want to write something like “his right hand hit him on the left side of his cheek at a 45° angle, throwing his head back and to his left at a similar 45° angle”…and blah blah blah blah.
Conversely, you don’t want to under-inform the reader either. If we use the same action, you don’t want to just say “he hit him in the head.”
With both of these (albeit, extreme) examples, more likely than not, your reader will lose their immersion. They’ll either be too bogged down with information that they’ll find to be frivolous or overly complex and end up becoming confused or bored; or given so little, that they’ll sit there wondering what exactly happened or ranting that there should have been more.
Ultimately, what you want to aim for is a good middle-ground between the two extremes. Explain enough so they don’t get lost and can easily picture what is happening while not bogging it down with meaningless details.
Hi, I’m Ryan Mitsui, an amateur writer. I mostly got into writing because I’ve listened to enough “bad books” and thought, “Hey, if these can be this bad and still published and have an audiobook, maybe I can do it too.” My favorite genre to read and what I’m currently working in, is Urban Fantasy, but do NOT get that confused for Paranormal Romance.
I really love Urban Fantasy as a genre because it doesn’t require me to be in some other head-space and try to translate something current into something befitting the 1400’s. I can take pre-established locales and other pop-culture and just find ways to work them into the story.
Add in the fact that I also really dislike the idea of a monarchy and that an obvious fool with nothing but lineage still gets to be the bigshot and make all the calls.
Some other things about me
I’m mostly a nerdy/geeky guy. I love video games, anime, movies, shows, martial arts, and table top games. Recently I’ve just started running a game of Dungeon’s and Dragons on Roll20. I’m running a pre-published adventure that’s basically D&D in Transylvania! Complete with vampire lord Count Strahd Von Zarovich, werewolves, witches, zombies, and all other sort of gothic horror goodness.
If you ever wanted to write a book live with friends, I’d highly suggest giving D&D a try. 🙂
About the book – What I’m working on
The story that I’ve been working on is an Urban Fantasy (I know, big shocker) and it’s basically a take on Pulp Fiction meets The Dresden Files. You follow through the day in the life of a mysterious, snarky, human mercenary. He tends to handle smaller jobs and things he knows he can accomplish, all so he can pay the rent on his thirty-some small (about the size of a bedroom) hideouts and keep his few business contacts happy.
His greatest weapon and his greatest weakness are one in the same: magic has no effect on him. While he can walk through a ball of fire like it wasn’t even there, he also couldn’t use something as simple as a flask of alchemist fire. The only things he can rely on are science, his own wits, and a trick or two he keeps up his sleeve.
If his life were a boat on a river, traveling smoothly at a decent clip, the story picks up at what would be it slamming into unseen jagged rocks and then quickly thrown down the rapids.
Thanks for letting me throw some words at your followers, Ari! And for you all, keep checking back on here (her site :p), she’s got a ton of good advice for any of you budding writers.
As Stan Lee would say- “excelsior!”
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Big thanks to Ryan for being this week’s guest poster. Hope you all enjoyed this fight scene article and can use the information within to help with your own fighting scenes.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a Blogger Series article and again on Friday at the usual time 18:30 (BST)