Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writing Fight Scenes

There's a Snoopy cartoon I like that I can't find online - describing cartoons tends to suck the humour out of them, but let me try.

Lucy shows up while Snoopy is writing and suggests he makes his main character tougher (then fecks off, as is her wont). Snoopy ponders this for a moment and types 'He hit him again!'

That is exactly how I tend to go about writing fight scenes. I'm working on something at the moment that is likely to have a few of them. I can't manage with less than three - and one of them has to be climactically kick-ass-y, just to add to the fun - and I feel that to jack up the tension, a few others might prove necessary. And swords are involved in some of them. I have never, as far as I can remember, held a sword.

My current fight scene reads something like this:

F thrust his sword at G, who quickly parried. F struck again, veering to the right this time, but again G had anticipated this and deflected his blow easily.

This happened about twenty or thirty more times. Trust me, though, the tension mounted quite a bit throughout, as G was clearly losing his grip on the slick handle and his movements grew jerkier, less graceful, more frenzied.

Finally, F slashed wildly at G, catching him off-guard. F's sword was changing direction so fast that it looked like a streak of light. G tried to block him but was too late - his sword clattered from his grasp and fell to the ground.

It's that bit in the middle I have the most trouble with. How on earth do you describe what is essentially a very similar set of actions, repeatedly, without it getting boring? Imagine trying to describe every part of a good meal - 'I speared another prawn, and it was even more delicious than the last. And look! Seven more prawns on my plate! Maybe it was time to mix it up a little with some yellow peppers. I had the prawns to spare, after all.' Fun to eat. Tedious as all hell to read about.

Fights are extremely tense and interesting to watch, but writing about them is just so - blah. I've been trying to get deeply into the mind of my protagonist and show exactly what he feels during the fight, and that is working OK - there is a lot more of what he notices, which allows me to draw back from the actual mechanics of the fight while he observes that the opponent is tiring, or growing stronger, or whatever. But that's difficult too - you can't zone out too much because in a fight, a person will be pretty focused. They don't stop to essay upon the quality of light on the leaves overhead.

Can anyone recommend books with well-written, tense, interesting fight scenes that don't flag in the middle? All help appreciated on this one!


  1. Hmm, I can't think of any actual books, but I think the best approach would be to introduce some highs and lows rather than just having a long series of thrusts and parries. So one of the parties drops their sword and you think they're going to be speared through the chest. But then they manage to turn the tables and come out on top! But then the other guy uses his secret move or some prop and now he's on top. The good guy is doomed! No, he's going to win! No, now he's really doomed!!

    Not sure if that helps at all!

  2. What about joining a re enactment group? Or even just going along to see them in action? You might get to hold a sword, get a feeling for the scene? There are a few groups here in Ireland, I dont have any contact details though. Best of luck!

  3. I had to laugh. I suppose that is why the hero and the protagonist always had a long conversation during the show down in the classics.

  4. Good plan, Simon, thanks! :)

    I actually have a few friends who do reenactment, so that should be easy enough to organise, thanks for the suggestion!

    Al, if I thought I could get away with 'So, we meet again, Mr. Bond - the time has come for me to explain my diabolical plan in minute detail! Keep up the swordwork while I talk. . .' I would definitely do it :)

  5. Hi Ellen. I'm new here, found you through DL.

    The only suggestion I have is to read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Maybe that could help with building tension in the fight scenes. I also think the reenactment is a great idea.

  6. Hi G, thanks for dropping in :)

    I never even thought of Fight Club - which seems daft, given the name. . . :) Cheers for the tip, I'll dig out my copy next time I'm home.

    Love your blog btw!


I love comments!