A Kryptic Blog Post…
Writing fight scenes. The crème de la crème of action writing. Here’s a scene from my new Novel to whet the appetite.
The sun sank low on the horizon casting an orange-crimson glow over the forest floor. A crow cawed loudly in the distance. Kade waited opposite Nemah – a chill hanging in the air. He drew deep breaths and balled his fists. Nemah disappeared in a puff of black smoke, reappeared above his head, and brought the heel of her foot down with force. Kade dove forward in time to avoid the blow. After rolling across the muddy ground and bouncing to his feet, he crossed his arms to block a flurry of punches, but he was unprepared for her backflip. Her foot connected with his chin sending him flying a few feet in the air. His ears rang and the dark woods zoomed in and out of focus. A sharp pain exploded in his ribs sending him stumbling sideways. He landed face first in the wet dirt.
A wolf howl echoed through the valley giving way to the croaking of crickets. He pushed himself upright wheezing. The smell of damp bark filled his nostrils. Nemah waited patiently without moving a muscle. The icy expression her face betrayed no emotion. He clutched his side, took a deep breath and charged his opponent. His first punch missed by inches. She spun out of the way. He swiped at her head but she was gone, reappearing behind him. He turned on his heels and kicked at her chest. She blocked the attack, swiped his leg with her own. Still holding his foot, she twisted it into a lock that sent waves of pain up his leg. Kade’s screams reverberated through the trees.
Location. Location. Location.
Fight scenes don’t happen in a vacuum. Intersperse setting descriptions throughout the fight scene rather than all at once, especially not at upfront. Here is what we know about the setting from the description above:
It is afternoon:
- “The sun hung low on the horizon casting a crimson glow…”
They are in a forest:
- “…forest floor.”
- “Kade’s screams reverberated through the trees.”
It is cold. This alludes to one of the colder seasons which also speaks to time:
- “A chill hung in the air.”
The light quality is poor:
- “…orange-crimson glow…”;
- “…the dark woods zoomed in and out of focus…”
The sounds of the forest bring it to life:
- “A crow cawed loudly in the distance.”;
- “A wolf howl echoed through the valley giving way to the croaking of crickets.”;
The ground is soft and muddy bringing with it an instability:
- “…muddy ground…”
- “He landed face first in the wet dirt.”
The smells of the forest after having rained help create mood and make the setting real. The world is alive and not some isolated canvas:
- “The smell of damp bark filled his nostrils”
It doesn’t take much to create a great setting. With a few well-placed phrases and sentences you can create any setting. It is important that the characters interact with the world.
Kade falls into the dirt and rolls across the ground. He smells the forest around him and he takes deep breaths. This helps to bring the setting to life in the mind of the reader.
Action. Action. Action.
Act first, describe later, unless building tension. This is a great rule of thumb, but like all rules, some can be bent, others broken. Experiment with your scene to determine what works for your story. Some key things to remember are as follows:
Keep it short and simple stupid (KISSS)
Keep your sentences short and keep them simple. To test whether you have done this you can use readability statistics.
The higher the Flesch Reading Ease Test score is, the easier your scene is to read. The above extract has a score of 86. 1 making it pretty damn easy to read.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test score determines what education grade can read the document. The above extract has a FKG level of 3.9 making it easy for 4th graders to read the document. This is a good measurement to use.
The extract has an average sentence length of 10.7 words. This is a good average where you are weaving description into your scene.
Active Vs Passive
Make sure you are using active language rather than passive languages. To do this use stronger verbs and the active sentence construction. Some of the active verbs used in the extract are: sank, cawed, hung, dove, rang, exploded, pushed, clutched, spun, swiped, and reverberated. These verbs bring their own connotations with them and experienced writers use these connotations to their advantage.
Vary Sentence Structure
“Kade looked at Nemah. His mind raced. He charged her. He kicked but missed. She parried the blow and countered with an impressive blow.” In a few sentences, I demonstrate what not to do. These sentences are all the same length and have the same structure, which makes for difficult and monotonous reading.
Compare the above sentences with some from the extract:
“The sun sank low on the horizon casting an orange-crimson glow over the forest floor. A crow cawed loudly in the distance. Kade waited opposite Nemah – a chill hanging in the air. He drew deep breaths and balled his fists.”
The second set of sentences have different structures and different lengths which increase their readability. You can use tools like Grammarly to help you with this. The premium version which not too pricy will help you identify monotony in your writing. If you don’t have the money to spend send your scene to beta readers to review it for you. They will tell you quickly if your writing is bland.
Sensation. Sensation. Sensation.
Unlike a big Hollywood production or the amazing creativity of anime, writers have to use different tools to portray fight scenes. Our medium is not as visual and so we cannot provide a blow-by-blow account of the action. Rather, we must use the point of view (POV) of the character to allow the reader to enter the mind of the character as they go through their gruelling experience. Here are some questions that can help you do this:
How does the character feel?
In the extract, Kade is feeling tense and pensive which is alluded to by the sentence: “Kade waited opposite Nemah.” Don’t articulate that your character is feeling anxious about the fight. This is telling. Rather show it by describing what is happening to the character’s body, how does that come to the fore in their response to the fight. Besides feeling anxious, Kade is angry and he is in pain. Both of these are shown in the following sentences:
- “He drew deep breaths and balled his fists.”
- “He clutched his side.”
What does the character notice?
Let’s get real for a second. Not all your characters are Sherlock Holmes, who notices everything happening around him at all times. This is unrealistic. If you have ever been in a fight scene, you know that the only thing running through your mind is how much the other person is whipping your ass. So in your writing, why do your character know the colour of the trees in the background or what kind of clothes their attackers are wearing? Don’t get me wrong. The mind is wonderful and registers all of these things, but not during the fight. Your character may recollect these things after the fight.
Putting these descriptors in may break the flow of the action and pull the reader out of the illusion you are trying to weave. If the descriptor your character notices does not add to the urgency of the scene leave it out. Also, if your character is a trained assassin, she will notice different things than another character who is a medical practitioner. Our backgrounds, our experiences, our personalities, our expertise colour our perspectives. Remember this when writing the action scene. This is where characterisation collides with action.
The most important thing is to write a scene, analyse it using the tools and techniques above, and then revise it so that you ensure the scene is:
- Easy to read,
- Consistent with the character’s point of view
- Spreads description throughout
- Uses active language and verbs
- And of course is super awesome
I hope this post helps you write amazing fight scenes that engages your reader. If you found the knowledge in this article helpful, please share it on your social media and help me reach more viewers. Connect with me on my socials and share your tools and techniques to write killer fight scenes.
Happy writing, Kryptic Fans!
Author. Entrepreneur. Modern-day Philosopher. Gary blogs about various topics to help writers realise their full potential independent of their medium. He is the debut author of The Coward Novel and the founder of a local South African Tech startup. He is also a speed reader, movie and television connoisseur and plays a mean quidditch game. Connect with Gary for advice, witty banter or just to shoot the shit.