Writing Fight Scenes for Fiction

Posted: April 11, 2014 in On Writing, Writer's Carnival

I write a lot of action scenes in my fiction, and of them, most are a fight of some kind or another. I’m not claiming to be an expert on the subject by any means, but I feel I am a well educated journeyman. Earlier this year, I took the time to write out what I felt are some important considerations when a writer sets out to depict a fight scene.

Now, it’s true, not every story requires, or even should have, a fight in it. However, if you’re writing a story where you want to put your main character in mortal peril (or show off just how badass they can be) there are fewer ways to do it than with a well-staged fight.

A few considerations to take into account:

1)      How many against how many?

a)      Having your hero ganged up on by more than one person is a good way to showcase the prowess of your hero. If the heroes outnumber their foes, well, the foe will need something to make up for it (size, weapons, etc).

b)      That said, if you are looking to keep the fight within the realm of reality, understand that even a trained fighter can only do so much against overwhelming numbers. When outnumbered, have the hero use terrain and tactics to limit the number of foes that can come after him at any given time.

2)      What weapons (or no weapons at all)?

a)      Gun beats knife beats fist. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but unless one is exceptionally trained in a form of combat, this progression generally holds true.

b)      Fist fights don’t automatically equal non-lethal/swords don’t result in insta-kills (all the time). Striking someone, especially in the temple or throat, is a good way to send them to a casket party. Stabbing someone is a great way to ruin their day, but, unless you hit something particularly vital, isn’t going to drop someone in one go. Depending on the time frame, it can still end up being fatal due to sepsis, but it won’t necessarily take them out of the fight right away.

c)       Know your weapons and make sure they are appropriate for the story you are writing. It’s fine to get exotic every now and again, but make sure you do it with purpose. Why does the high class executive keep up with his broadsword training? What is that peculiar device the alchemist carries around, and what’s the deal with all those metal pellets?

d)  Do the combatants wear armor? Is it good against blades and bullets both? Does it hamper their movements?

3)      Purpose of the fight?

a)      Is it a sparring match?

b)      Is it to put the hero in danger?

c)       Is it the final showdown between the hero and the Big Bad (or the Dragon as the case may be)?

4)      How to avoid Boring Invincible Hero

This one is tough. You want to be a fan of your character. You want them to triumph. You are looking to write the biggest badass you can. But. If they breeze through every fight, if they take no harm, dance through every challenge, then their victories are going to seem less. You need to make them struggle. You need to make them hurt. They need to get cut and bleed (as appropriate). That way, when they are standing over their enemy, bloody axe in hand, the reader will feel that it was a victory truly earned.


Understand that my perspective comes from writing fantasy, science-fiction, and some horror, and that my biases are towards those genres. Also, I fenced for a number of years, including rapier, sword and shield, two-handed sword, and polearm. I do not believe the katana is the ultimate sword, and I think if you are primarily kicking while armed with any sort of weapon you are doing it wrong.

(Originally appeared here at Writer’s Carnival).

  1. mercutio01 says:

    This was good stuff in the initial post, and it is still good stuff.

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