Q&A: Fight Scene Sentences

Based on my reading, fight scenes tend to be best written with shorter sentences and use sluglines to help avoid it from becoming a wall of text. The writer should add details of what happens, but focus more on giving the desired feel of the scene than an list of every strike.

Sure, that’s one way to go about it but I’d hazard though that it is possible to have a fascinating fight sequence which is a wall of text. (And, actually, I’m sure there are in The Lord of the Rings and probably War and Peace or the more downright confusing translations of Father’s and Son’s, I’m just too lazy to go digging.) A scene is defined by how successfully it manages to keep the reader’s attention so they remain invested in the action occurring on the page.

The issue with writing advice of any kind is that any ground rules laid down will be broken in fairly short order by a hundred other books. The other problem is that the vast of advice majority depends on the styles of the times rather than the writing itself. A fight scene can be anywhere from a single sentence to five or even ten pages long, or longer. There’s no clear metrics for creativity.

The only rule is there aren’t any rules. Not even when it comes to grammar. The only metric for success is based on what you can get away with, and how well you hold the attention of your audience. Many of the best writers we remember were people with enough confidence to look at the rulebook and throw it out the window. Writing is mostly trial and error, and figuring out what works best for us as individual creatives. The best thing to do is throw out the shoulds and learn to trust yourself. Take the Barbossa line from Pirates of the Caribbean to heart, “the Code is more what you call guidelines than actual rules.”

The great secret of every creative you admire is that we’re all mostly making it up as we go along. The only quality you truly need is the willingness and courage to leap off the platform without looking back, and see if maybe you’ll fly. 99% of writing is learning how to nor give a crap about what other people think. Or, what we think other people think. The voices that whisper we’ll never do it right and that we’re not good enough.

Don’t listen to the voices.
Go with your gut.

 

Besides, talking sentence is almost pointless because everyone’s writing style is different and their narrative structure is also different. The best fight scenes are like dessert or a topping, they serve as a means to enhance your narrative and build it up rather act as a full course meal. Each scene and sequence are a dish to go with that meal or just an ingredient. Sometimes, they might be able to function as meals unto themselves but are excellent when consumed together.

The best fight sequences are the ones which maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. They can go about doing that in a number of ways, from utilizing the five senses to the author making excellent use of their set pieces, but usually come together when the author has a solid grasp of what they want from the scene and understand how to go about getting it.

The how is usually what trips people up, how to translate what we’ve envisioned in our minds to the page. The more you understand about a subject, any subject then the better you’ll be at figuring out how to get what you want. This may involve some reevaluation of what, specifically, you wanted to begin with in order to start asking the right questions.

The more you understand about warfare, and how warfare has grown, changed, and transitioned throughout history then the better you’ll be at writing magical, fantasy battles.

If you want to write Rurouni Kenshin anime fight scenes, starting with research into Kendo, Iaido, Budo, and that specific historical period in Japanese history will ultimately help you parse through where inspiration was drawn.

Sometimes, we need to ask the wrong questions before getting to the right answers. You want to write in a similar vein to what you’ve drawn inspiration from then start with understanding how it works.

It may suck when looking for a quick and easy answer, but the truth is that good work isn’t easy. It’s difficult. It takes a lot of investment, both mental and emotional. And there will never be anyone who can get to the bottom of what you want better than you can, because you know what you’re looking for. You just need to figure out how to get there. Investigation, essentially, is key to writing good fight scenes.

When you understand basic concepts like distance and the order of operation in a fight, moving between different zones until we end up on the ground, then the fight sequences won’t feel like just a static listing of techniques. Instead, they become interesting due to the fight actually moving. (The issue with many fight scenes is lack of progression.)

The second issue is choreography. When writing fight scenes, the writer’s closest relation is a film’s stunt choreographer. That’s a different set of priorities beyond just “realistic or no?” because a novel, like a movie has its own setting rules that it abides by outside the realm of the real world. The key issue for many writers is they either don’t know enough about martial arts or have a ready grasp of various techniques to choreograph a fight. Then get down on themselves, forgetting that fight choreography is a craft in and of itself. The best scenes we see in movies are often choreographed by seasoned, if not master, martial artists. 9/10 when you’ve got someone asking for a fight scene, they’re asking for choreography. They want to know how to structure a fight so it’s interesting to read/watch.

A fight scene that utilizes it’s environment, laying down the groundwork and foreshadowing objects like staircases as the fight progresses will create a sense of catharsis for the audience when a character finally throws another down those stairs. Or grabs a frying pan off the counter. Or starts throwing plates. Or is out numbered against a group of bullies, and maneuvers their way around the hallway to pull the fire alarm. (They see the fire alarm before they get jumped, or when they’re trying to figure out what to do, then try to get to it.)

Fight scenes work when we understand a character’s needs, desires, and wants rather than focusing on a need to “show, don’t tell” their fighting ability by making them fight.

Poor fight scenes aren’t just badly written, they serve no purpose other than “proving a character’s fighting ability to the audience” and often feel out of place in the narrative. They are a violation of the character’s stated goals and needs, and often work under a different setting rule set which has no interaction with the main story itself. Poor fight scenes are boring, the illusion breaks and the characters are just paper dolls being mashed together.

After that, the sentence structure is just structure.

In fiction writing, we use sentence structure, grammar, word choice, and even white space on the page as a means of crafting tension and tempo. Tempo in fiction is manipulating the speed at which someone reads. An easy solution is to use progressively shorter sentences to build a sense of tension and imitate the feel that events are actually moving faster. Long sentences feel slower because they take longer to read. That’s the basics, anyway, it becomes a great deal more complicated than that once we get into the inner workings of a single sentence. There’s also beat, rhythm, and rhyme schemes.

If you want to learn how to manipulate emotional experiences in very few words then poetry is what you should be reading.

Basically, all these require various skills. There’s no easy way to develop these skills beyond hard work, practice, and trial and error.

The first step is: get over the fear of failing.

You’ll try, you may fail, it may not work the way you want on the first go. You’ll probably have to go back to the drawing board multiple times, and that’s okay. You’re not alone if you sit at your computer watching a single fight sequence you love on repeat a few hundred times trying to figure out how it works. That’s normal.

It takes work to gain knowledge and then figure out how to apply it contextually. You’ve got to learn about the subject then learn how to make that knowledge work for you. The process is often embarrassing, sometimes clumsy, and we may feel like we suck because we’re unfairly comparing ourselves to experts in the field. A writer is a perpetual student seeking out new knowledge and new information. Whatever we’re digging into will always be more complicated than we initially thought.

TLDR: It’s difficult to write fight scene involving guns if you don’t know how guns or bullets work. That follows for everything else.

-Michi

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