Q&A: Pacing

I’m having trouble writing a fight scene. I feel like I’m either going too fast and it’s all a blur or that the flow is choppy and awkward and I can’t quite figure out how to make it work better. Is there any advice as to how to get the right pacing and still make the scene…exciting?

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Pacing a fight depends on the media you’re working with. I’m assuming you’re talking about in prose, as opposed to on film, or in a comic, but, the answer will be different for each medium.

In prose, the violence itself won’t be particularly exciting. I’m not talking about the fight as a whole, but specifically the blow by blow portion. What makes the fight exciting is dynamism and context.

Characters adapting to changing circumstances can carry a lot of the direct violence. For example: The exciting part isn’t where one character punches their foe; it’s that they did it to interrupt their opponent’s action. This can evolve into a complex web of actions and reactions, which can result in an exciting scene, but the critical part is to remember that each attack is just a means to an end.

This is, mostly true, for films and comics as well. The difference is both of those mediums have an easier time running on pure spectacle. You’re not telling a reader that your character punched someone, you’re showing it.

The other major consideration is audience fatigue. Violence tends to be very intense. Keep that going for too long and you will exhaust your audience. So, keep your fight scenes short, and to the point. Sometimes, prolonged fights are justified; consider those carefully. In those cases, you may want to pace yourself with interruptions between the violence, to give the audience a moment to recover.

The thing about violence is: It is fast. If your “fight scene,” can be adequately ended in a paragraph, do it. It’s going to be more shocking and exciting, than if you try to drag it out over six pages.

Even outside of violence, if your pacing feels choppy, it probably means there’s something that needs to be pulled. I understand that it can be difficult, but something you wrote didn’t work, and needs to go. I’d encourage you to get in the habit of looking at what you wrote and asking, “does this really need to be here?” “What does it contribute?” “What does this connect to?” If it’s not critical to the work as a whole, it might be time to excise it.

Also, if something doesn’t work for you, rewrite it. Tinker with it. Try different things. Practice. See what you can learn from the attempts that didn’t work.

-Starke

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