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This might speak to my ability to focus while reading, but I have always found fight sequences in writing to be very difficult to follow. Do you have any tips on writing fights in a way that doesn’t leave a reader wondering how the result actually happened? Whenever I write something blow by blow, my reader is unable to follow the fight in a way that makes sense to them.

Writing fight sequences is very difficult and a great many of them can be incredibly difficult to follow. Below, I’ve posted some of our older articles that may be helpful to you. But here are the important points:

1) Be Clear and Concise.

This is a standard writing skill that we must all master sooner or later, but it’s incredibly important for fight sequences because you don’t actually have a lot of time. For the reader, the fight happens as they read it so it’s important to stay on point and not get caught up in too much irrelevant description or dialogue. Pithy one liners can be great, but not if they come at the expense of the scene or reader understanding. For the reader to know what’s happening, you have to know what’s happening and be able to explain it in such a way that it can be easily understood.

2) If an action starts, it must also end

Try to break the body down into parts. The foot bone is connected to the ankle bone and all that. The fingers must curl to create a fist, the foot must lift off the ground for a kick. Motion begins somewhere and it must stop somewhere else (whether or not the technique connects), you have a starting point and an ending point. The more complicated the technique the more necessary clarity becomes because you have to talk in three dimensions within a two dimensional space. This is part of why I recommend studying movie and television fight scenes, going and watching martial arts practices, etc beyond just reading books. Reading fight scenes will help you a lot on the technical side, but not as much if you haven’t already started to put together an image of how different parts of the body work together to create the image you’re absorbing. This will involve breaking the scene apart and down into pieces, once you understand how the pieces work together then you can build a better scene.

3) Limit yourself before you start

It’s easy to get distracted or just have the scene keep going into infinity. If your fight scene runs for pages and pages (as opposed to being different fights strung together across pages), you might be going on for too long. Limit yourself to a paragraph or even just a few sentences, challenge yourself to portray the image in a very small amount of time. You’ll find you’re divesting yourself of a lot of extras you liked but didn’t actually need.

4) Figure Out the Point of the Scene

The point of the scene is never the fight itself, even if the fight is the culmination of the themes of the entire book. Fighting is never without risk. Your characters are risking their bodies, their health, their lives, possibly their own personal goals for something. What is that something? Why are they doing it? What are they risking? What will this cost them? If your character is on a quest to rid the world of a great evil and they are the only one who knows, the only one who can stop it, then do they really have any business inserting themselves between two characters about to start a bar brawl? This happened in Weis & Hickman’s Amber and Ashes with their main character Rhys. Rhys is a monk and according to his vows he has an obligation to stop the brawl, but he’s also the only person who knows about the Death God Chemoth’s vampire cult. The sequence of him stopping the brawl puts the tension on Rhys a as a character, asking questions about his willingness to stay true to his obligations even when he’s broken with his order and abandoned his god. What he’d risking in engaging is his ability to continue the course he’s set himself on and his investigation into Chemoth’s vampire cult. It triples up to act as a statement for who Rhys is and what he believes. Even though he disagreed and broke faith with his god he still holds true to the tenants of his beliefs, still acts as a monk even if he isn’t one.

Clarity is important, but it’s not what gives the actions your characters take meaning. Tension is created through risk, through challenging your characters, and through clearly establishing the results if they fail. If the reader doesn’t understand the risk, the enemy, the consequences, why it’s important, and why they’re doing this, then it’s difficult for them to follow the scene.

Below are some of our older articles that may help you.

The Importance of Word Choice

Seven Deadly Fight Scene Sins

Cause and Effect: Fight Scene Examples

Writing Violence: Developing Characters

Writing Violence: Cause and Effect

Writing Violence: Pacing

Writing Examples: Sizing Up Opponents (Assassins)

Five Simple Ways to Write Convincing Fight Scenes

Happy Writing!