Battles, fights, and conflict, in general, are great ways to reach a climax, throw an additional wrench in characters’ plans, or simply keep the pace of the plot fast and interesting. But for writers who spend most of their day in an office, war is not familiar. Most physical fighting is seen through movies, events, or other books. But you find it a little more difficult to write yourself.
When you think about great fight scenes, the first ones you remember are the cinematic ones. The tense dramatics of Star Wars’ famous death star battle ending with a single well placed shot. Jackie Chan’s amazing stunts that are both impressively precise and humorous. And then you see in your mind the battle of Minas Tirith with hordes of orcs, siege weapons, wyverns, and ringwraiths. Those are the types of conflict you want in your story. Where the reader can’t help but be on the edge of their seat taking in every gory detail.
But you have to keep in mind that writing books is not the same as writing screenplays. If you try to write a “blow by blow” scene, you will find that you not only have to do an enormous amount of research to understand all of battle mechanics, but it is actually a bit boring to read. He blocked this and that and then found a moment to counterattack with a fancy swirl but missed because he stepped on a rock. Now, a bit of that can be helpful and is interesting to a point. But when it is pages long to explain a war or a drawn out conflict, I will start debating skipping those parts.
Emotions and Goals
You do not want to describe your fight only by action and reaction. The rest of your book isn’t only about where your characters go is it? The story is about what your characters are thinking, how their challenges affect them, and what their goals are. Fight scenes should be no different.
This is often why many comics have dialogue during their epic battles. It may seem silly to some, but it does actually help keep the reader interested. But if you don’t want to use that cliché, focus on what your main characters are thinking. Are they hardcore warriors or beginners? What emotions are filling them during such extreme threatening conflict? Then go a step further and give them goals. Is your character trying to eliminate a certain threat, or escape with their life? Push the fight towards a cliff or create a time limit. Those goals will affect how the characters fight too. Another idea is to treat a battle as a problem-solving scene. Your characters have only a moment to discern attacks and locate environment details or decide on skills that will help them. I find seeing why a character decides on a path to be much more effective fight scene writing. You learn more about those characters as well.
Quick and Dirty
Of course, there are occasions when “blow by blows” and beautifully described settings work well. A quick action-packed scene is stunning and more realistic. And you do need to explain the setting and who is on which side to an extent. Otherwise, your readers won’t understand the basis for the fight.
Wars are often described as six hours of planning, and thirty seconds of panic. Realistic fights do not drag on and on. Sieges are not constant battles, but more of skirmishes, unless a force is large enough to switch out its soldiers for breaks. Just think about how long it takes for you to start running out of breath when going jogging. Even if you train for it, the body only carries so much energy. And it is even harder to fight with heavy armors and weapons.
In the end, it is always best to stick to what works for you. Write what interests you and make it passionate. Battle is emotion in extremes and needs to be felt. If you aren’t sure how to write your scene, try them all. Remember to focus on your characters and their personal feelings and thoughts amidst the turmoil. Create goals for the fight with climaxes and key moments. And then don’t overdo it. You can include multiple fight scenes, but each one should be relatively quick and dirty.
Photo by Hasan Almasi