If your dream is to write a book so action-packed your reader can’t stop flipping pages, you’re in the right place.
My stepdad is a professional martial artist. He’s taught Aikido, the art of Japanese sword, and even trained FBI agents. I grew up with racks full of ancient weapons on the walls, some I held in my hands. Did you know that a full 2-liter soda bottle hung from a clothesline makes the perfect substitute for a human neck? That afterward, the state of the bottle shows you the preciseness and smoothness of your cut?
It may surprise you, but you don’t need a background like mine to write good action scenes. In fact, sometimes too much experience can hurt your writing– it can tempt you to be too technical or use terms your reader is unable to follow. The truth is that there is a very simple formula to any good fight scene that writers can take advantage of.
Know Your Characters
The very first, most important factor to consider in a fight scene is your characters. Are they scrappy? Skittish? Well-trained? Hotheaded? What are they fighting for, and what lines are they willing to cross?
A good writer remembers that every individual has the potential to react to the same situation differently. Keep their actions in character, just like you would at any other point in the story.
Don’t forget who is in the room
Do you know what’s annoying? When a scene starts with four people, but then two of them get in a fight and the other two just… disappear. When violence breaks out, everyone has a reaction, even the side characters. Are they trying to stop the fight? Are they getting in the middle of it? Are they cheering or pleading from the sidelines? Did someone slip away?
Depending on your point of view and how involved we are in the fight itself, the reader might not need to know everything (or be able to see everything) going on in the scene; you can reveal a lot later. Nevertheless, other present characters must factor into the equation at some point.
Avoid unrealistic interruptions
It’s true: conversation happens even while people are punching each other in the face. But an action scene needs to be exactly that—action, at a high pace. Your characters can certainly hurl insults or shocking revelations at one another while they slap each other silly, but don’t hit the pause button for long paragraphs of dialogue without movement. It breaks the thrill.
Don’t plot– react
We’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking, Wouldn’t it be cool if…? The reality is that this line of thought leads to action both unrealistic and difficult to describe. Unless you’re writing a scene with magic or anti-gravity, the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon stuff usually doesn’t work as well as you hope.
Change that question to What would I do if…, and a whole new series of events unfold. If the first punch is thrown in my face, I may naturally dodge left and throw up my hand. Now what? Do I counterattack, or shout in surprise? Is my assailant too quick for me to get a hit in and I have to dodge again? There may be important events that have to happen within your fight, and it’s ok to build around that, but when it comes to the meat of the battle, make sure your characters are reacting to each other.
Also, it can be very effective to use short sentences with simple language. When the words feel rapid-fire and easy to read, it feels like things are happening quickly— which, obviously, is way more exciting.
Research when you need to
Remember, if you need inspiration, there’s no crime in using Google or Youtube. Study books and movies where the action really grips you, and try to pull out the basic principles behind what works. I’ve looked up anatomical diagrams to figure out effective strike points and what to call them on the page. When it comes to fighting scenes, don’t let them intimidate you. Face them head-on!
About the Writer: Kathryn Tamburri (@KathrynTamburriAuthor) writes clean YA epic fantasy novels which seethe with slow-burn romance. You can find more of her writing tips on #ThePantsersGuide and follow her new #AdventureLog on the blog at KathrynTamburri.com, and be the first to know when her novels publish by subscribing to her fun author newsletter