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May 11, 2011

Ten Tricks To Make Your Fight Scene Realistic

Today, I'm happy to present a guest post by Rayne Hall. Rayne Hall has many hats. In addition to being a terrific writer of both genre fiction (fantasy and horror) and non-fiction, she's also a terrific teacher and writing mentor. She runs a writing group which I've belonged to for a couple years now, and has helped me immeasurably over the years with her thoughtful and incisive critiques. She was one of the Beta Readers for Initiate.

Rayne will be giving a workshop on 'Writing Fight Scenes', which starts on 1 June 2011:  No matter what genre you write, if someone's going to throw a punch, swing a sword or shoot a gun, this is a great class to get the fight scene juices flowing.

Ten Tricks To Make Your Fight Scene Realistic

Spacial restrictions.

Your scene will gain realism if you show how the available space limits the fighting: Perhaps the ceiling is too low to swing the sword overhead, or the cop heroine can't risk shooting at the bad guy because he's standing in front of the wall, which could lead to bullet ricochet and kill innocent bystanders.

Ground underfoot

Inject a realistic flavour with a single sentence: simply mention what the ground feels like underfoot. What's the ground like: Persian rugs? Concrete? Lawn? Uneven planks of splintered wood? Hard, firm, soft, squishy, muddy, wet, slippery, wobbling, cluttered, sloping? The ground may even affect the fighting: the heroine may slip on the rain-slicked asphalt or stumble across the edge of a rug.

Close-up vision

During the fight, the point-of-view character sees only what's immediately before him: his opponent's face, his opponent's hands, his opponent's weapon. If he takes his attention off what's immediately before him, he'll be dead. Therefore, don't show the distant sunset and an overview of how the fighting progresses at the other end of the battlefield.


Avoid dialogue during the fight. The fighters need to concentrate their attention on staying alive, and can't spare a thought for conversation. Panting with effort, they don't have breath to spare for verbal banter. Any talking should happen before the fighting starts. If you really need dialogue during the fight, use very short and incomplete sentences, because these convey the breathlessness and sound real.


Your PoV doesn't think while he fights. His mind is totally focused on the action. He can't think about anything else: not about about his loved ones back home, not about the futility of war, not even about fighting strategy. Any thinking would be a distraction that costs his life. Share his thoughts about strategy before the fighting starts, and his profound insights once the fight is over.


The fighters can use only skills they possess. A heroine without martial arts training can't defeat her opponent with an uppercut and a roundhouse kick. Unarmed combat and fighting with weapons requires practice. Establish beforehand what fighting skills the protagonist has, for example by showing her in an earlier scene dusting her shelf of karate trophies.


Mention the noises of the fight: the pinging of bullets, the clanking of swords, the sharp snap of breaking bone, the screams and gurgles of the dying. Sounds create realism as well as excitement.

Real weapon

Make sure your fighters use weapons which existed in that period, and that they use those weapons in plausible ways. Not every sword can split a skull, not every gun allows accurate shooting at a distance. If you invent a weapon, model it on real weapons, and keep it simple.


Fighting hurts. Your PoV character must feel the pain of the blows and cuts. During the fight, the rush of adrenaline may dull the pain, and the real pain kicks in when the action is over. Real fighting also leads to injuries, and your hero needs to sustain some cuts and bruises, at least.


Once the fight is over, add a paragraph describing the aftermath: the survivors assess the carnage, mourn their friends, bandage their wounds, repair their weapons. The adrenaline has worn off and the pain kicks in. The air is filled with strong smells, including cordite in case of a gun fight, and urine and faeces because bladders and bowels give way in death.

How realistic should your fight scene be? Real fighting is brutal and gory, and too much realism may put your reader off. In a hard-boiled thriller, you can use a lot of realism, but in a gentle romance, it's better to play down the gory aspects and create just enough realism to suspend disbelief. From these ten tips, select the ones which suit your reader and your story.

If you have questions about writing fight scenes, feel free to ask. I'll be around for a week and will respond.

* * *

Even if you've never wielded a weapon, you can write an exciting fight scene. Rayne will show you how, in her workshop on 'Writing Fight Scenes', which starts on 1 June 2011:


Anonymous said...

What a great post! I like that you break it down and make it so easy to add one or two elements to bring out the reality of the situation. I've been trying to work on fight scenes lately, and this will help so much! Thank you!

Rayne Hall said...

I'm glad my article is helpful to you. I, too, struggled with fight scene writing: the results of my tries were cringeworthy! I looked everywhere for advice, and couldn't find the kind of guidance I needed, so set to studying fight scenes. A couple of years later, I've become an expert on the subject. ;-)
Now I'm writing articles and guest blogs, and teaching online classes on how to write fight Scenes. I'm trying to give writers exactly the kind of help I would have needed some years ago - and that is, as you say, breaking it down into elements.
I have currently several other guest blogs published, also on the subject of 'Writing Fight Scenes', but focusing on other aspects of it. Maybe you would find those tips useful, too. Would you like me to post the URLS so you can check them out?

Sherrie Petersen said...

This is awesome! Offering notes on specific details makes it easier to figure out what elements need to be played up in a scene. Perfect!

Anonymous said...

My characters don't fly. Nor are they in combat. But I found this post to be a useful reminder of how to make scenes come alive. Don't have superfluous dialogue. Describe surroundings that make sense and propel the story. All the things listed can be expanded to just plain ol' good writing and it reminds me to keep a sharp eye as I revise. Thanks!

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Solvang,

I, too, like advice articles in which everything is broken down into specific elements, so I can apply the elements one by one (or choose which elements to apply and which to leave out).

It's good to know you like my approach to guest blog writing: I hope people find my suggestions useful.

For my online classes, I use a similar approach (although they are more detailed, and not everyone wants a whole workshop on how to write fight scenes).


Rayne Hall said...

Hi Rebecca,

I agree: Many of the tips for fight scenes contain advice which could be adapted for other scenes, e.g. to consider how much dialogue the scene needs, how people would talk in a particular situation, weaving the setting into the action, and so on.

Other aspects of scene creation also apply to a fight scene: make sure people act 'in character', give the protagonist and antagonist goals and motivations, identify and vary the protagonist's emotions and let your reader feel them, using senses other than vision, and so on.

Sometimes I think that fight scenes have a lot in common with love scenes especially. The content is different, but the approach to writing them is similar.


BCI: Android Apps said...

sweet post, next fight scene i do, ill keep this in mind
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Rayne Hall said...

Alas! For the past three days Blogger has been malfunctioning. Many people weren't able to access blogs at all, others weren't able to post comments.

I'm going to hang around a little longer, and I'll still answer any questions you may have about writing fight scenes.

If I miss your post, I'm sure Tara will alert me. I'll answer your questions, that's a promise! (as long as Blogger doesn't cause havoc again).


wannabuy said...

My comment was eaten by the great blogger downtime...

Someone please give this class to David Weber! ;)


Rayne Hall said...

Who's David Weber, Neil? I confess I don't know him.

Rayne Hall said...

Comments have vanished. I hear that in the process of returning Blogger to a previous more stable version, the engineers lost many comments posted to blogs, and were able to restore only some of them.
From Neil's comment, it seems Tara's blog has been hit.
Has anyone else posted a comment which has vanished?
I know it's a nuisance, but will you please post it again? I want to read what you have to say, and I want to answer all your questions.

Tara Maya said...

David Weber writes military fiction. More battles than fights.

And hey, in March Upcountry/March to the Sea, he included a romance which I think many a romance writer might have winced over. But I give him props for trying.

And that's all I have to say about that. :D

Tara Maya said...

Sorry to anyone who tried to comment but had their comments disappear. I think there were a few. Please repost if you get the chance... I wasn't deleting anyone!

Rayne Hall said...

** test test test ***

(Tara, you can delete this post)

Rayne Hall said...

test test testing