by Doug Lewars


Fight scenes are somewhat similar to chase scenes. I wrote about the latter last month. Use action verbs and use terse sentences. Real fights tend to be sloppy affairs and they frequently end quickly. In addition to punching and kicking there is frequently a lot of shoving. Staged fights are much better as reference material. YouTube is a good source of both so have a look at a few before writing them.

Although you’re probably going to be writing about a fight and not a boxing match, it is a good idea to learn some boxing terms. Things like hook, cross, uppercut and jab can be worked into the scene. Of course your actual fight will more likely be a brawl in which pretty much anything goes. So head butting, biting, elbowing, scratching, kneeing, kicking and the use of weapons are also permitted.

Mind you, the fight scene will be pretty short if both opponents are using shotguns at point blank range so the nature of the weapon will probably dictate the amount of space needed for the fight. Don’t hesitate to make use of judo and jujitsu techniques as well. It’s easy to look them up online but stay away from the terminology unless you’re creating a fight between two practitioners of a specific discipline.

For example, Harai Goshi is a sweeping hip throw. Even the term ‘sweeping hip throw’ is probably too technical. It would be better to describe some – but not all – of the technique. The reason you don’t want to describe every last step is that your story will slow. Rapid pacing is critical in a fight seen.

Therefore, for the example above, you might write something like, ‘As Frank rushed at him, Jerry pivoted left, shoved his right thigh in front of Frank, twisted forward and slammed him to the ground.’ If you look up the actual judo move you’ll see that I’ve left out at least 80% of the technique but the sentence flows and that’s all your reader is looking for at this point.

Make use of sensations in the fight. ‘Frank grunted’, ‘Harald groaned’, ‘Tony yelled’, ‘Marty felt a stab of pain in his …’, ‘Something warm ran down the side of his face’, ‘He smelled the scent of roses as he lay panting for breath’, ‘The club seemed to grow as he tried to dodge’, ‘Bile filled his mouth’.

It is acceptable to make use of medical terminology in describing an injury but try not to use terms that are too technical. ‘The sword cut through both radius and ulna leaving his arm attached by nothing more than skin and some muscle tissue,’ might be okay, but it would be better to write ‘The sword slashed his arm leaving it attached by nothing more than some skin and muscle tissue’.

In the latter, the severing of the bones is implied. Of course, in order to write the latter, you may need to do a bit of research with respect to the former. Your audience may not need to know the details but you need to know if something is feasible. Admittedly, you’re writing fiction so you’re allowed quite a bit of latitude but if you strain the readers’ credibility too much you’ll lose him or her.

In a fight, anything may be used as a weapon. Sand or dirt can be thrown in an assailant’s eyes blinding him for those few seconds needed to either escape or counter attack. Something as innocuous as a cell phone would hurt if it connected hard with something delicate like a temple. Broken glass can be a weapon but remember, depending on how it broke, it is quite possible that it will cut both ways.

I remember reading a news story in which a young person armed with a knife threatened a bunch of students who promptly threw their briefcases and books at the knife wielder who turned and fled. So when it comes to weapons feel free to become creative.

If you’ve ever watched a fight scene in a play, you’ll know that every step, every blow, every move in fact is carefully choreographed. This is done so that the actors won’t get hurt but it’s a useful technique to remember when writing. Imagine where each person’s arms and legs are positioned. Imagine the balance. Watch each move unfold using your mind’s eye and it will become easier to get the result on paper. Remember where everyone is relative to the objects around them and toss in a few details as things as well as people get knocked about during the fight.

When putting actual words on paper it’s not necessary to be perfect. That’s what re-writes are for. So it may be helpful, once you have a pretty good idea as to how the fight is going to play out, to just write it as fast as you can. It will probably be a bit sloppy but you can fix that later and you’ll create a more authentic feeling of excitement and danger. As with chase scenes, listening to exciting music while writing will help.

Fight scenes can be difficult to write but with a little preparation and research they can add considerable power to a story.




Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published ten books on