“Round One – Fight!”

Pacing Fight Scenes – by Dellani Oakes

It doesn’t matter what genre you write, eventually you may end up with a fight scene. Whatever the circumstances, whether large scale battle or one on one, pacing is important.  In fact, it’s probably the most important factor in a fight scene. I like to hope I write fight scenes well, though I don’t claim to be an expert. There are some things I’ve learned and I want to share them.

First of all, make decisions before you begin:

  • Who is fighting? Is it a small or large group?

  • Are they fighting hand to hand, with swords, guns, energy weapons, ships, space vessels or battle tanks & the like?

  • What is the layout of the battlefield? Is it a large, open area or a confined space?

  • Are the combatants trying to kill one another or is this a sparring match for training?

  • What is their mood? Are they full of blood lust, angry beyond reason, cold and calculating? Or fighting to defend someone weaker?

  • How important to them are the people they are trying to defend?

  • Are there spectators or is it a lonely battlefield?

  • Why are they fighting? Is it to settle a dispute, punish an oppressor or free slaves?

  • Weather – Is it hot, wet, cold, raining, thunderstorm, snowing, blizzard, etc.

  • Environment – desert, jungle, open plains, inside a building, on board a ship?

  • Brainstorm until you have firmly in your mind everything you are trying to convey. Whether you portray this information to your reader, you must have it all figured out in your own mind. Visualize it, smell it, hear it, know it.

Once you’ve made your decisions, think about logistics. Where will they move, how? Individuals who are fighting move in their environment differently from groups. Many more factors have to be considered when you introduce group tactics and personnel movement. If you aren’t sure how to do this, ask questions of someone who’s been in the military. I’ve learned a lot that way.

Another way to prepare is to watch a lot of combat in movies. I love fight choreography and will watch certain movies in order to get the feel for what I want to portray in my book. Depending upon what type of combat you’re doing will depend on your movie choices. For individual combat, I like “Serenity”, “Quantum of Solace”, “Casino Royale”, Equilibrium”, all the “Matrix” movies and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. There are others, but these rank in my favorites.

For group tactics, you can’t beat the “Lord of the Rings” series of movies. They give a magnificent scope for huge battle scenes, also breaking them down into individual battles amongst the chaos of a large scale battle. “Star Wars” movies also show this well.

If you want martial arts moves, watch Jet Li, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes & Ernie Reyes, Jr. There are many others, but these guys are among my favorites. For really funky, beyond your wildest imagination type combat and fancy moves, I recommend David Belle in “District B-13” (Banlieue 13) by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri. David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli and others have worked hard to perfect their Parkour techniques, using them in movies like “Casino Royale”and “Live Free or Die Hard.”

Don’t be afraid to ask experts. I’ve consulted retired military people as well as martial arts experts in order to make my combat believable. Know the terminology of the techniques you plan to use. Even if you don’t go into great details, know the difference between a riposte and a parry.

Act it out. If it doesn’t flow smoothly, read the moves and follow them. Where are the hangups? Need others? Ask your family, friends, pets… to help you. If you can, storyboard the action to get a feel for it.

Armed with all this information, the time finally comes to translate the visuals to words. It’s harder than you might think. Find some good music that fits the mood, style of fighting, energy, intensity and climactic arc you’re looking for. Listening to this while you work is an incredible help. I like to listen to bands like Metallica, Juno Reactor, Rammstein, Linkin Park, Rob Zombie, & UNKLE, among way too many others to mention. One of my favorite fight scenes, a sparring match, I used “Crazy Benny” by the Safri Duo.

Listen to the music, get into the mood, visualize and write. Even if the first draft is crap, keep writing. Go back and repeat the process until it flows from one section to the next. Once you have it all down, work on editing, perfecting, cleaning up until it works. My advice here too is to read it aloud to others, let them read it and get lots of feedback. Does it make sense? Is it smooth? Am I confusing people? Can they follow what I’m saying? Most of all, did the bad guy get it appropriately?

Writing combat isn’t easy, but it’s fun. Play with it, try different techniques and approaches in order to make it work in your novel.

I know I’ve not covered every possible angle, this is what works for me. Do you have other techniques and approaches you use? Please share them with us. Happy writing!


Filed under writing

12 responses to ““Round One – Fight!”

  1. A great post and good advice.
    I’m a big fan of action movies, sci-fi movies and the like, so I must be terribly prepared to write fight scenes.

    • dellanioakes

      No doubt you are! VICTORY! I love a good action flick – much more interesting to me than a chick flick, although once in awhile those are nice too.

      I’m always looking for suggestions of new things to read or watch to get more ideas.

      • Me too; I much prefer an action flick to a chick flick. If you need a good recommendation of what to watch, I’m your woman. I’m currently in the middle of researching my book on action movies; best research I’ve ever done.

      • dellanioakes

        OOh, I’d love a list!

      • Some of my recent favourites are Shoot ’em up, Transporter 3 and Crank (although Crank is on the extreme side, so it might not be to your taste). I also like Asian films like Hero and Iron Monkey. I have a page on Squidoo, Action Movie Central, (http://www.squidoo.com/actionflick) that has tons of my recommendations.

      • I loved Crank and can’t wait to see the second one. I usually have to wait until they come out on DVD. Movies are way too expensive these days! Those are some great movie suggestions. I haven’t seen them all. Thanks for the link!

  2. My sons read a lot of fight scenes, and do a great job of explaining to me why one author is way better than all the rest. So doing your fight scenes right certainly makes a difference. Of course, some movies are even more confusing than books.

    • dellanioakes

      That’s so true, Sheila. I’ve read some things that are so badly written the reader doesn’t know who is hitting whom. I want – quite literally – a blow by blow commentary so I know what’s going on.

  3. What a great idea, Dellani. Movies will for sure give you a visual. I learned how to box as a child–my dad was Golden Gloves. I know how to handle that sort of fight both in person and to write. Larger battles are a bit more difficult.

    My husband writes some pretty kick ass suspense/mystery types, in the fight finale he actually had to time certain aspects of fight, how long it took to slide down a dragline, where people would land and how, what position they would be in and would it be feasible to use a gun or hand to hand. How a person holds a knife before throwing it, the time it takes to reach point A to point B. Very technical.

    I have a pretty intense rescue and fight scene in one of mine and it was the same thing. Visualizing it positioning people.

    But movies would be great ‘research’.

    • Wow, Sia, what your husband did is more precise than I usually get, but for something like that you’d have to.

      I wish I knew people in stunt work. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

  4. christinehusom

    Very thorough, Dellani, thank you. Great tip about watching the choreography in movies!

    • Thanks, Chris! If I can’t see the real thing, I’ll watch a movie. For the final fight in “Indian Summer”, I asked my son’s Aikido instructor. Sensei Tom was only too happy to help out. It was his innovation & creativity that made that fight scene work.

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