7 Tips to Writing Battles: Let The Owies Begin!

Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury

One thing that Quest of the Brokenhearted did is push my limits on writing fight scenes.  Many people thinking writing an action scene is easy because you just have to put in ‘fighting stuff’.  This includes punches, kicks, soliloquies, gloating, guns, swords, and whatever you can consider as basic combat stuff.  If only it was really like this because a flat and lame action scene can really do some damage.  Imagine a great warrior who has battles that last no longer than a paragraph.  Really doesn’t make much sense unless his until purpose is to find a real battle, but that can get boring after awhile.  Even ‘One Punch Man’ (which has that plot) makes sure to put in exciting battles to keep the audience interested.  So, what are some things to consider to up your action game?

  1. Banter should come second to the actual combat.  You see it a lot in non-visual stories where there’s more talking than action.  It creates the sense that the characters are standing there shouting insults instead of fighting.  A way to avoid this is by writing the dialogue in a way that routinely shows it’s being said while fighting.  You can even have them talk about actions they’re taking to get a little of both worlds. For example:  “Is that the best you got?” Clyde asks with a grin. He yawns while repeatedly smacking the paladin’s thrusts to the side and holding his ground. “This is pathetic. I’m really just embarrassed to be wasting my time. You don’t need that other arm, do you?  Thanks.”
  2. The flow of a battle is very important.  If it feels clunky and jerky then you’ll lose the audience’s attention.  This can happen if you do a lot of pauses or every move comes off the same, which could be considered padding.  Only so many times you can say a warrior stabs and gets blocked.  A better way to do this is create some choreography and have the moves flow into each other.  This can be done through reactions.  Every action has a response.  Blocks turn into counters, warriors retreat for better leverage, mistakes force a flurry of movement, an injury weakens a warrior, and the list keeps going.  The point is that you need to have a sensible reaction from the one being attacked.  How can you figure this out?
  3. Like anything else, you can up your action scene game by doing research.  This is fairly easy here because YouTube and streaming services exist.  Hunt down movies and shows that are known for their action scenes.  They can even include superhuman abilities like DBZ because you’re studying the form of the scene instead of the full reality.  Watch for the action/reaction, get a sense of how the human body moves to deliver attacks, and search for ways that tension is created.  Doesn’t hurt to look up basic anatomy stuff too to figure out what a person can live through.
  4. One great way to create tension is the back-and-forth.  While most readers will assume the good guy wins, you can still have a fight where the momentum switches.  The villain can be rallying back after a bad start and then the hero pulls out a crazy stunt to regain the upper hand.  Both combatants should receive blows even if they’re nothing more than scratches and bruises.  This is to avoid a one-sided fight where the finale is never in question.  You can still do these if your goal is to show how powerful a hero or villain is, but it doesn’t do much for tension and the plot.
  5. Use the environment to enhance the battle.  This depends a lot on the setting, but think about if anything will be a factor.  Desert sands are hard to move through and the region may be too hot for armor. Forests have trees that restrict wide movements while allowing for agile characters to get out of reach.  Caves can remove the sense of sight from combatants, rain creates mud, and cities have more innocent bystanders.  The list keeps going and you just have to remember the battle is typically not happening within a blank space.
  6. Rule for casters and other magical beings: AREA OF EFFECT!  Many spells hit an area instead of a single target.  So, factor this in if you have a caster hurling fireballs everywhere.
  7. Know when to stop the fight.  This isn’t as easy as one would think because you need to feel it more than think it.  Sounds strange, but if you abruptly decide to end an extended action scene then it could be a little too jarring.  Now, it could work for shock value if you set things up appropriately.  On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want the fight to go on for too long.  You can extend it with functional breaks like them separating to catch their breath or one making a tactical retreat in order to think of a plan.  Combining a chase scene with a combat scene is entirely viable if you’re looking to increase the tension.  Still, you need to gauge when it’s time to end things and make it a smooth finale.  Beta readers can certainly help here too.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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24 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Battles: Let The Owies Begin!

  1. Wonderful information. I’ll be writing a few scenes with some spellcasting attributes. I needed this. Thank you. ❤

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  2. I haven’t done a lot of action scenes but this list is a must-have. Thanks, Charles.

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  3. Wonderful tips all around. I did some research as you suggested for my current WIP. Also friends have a way of interceding. It only seems logical that some sword fights end with a colleague shooting your opponent.

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  4. Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    Everybody was writing fightin’, but some cats prose were unexcitin’. Whoa-oh-oh-oh. Bah! 7 Tips to Writing Battles by Charles of Legends of Windemere! 🙂 #WriterWednesday

    Liked by 1 person

  5. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! I remember reading a book where one of the combatants stopped to notice things in a moment of tension that made the scene unbelievable (like a sleeping squirrel–I wish I was kidding). That fight went on for so long, I wanted to stop reading.

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    • That’s weird. I can see a combatant stopping or a paragraph that has time moving slower for him/her to notice something about the fight. It would be like a slow motion scene in a movie or those ‘strategy’ segments they used in Sherlock Holmes.

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  6. Great tips, thanks for sharing them!

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  7. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from the Legends of Windemere blog with 7 tips to writing battles.

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  8. This’ll come in handy, Charles! Thank you!

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  9. Great post. The banter one is one writers often get wrong. It really depends on the genre/style, as it’s fine for a Princess’ Bride tongue-in-cheek style and many fantasy works, but doesn’t really work for a grittier style. When people fight for their life, the last thing on their mind is to be funny.

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    • I’ve seen it work a bit with grittier styles, but only if the characters have the right personality for banter. It seems a current trend is that everyone does it regardless of their temperament. The thing with fighting for one’s life is that it can set off a variety of nervous reactions. Some people use humor to remain calm, so it isn’t too surprising to me if they crack jokes while fighting. It’s not logical though, which is why most people prefer heroes and villains to battle without the witticisms.

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