I love my readers. Yes, including you. But I feel like the stereotypical, passive aggressive grandmother in a domesticate comedy sometimes. You never write, you don’t call, what, like the comment section is so hard to use now? Oh, you people.
Joking. Don’t feel obligated, seriously.
Anyway, when I do hear from a reader, or find a review, there’s a lot of praise for my fight scenes and I’m really proud of that. Fight scenes can be hard in print because they’re all about motion, which the medium of words on a screen doesn’t help.
With that in mind, this installment of The Process deals with how I put down my throw downs in a few easy steps:
Know Your Combatants
Before you do anything when approaching a fight scene, you need to take a close look at everyone involved and ask yourself some questions about each person.
What are they capable of? Consider all training, weapons and creativity this person/creature has on hand at the start of the fight. Knowing this lets you consider things like if they have anything on their person they might improvise as a weapon or if they might use the environment creatively. What nasty tricks or moves will these allow them to bring to bear? Also keep in mind attitude. Some people will only fight to wound if threatened, some like to bring the pain. This will effect how they fight.
Because I deal mostly in speculative fiction, I also have to keep powers in mind, which can alter the playing field in any number of ways. It can also bring to mind something you want to showcase.
Also be mindful of numbers. Know who you want to match up against each other specifically first and foremost. If possible, try to keep the numbers low unless you’re writing an outright battle because some detail will get lost the more characters you have fighting at the same time.
And don’t forget motivation! A fight is almost never for the sake of fighting. People fight for a reason and this will effect how they fight. Are they trying to escape? Get something? Kill someone? Is the other side trying to restrain them? Get rid of them? Teach them a lesson?
Once you have these in mind and the characters are ready for a row, it’s time for step two:
Setting the Stage
No interesting fight ever took place in an empty room. Two people just swinging at each other, no matter how skilled, can’t hold it’s own. Not only that, but a fight means nothing outside of the context of the plot, so constructing an environment for your fight scene is important.
While the plot may call for a given setting for a given scene, wherever possible, fights should happen in dynamic areas with plenty of obstacles, improvised weapons and fighting surfaces. For fights with lots of characters or characters strong enough or with powers that allow throwing people around, a larger, more complex venue is required. For the purposes of illustration, I’m going to use a tried and true brawl setting: a bar.
Now; there are several key elements to keep in mind here.
First is movement. In a fight, specifically actiony, not-so-realistic fights like the ones I write, people charge, roll, get knocked around and follow opponents. A good setting for a fight needs not only space to do this in, but set dressing to make this more complex.
Tables are good for this, forcing characters to go around or over them and bringing a possibility that someone can be slammed down on one, breaking it. They also provide an obstacle a character can use to keep distance from an opponent. Plenty of glasses and utensils on top of it can also go flying, helping sell the motion and impacts for the reader.
I’m a fan of multiple levels in fight design. Stairs from one level to the next provide an obstacle and people can fall, leap, or shoot from upper levels. In our bar, this can manifest in the saloon style gallery above the taproom. One with those wooden bannisters someone will inevitably fall through.
Second, you want to dress your set both for the scene and for the fight to follow. Make a brief sketch of the floor plan (I do this in my head because I can’t draw to save my life), placing obstacles like tables and chairs as well as other common items.
Take note of fixtures common to a typical example of your setting and how they might be used in an interesting way. I always find this useful when writing fights with powers because I try and use everyday items in these situations to showcase my characters’ powers. It’s situations like this that led to moments like Cyn using the pulled pork cart to add to her biomass in Inexorable, or Juniper freezing Wolf in Here and Now.
Also, remember your branding. If this is the Verbing Animal Tavern, then there should be signs or pictures or even statues of that animal. Possibly while its verbing. This is more of an atmosphere thing, but I find that using touches like this makes the world just a little more real, especially when the audience gets to see someone take a Verbing Animal shot glass to the head.
Now you have your players and your field. It’s time to bring them together:
Now it’s time to write your fight scene. Before you get to that, you have to set it up. Like I said earlier, it means nothing without context. While writing the scene immediately prior to the fight, be sure to describe the environment.
This doesn’t have to be too detailed, but the audience should see any big set pieces you plan to use later early on so it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s up to you how much you describe the other future combatants at this point, but I like to single out one or two with unusual looks or who will be part of the fight early. This puts something into the mind’s eye of your readers. For larger locations, only describe areas your viewpoint character can see right at the moment. Describe other sections of the area as they are encountered.
In your own mind, or possibly on a sketch, arrange all of the characters who will be in the scene. These are their starting points. The moment you have this, think about where you want the most important characters in the scene to end up. The path between the starting points and the ending points will be the path the fight itself will take. You can do anything between them as long as the characters end the scene there. This gives you a skeleton to hang your actions on.
So now the stage is set, the actors are in place and it’s time for a dust up. Next week, I’ll walk us through the anatomy of a fight; from following action to breaking the scene down into manageable chunks and making the whole thing kinetic and exciting.