As a writer and an editor of crime fiction, I unavoidably have to deal with the fight scene. What is a crime if not the result of violence or violation? Both can and probably will result in a fight. A conflict. How escalated the conflict becomes is determined by factors of the situation and the creative vision. The interpretation of the writer to cast the scene to paper.
I think this simple aspect is the failing of many attempts at writing the fight scene. At least a believable one. For me personally, the bulk of my early writing was an attempt to break into comic books and as a result I learned to write lean and visually, because in writing for comics unless you are both the writer and artist you have a collaborator, a co-writer who translates words into images. Since it was a visual medium, I drew inspiration from movies, and growing up in the 80s there were no lack of action movies. Over the top and inconceivable.
So I understand the urge and inspiration to write scenes that put your protagonist under impossible odds. You’re playing that scene out in your head like it’s on the big screen. You’re embracing your inner Road House and kicking all kinds of Swayze. I get it. But, the reality is the protagonist usually ends up like Sam Elliott.
I know you’re thinking, Ron, Ron Earl this is fiction, it’s not supposed to be reality?
That’s true, and if you lay the groundwork and handle the action just right, the reader is going to follow right along with you. After all, how many times did they ask Swayze’s character “I thought you’d be bigger?” before he actually had to throw down some serious hurting? They laid the groundwork that he is a badass.
Most stories I deal with as an editor are of the 700 word variety, so not a whole lot of room to lay down your protagonist’s greatest hits before he throws the first punch. With such short stories I favor stories that anchor themselves in the plausible, creating scenes that are not only dynamic but feel real as possible.
So now you ask, Ron Earl, how do I make it feel real?
Funny you should ask, but I’ve got 3 simple things to consider.
- Only Human – Unless stated otherwise, or you’re holding out for the big twist at the end, your protagonist is only human. And the human body can only endure so much damage before it has to shut down. Your protagonist is not going to endure constant abuse and suddenly come out the victor. And if your guy does go down, it’s going to take time to before he’s up to even facing the Tooth Fairy.
- Knuckle and Buckle – Fights aren’t even. They’re the product of adrenalin and temper, and rarely do the fighters square off before the first punch is thrown. Once that first knuckle lands, it’s only moments before a stinger hits and the advantage is won and legs begin to buckle. Real fights are short and one sided. Even in a professional match it’s going to take more than the Eye of the Tiger to go 12 rounds.
- Everybody’s Not Kung Fu Fighting – Do you know why those fight scenes in movies look so awesome? They’re choreographed. If your protagonist is put in the middle of multiple combatants, I’m sorry, he’s going down. They aren’t going take turns. Three are going to hold your character down while the other two beat his face and balls and they’ll be calling him Arsefaced Sally by the end.
There are not fast hard rules, and even if there were, rules are meant to be broken. Just remember how ever you write your fight scene it has to first serve the story and then entertain the reader.