10 WORST Tips for Writing Fight Scenes
A while back, I broke down the 10 best tips for writing fight scenes on my YouTube channel, and today I'm hitting you with the worst! Fight scenes are a struggle for writers because it's really easy to fuck ‘em up. And boy, will these tips help you do just that! Some of these points are actual pieces of advice that I've seen, horrifyingly enough. Others are just mistakes people always seem to make. You will probably recognize them because they happen so...damn...often.
Let's get into the 10 worst tips regarding writing fight scenes. Please remember this post is sarcastic; do not implement any of these tips, unless you wanna piss your readers right off!
This video is sponsored by ProWritingAid. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: The Play-By-Play
Some of you writers are out here crafting your fight scenes like it's the Hokey Pokey:
“He put his right fist in. He pulled his right fist out. He connected his left foot with his enemy's left knee and then pushed to the ground using excessive force, causing his enemy's left knee to crumple to the ground and then his right hand to spring out in order to stabilize himself, and then he shakes it all about.”
Writers are taking “show, don't tell” to the ultimate extreme! We get every single detail of the fight. Each move the character makes at the exact moment using the most precise terminology. It's so goddamn specific that it slows the pace to the point where the fight feels like it's happening in slow motion. And isn't that what we all want? A high stakes fight scene that moves at a glacial pace.
Number 2: Have You Tried World Building?
You know what makes a fight scene extra intense? When you stop the action to build the world, because that's what readers are looking for in that moment. Not blood or impact. Trees!
I don't want to hear about your main character’s mortal injury. I want lengthy descriptions that set the scene, even though “they fought in a forest” really tells me all I need to know. I don't want to hear about the strikes and maneuvers. I need at least a page detailing the villain’s armor, top to bottom! Trust me, this is what people expect out of a violent, edge of your seat battle. It won’t destroy the tension at all! The most visceral fight scene is one featuring pages upon pages of info dumping.
Number 3: Emotional Shift
The enemies just exploded through the gates! Debris and dead bodies litter the ground as rival soldiers destroy everything in their path. But your main character locks eyes with one soldier in particular. Nay, a prince. His eyes are a glistening blue as deep and turbulent as the ocean. His hair is long, silky strands of jet black tumbling over rippled, muscular shoulders. He's got a jaw line that could cut glass, an ass you could bounce a quarter off of, and dark bronze skin (even though he's somehow still Caucasian coded). And your main character is taken aback by how unbelievably handsome he is, how their loins are burning with heat and desire. In the middle of a fucking ambush!
While their comrades are being murdered beside them, your main character is popping the boner of a lifetime. Because that's what the emotional focus of your fight scene should be: horniness! You know, I thought fight scenes were supposed to evoke fear or rage, but clearly arousal was the way to go...
Number 4: One Against Fifty
When writing a fight scene, it's really important to stack the odds against your main character, and the best way to do this is to pit one against 20, or 50, or 100. What the fuck ever! Your character doesn't have a machine gun, a grenade, or a weapon at all. Yet somehow they single handedly annihilate an entire fleet of soldiers, minions, werewolves, or whatever else you throw at ‘em.
Three to five makes sense, especially if the character is trained or has some kind of magical power on their side. But 50?! Sounds legit. I'm sold. I mean, after all, the bad guys are approaching him one at a time. That's how all bad guys fight; in a single file line, just waiting their turn. And after he's killed the first 15 without receiving a single blow, it's not like the rest of the guys would realistically just, you know, leave to save their asses. We all gotta die someday, am I right?
Number 5: “This Isn’t Even My Final Form!”
We all know some characters in some stories gotta have plot armor. It happens. However, what if instead of plot armor, we give them absolute invincibility? The biggest of big dick energy. Your character is just the 12 foot schlong of all fighter-ly characters. A character so overpowered, so impenetrable, it borders on ridiculous. Extra points if the character has no practice, experience, magical assistance, or superpowers to rationalize their insane capabilities. Triple points if they never, not once, get injured. Quadruple points if they do it all in the most impossible circumstances. For example, their leg has been chopped off in the middle of battle, or they are actively giving birth while fighting. Nothing makes you root for a character more than knowing that literally nothing can hurt them…whatsoever.
Number 6: Technical Jargon
All parts of the writing process include a significant amount of research, and fight scenes are no different. You've likely researched weapons, fighting styles, injuries, and fatalities to make sure your fights are as realistic as possible. What some writers don't realize is…that's not the entire purpose of their research. You need to take that research and jerk yourself off with it. Tell everyone all of the jargon, maneuvers, and medical terminology you learned. Otherwise, how will they know about your smart brain?
It doesn't matter that a lot of the terminology you find will come across as clinical or not era appropriate. And it certainly doesn't matter that powerful verbs pack a far better punch than specific fighting lingo. What was the point of doing all that research if people don't know that you're better than them? Slow down the pace, destroy the immersion, and exhaust those fancy dancy words you've been dying to use. I support you!
Number 7: The Bird’s Eye View
A lot of writers want to give readers a bird's eye view of a fight, particularly a battle sequence. That way they can see everything that's going on. I mean, if you think about it, this is the best choice, because what point of view is the most riveting during a fight scene? A bird flying high above, not involved in the carnage or danger at all.
With an overhead view, we aren't experiencing the fight through a character, so we are completely cut off emotionally and viscerally. But that's fantastic because, I mean really, who wants to be invested in a fight scene? Tension, fear, excitement, and desperation? Pfft! For losers, really. High stakes are nothing compared to aesthetics.
Number 8: Stoicism
It's on trend right now to write a leading man of action who is straight-faced, hardened, and stoic. He doesn't show any emotion because who doesn't love blandness? I know I do! But the good thing about being in a character's head is that no matter how stoic they are, we still experience what they're experiencing, we still feel what they feel. But none of that applies to this character, because they’re a badass! They shouldn't feel or experience any pain at all. Emotion may be the key to impactful writing, but this guy's the exception to the rule.
It's way more engaging to read a fight scene that evokes zero reaction, to read an injury that causes zero pain. Remember what I said about high stakes? They’re for suckers. Ditch the emotion, because your character’s too tough for that. He's a man.
The good thing about being in a character's head is that no matter how stoic they are, we still experience what they're experiencing, we still feel what they feel.
Number 9: Blood and Guts and Explosions
Waaah! Fight scenes are exciting, because obviously, someone's gonna get hurt. There's gonna be blood. So, with that considered, how do you take your fight scene to the next level? Buckets of blood!
It's not enough for your character to get stabbed. You need each of their limbs severed and blood geysering from the stumps. It's not enough to decapitate your enemy. You need their brain to explode! As much grotesque bodily fluids as you can include. Even if it's not at all medically plausible, write it in. I want the characters bleeding out of every orifice possible. Their eyes, their ears, their nose, their butts! If your fight scene’s gore factor doesn't read like a D-list zombie movie, no one's gonna take it seriously.
Number 10: The Never-Ending Battle Sequence
We all love a good fight that goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on... If you're writing a 100 year war, it better take readers 100 years to get through it, am I right?
Nothing amps up the excitement quite like endless repetition. You've already written this exact maneuver multiple times, but 10 more won't hurt. It never gets old reading the word “parry” a million times on the same page. Thrill a minute! Besides, there's something comforting about predictability and that's exactly what you want your fight scenes to be: comfortable! Ramble to your heart's content! If people wanted entertainment, they should’ve watched a movie, not read a book.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Please keep in mind that these tips are sarcastic. You should not implement any of them! Please, for the love of God, I'm begging you. I've read too many bad fight scenes. I can't sleep at night!
If you’re writing a fight scene, hopefully these tips gave you all the big, red STOP signs you need to write some quality carnage. Plus, if you need some help learning how to write dialogue to support your newly revamped fictional brawls, check out my article on how to write dialogue for fights and arguments here. In the meantime, let me know which of these terrible writing tips are your favorite in the comments below!
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