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On Writing: Fight Scenes

Wahoo! Fight scenes! Some authors hate writing fight scenes either because they aren't into violence or they struggle with how to do it. Me? I love it. They flow from me easier than most other types of writing. The pacing, the action, the heightened emotions. Maybe my experience and joy of fight scenes can help you.

On Writing: Fight Scenes

Fight scenes don't have to be hard! There are a few ways you can make them easier. Let's chat about some basics for a good fight scene. I'll give a few tips for incorporating magic in fight scenes, if you happen to be writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel.

Right off the bat: how do you write fight scenes, anyway? What makes a fight scene ‘good?’

Like anything else in writing, the way you write your fight scene will be impacted by your overall writing style. However, there are a few things you can do to write fight scenes more efficiently and more impactful, regardless of your style or genre.


Perhaps the most importantly task is to make your fight scenes necessary.

Think of it this way: if you’re watching a terrible movie and bad guys show up out of nowhere and start attacking the characters, what do you usually think? There might be some cool camerawork or stunt work, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, "Wait, what? Why are they fighting? This is stupid." You’re pulled out of the experience, which means you’re not super invested in the fight.

You always want your plot to consist of necessary, meaningful beats. Things should matter, and important plot points should always be necessitated by what came before. This is especially important in an action sequence.

Build Up to the Fight: Ensure there’s a clear reason leading up to the fight. Develop tension and stakes beforehand.

Integrate Conflict with Plot: Make sure the outcome of the fight affects the storyline.

Character Arc: Clearly define why each character is fighting. What do they hope to achieve or prevent?

Example: In METAL, the fight between the protagonist, Wall, and the gang was to protect the only bio lab capable of reversing the rusting diseases.


The fight scenes should clarify your stakes, improving the the reader's understanding of the conflict.

The stakes in a fight are what the characters have to lose or gain. The stakes may change depending on the fight—especially if you’re writing an action-packed book.

Hint: not every physical altercation will be a battle to the death, and they don’t need to be.

Risks and Rewards: Clearly outline what harm will come to each character involved if the fight is lost. Drive home what the characters have to gain. It will heighten the intensity of the conflict.

Example: In "I NANO," when Mazz faces off with Tollere, he's fighting to delay the powerful nano-influencer long enough for the better trained adults to arrive while the campers escape.

Rising Stakes: Increase the tension through the fight by ramping up the characters' emotions through the consequences and within a particular scene.


As much as you don’t want a meaningless fight scene, you don’t want a bland one that doesn't make the reader fear the worst.

Setting: Keep your surroundings in mind while you write your fight scene. This can include anything from earrings to tear out to a fallen tree that the main character can hid behind.

What is your character most likely to do in a fight? Do they grab for hair and earrings, or are they particularly noble?

You’ll also want to incorporate the setting to make it more memorable. What’s around that your characters might use as a weapon? How can they use the setting to their advantage, or how does the setting set them up for failure?  Do they give up when it gets rough, or do they double down?

Character Personality: Ask yourself what each character would actually do. Is there personality cowardly, driving them to run away? Is the character stupid when it comes to taking risks?

Abilities: Ensure the fight reflects each character’s talents and limitations. A physically weak character shouldn't be able to throw a boulder at the enemy. A novice pilot shouldn't fly their star ship through a thousand enemy fighters. Are they even any good in a fist fight, and if not, how do they adjust for this?

Surprising Twists: Add unexpected elements to keep the reader engaged. An open bag of flour falls on the main character's head, momentarily blinding him. A sneeze makes the villain unexpectedly prone. A surprise will excite the reader in a different way than the danger. Remember, some surprises can be funny, which acts to momentarily relieve the tension, making the bounce-back that much more poignant.

Example: In METAL, the nail-filled potato gun temporarily deafens the main character, Wall, bringing a different element to the fight.


Your style is going to impact your prose, which will influence exactly what your fight scenes look like. That being said, fight sequences are meant to be tense, punchy, and exciting. When writing to achieve that effect, it’s best to stick to shorter sentences, specific details, and choppier paragraphs. You still want to keep sentence variation in mind so things don’t get repetitive, but the way the sequence reads should influence how it makes the reader feel.

Concise Descriptions: Focus on clear, impactful descriptions rather than lengthy, detailed ones. People rarely think about the specific blend of colors in a lilac when a fist is about to knock them on their asses.

Sentence Variation: It is still important to mix of short and medium-length sentences to maintain rhythm and pace. Just shorten medium to short and long to medium. For the shortest, you might consider fragments. Pain. Spinning world. Blood pounding. Ragged breath.

All the Senses: Describe the sights, sounds, and sensations to immerse the reader. How does the punch in the stomach feel? Does the harsh light of the sun momentarily blind her?

Example: In DAY AFTER INFINITY, Ryan's struggle to remain conscious during the high g's a space battle are described in short, confused sentences.


If you write fantasy or sci-fi, you know there’s a whole host of issues that come into play when characters have powers or magical abilities. Obviously, we don’t have magical abilities in real life (drat), so finding a way to convey how this feels to the reader can be difficult. Plus, it can be hard to get across how it functions in a fight.

Take-home: Follow the rules set out earlier in the book. Breaking them will make the reader question why the rules were placed there to begin with.

Your character won’t know everything about your magic system, and that’s okay! They don’t need to. But it’s important that you do. How do characters wield their powers? Can they wield them whenever they want, or is there some way they need to activate them? Will it run out, and if so, how does that impact the character wielding it?

Magic System: Clearly define how your magic or technology works. Does it draw on microscopic bacteria? Is it limited to night time? How often can they cast a spell?

Consistent Rules: Ensure characters follow the established rules every time to maintain consistency for the readers. Confusing your audience is a sure way to lose their interest.

Limitations/Costs: Incorporate limits or costs to using powers to add depth and challenge.

Example: In I, REBEL, the main character, MAZZ, keeps smashing up against a painfully freezing dimension when he uses up all the nano-bots in his system.

Early Introduction: Set up key aspects of the magic system early in the story. If they suddenly appear without foreshadowing or explicit definitions, then it will seem like an overt way to help or harm the main character.

Show, Don’t Tell: I know this advice is overdone, but it still rings true. Demonstrate how the magic works through actions and consequences. Avoid long expositions on the ins and outs of the magic system. This can be done through teaching/learning, practice, or trial and error.

Foreshadowing: As I mentioned above, use subtle hints to set up future magical elements, particularly if the characters find a well of power or think up a new way to apply their magic.

Anchor the Magic

One of the biggest struggles writing magical fight scenes stems from the fact that we don’t have real-life magical abilities. This means it’s hard to relate to how it feels for characters to deliver or receive magical blows.

Relatable Descriptions: Use familiar sensations and experiences to describe magical effects. Does it make them hurt, tickle everywhere, shiver, or turn a pit in their stomach?

Emotional Reactions: Show characters’ physical and emotional responses to using or encountering magic. If the character has no wonder, fear, elation, or reverence for the magic he's fighting with, neither will the reader.

Example: In I NANO, the sensation of nano-influence excites Mazz when it works and more often frustrates him when it doesn't.

Tangible Comparisons: Compare magical effects to real-world phenomena to ground them in reality. Glowing. Lightning. Earthquake. Blast of freezing air.


There isn’t a hard rule. Fight scenes should be exactly as long as they need to be, and no longer to tell the story, raise the stakes, and scare the reader. One fight scene could be a whole chapter or as short as a few paragraphs.

It is more important that a fight scene be paced well to land effectively than to hit a particular length.

Hint: If you have to err on the side of short or long, cut down the longer sentences to make it more punchy, which makes the scene shorter.

Things to add in case you forgot. If you forgot to mention the character's goals, add into the fray. Did you ask the character how they plan on defeating their foe? If not, add it. Did you use the setting? What surprise snuck up on the characters?

In a longer fight sequence, the stakes should get higher over time to keep the reader engaged. In a really long fight sequence, you’ll need moments to temper the action with humor, relief, or false victories.


Still not sure about your fight scene? Feel free to look at this checklist to see whether you’re on the right track.

  1. Motivation: Can you tell why your characters are fighting? Is there a reason why each character is doing what they’re doing during the fight, even if that reason is misguided or unjustified? Look at the previous scenes and see whether it makes sense for these characters in this situation to get into a fight. If so, you’re golden!

  2. Stakes: A fight scene ought to change the stakes or teach us something new. What happens as a result of this fight? What did we learn, lose, or gain? If the answer is nothing, and you could take out the fight scene without affecting the plot or character arc, you probably need to do some cutting or editing.

  3. Critique Partners & Betas: When it comes down to the minutiae of the scene, it may be tricky to tell on your own whether you’re communicating what’s going on clearly. After all, you wrote it! It makes complete sense in your head. You can visualize everything that's going on. The reader? Not unless you make it clear. This is where a good beta reader or critique partner could come in handy. They'll tell you where you succeeded and failed.

Hint: If you know one of your critique fighters is really knowledgeable about a particular kind of fighting, ask them to give you feedback early and often. And, don't forget to treat them well. A free copy of your book is always a nice way to thank them.


Know the style of fighting. If a character know Krav Maga, you'll want to know a thing or two about it before you insert them into a hand-to-hand fight with an assassin. If the characters get into a firefight, learn about the guns they're using and stay true to their features.

Example: An AR-15 shoots 5.56×45mm NATO rounds and doesn't have an automatic mode unless you alter it with an illegal kit.

Reader Knowledge: Some of your readers will know the difference between the various styles of fighting, whether that's in an F-35 or on the playground. Not knowing your stuff can mean a bad rating or a scathing review.

Psychology: It's important to do a little research on PTSD or the aftereffects of violence. Some people are barely effected by it. Others freak the F out and become agoraphobic. If you include those aspects, be true to them.

Wounds: If a character gets hurt, it's important to understand what happens. Can you walk moments after an ACL tear? How long does it take to recover from losing your breath? How quickly will someone die if their lung collapses?

Fight scenes are no different in this respect to any other part of your story, so don't take shortcuts. Your fight scene is worth the extra time.


Writing fight scenes can be challenging, but with careful planning and attention to detail, they can become some of the most thrilling and memorable parts of your story. Whether you’re dealing with realistic hand-to-hand combat or fantastical magical duels, remember to keep your scenes necessary, clear, unique, and impactful.

What’s your favorite fight scene in a book? Comment below. Do you know any authors who write particularly good fight scenes? Let us know and I might just add an example from their work in this post after the fact!


As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.


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