How to Write Fights

Photo credit: US Army Africa on Flickr
I like writing fight scenes. So much so, that I’m relatively sure every single manuscript I’ve written so far had at least one fight scene (though if we’re being honest, I suspect most, if not all, had more).

Considering I love action movies, am obsessed with Assassin’s Creed, took martial arts as a kid and am drawn to books with plenty of fighting within the pages, it probably isn’t a surprise that I love writing them so much. But a properly written realistic fight scene takes a lot of considering both before, during, and after the scene is written.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:


  • Use short sentences. One of the easiest ways to up the pace and make the writing feel faster is to cut down on sentence length. Use short, punchy sentences in your fight scenes to have your readers racing through to see what happens. (But still vary your sentence length to avoid monotony…just go for shorter sentence length in general).

  • Consider your character’s background. A trained soldier is going to approach a fight way differently than a college kid who took a taekwondo class in seventh grade. And a soldier from the US army will fight differently than a Russian or Israeli soldier. Even two equally trained fighters with different body types (tall vs. short, lean vs. muscular, male vs. female) are going to fight differently. There are many factors that go into a characters fighting ability and style, so remember to consider them while writing your fight scenes.

  • Utilize resources. If we’re being honest, one of the best resources involves leaving your computer and taking some martial arts classes. It’s hard to describe a punch if you’ve never punched someone and sometimes getting kicked in the stomach once is enough to imagine all sorts of injuries for your characters. But being how that’s not always possible due to time or health concerns, the internet is a wonderful place chock full of information.

    One of my personal favorites is howtofightwrite on tumblr. They give some fantastic information not only on fighting, but how to write realistic fighting scenes, covering just about anything you could think of on writing a fight scene. As a bonus, they answer questions writers have about fighting pretty regularly. So.

    Otherwise, consider checking out instructional or sparring fighting videos on YouTube.


  • Use Hollywood as a reference. Hollywood is great for really flashy fighting choreography inspiration, but it isn’t (usually) terribly accurate. It’s fine to use movies to inspire some fun fighting scenes, but remember to do your research before making assumptions about fighting.

  • Make your character magically skilled. If your character has never been in a sparring match or fight in his life, then he’s going to make rookie mistakes and probably lose the fight (unless his opponent is just as unskilled). That’s realistic. Just because he saw that Bruce Lee movie the other day doesn’t mean he’ll magically know how to be an incredible fighter.

  • Let your characters off easy. If your newbie fighter MC is facing off with a skilled MMA fighter, don’t let his opponent slip on a patch of ice and knock himself out before delivering the finishing blow to your protagonist. That’s cheating, and it’s cheap, and your readers will call you out on it. Besides, it’s ok to let your characters lose a fight and get their butts kicked.


  • Injuries matter. I know in movies people often get stabbed, but continue fighting like it’s nothing, or get knocked out then jump up and kick ass the second they wake, but the truth is, injuries matter a hell of a lot more than Hollywood may lead you to believe.

    In the heat of the fight, a character may be able to ignore the pain of a few punches thanks to adrenaline. A shallow cut from a knife and a few graze wounds aren’t going to necessarily put your character on the ground, but a few broken ribs, or a broken nose, or a deep knife wound, or any other number of more serious injuries are going to hurt. And even if adrenaline may dull the pain, it’s going to affect how well they fight, especially if the injuries start to add up. Not to mention that a smart opponent is going to start targeting those injuries to get your character down faster.

    Injuries from an earlier fight or incident will also come into play during a fight. That bruised shoulder is going to make punching painful and that injured knee is going to be the first thing a smart opponent attacks.

  • Gender doesn’t (necessarily) matter. Repeat after me: women who know how to fight do not need any special advantages to defeat a man in a fight. We have biological advantages, that if used correctly, can give any guy a run for his money while fighting. Howtofightwrite can explain it a lot better than I can, so refer to their thoughts on it here.

  • Real fighting is ugly. Bruises swell, broken limbs become deformed, blood gets everywhere, people sweat and spit and cry, and sometimes there’s snot and other bodily fluids and if we’re being honest, real fighting can get pretty disgusting. It’s also brutal—real fighting isn’t beautiful spinning kicks and fancy flips—it’s about going for the jugular and doing whatever you have to to get your opponent out for the count.

Have you ever written a fight scene? If so, what tips do you have? If not, what books have you read with a well-handed fight scene?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Struggling with a fight scene? Writer @Ava_Jae shares dos, don'ts & tips for when your characters start punching. (Click to tweet)  
Are your fight scenes realistic? Here are some tips to remember when your characters trade punches. (Click to tweet


Charlotte Brentwood said...

My current MS is the first with a fight. When the idea occurred to me I was like, "yes, this needs to happen!". It kinda surprised me how excited I was to write it. I have never seen a fight in real life and have no training, but for some reason all the moves in the fight flowed out naturally as I wrote it (it's a slow fight interspersed with nasty dialogue). I do make the characters lie low afterwards while their wounds heal. Apart from that I have no idea how realistic it is, but it feels right :)

Ava Jae said...

Probably the only way to know for sure that anything works and is realistic is to have several CPs read it, but it's great to write something and have it feel right. :)

But as far as writing fight scenes go, I don't tire of it. There are so many ways it could go and it's just fun.

Lauren said...

Love this post! I have written several fight scenes but I feel they aren't realistic enough so I am doing more research in order to learn more about sword fighting technique and stuff.

Briana said...

This post is fantastic. I put fight scenes everywhere, and I still learned a few things. I've read so many bad fight scenes that it makes me heart hurt. Everyone should read this. Thanks so much!

Haneen I. Adam said...

Great tips, I usually write books that include a lot of fighting, and I use the help of my brother who has a black belt in Taekwondo most of the time :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Briana! Practice (and research) are some of the best ways to learn how to handle just about any aspect of writing, fight scenes included.

Ava Jae said...

Ohhh, a family member involved in martial arts is a great resource. Fantastic! :)

Bob said...

I know for a fact that I have some kind of melee fight in every novel I write. Hell, the novel I am working on now (Attempting to make it ready to be my first novel accepted by a publisher), starts off with a clumsy fist fight between two fourteen year old boys, on the school yard.

Ava Jae said...

Fighting never ceases to be fun to write. At least, not for me. :)

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