I’ve received a lot of praise from readers and editors about how well-written and visual the fight scenes in Paracus are. A few people have asked me to help them with their own stories and how they’re done, so I thought I’d try to put into words what I’ve learned and how I go about writing the scene.
I first started writing when I was sixteen. Being at that age, I was always more interested in getting to the action of a story I was writing, so in my short stories there was a lot of fighting. Over the years, I started to trim down on their lengthiness and read other books to see how other authors did them. I noticed a lot of them had a few things in common, for which I will describe below.
First, fight scenes in literature are more about emotion than the actual combat. When my characters attack their opponent, I try to describe how they are feeling in that instance and also what they are thinking in those split moments between blows. The long-awaited confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist for example has to be emotionally charged. It allows the reader to draw themselves into the moment and lose themselves in the pages.
The second most important thing is knowing how to manipulate sentences to make the fighting feel fast and intense. You don’t need to describe every attack your characters make at one another. Your readers will fill in the gaps themselves when you write your descriptions. Focus on important parts of the fight like you would focus on the points of the plot. I only describe specific movements the characters make if it changes the conditions of the fight. I’ll write a quick example:
Ron rushed at Chris, swinging his blade in a wide arc. Chris ducked under it and retaliated with a strike of his own, missing his adversary’s chin by the width of a hair. They traded blows, testing each other’s defenses. They circled one another for a few moments before the two stepped back in with another volley of attacks and parries. Ron stepped forward with a strong thrust to Chris’s chest. The swordsman slapped away Ron’s blade and kicked his knee. Ron felt his leg buckle beneath him and he staggered off-balance.
In the beginning, I open the scene with a specific strike. I however didn’t have to go into huge detail how Ron was swinging at Chris. I simply said “a wide arc”. Readers can interpret that as a horizontal arc, a diagonal one, or even a vertical one. In the grand scheme, being that precise in your descriptions isn’t necessary. Most readers will instantly fill in the gaps themselves with small details like that. It’s not relevant to know what direction he swung or how unless it directly affected what happened next. In the following sentences, I yet again don’t go into a huge amount of detail what the characters do with each move. Instead I focus on the feelings and emotions in the fight. It’s fast, it’s intense, and the opponents are testing each other’s defenses. They appear on equal footing.
Then I reveal Chris’s dirt tactic of kicking Ron’s knee, who feels it buckling beneath him as a result. I think a fight scene should involve the character’s personality as much as whatever technique or weapon they use. Is the character attacking head-on or do they prefer to sneak around and attack from the sides? Do they fight with a personal code or are they not afraid of doing something dishonorable?
I would also watch out how many times you use the same word. Here are some words you can mix into your action scenes to make them less redundant:
A sword or blade: Swing, stab, slash, swipe, cut, chop, hack, thrust, slice.
Claw: Swipe, claw, tear, shred, lacerate, rip
Blunt weapon: Bash, brain (hit on the head), bludgeon, slam, knock
The other most important thing is know your weapon and how to describe their appearance, usage, and sounds. You don’t fire arrows. You loose them. Blades don’t sing when you draw them. They make a rasping sound.
Last but not least is realism. I’ve read a lot of books with characters that have such over-the-top abilities that my suspension of disbelief shatters. I understand that fantasy novels and realism don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to bend the laws of reality rather than break them. There is also just simply giving your characters too much power in fights.
Anyone can write about a Superman-like character that can always beat their opponents, but even Superman has his kryptonite. In reality, even expert swordsmen stand little chance if they are ganged up on by two or more people at once. That’s why in these instances, they would use their environment or distance themselves so they could take down their attackers one at a time.
In one example, there is a scene in Paracus where Arret is chased into an alleyway. He uses the narrow alley to keep his enemies in front of him. In another, Elena’s telekinesis is best utilized when she works with her environment. I think she is my favorite character when it comes to describing mages in action, because you never know just what she is going to do with her environment. That sort of versatility allows a lot of interesting possibilities for what will happen and will keep the readers interest. Don’t be afraid to get your characters hurt too. You want to establish that sense of danger so your characters and your readers can establish an empathetic link when they are reading. Make them care about your character’s well-being.
For more information and guidance on how to write fight scenes, I would recommend doing your own research and reading books that have a lot of action in them. R.A. Salvatore is one of my favorite authors and his fight scenes are fantastic. On a side note, also keep in mind the pacing and the length of the fight. Not every reader wants to read several pages of fighting. I know I’ve skipped a few when fights in some books I’ve read started to feel more like filler than actual plot, so I jumped past them to get back into the story.
I hope this helps anyone that reads this has a better understanding of the key elements in writing action scenes. If you want my advice on something specific, feel free to contact me and I’ll be more than happy to brainstorm a few ideas with you.