Battles and fights form massive parts of many fantasy stories. And what makes them so memorable is the author’s ability to convey the chaos clearly. Knowing how to write a fight scene and battles is, therefore, an important part of fantasy writing.
In this guide, we’re going to look at this topic in-depth, first considering the pitfalls and challenges before examing three guiding principles which will make your writing life much easier.
We explore how to apply these principles to writing fight scenes before looking at battles and large-scale combat.
Lastly, we consider more intimate combat scenes, such as 1v1 duels or fights to the death.
How To Write A Fight Scene In A Book – The Pitfalls
When it comes to knowing how to write a fight scene, so often and so easily the explanation of the action can go violently wrong. Readers become lost in the melee, and in their frustration will turn that book of yours into a deadly weapon itself.
What I’ve learned about writing fight scenes and battles has come from Brandon Sanderson. And funnily enough, a reviewer recently likened the battle scenes in Pariah’s Lament to Sanderson’s. So something must have stuck.
Sanderson’s approach is based on three core principles: clarity, balancing blow-by-blow descriptions and prioritising showing instead of telling. Below we’ll take a look at each one before taking a look at how to write battle scenes and one vs one fights.
Choose A Chapter
- Principle 1 – Clarity
- Principle 2 – Balancing The Blows
- Principle 3 – Showing Instead Of Telling
- How To Write A Fight Scene In A Book – Examples
- Writing One v One Fights
- More Guides On How To Write Fight Scenes
Of the three this is perhaps the most important. If the reader can’t follow what’s going on, it’s not possible for them to enjoy it, unless they’re partial to chaos.
Conveying the action in clear terms serves the story best. Battles are fast, frantic and unpredictable, involving thousands of people, all trying to kill one another by tooth or nail. With so much going on, it needs to be easy enough to follow.
And to achieve clarity we need to look at the way in which the story is told. Using shorter and medium-length sentences seems to work best. It complements the swift nature of battle. Allows you to build pace and tension. And you deliver information in short and easy-to-understand chunks. And trust me that’s what you need when you have lots of imagery to paint.
Other things you can do to achieve clarity include being specific with descriptions and ditching the vagaries, and mapping out the battle before you write it.
This last point is particularly useful, especially in battles. We’ll come to this in more detail below as we delve further into how to write fight scenes.
Sanderson is of the view that long streams of blow-by-blow description can become tedious for readers.
‘He swung his sword from left to right, raking the tip across his foe’s shield. He brought back his blade quickly to parry a counterattack, then launched one of his own, which cut the air.’
It generally goes on and on like this. And as you can imagine, it gets a bit boring by the third or fourth paragraph.
Now there are exceptions to this, which we’ll discuss below, but the attentive amongst you will have noticed this section title referred to balance.
And herein lies the key. Blow-by-blow is not boring if used in a balanced way. By that I mean a few paragraphs here and there, interspersed with other exposition, dialogue or internal thoughts. The key is to keep the story progressing. Don’t get lost in moments.
So if you find yourself racking up pages of blow-by-blow, ask yourself what can you cut out. And be brutal, just like your battle. It may be tough to say goodbye to that awesome sword move but your readers may thank you for it.
In this instance, less is more is the rule to lean toward.
Showing instead of telling is something that gets bandied about a lot in the writing world.
In short, it refers to a preference of storytelling in which the action is shown to the reader rather than simply told to them.
Telling – the sword felt heavy in his hand
Showing – his arm ached with the weight of the sword in his hand
The showing version here is longer but more immersive for the reader. It draws them deeper into the story, allowing them to almost be in the scene, to feel what it’s like.
So when writing battle scenes, this method of storytelling can really help engross the reader in the action. Think about the 5 senses and how you can use them to your advantage.
If you find yourself using the word ‘felt’, it could be a signal to introduce some showing instead of telling.
But telling does have its place. Sometimes battles rage on for days and even weeks—particularly sieges. So from a fiction-writing point of view, it may not be possible to convey every little detail.
That’s where telling can come in handy, allowing you to pass hours and days in a mere few words. It makes it one of the most effective tools when it comes to knowing how to write fight scenes.
To help gain a better understanding of how to write a fight scene, it’s important to consider and study some examples. Below, I’ve included some excellent combat scenes that employ the above principles:
- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Prologue – the opening chapter to Sanderson’s epic fantasy novel features an awesome fight scene that employs all of the above principles.
- The Two Towers (Lord Of The Rings) by JRR Tolkien – The Battle Of Helms Deep – this is one of the best battle scenes in fantasy and one to learn a lot from. It’s over around 20 pages and employs great craft in description and the ebbs and flows of warfare.
- Pariah’s Lament – in Pariah’s Lament I include a range of fight scenes, from 1v1 scraps to sieges involving thousands of people.
How Do You Write A Fight Scene With Powers?
A fight scene is a vital part of the story and can make or break your book. But what if your characters have powers? How do you write a fight scene with powers?
The first thing to consider is whether or not the power in question is offensive or defensive. Offensive powers are typically more flashy and destructive, while defensive powers are generally easier to control and less showy.
For example, if you have a character who can shoot fire from their hands, then their power would be offensive. If you have another character who can create shields, then their power would be defensive.
Knowing this can really help when it comes to including magic in your fight scenes.
On we charge with our guide on how to write fight scenes. Now the writing of one vs one fights is a little different to the larger battle scenes we’ve so far discussed.
One vs one fights are much more intimate and less chaotic in terms of what’s going on around the fight.
They can be more intense too, with the stakes of losing truly magnified.
So with less going on around and about, there’s less to describe. This means the need for blow-by-blow exposition grows.
In these intimate scenes, suspense is high, our knuckles white from clinging to the page. We follow each and every move willingly.
To help achieve that, showing instead of telling plays a useful role, allowing you to illustrate the characters’ feelings of tiredness, fatigue and pain, for instance.
Clarity is important too here, just not as necessary as with larger battle scenes. The last thing you want is for your reader to lose their way at crucial moments. Short and sharp sentences can work well to add to the suspense and create a sense of urgency.
Thank you for checking out this guide on how to write fight scenes. Below, I’ve included some other guides you may find useful.
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Thanks for reading this guide on how to write a fight scene or battle. If you have any questions, please contact me.