Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Story is driven by conflict and action. This, of course, does not necessarily mean fisticuffs and car chases. But it should. If books weren’t meant to have lots of violence, then they wouldn’t have coined such a high-fallutin’ literary word like “defenestrate” to mean “chuck somebody out a window.” Here are the steps you’ll need to add some punch to your fight scenes.[pullquote]Wisecracks are standard in the curricula in most martial arts, so make sure your character uses them when showing off what she’s learned.[/pullquote]
Before We Begin
First, how about giving me a high-five for that “add some punch” segue right there? Was that on point or what?
Get Fired Up!
To write a proper fight scene, you need to be in a fightin’ frame of mind. Queue up Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter II to set the mood. (Side note: I’m listening to Guile’s Theme as I write this column. It’s the soundtrack to everything I write. Sonic boom!)
Those three months of karate you took after school in fifth grade are finally about to pay off! Learning a martial art is the culmination of years of practice, discipline, and hard work. If you had that kind of work ethic, you’d have already finished writing this book by now. When it comes to turning your hero into a martial artiste, here are some basics:
- Wisecracks are standard in the curricula in most martial arts, so make sure your character uses them when showing off what she’s learned.
- When in doubt, just imply that your hero knows ALL martial arts. How or where your hero found the time to learn them all while getting straight As in school, raising her kid brother by herself, and inventing a time machine is beside the point.
- If you don’t know enough details about any particular martial art, just make up your own. The Spinny Flip Kick is a common move for a black belt in flip fighting. That’s the martial art my characters use in my WIP, Flip Fighting.
It is sometimes necessary to show how your hero became such a badass in the first place. Whether your hero is a misfit teen from Reseda, a misfit teen from a Tatooine moisture farm, or a misfit teen living in a NYC sewer with his fellow mutated freaks, it’s time to learn valuable lessons from a wise, inscrutable, and maybe racially problematic sensei. Cliché you say? Try classic, bub. It’s the tried-and-true training montage you’ve seen a bajillion times before. There’s no better way to reduce years of grueling practice and serious personal sacrifice to a few moments’ breezy entertainment.
And what’s a montage without music? How often do you work out without music? Your characters should be no different. I know just the tune.[pullquote]It’s crucial that there are no consequences to violence whatsoever.[/pullquote]
Violence Builds Character
A fight is a story in itself, which means your characters should grow between the beginning of the fight and the end. For instance, if your hero starts the fight as a taciturn badass, by the end of the fight he should be a taciturn mega-badass. That’s something we writers call character development.
Real-life fights happen very quickly—often less than a minute from start to finish. Who wants that? That’s not even enough time for the combatants to properly flip tables and throw their opponent into the shelves of liquor bottles behind the bar. Go ahead and stretch your fight scenes out. Remember that violence sells. Even if it’s bad, people will keep turning pages. As I’ve learned from watching Dragon Ball Z, the first five minutes of a fight is just two combatants staring at each other. Sometimes, two fighters will just stare at each other for three solid episodes. This technique comes in handy if you need to pad out your book, or if you’re writing a series.
Readers can’t see what’s happening, so you’ll have to help them out. Catalogue every punch, kick, and sword strike so they know what’s happening. Some pedant out there is just waiting to criticize you because your character didn’t know the EXACT RIGHT FORM for Eagle’s Claw style. The only way to fend him off is to show your work. And I do mean work, because it’s going to feel like a slog to write. And probably to read. The important thing, though, is that you preemptively shut up critics who may or may not exist and may or may not ever read your work.
Let’s Get it On!
When the fight begins, your characters should be in an emotionally heightened state. Adrenaline is flooding their systems. When your brain senses danger, it hands the controls over to your lizard brain, the amygdala, which invokes responses like fight, flight, and awesome one-liners.
Don’t forget the silent participant of every fight, the setting. The world of entertainment is full of fights set in generic gray industrial areas that add little to the fight itself. This probably means there’s an important reason for doing it, so you should do the same. Writers also love to stage fight scenes in bars. This derives from the classic bar game, “Punch the Author.”
Fights hurt. People are left bruised and broken and bloodied, and that takes time to recover. So make sure to write in a magic healing potion that completely resets them after every battle. Don’t forget about emotional scars—remorse over breaking someone’s spine; fear that your hero attacked the wrong guy; your hero second guessing whether he’s a good person. These reactions have no place in your book. It’s crucial that there are no consequences to violence whatsoever. If there were, then your hero might not be able to handle the eight more fight scenes you’ve plotted for him. Better get ready.
What are your secrets to writing a good fight scene? Share your best finishing moves in the comments.