Writing Effective Fight Scenes


Fantasy and battles go hand-in-hand. From Gilgamesh to Beowulf to The Lord of the Rings, fantasy often includes fights and wars as part of the story. As a fantasy writer, mastering compelling fight scenes is crucial if you want to captivate your audience and advance your story. These moments of conflict provide opportunities to deepen character development and propel the narrative forward. By understanding key elements such as purpose, description, character dynamics, realism, and resolution, you can craft impactful fight scenes that keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Understand the Purpose of the Fight Scene

When writing a fight scene, it is crucial to understand its purpose within your narrative. What role does this scene play in advancing the plot or developing characters? Is it a pivotal moment of conflict, a test of strength, or a turning point in the story? Does it show another aspect of your character, wound them in some way, or tell us something about the larger threat they are facing? By establishing clear objectives, you can ensure that your fight scene contributes meaningfully to the overall narrative arc.

Also consider the emotional impact you want to evoke in your readers. A well-executed fight scene should go beyond mere physical action, tapping into deeper themes such as loyalty, honor, or sacrifice, or show something of the character's mental and emotional health. Whether it's a brutal street brawl or an epic showdown between rivals, fill your fight scenes with layers of tension, stakes, emotions, and character dynamics to really make it worthwhile and engaging.

While action may take center stage in a fight scene, the characters drive the conflict and the readers only care about them. Use these moments of physical confrontation to deepen character development and showcase their strengths, weaknesses, and inner struggles. Get into their heads. Each fight should reveal something new about the combatants, whether it's their fighting style, moral code, or psychological state.

You'll want to think about the stakes involved for each character and how their goals and motivations shape their approach to combat. Are they fighting for survival, justice, revenge, or something else entirely? By aligning the action with character objectives, you can create more compelling and emotionally resonant conflicts that resonate long after the battle is over.

The Art of Description

Effective description is the cornerstone of any great fight scene. You want to write something that is interesting to the reader. Instead of relying solely on blow-by-blow accounts of action, strive to engage the reader's senses and imagination. Use every sense. Paint a vivid picture of the setting, capturing the sights, sounds, and smells that permeate the battleground. Describe the tension in the air, the adrenaline coursing through veins, the tang of sweat, and the palpable fear or determination etched on the characters' faces. Write about the various stresses the characters might be under, the strain on their muscles and joints if they are older or less fit, and the grime and blood that comes with a real fight.

Pay close attention to pacing and rhythm. Vary sentence length and structure to mimic the ebb and flow of combat, building tension during intense moments and allowing for brief respites to heighten anticipation. Punchy sentences can show speed. Longer, more flowing sentences can reflect a lull in the fight. Sometimes incomplete sentences are appropriate, such as: "He punched, hard. Ribs broke. Blood flew. He grinned." By mixing up the sentence length and employing evocative language and sensory details, you can send readers directly into the heart of the action, making every blow feel visceral and every victory or defeat deeply resonant.

Balance Realism with Dramatic Effect

While it's important to strive for authenticity in your fight scenes, remember that literary combat is not bound by the same rules as real-life encounters. Also, this is fantasy! Sometimes we want something over-the-top and fantastical. Instead of getting bogged down in technical minutiae, focus on conveying the essence of the conflict and its emotional impact on the characters and the story. Strike a balance between realism and dramatic effect, allowing for moments of heightened intensity and cinematic flair without sacrificing believability.

Research can be your ally in achieving authenticity. Study different martial arts styles, weapons, and combat techniques to enrich your descriptions and add depth to your fight scenes. However, you should prioritise storytelling over technical accuracy, adapting real-world elements to serve the needs of your narrative rather than vice versa.

Craft Memorable Climaxes and Resolutions

The climax of a fight scene is its crescendo, the moment when tensions peak and the fate of the characters hangs in the balance. To maximise its impact, carefully build tension throughout the scene, escalating the conflict with each exchange until it reaches a climactic showdown. Consider incorporating unexpected twists or turning points to keep readers on the edge of their seats and subvert clichés or predictable outcomes. Also, add some real risk to the characters. If every fight sees them walk away without a scratch, then trying to build all the tension in the world won't work. Not every fight needs to see the characters completely destroyed, but add enough of a risk into each fight to make readers actually begin to worry about the character. Make us care.

Pay equal attention to the aftermath of the fight, exploring the consequences of the conflict on both a personal and narrative level. How do the characters react to victory or defeat? What new challenges or revelations emerge as a result of the confrontation? Tolkien did this so well with the PTSD that Frodo suffers. Each wound and event created a lasting impression. Sometimes by providing some kind of closure and resolution, you can ensure that your fight scenes leave a lasting impression, and propel the story forward with new momentum or on a new path.


Effective fight scenes require a blend of creativity, authenticity, and narrative focus. Fight scenes need to focus on characters' emotions and goals. By honing your skills in these areas, you can create memorable encounters that truly resonate with your audience. So, keep practicing, keep editing, and you will find a way to truly show readers the heart-pounding action of your stories.

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