Inklings #1: Writing Action (pt.1, some general advice)

The CuddleSpouse always has questions for me about how I write – generally things she struggles with, that she sees me do well. The most regular question she has goes along the lines of “How do you write fight scenes so well?”

So, I thought I’d make my first post on writing about that!

How do I write fight scenes (so well)?

Well, for 3 decades now, ever since I could write stories, I have been!

Through all those years of doing this, my methods are now pretty simple.

I work out any beats that need to happen. Then I follow my imagination to them, and out to the end, writing whatever happens as well as I’m able in the moment. Then, I fix up any problems with it in edits.

That answer? It’s not actually helpful to anyone asking in order to gain assistance! So, here’s a few tips, instead:

1) Practice

This is probably going to be ny first answer to everything. Practice. Experience at doing the Thing, helps you get better at doing the Thing. It goes like this: you write bad fight scenes. Then you keep writing them. Write, say, 20 fight scenes. Then, look back at the first one again and see that…actually you’re writing better fight scenes now. Just by doing something repeatedly you will improve. The awkwardness starts to fade, you start to feel the rhythm and the flow, you learn which words and descriptions fit better, and which are jarring. Practice. Step one of getting better at anything.

2) Read

You want to write fight scenes? Read them. Find authors who write good scenes (and find as many bad ones as you can stomach), and read them. Show your brain what a good fight scene can look like. How it reads, how it flows, how the writers manage armies, small groups, one on one. Insert into your brain examples that you can draw on.

3) Imitate

Set yourself up with a scene that’s similar to some you’ve been reading. Then, try to follow what those writers have already done. Don’t write out their scenes word for word or play for play, this is why you have a few to hand. You write your own, with reference to the ones you’ve picked out that you liked. Remember, you didn’t spring from the womb, or Zeus’ head, or the hatching plant, or wherever you came from, fully realised and with your own writing voice. That’s a whole post by itself, but the short version is: you find your voice by writing your way into it. So examine those scenes you think are well written, and recreate your own version.

4) Imagine

This one sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. Your imagination is doing the storytelling. You? You’re the translator. You’re the one tasked with bringing those images or words (or however your brain does this) to the page as accurately as you can. Keep hold of what’s going on in your imagination. Don’t lose track or you’ll wind up trying to forcefeed the writing, and that will never give you what you want. There are a lot of technical skills to learn, yes, but never, ever stop following the story playing out in your head.

5) Plan

This won’t work all the time for everyone, but it’s a good skill to have. Whatever bits of your fight you know you want – keep them visible at all times. Make them the beats you move towards.

If you’re fighting a large scale battle, or there are other complexities, consider making yourself a battle map. Grab some paper, stick a bunch to your wall with painters tape, and draw it and/or write it up. Show the paths, the intersections, and the beats you need to hit. Then, follow it.

I think that’s enough for one blog!

I’ve done all of the above. After 3 decades, I have it down pretty smooth now. You can, too. Just keep going.

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