Not the Face! – Making Fight Scenes Mean Something
by Josh Vogt
Confession time: I love writing fight scenes. Why is that something necessitating a confession? Well, I guess I’m saying it in a “sorry, but not really sorry” manner, but there are both readers and writers out there who tend to see fight scenes as little more than fluff—non-essential or cheap ways to add tension and conflict to the tale. They’re the skimmable portions of the prose, and you might as well just flip to the end to see who survives and move on to the actual important parts.
Are there books where the fight scenes are nothing more ways to pad the novel or bridge the gap between Point A and Point B? Sure. But they don’t have to be that way, nor does a fight scene have to be the answer to [INSERT CONFLICT HERE]. So how does one keep a fight scene from being nothing more than page and plot filler?
Make it About More than the Violence
Violence for violence’s sake gets boring fast. It becomes mere spectacle, like the endless explosions and pointless clashes in the Transformers movies. You have to answer the question, “Why are they fighting? What’s the point?” If you can’t answer that, even on a base level, your scene may be in trouble. Give the fight a purpose and, when possible, make it more than just simple survival. Yes, living is a good thing, but at least look at what instigates the conflict in the first place and have it hold substance.
Give it Real Stakes
If your characters get tossed into fight after fight without any real consequences—physical, mental, emotional, or otherwise—then your readers are going to quickly learn that the fight scenes don’t actually matter. Everything will return to the status quo as soon as the last enemy is laid low. I’m not saying you have to go to G.R.R. Martin lengths and slaughter half your cast in the first chapter, but at least consider what the cost of those fights is going to be in both the short and long-term.
Use it to Spur Change
What changes about your character in the midst of a fight or in the aftermath? What realizations do they have about themselves or others when in the heat of a battle? Are they aware of what they’re truly fighting for? Are they using the physical outlet as a way to vent or process inner pain? Is winning (or losing) the fight going to give them the chance to grow or overcome a personal failing? Fights are dynamic events, and so can inspire new perspectives and attitudes in participants.
Know When to Skip the Action
Wait, if we’re talking about writing fight scenes, why am I suggesting we jump past them? Because sometimes the action doesn’t have to be directly shown. Fight scenes can be too heavily choreographed, denoting every twitch and touch back and forth. Yet this can bog down story pacing and become more about the author showing off than actually moving the plot forward. A fight might be conveyed in a mere line or two, or the scene can jump directly to the fallout without running the risk of getting lost in unnecessary details. Start asking yourself if seeing the whole fight is actually essential or if anything would be lost if most or all of it was cut.
And yes, I will argue that fight scenes can be worth writing purely for the fun of it! Just like we can sit back and enjoy a good action sequence in a movie, there are those who enjoy well-crafted fights in books. However, if the story relies on little more than constant fighting to keep things moving, then it may be time to reconsider what missing elements those scenes are trying to compensate for or distract from.
About the Author:
Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
Courtesy of the author, I have a copy of Enter the Janitor for one (1) lucky winner!
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