Good evening from DC.
I am once again writing in my dining room/office/schoolroom. This week, my family made the transition to homeschooling as our state extended school closures to the end of April. For those of you with small children at home, my deepest sympathies. My two would have put those UFC cage fighters to shame this past week. Having survived cabin fever for a third week in a row, I started thinking about good action scenes and how they’re written.
Fights, whether they’re verbal or physical, are natural to the plot regardless of the genre, including romance novels. Nora Roberts and Jennifer Weiner are both romance writers whose work is known for their vivid fight scenes.
Here are five different tips that writers should consider while plotting their fight scenes.
- Get the pacing right…
Strongly written action scenes, like any other scene depend on the pacing the writer sets. While you need to describe how the characters interact during the confrontation, if you focus primarily on the choreography of the fight, the scene would become dry. Keep the physical description simple and allow the reader to use their imagination. This rule applies to a good sex scene, and it’s just as relevant for a good fight scene.
- Don’t overdo the fight scenes in a book….
Take a moment and think about the fight scenes that you’ve seen on television and in the movies. Each confrontation is integral to the objective and the plot of the story, and it has a purpose. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but good fight scenes are supposed to add to the story not define it. Think of stories that start with characters who have been bullied until they want to fight back. A good fight scene serves the purpose of tying the story together and giving a satisfying conclusion to the reader.
- Make it believable…
When you’re writing a fight scene, think about the characteristics of the combat. Are you writing a book where the subject is a hero/heroine escaping an abusive relationship? Or are you writing about a strong, brooding type who never backs down?
Like any part of the story, this has to be believable. If your protagonist has never been in a fight and emerges from an attack completely unscathed and the victor, you’re going to lose the reader. Remember the scene from Back to the Future where George is about to be beaten up by Biff in the parking lot.
The scene plays a lot as you would expect from a fight between a smaller, inexperienced fighter and a bigger one who relies on his brute strength. What makes the scene believable is that the viewer sees that George has had enough when Biff starts laughing at him. It gives the character the push he needed to fight back.
- Use your settings….
When you plan your fight scenes think about where the characters are fighting. What can the location bring into the confrontation? Is the fight taking place in a cluttered area with items that can be used by the protagonist for defense? Or is this fight taking place in a more desolate area where the focus is more on hand-to-hand combat? When I write a fight scene, I think back to Tony Soprano’s fight with Ralph Cifaretto. The two fighters used whatever was available in the kitchen, trying to get the upper hand.
- Raising the stakes – what’s the outcome?
Why are your characters fighting? Is it integral to the plot of the story or did you develop a fight scene to fill space? Fights happen to drive the outcome of the story. In Back to the Future, the fight scene marks the change in George’s personality, and it changes his life. Make your fight scenes count to the resolution of your story.
Fight scenes are natural for all stories regardless of the genre. Being a romance writer should not stop you from writing action scenes. If you don’t believe me, read a Nora Roberts novel. Her characters could take out Tony Soprano and Biff Tanner without breaking a sweat.