Friday, May 6, 2011

How to Write a Fight Scene.

Writing fight scenes is hard.  There are many different factors to take into account, since they have to be visual, intricate, and detailed.  But, Without these things, a fight scene lacks believability and the flare to draw in the reader.  So, how is that done?

Fight scenes should be a cinematic experience, creating a picture in the reader's head.  So, let us take a look at movies first as an example.  Jackie Chan is known for his humor in movies, but something most people don't know is that he made his name choreographing fight scenes.  

Jackie Chan started in the Chinese Drama Academy, also known as Chinese opera, one of the most grueling theater schools on the planet.  The instructors have the parents sign contracts that state, they can cane the kids within an inch of their lives.  So, without going into too much detail, he has incredible fortitude to survive.

Jackie Chan uses the information he learned at the Chinese Drama Academy to choreograph the fight scenes in his later movies (by later, when he was not an extra).  These fights he designed are lauded for their creativity and inventiveness.  He used improvised weapons, such as benches and chairs in the scenes, thus creating truly unique and genuinely interesting scenes that added to the comedic value of the drama.

So, what seperates and ordinary fight scenes from the truly epic?  Be they hand to hand or fire fights, knowledge of the martial arts and/or firearms is absolutely imperative when writing these.  Otherwise, the fights end up being humdrum.  And, if a writer does not have direct training, Then, action movies are a great substitute to support the content you want to write up.  Watch hundred of movies, like some old style kung fu movies, hong kong epics, John Wu movies, and Micheal Bay's stuff (hey, explosions work).

The first example is an ordinary fight scene that was written to be normal.  The fight is simple and easy to follow.  This was done purposefully for comparison.

To set the fight up, John is good and Sam is bad.


Standard Fight Scene:

    John grabbed Sam by the hair and tripped him.  His opponent lost his balance and tumbled towards the wall behind them both.
    Sam tried to right himself mid air, but it was too late.
    With a quick yank, John sent his opponent’s head into the wall and caused a dull wet “Thunk”.  
    Sam slumped against the wall unconscious.


The description of the fight was not bad, but neither was it memorable either.  It lacked the kick in the face that leaves no room for doubt, this guy is out cold.

Now, here is an example that was written with the same intent, but John was replaced with Soren, one of the two main characters from"A Scholar's Journey: The Divine Tempest", written by Herrick Erickson-Brigl. 
The Awesome Version!

    Soren opened up the start of the fight with a palm slam to Sam’s throat.
    A gurgle escaped the stunned man’s mouth when his windpipe was cut off unexpectedly.
    Keeping his hand in place, Soren lifted Sam off the ground with a running push.
    Sam scrambled for balance midair, but he did not have time to find traction under the hectic circumstances, before his body was slammed into the wall behind.  The concussive force of the impact rattled the entire room.     
   Soren let go of Sam and grabbed the falling man by the hair.  When Sam touched down, Soren jerked his head back, and pile drove it into the wall ruthlessly.  The attack created a cracked crater in the wood.
     A groan escaped Sam's lips and a small part of him hoped it was over, but the pessimist inside knew there was more to come.
     A brutal punch from Soren blindsided Sam in the side of his head.  There was enough force behind the attack to transfer into the wood on the other side of Sam's cheek.
     The crater in the wall crunched even farther in and a crack extended out nearly five feet, then with a loud shattering bang, the wall collapsed inwards, driving Sam's head through.
     Splinters flew in all directions, flying passed Soren's head in a torrent of wild spinning wooden spikes.
     As the dust settled, Soren stepped back, crossed his arms, and watched his opponent.  There was a strange hint of sadness in his eyes, "Oops, I think I overdid it." he said to himself.  A smile played at the edge of his mouth.
     Sam tensed briefly and then slumped as his body swayed, ever so slightly from left to right.


That is not an excerpt from "A Scholar's Journey: The Divine Tempest", but it was written by Herrick Erickson-Brigl, just for you the reader.  Since writing is subjective, it is up to you to decide its quality.  But, hopefully this simple fight scene illustrates the purpose of this article.  Admittedly, this is not overly technical.  But, the next one will be.  

Coming soon, there will be a full fight scene it will be posted up and it will use the martial arts to their fullest.  You will witness multiple styles, flashy attacks, and technical descriptions.  Once again, this will be written by Herrick Erickson-Brigl and does not appear within "A Scholar's Journey: The Divine Tempest".  But, here is a promise, it will be an elegant punch in the face, followed by a sip of wine.

If you liked reading this blog, check Herrick Erickson-Brigl out on Twitter, or friend him on facebook if you like.  Also, to your right you will find the first three chapters of his book, "A Scholar's Journey: The Divine Tempest", listed under the "Pages" section.  It will be available May 15th in hard copy and ebook formats.


Currently listening to "Use it" by 28 Days

If you have any private comments, concerns, or suggestions for Herrick.  You can contact him at

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