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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fast-Paced Fight Scenes

Please welcome guest blogger Rayne Hall

The action in a fight scene is faster than in most other scenes, and your writing style needs to reflect that. The words you choose, and the way you structure your sentences, can create a fast, exciting pace which takes the reader's breath away.


The length of your sentences creates the pace of your scene. In a fight scene, sentences need to be short, especially when the action speeds up.

If a sentence is more than twelve words long, split it into two shorter ones. Some sentences can be very short indeed:

>He leaped.<
>She kicked.<
>Blades clanked.<

To vary the rhythm, insert the occasional medium-length sentence, but avoid long ones with many clauses.

When the action happens really fast, you can use sentence fragments instead of complete sentences; For example: >He had to get through to the castle. Had to reach that door. He hacked, swung, slashed. Five paces left. He leaped.<

Use this trick sparingly, only for the fastest-paced moments, since sentence fragments become tedious if overused.


Short words create a fast, sharp rhythm, so use the shortest available word for the job. Words with single syllables are best. Two syllables are ok, three syllables are so-so, and anything longer doesn't belong in a fight scene.

When revising your fight scene, replace long words with short ones. Instead of 'immediately' write 'at once'. Instead of 'endeavour' write 'try'. Instead of 'indicate' write 'point at'. Instead of 'investigate' write 'check out'.

Verbs (hack, swing, slash, kick) convey action and create a fast pace. You can use several verbs in a sentence, for example:

>She bit, she scratched, she screamed.<
>They slashed and sliced, they blocked and parried.<

Simple Past Tense (hacked, swung, slashed, kicked) is the best for fast-paced action. Avoid Past Perfect Tense (had hacked, had swung, had slashed, had kicked) because it's a pace-killer.

Be careful about using the ing-form of the verb (present participles and gerunds: hacking, swinging, slashing, kicking). Although it conveys immediacy, it sounds soft and can spoil the pace, so use it sparingly.

Adjectives (blunt, strong, irresistible) slow the pace, so use only a few. Adverbs (bluntly, strongly, irresistibly) slow the pace enormously, so you may want to avoid them in your fight scenes.

Use as few conjunctions and link words (and, but, or, when, then, after, before, while, because, in order to, therefore, thereby, as) as possible.

For example, instead of

>He grabbed the liana with both hands, and then he swung across the stream and landed in the mud<


>He grabbed the liana with both hands, swung across the stream, landed in the mud.<

Instead of :

>After that, he raised his arm, thereby warding off blows.<


>He raised his arm to ward off blows.<


'T, 'k', 'p' and 'r' sounds create a fast pace and a sense of aggressiveness, so use lots of them. For example: Instead of 'swallow' write 'gulp'. Instead of 'hold' write 'grip'.


Don't allow your protagonist to think, consider, wonder, analyse, realise, worry or contemplate during the fight. During the 'Suspense' and the 'Aftermath', he may think as much as he wants, but not in the other sections. Any kind of introspection slows the pace.

If it's absolutely necessary to render his thoughts, do it as briefly as possible:

>He had to win.<
>Where was the cavalry?<


To emphasise the fast pace of your fight scene, consider slowing the pace before and after the action. During the build-up when the heroes lie waiting in ambush, and during the aftermath when they bandage their wounds you can slow the pace by inserting adjectives and using longer sentences.


If you have questions about fight scenes or pace, or if you would like to discuss this post, feel free to leave a comment. I'll be around for a week and will respond.

To learn how to write a fight scene which is realistic, fun and exciting, join me for the forthcoming class. I'll be sharing lots of tricks and techniques and help you create a fantastic fight scene for your WiP.

Writing Fight Scenes, presented by Rayne Hall , runs from June 6, 2011 through July 31, 2011

Rayne Hall has published 22 books (under several pen-names), seventy short stories (mostly fantasy, paranormal and horror) and thousands of articles. She has a College Degree in Publishing and a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. A member of the Society of Authors (the British organsation for professional writers), she worked many years as magazine editor and creative writing teacher. With a love of ancient arms and armour, she has flint-knapped her own set of stone-age weapons, and she has choreographed sword fights for the stage. She practises martial arts as a hobby (from kickboxing to professional wrestling - though she's a master at none). Rayne is an experienced teacher who enjoys helping students to create sparkling scenes.


Nickie Asher said...

Great post. I am so signing up for this class.

Rayne said...

Great, Nickie. Do you have an idea or a draft for a fight scene already, or will you developing something new from scratch?

Marsha A. Moore said...

Terrific post! Thanks for the helpful info. I'll be signing up too.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

This is great and timely. I've written fight scenes before and they've flowed, no problem, but now I have to write another and I'm struggling to balance the three people involved in the fight scene. Great advice. I'm printing you post.

Rayne said...

Hi Marsha,
I look forward to seeing you at the workshop, and I wonder what kind of fight scene you'll choose to create. :-)

Rayne said...

Hi Julia,
Yes, fight scenes are tricky to write. A fight scene with three people in it poses additional challenges regarding how to handle point of view, how to manipulate reader sympathies, how to convey the choreography.
Is your scene one good guy taking on two bad guys, or is it the other way round?

E.C. Smith said...

Very cool info. I especially liked the tip about using 't', 'r', 'p' and 'k' sounds to speed up the action. I've heard that before. Thanks!

Rayne said...

Hi E.C.,
I love using euphonic tricks for writing fight scenes (for writing all kinds of things, actually). The 'r' sound is especially good for fast pace - it really gets things running, racing, rushing, tearing, hurrying right away. :-)

Alice Gaines said...

Thanks, Rayne. We romance writers tend to be lovers, not fighters. This is very helpful in thinking of fight scenes.

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Alice,

I have a theory that romance writers make good fight scene writers :-)
because fight scenes have so much in comon with good love scenes, and even more with erotic scenes: strong emotions, strong urges, intense focus, breathlessness...

Fight scene writing can be a useful skill for romance writers, depending on your subgenre.

If you write, for example, historical romance, action romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, there's a good chance that the plot involves a fight during the novel's climax.

Fight scenes in romance novels tend to be shorter than fight scenes in other genres, and they avoid the gritty realism of violence and gore.

However, they still need to be plausible, exciting and entertaining. I've read some great fight scenes in romance novels (especially in paranomral romance novels). Have you?

Rayne said...

Alas! For the past three days Blogger has been malfunctioning. Many people weren't able to access blogs at all, others weren't able to post comments.
Blogger has finally granted access to this page again, and restored the comment option - but in the process has deleted the most recent comments.
So frustrating!
If you've posted a question, and are still waiting for a reply, please ask again. I'll make sure I look in and answer questions.

Rayne said...

Moreover, in the Blogger Outage, some of my replies have been deleted. :-(
I'll assume that you've read my replies to your comments before they vanished. If not, let me know, and I'll write them again.

Unknown said...

Excellent Post! Thanks so much Rayne :) Unfortunately I arrived here too late to participate in the class. Sad for me! I hope you consider having another one. Would love to learn from you. You sound like a fascinating, patient individual!