Writing a great fight scene (or at least, a better than mediocre one)

I’m a conversation writer. I can do repartee with the best of them, and Sherylyn puts emotion and actions around it. So when our characters talk it’s a reasonable mix of talking versus description (we think anyway). Get them into a fight, however, and it’s a different story. We’re both hopeless at that.

Late last year we put Potion up on Authonomy*. Or rather, I convinced Sherylyn that she should put it up and do all the work promoting it and monitoring other people’s stories, which she did under our planned pen-name, Rowan Dai.

We got some excellent feedback which helped us improve the story a lot. One particular criticism that came up again and again was that the fight scene didn’t work. The thing was, we knew that we had glossed over it, but until so many people pointed out the same thing we—I won’t say we couldn’t see it as a major problem, because we knew it was—but we ignored it, and sort of hoped it would go away.

As all writers know, bad writing doesn’t go away. You have to fix it. We worked at it, and worked at it, and worked at it.

It took a lot of work just to get from:

“Hieyah,” Van Wallah yelled, and he charged the elf.

Blade jumped across, grabbed Van Wallah’s vest.

Van Wallah tried to wriggle free. Couldn’t. “Get him, men,” he ordered, and while Tegan watched, horrified, his men converged on Alun.

River charged forward to save him, but two of Van Wallah’s men jumped River.

Blade clubbed Van Wallah with the hilt of his sword. Tegan heard the crack. The bandit went down. Blade then grabbed a stool and bounded into the fight. Summer was close behind.

Katarina hesitated, looking around for somewhere to put her wine. Finally she handed it to Tegan and joined the fight. Tegan put the wine on the window ledge and started gathering a spell.

Her friend had turned into an impressive fighter. Showy too, not like Blade and Alun, who dispatched two men each while Katarina fought hers. River and Summer fought one each as well, but not as easily. Tegan’s holding spell kept another four on the edge until a blast of hatred distorted the spell and they converged on the elf.

She rebuilt the spell and Blade picked them off one by one.

A quick fight. Less than two minutes …

Potion (Not So Simple After All) by Rowan Dai Draft 3

to:

“Hieyah,” Van Wallah yelled, and he charged the elf.

Blade jumped across, grabbed Van Wallah’s vest.

Van Wallah tried to wriggle free. Couldn’t. “Get him, men,” he ordered, and while Tegan watched, horrified, his men converged on Alun.

River charged forward to save him, but two of Van Wallah’s men jumped River.

Blade clubbed Van Wallah with the hilt of his sword. Tegan heard the crack. The bandit went down. Blade then grabbed a stool and bounded into the fight. Summer was close behind.

Alun scrambled out from under the huddle of Van Wallah’s men and jumped at the two men attacking River. He dragged them off, raised a fist to one, who went down. Another fist.

Another man down.

The huddle of men suddenly realised Alun was no longer there. They turned to find him.

Katarina hesitated, looking around for somewhere to put her wine. Finally she handed it to Tegan and joined the fight. Tegan put the wine on the window ledge.

Her friend had turned into an impressive fighter. Showy too.

What spell could she use? If she was alone and was attacked she would use fire or fear, but if she used them here they would work against her own side. Maybe a holding spell, but it would have to work on individuals. She started forming the words.

Katarina used her long legs as weapons. She fought dirty too. Tegan winced at one kick.

One of Van Wallah’s men pulled out a sword.

Tegan didn’t think. It was instinctive to call the weapon to her. All the other swords came too and Tegan dived under the bench as they rattled down where she had been sitting.
The man whose sword it was lunged for it. Tegan gabbled a quick holding spell. He froze mid-lunge.

Blade clubbed another man with his stool. The man went down. Beside another Tegan hadn’t seen fall. Blade clubbed another. The stool broke. He tossed the stool away and followed through with his fists.

Tegan crawled out from under the bench, started composing her spell again.

Another two men were down over where Alun was fighting.

Blade hit another hard enough to push him back. Tegan’s holding spell caught him.

“Behind you,” Tegan said, as another man attacked him from behind. She’d lost track of the others.

Blade dropped low, and pulled the attacker over his shoulders. The man went crashing into the pile of swords.

One man was down near Katarina, who was fighting another. River and Summer fought one each as well, but not as easily. Tegan’s holding spell kept another four on the edge until a blast of hatred distorted the spell and they converged on the elf.

Tegan pulled the spell back into place and Blade finished them off two-by-two, by cracking their heads together.

A quick fight. Less than two minutes …

Potion (Not So Simple After All) by Rowan Dai, Draft 5

Obviously, we still have a long way to go to fix up our fight scene. But after we changed even this much we noticed one thing. In the critiques that followed, no-one commented that the fight scene needed fixing.


*I have seen a lot of writers ask about the value of Authonomy and lots of different answers from “It’s a sales job” to “absolutely brilliant” to “absolutely useless”. I’m definitely in the camp that says don’t expect to get published through it, but if you use it properly and work at it then it’s a great critique group. It helps not just with improving your own novel but also with seeing mistakes other people make. Analysing other writers’ work can really help you pinpoint the same mistakes in your own.

Or it used to be anyway. It changed a lot and for a while there it was a case of ‘you vote for me, I’ll vote for you’, and I stopped using it because of that. I know Authonomy was trying to fix this. I don’t know if they have. I haven’t been back to look.

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