This is a great photo, captured during the 11/27/2010 NHL game between the Blackhawks and the Kings. I love hockey….always a good fight.
Have you heard this really old joke?
“Last night I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.”
It never gets old.
Let’s talk about fight scenes.
A fight scene should be exciting, fast-paced, and pack an emotional punch. You need to put the reader into the middle of the scene and enable him to feel each landed blow. You’ve got to be descriptive enough to paint the picture for the reader, but not so descriptive that you slow down the scene.
And you’ve got to accomplish this without falling into the trap of describing punch for punch, kick for kick and finger-poke for hair pull.
So how do you do it?
Keep the scene in the point of view of the main character. Describe things through his eyes. Show that your character is engaged in the fight, but is also aware of his surroundings.
What follows is an example from one of my works-in-progress.
In this scene, Karis and his priestess companions are ambushed by a group of sentient, demon-hounds called ahventhí . Out of context, the description of Karis’s two last arrows sounds clunky, but it’s important for the rest of the story to note that he has none left. Still, I think you get the idea here:
The ahventhí charged the women.
Karis jerked in their direction and launched the first of his last two arrows. It misfired, gut string scraping across his wrist. A discordant twang of the bowstring echoed in the clearing and the arrow careened sharply right into the darkness.
Karis took better aim with his last arrow. It struck the cur in the spine, and the great beast rolled to a halt, gasping and choking, paralyzed.
The remaining ahventhí, a large grey creature with white battle scars crossing its snout, leaped at Karis. Using the bow as a shield, he clouted the attacking beast and sidestepped, forcing it aside as he drew his sword.
Note the use of a brief sentence to get the scene started: “The ahventhí charged the woman.” This clipped rhythm is used elsewhere to keep the momentum: “It misfired, …”, “It struck the cur in the spine…” This continues as Karis dispatches the final beast with his sword.
Together, these brief snippets seem like the choreographed movements of a dance: They did this, the arrow did that, Karis did this…” which is exactly what we don’t want to write. But here, these clipped, mechanical statements are temporized with brief description.
Also, strong action verbs are substituted for weak ones: charged, attacked, launched, clouted, paralyzed.
What’s missing is how Karis is feeling. We can get to that as the scene is wrapped up:
He fell to his knee at the foot of the dead beast, wiped a hand across his brow and reset his headband. Lungs heaving, heart pumping, he bent and wiped his blade on the creature’s coarse fur, sheathed it, and recovered his bow.
Karis stood on shaking legs, paused a moment to catch his breath, then bolted in the direction he saw the women flee.
Even later we get to Karis’ thoughts: when he has time to recall the fight, examine what happened, figure out how he got ambushed. This could happen as he’s searching for the fleeing women, or even later in the chapter as a reflection.
Here’s Your Prompt: Your turn! Write a fight scene. It can be men fighting men, or women fighting women (or a combination there of) or, as above, man or woman against beast. Keep it simple this time and limit the players to two or three at most.
Use tight sentences, action verbs and keep the description to a minimum.
Post your scenes in the comments below. I’d love to see what you’ve written.
Photo Notes: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott, left, and Los Angeles Kings right wing Kevin Westgarth fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill