It happens a lot in urban fantasy. You’re writing along, just following your own business or outline, however your writing process works, and suddenly–a fight breaks out. Woohoo! I love reading fight scenes! I love writing fight scenes. I love editing and critiquing fight scenes. One of the reasons I put together my “Write Better Fights” workshop is because I realized that no matter how experienced one is at writing and/or fighting, it never hurts to look up new tips, techniques and perspectives one how to write a fight scene.
This past weekend, my spouse and I took a quick trip to New Jersey to attend a ceremony for a friend who was retiring after 31 years of military service. It was a fun night, and a long one, but afterwards we decided to hit up a Buffalo Wild Wings that was around the corner so we could catch the UFC 240 fight between Geoff Neal and Niko Price. We used to catch more fights, but we’ve followed Geoff since we trained at the same gym in Harker Heights, TX *ahem* years ago … and so we really wanted to see this match. (We also put $20 on him to win in Vegas, so even though it was only about six bucks at stake, we didn’t want to miss the event.)
In my workshop, one of the fight writing aspects I hit on is rhythm. Fights, especially those between two people squaring off, have a tempo, a dynamic, that varies from moment to moment. As writers, we must capture this rhythm in our work. One of the best ways to do this is to also vary your rhythm, or sentence length. Use short, scrappy words to pick up the pace. Use longer, meandering words to circle around and around looking for an opening. Punctuation–BAM! Got it.
And don’t forget …
Paragraphs. They break up the page. They break up the pace. They move you in for the kill.
In the Neal-Price match, the two fighters touched gloves and began circling, warily. They exchanged a few jabs, probing each other’s defenses. They slipped and eluded. They darted in and away to test each other. Each fighter strove to maintain his own rhythm, while dominating the other and forcing him to dance to their tune.
Then–a jab, jab, STRAIGHT. The force of the punch rammed right through the other fighter’s defenses, connecting with their face. The crowd around us at B-Dub’s erupted in cheers. That cheer quickly died away, as the fighters continued their circle, but it reminded me of what we as writers need to do–entice our readers in, get them to dance to our rhythm, and then land the punches we need to so they can feel that vicarious cheer.
We do that by varying the rhythm of the fight. No fighters, no matter how physically fit they are, can maintain the same level of intensity through the round. Nor should they. A fighter must conserve their energy, knowing when and where to land a hit, and know when to capitalize on that hit by following it up with a frenzied attack. Mistime it, misjudge it, and you’ll end up on your back on the floor wondering when the ref called time on a TKO, listening to the cheer of the crowd as they celebrate your opponent’s win.
Writers–mistime, misjudge, fail to vary the rhythm of our fights, and our readers’ attention will wander away, possibly for good.
During my workshop, I often encourage people who want to get better at writing fights to go ahead and watch some. To follow some writers online, get to know them, what makes them tick, the behind-the-scenes type of stuff. I’ve found many fighters to be very friendly, and many are willing to talk fighting with a writer doing some research. Go check out Geoff “Handz of Steel” on Facebook and/or Twitter. Watch some fights. Write some conflict.
And if you’ve got some fight scenes you’d like critiqued, or some coaching as you write your way through a fight scene, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop me a question in the comments. And now, I’ve got some writing waiting for me to get at it.