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Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch discusses how much of a fight's details to actually put into a story, and how even with fight scenes sometimes less is more.

In our last few posts with FightWrite® on the WD blog, we looked at how our characters might handle physical confrontation. We looked at trained and untrained characters and the external and internal factors that can influence how they fight. In the next few posts, we will look at how much of a fight you really need to write. Good news is, it’s not nearly as much as you think.

(Picking a Fighting Style for Your Character (FightWrite™))

If you read a great book and tell a friend about it, you won’t talk for as long as you read. In other words, you won’t tell them every single incident from every single page. You will simply tell them the pivotal moments, the ones that impacted the story or you the most. Well, it’s the same with fight scenes. You don’t have to tell the reader about every tiny movement. You just need to focus on the pivotal moments.

Here is an example of what I mean. I always do better with an example. Maybe you’re the same. This is what a sports reporter wrote about the “Thrilla in Manila.” If you aren’t familiar with this fight, it is regarded as one of the greatest boxing matches of all time. It was the third and final bout between Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title and it was a slug fest. In truth, it went on too long. Frazier’s coach stopped the fight before the final 15th round. Yes, 15th. Modern boxing has only 12 rounds. In all, there were over 500 punches thrown, about 12 per minute, which is a lot for a heavyweight bout*.

This is a recap of the final pivotal rounds as written by BoxRec.com.

Finally, in the tenth round, Frazier began to slow down and tire, and Ali slowly turned the tide. In the 11th round, he used his speed to dance more and to unload a series of fast combinations on Frazier, which severely disfigured his face by the end of the round, swelling Frazier’s eyes to the point that nothing but a tiny slit remained open. Throughout the 12th round, Ali continued to turn the momentum, increasingly overwhelming Frazier and using the fact that Frazier could no longer see his right hand coming to hit Frazier with one hard right after another. About a minute into the 13th round, Ali landed another blistering combination on Frazier, sending the injured fighter’s mouthpiece flying into the crowd**.

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

This recap is on a site with an audience who quite likely knows boxing. It stands to reason that all manner of technical lingo could be used and the readers would likely be able to follow any movement detailed. But, the writer of the article doesn’t write each movement. They don’t detail any the combos mentioned. Instead, the writer gives us an overview with the most important details. We know Ali’s tactics, the effect they had on Frazier and one dramatic moment when Frazier’s mouthpiece flew out.

You do not need to write every single detail of the action: every step, every stab, every strike. It’s not necessary and really, it’s probably not what most readers want. Yes, you may have a few readers who want more detail and that’s great! And yes, you may have a scant few who put down your book because you didn’t specify what punches went into a combo. But you are far more likely, in my opinion, to lose readers by making a fight scene go on too long. Your fight scenes are NOT your story. They support it.

That puts us back at square one—how much of the fight do you need to put in your fight scene? Well, the answer is simply this: just enough. I would say, just highlight the major movements, but, oh, we writers, we think all the movements are major. We do. To help you decide which movements to keep in your fight scene, choose only those that would be included in comic book panels.

When you look at fight scenes in comic books and graphic novels, every single movement is not illustrated. These types of works are very expensive to create and reproduce. So, those little squares, also known as panels, in a scene, they can’t be wasted space. Generally, the illustrators focus on the large movements. One, large movements tend to be easier to draw. A punch is easier to draw than all the body movements that gave the punch force. The illustrators don’t have one panel showing movement in the feet, another rotation in the hips, another depicting the shoulders driving the fist forward.

Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes

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Two, large movements tend to be what people can relate to most. Again, all the small movements that create a punch, most people don’t even know about them. The average person doesn’t know that a punch starts in the feet. So, why highlight those movements when it’s the culmination of them that pack the punch. Literally.

But what about the small movements? Do you always leave them out of your scene? No. Comic books and graphic novels absolutely depict small movements. However, small movements only get real estate on the page if they are pivotal to the brawl. It’s the same with your fight scene.

So, write all you want to write in your fight scene. Put a million actions in there, it’s fine. Then, go back through and highlight what would be illustrated in a comic book. How many panels do you get? Mmmmm, let’s say you get three panels. At most. Then give the reader a break. Step away from the action in some way. You can stay in the scene, just step back from the action. Why only three panels? Well, that’s the subject of our next post. We will also look at what goes on between the bits of action.

I hope to see you at the upcoming Writer’s Digest National Conference. Please say hi if you see me and if you have a question, by all means, ask. And reach out to me on Instagram any time @fightwritecarla with queries. Trust me, you aren’t the only one with that question. Probably. Maybe. Regardless, feel free to ask.

Until the next round of FightWrite® on the WD blog, get blood on your pages.

FightWrite: What You Need to Know Before Writing Fight Scenes, Battles, and Brawls

Are you ready to dive in to writing your next fight scene? Join expert instructor Carla Hoch in this video course to learn the three most important points for writers to consider before writing fight scenes, battles, and brawls! Using historical examples and real-world expertise, Carla will guide you through the entire process of determining why, where, and who—essential elements for the writer to understand in order to make the scene work properly.

Click to continue.


*espn.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/109975/looking-back-thrilla-in-manila-and-ali-holmes-40-and-35-years-later

**boxrec.com/media/index.php/Muhammad_Ali_vs._Joe_Frazier_(3rd_meeting)

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