The Saga of Writing a Fight Scene

Several months ago, Joanna Bourne (she of the excellent Spymaster’s Lady fame) wrote this great blog post with her thoughts on fight scenes. She’s a really smart lady and a brilliant writer, so that post is well worth a gander. Go on. I’ll wait…

Ok, so fight scenes. I know I personally have a bitch of a time writing fight scenes. Part of it is that I’m a gently (enough) bred young woman who’s never had a real physical fight with someone in my life. The closest I’ve come is slapping someone and they never hit me back. Not a very exciting fight scene, right?

This became a bit of a problem when I was writing my book The Beauty’s Beast, because I needed the Big Fight Scene, the moment where Evil faces Good and Good kicks the ever living shit out of Evil. Because there was no way for the audience to get their emotional catharsis without the shit-kicking. Not that I could see anyway.

So, problem #1: I’m a non-combative, generally peaceful type person who had never been in any kind of fight at all ever.

Problem #2: My guys were going to be duking it out with swords. Medieval swords. And they were both knights. Highly trained and manly and all that. And the closest I had ever been to a sword fight, any kind of sword fight, was standing in the wings during a production of MacBeth.

When I was writing the very, very first draft of this novel way back in the Dark Ages (aka 2006) I cheated and just put [FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT] in place of where the actual fighting was going to take place. Now, this is fine for getting through your first very rough draft because to finish the first draft you gotta do what you gotta do. But when I was doing my edits for Draft 2 I knew that “[Insert Fight Scene]” wasn’t gonna cut it. So then I had to set about figuring out what the fight scene would be.

Oh, it was a bitch and a half. Because I didn’t want to copy a fight scene verbatim from a movie, but I wasn’t quite sure how to concoct a fight scene of my own that wasn’t too vague or boring. My first strategy was to ask my then-boyfriend (who messed around with swords for fun) to help. He did. But he cared more about the coolness of the moves than moving my story forward, so the fight scene became WAY too long, and WAY too technical and detailed. I practically needed a diagram to understand the moves when he was standing there demonstrating them for me, and then I tried to describe it in the book and it came out horribly garbled.

I also made another rookie mistake where I had the hero trading quips with the bad guy while he’s fighting, even as I had him thinking he should save his breath for fighting. Oops. Now, quips in fight scenes are good and necessary and all that, but in this case my hero was badly outmatched and he needed to concentrate, and having him banter with the bad guy just killed that tension. Killed it dead.

So, to sum up, my first crack at this fight scene was a big old mess. Complicated. Technical. WAY too long.

But it pretty much stayed that way until we were doing edits after I sold the book to Noble. Then I went back and read that scene and it went *thunk* right at the end of the book where things were supposed to be zipping along toward the HEA. So, I had to edit it again, only now I was editing it about four years after I’d written it. What ended up happening was I basically deleted most of the original fight and rewrote 90% of the new fight from scratch.

This time there was no one to help me, so what I ended up doing was watching a bunch of youtube videos and doing a sort of mash-up of their coolest moves, but I also realized that romance readers aren’t, by and large, reading a romance for the nitty gritty of a fight scene, so I decided I could simplify the actions and no one would really miss the play by play of sword-fighting.

Another problem I noticed during edits was the hero, who is kind of a sensitive guy, was killing someone else in not the cleanest way and not feeling anything about it. And romance is all about feelings. So I had to put emotions into the fight scene too. Jeez.

Finally, after much blood, sweat, tears and typing, the scene was rewritten, the book was done, and I didn’t have to worry about fight scenes anymore…until I started writing my next MS that is. ;P

Here’s part of the finished fight scene from The Beauty’s Beast for the curious (Reynard’s the bad guy, FYI):
Reynard advanced several paces. Gabriel did not give back a step. He hefted his broadsword and waited with supernatural patience to see what his opponent intended.

“You’ve scratched your last flea, Sir Mutt.” Reynard swiped at Gabriel with his sword.

Gabriel parried the blow and thrust for Reynard’s midsection.

Reynard turned Gabriel’s sword aside with a deft twist. “I’m surprised you remember how to hold a sword.”

He stepped in and seized the wrist of Gabriel’s sword hand. Taking advantage of Gabriel’s position, Reynard held Gabriel’s wrist tightly, trapping their blades together in a crossed arrangement. Reynard laughed in Gabriel’s face as they strained, pushing against each other. “Hard to get used to having thumbs again, m’boy?”

Gabriel shifted his stance and drove his knee into Reynard’s midsection. Reynard doubled over. Slicing savagely with his blade, Gabriel broke the cross of their swords and left a sizeable gash across Reynard’s back.

A few of the men-at-arms cried out in jubilation as Gabriel drew first blood. From the corner of his eye, Gabriel caught sight of Llewellyn triumphantly pumping his fist in the air and cupping his hands around his mouth, calling out to Reynard, “I hope that will serve to remind you, de Troumper, not to waste your breath so idly on foul words.”

“I’ll see you skewered on a pike, old man.” Reynard snarled back to the magician.

Gabriel kept his gaze focused on Reynard, waiting, unwilling to rise to Reynard’s petty taunts. Gabriel had no breath to spare either.

Reynard glared at the king’s magician. Then the large knight straightened, working his back muscles with a grimace. In a sudden burst, he raised his sword and ran at Gabriel.

Gabriel met him, and they traded blows at a furious rate. Gabriel’s face flamed hot from exertion, and he grew sticky with sweat after only a few minutes of fighting. His hair clung to his neck and his temples in wet clumps. Overheated and hampered by his light jerkin and flimsy shirt, he struggled for control. His boots made him unsteady. He would feel so much better with the skin of his feet connecting with the ground. I have to get used to wearing clothes again.

He hoped he would have the opportunity to do so.

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