I will be honest: I like writing fight scenes. I also think I’m pretty good at it. So when the subject of fight scenes came up I was keen to add my tuppence-worth. This is an attempt to briefly explain my approach to writing fight scenes.
The first thing I do, as one might expect, is to decide what sort of fight I’m going to write: a large battle, a minor skirmish, a duel? (I’m not even going to touch on sieges, here, which are a different kettle of fish for various reasons.) The type of fight I write will necessarily be determined by the plot.
Except for large battles, I also have to decide where the fighting takes place. A skirmish might be in the open air, or in woods; perhaps it’s a city-based fight, in which case I have to consider the layout of the streets. One of the fights in my novel The Death of Kings takes place in a single room in a small building, which required a different approach altogether.
The next question I ponder is what sort of fight I wish to describe. This can depend on the point of view I’m going to use. In some cases, a description of a glorious battle featuring knights in shining armour might have fewer ‘close-ups’ of the action. In which case the battle might not appear very bloody – nor, indeed, especially dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Personally, I prefer to focus on close-up action, and to make my fights as visceral as possible (although I do think it’s possible to go too far). In which case, writing the fight from one person’s point of view, or jumping between characters, is the best way to do this. In the novella Questions of Allegiance, one battle is described by the protagonist, Derian Orthon. This is a short extract only:
Then we were through, leaving a broad avenue of bloody ruin behind us. I do not know how many we lost when we fought through the infantry, but we were still well over a hundred as we thundered up the hillside towards the Prince’s banner. Now the true fight began, as the Prince’s bodyguard rode to meet us.
They fought like demons, and we fought back like furies. Our formation, which had held together so well, broke apart as we clashed with the Albanachans, and the hillside became the scene of a score of smaller battles.
I narrowly avoided a flashing lance point. Leaning out of my saddle I slashed out, taking the lancer’s arm off at the elbow. As he reeled away, spraying gore, I swung my blade back to meet a second man who loomed up on my left. His sword sheared away the top of my shield; mine cut away half his jaw, exposed by an open helm. His ruined face disappeared behind a crimson spray, then Fernhelm’s blade lanced into his throat and he tumbled from his horse.
It is important to be realistic; the fact that I have good knowledge of weapons and armour – and, indeed, how to use them! – is a great help. Realism is important: however a character is accoutred, I must to consider the likelihood of him (or her) being wounded or killed. If my character is going to survive uninjured, why is that? Is it because he is better armoured, or a better fighter, or just plain lucky? In a street fight, one person pitted against three others is going to get hurt, even if only with minor wounds. In a large-scale battle, it is entirely possible that a character will sail through the whole experience without a scratch (although, to be honest, it’s unlikely).
At the end of the day, fights are dangerous, often brutal, and when weapons are involved they can be lethal. For me, the best fight scenes are those that convey the danger and brutality realistically. If I can make my reader wince, at least once, when reading one of my fight scenes, then I think I have done a decent job!