Lesson Twenty Seven from a Manuscrupt Red-Line: Fluidity in Action-The Art of a Good Fight Scene

An example of a poorly written action scene:

Jason punched Eric in the face.  Eric fell to the floor.  Eric groaned and rolled over.  Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  Eric popped up, and Eric swung at Jason, but missed.  Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  Eric crumpled to the floor.

(Yes, I totally made this paragraph up.)

The publisher’s comment on a similar (but not as poorly written) sceneThis is a very stilted fight scene. It reads action, next action, next action, next action without the fluidity that’s needed for a fight scene.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

I have to admit, when I read the action passages in the Gold Mine Manuscript, I had the same comment.  The author was satisfied with the speed of the scenes though, and only made moderate changes.  Not being an expert, I backed off and figured it was just a “style choice”.  Guess not.

This fits in very well with my recent post on “Art of the Conflict”.  This scene is not about dialog, but this is definitely a conflict.  This one needs something inserted to break up the action, rather than action inserted to break up the dialog.

Now, I am not going to put a lot of time into this, since the scene is totally fake.  But let me add a little “art” to make it “flow”.  Fluidity is what they asked for.  Okay, here it goes…

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over.

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Better, huh?  Not perfect by a long shot, but not bad for three minute flash fiction.  Can you feel the difference?  The staccato choppy “This happened-That happened” feel is gone, and the scene “flows”.

Of course, this is a first draft.  In editing, I would have to remove the “ing” word and the telly “felt”.  I would also insert a little emotion when Eric realized he missed, but this is definitely better by far than the first.  The art draws you into the scene.  You experience it, rather than just watching it.

The art of the conflict… If you don’t have it, go get it.

If you want to see a great published example, pick up a copy of  THRONE by Phillip Tucker and open up anywhere in the last hundred pages or so.

I hope this helps to make it more clear!


18 responses to “Lesson Twenty Seven from a Manuscrupt Red-Line: Fluidity in Action-The Art of a Good Fight Scene

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. I’ve found fragments and strong punctuation (semi-colons, dashes) to help with fight scenes. I try to make my sentences short and jerky, just like an actual fight would be.

  3. Wow, Jennifer. I am impressed with what you did with the rewrite.

    The fight scenes I’ve written (so far) are verbal. Tongue-lashings, dialog. I haven’t yet challenged myself to write a fight scene. Phew! That’s going to be a tough one.

    Snorted over your response on Excalibur. WHEN and HOW would you find something that does not “evoke” an idea that is NOT already in your head?

    • I try to look for very ambeint soundtracks. The problem is, I imprint on them. I used to like to write to “Lord of the Rings” but after a while of doing this, the soundtrack actually disturbed me during the movie, bacause I imprinted scenes that I’d written to it, and It distracted me from the movie. Funny.

  4. I like your example. It can be fun writing a fight scene, but your right that there has to be some emoting injection into the scene. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Yes, definitey. If this was part of a real sotry, I wouldhave gone for it. I have no need of a fist fight in my current novel, though. They just throw bolts of power at eachother.

  5. neat tip. thanks 🙂

  6. I always struggle with writing action scenes, particularly when I’m writing about vampire who like to fight constantly 🙂

  7. Great post! I find fight scenes difficult to write–verbal sparring is easier for me to create. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been in physical fight? Well, except between siblings as a child :). Thanks for some new insights.

  8. Thanks for the info . . . this is much appreciated/needed since I’m writing my first fight scene now! Also, if you’re interested, there’s a first page critique contest on my blog right now . . . 🙂

  9. I love writing fight scenes. I always get so in to them. I visualise the scene in my head as I write it and I also have music the background to get me in the mood.