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Write The Fight Right

May 19, 2011

By Alan Baxter

I was first approached by a writer friend of mine in 2009 about running a workshop at Conflux, aimed at teaching writers more about fighting. The idea was that most writers don’t know anything about fighting, yet regularly need to include fight scenes in their fiction. My friend suggested, given that I’m a career martial artist with quite a few fights under my belt, that I might be the person to help. I’d gained a bit of a reputation for writing convincing fight scenes, so it all seemed like a good idea.

That first workshop was a great success and I’ve since run it in other places, most notably Worldcon in Melbourne in 2010. I’ll be running it again in Perth for Natcon 50 at the end of April. Every time I run the workshop, people ask me if there’s any further resource they can buy to help them remember the workshop content. I finally decided to make that resource available and wrote the Write The Fight Right ebook. It’s around 12,000 words and covers everything I talk about in the workshop. Of course, without the hands on demonstrations I’m able to do in workshops it may not be as effective, but it hopefully gives people a pretty solid rundown on what’s real and what’s not when it comes to fighting.

I wouldn’t presume to tell people how to write, but I do know a lot about fighting. I know when a fight scene is well written and when it isn’t. Even readers who know very little about fighting will recognise a realistic fight scene even if they can’t put their finger on why. Equally, they’ll be bored by an unrealistic fight scene, again not necessarily knowing why.

Probably my biggest complaint with written fight scenes is that they read just like movie fights. That’s all most authors have experienced with regard to fighting, after all. The truth is that movie fights are choreographed for a visual medium, with a very unrealistic turn-by-turn process that makes it easy for the viewing public to see what’s going on. Real fighting simply isn’t like that.

With a written fight scene we have the ability to tell the story from inside our characters’ heads. We can talk about how it feels, the emotional content, the adrenaline and what that does, the feel, smell, taste and everything else. None of those things can really be conveyed well in film, but a good writer can include any or all of them and write a truly visceral fighting experience for their readers–if they know what it’s like. I’ve had a career of fighting, so I do know what it’s like. I think reading my book is certainly preferable to going out and getting in a fight to improve your craft.

I’ve divided the book up into sections, trying to cover all aspects of fighting. There are sections on:

  • Footwork & Range
  • Reach & Technique
  • Guard & Blocks
  • Reactions
  • Adrenaline & Emotion
  • Intent, Body Language & Psychology

and much more. I hope that by reading this book the writer will learn about many aspects of fighting they wouldn’t normally have considered. I emphasise that people shouldn’t be trying to include everything in their fight scenes, but cherry pick certain aspects that will work with their story and character development.

Clearly, a very experienced fighter will act and feel quite differently to someone who’s never fought in their life. By drawing attention to these small details a fight scene becomes a lot more than simply a clinical description of a brawl, which is invariably boring for the reader. After all, a fight scene should be about the most fast-paced, intense part of a book, not the slowest and most boring.

When you can write confidently about an adrenaline surge, what that does to a person’s ability, what the aftermath of a fight feels like and so on, the whole story is improved by it. Not to mention the enormous scope for character development. A fight most certainly does change a person, temporarily or permanently, in a number of ways. This stuff is often overlooked in fight scenes in stories. Just because the fight is over, that doesn’t mean the effects of the fight are done with as well.

I also cover weapons, though this section is relatively short–after all, I could write a book for every aspect of fighting, from punching to kicking to grappling to knives, swords and guns. As I said earlier, I wouldn’t presume to teach people how to write. Equally, with a short book I can’t teach them how to fight.

I’ve made a career from practicing and teaching martial arts. You can’t learn those skills from a book, no matter what any internet peddler might try to convince you. You can’t learn from videos either. The only way to learn about fighting is to fight and the only way to fight well is to learn from a seasoned and well-trained instructor. Anything as physical as fighting can only be learned in a physical, practical, hands-on environment. I would absolutely recommend that people take some martial arts classes–not only to improve their writing, but to improve their life and learn a skill that could save their life one day.

In the meantime this book will hopefully tell people enough about fighting that they can write about it with some knowledge and thereby add a level of authenticity to their fight scenes their readers will greatly appreciate.

The book is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle and in a variety of formats (including PDF, .mobi, ePub, LRF, RTF, PDB, plain text and html) from Smashwords for only US$1.99. Learn more about it here:

Alan Baxter is an author living on the south coast of NSW, Australia. His dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign, are available now from Gryphonwood Press, and he has penned over 25 short stories published in a variety of places. Alan also runs micro-publisher Blade Red Press. When not writing or publishing, Alan teaches Kung Fu. Learn more at his website–The Word.

  1. laradunning permalink
    May 19, 2011 6:22 am

    I don’t usually have fight scenes in my fiction and I’ve never been in a fight. But, as the saying goes, never say never. This book sounds like it is a must have on the writing book shelf.

  2. May 19, 2011 11:47 am

    Why all my characters are pacifists 😉

    But yes, sounds like an interesting read, and I think you describe the differences between how a fight in a movie and a fight in a novel should be brought to life.

  3. May 19, 2011 11:48 am

    Sorry, I meant to add “very well” to the end of that sentence!

  4. May 19, 2011 10:19 pm

    Thanks for letting me know about your book. I’d been debating purchasing a similar ebook about writing fight scenes, but it’s $4.99. I’m not ashamed to say, I’m dead broke and I chose yours for $1.99 instead 🙂

  5. May 21, 2011 6:19 pm

    I’ll be looking for your book next time I’m in the book store! It’s something a lot of us writers could probably make use of, including myself. More often than not, fight scenes really irk me because of their poor quality and unbelievability, and if it’s longer than a paragraph, I skip the whole scene. Unless it’s well written, of course. Then I scrutinize the hell out of it and see how they did it!

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