How to Write Realistic Fight Scenes

How to Write Realistic Fight Scenes

Writing realistic fight scenes can feel like being in one. Then again, being in a fight involves reaction, quick thinking, and intuition. A lot of times writing the scene takes the opposite: careful choreography, thinking, and re-thinking–and more.

When I started writing fight scenes, I did it by feel.

I had an advantage: I’m a dancer! I know choreography, movement, contact, lifts, and more.

I had a big disadvantage, too: I’m not a fighter. I spent my time in toe shoes and tap shoes. When I started, I don’t think I’d ever set foot in a dojo, and I’ve never been in a good brawl.

I did have one more advantage though: I love small textured details in books. So I often found myself on my roof—if that’s where my character was. Or taking notes on a long drive, like my character did. So, when it came time to write a fight scene, I did what my character did.

Clearly, there are caveats. Please don’t murder anyone or beat anyone up for the sake of the book, but do stab a watermelon with a big kitchen knife. Hit a punching bag. Break a full beer bottle on a cement step—it’s probably harder than you think. When you hit like that, you get a reverberation up your arm. When you stab the watermelon, there’s a moment when you break through and suddenly you’re slicing with ease. The beer bottle almost explodes in a blast of foam and glass shards. That’s exactly the kind of detail that brings a fight to blazing life.

Enlist an Expert as You Figure Out How to Write Realistic Fight Scenes

Over time, I’ve advanced to getting other people to help me. First it was my husband—then on his way to his MMA Black Belt. “Honey, come strangle me! What if I just drop to my knees? Can I bend your finger? What if I put you in a choke hold?” He was a really good sport, and that stuff was writing gold. Later, I graduated to my kids’/husband’s dojo. I went in and found the upper level Black Belts who were readers and got them to stage fights for me.

Ninja group Kids

They were wonderful. But they kept asking me these pesky questions I hadn’t thought of:

“How tall is your character?”

“Five feet and some change.”

“Is she right or left-handed?”

“Does that matter?”

“She’ll escape toward her dominant hand. A leftie may have an advantage if a fighter expects a right-handed attack.”

*Huh! I did not know that!*

Then they asked these questions:

“How well trained is your fighter? And how well trained is the other fighter? And if trained, in what styles?”

“What era is your fight in? Are they armed?”

“Where are they fighting? Are there objects or weapons nearby at easy reach?”

So many things to think about. Blocking. Who hits first? Who wins and what defines winning?

The Four Most Important Factors in Realistic Fight Scenes

It’s hard to say what’s the most important thing when writing a fight scene. That may be determined by your personal style as a writer. If you describe settings lushly, you probably want to continue doing that. If your style is short and light, your fight should reflect that.

Rent A Ninja 1

A few things are almost always important when penning a fight:

1. Blocking

Readers have to know who is where when. It’s disconcerting as a reader to think, “Wasn’t he facing the other way? How did he get his elbow there?”

2. Terminology

This depends on your reader. But unless you have a very specific audience, all trained in the same style, your terminology should be as general as possible. An Axe Kick means different things in different fighting styles, so even something pretty general can get you in trouble.

3. Fighting Style

Just like dialogue should stay true to character, so should the fight. Punch? Kick? Scratch? Stab? Throw a lightning bolt? All are possible in different scenarios, just as each would also be inappropriate for certain characters.

4. Clarity

A fight scene is one of those things that grabs a reader and drags them deeper. When anything gets confusing, the story loses them. As a writer, the last thing you want is to leave readers wondering what just happened. Keep in mind, clarity can be different in different situations.

How to Put Your Fight-Scene Research to Work

As a writer, I spend plenty of time on my own. I block out what happens, put Post-It notes all over my wall, and fill in a notebook I keep on each storyline. But I think some of my most valuable time has been spent with fighters helping me mock out my scenes. These days, I have my own crew of Ninjas. I set them a scene and let them go at it. They help with who’s where, how to escape a rough patch, how the bad guy would be able to get up if the good guy did X.

I first started with Ninjas about eight years ago. Since then, I’ve had other writers get jealous of my Ninja crew, and I’ve started sharing them. Also, the Ninja stable has grown to include medieval sword experts, street fighters, and knife throwers in addition to more than ten styles of martial arts.

Julie Schoerke 2

If you’d like to meet up with the Ninjas and get your own time to walk through your story and get ideas/blocking/help, join us at Authors Combat Academy this spring in Nashville. You can also join Authors Combat Academy on Facebook for free tips, help finding experts of all ilks (not just fighting!), and writing support all year long. It’s free to join.

Write it right!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Will there be a fight scene of some sort in your story? What will you do to make sure you’re writing realistic fight scenes? Tell me in the comments!

How to Write Realistic Fight Scenes

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About A.J. Scudiere | @ajscudiere

A.J. Scudiere is the author of eight award-winning suspense novels, including The SIN Trilogy and the new NightShade Forensic Files series, both of which have been optioned for television. A.J. will release the second novel in the NightShade Forensic Files in early 2016. As a writer, A.J.’s motto is It could happen. It wouldn’t. But it could.


  1. Plenty of food for thought here. There are fight scenes in both of my novels but I sort of take the easy way out. Most of them involve a bit of grappling with one person pinning the other before going to town on their face. Sometimes, the person pinned manages to reverse things.

    • Hi!
      Readers love a good fight scene. Even if you aren’t being graphic, you can still make it meaty. If you’re dynamic in your language you don’t necessarily have to create any big, prolonged scene. A good grappling fight can be be gripping reading (sorry, no pun intended.)

  2. Alot of fighting happens outside of a fight as well. While knocking somebody out might happen pretty fast there is alot of tension, feints and provoking of mistakes. Often you can envision two opponents circling each other, waiting for the other to make a mistake that you can capitalize on.
    I recommend reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” as it not only describes big scale warfare but it also works in hand to hand combat. Generally one can learn alot from competitive duels.

    In my novel the climax is basically a fighting scene where my Protagonist and Antagonist duke it out to the death. However since supernatural forces are in on it this could easily become one of those yawn-inducing “red force vs. blue force” armwrestling types. Instead both are circling each other (figuratively), jabbing each other and blocking/evading such blows. Eventually one is so worn down, he makes a mistake and the other capitalizes on it. Now stuff it with dialogue, doubts and defamation: Voilá, le combat!

    • I love the bit at the end about “eventually, one is so worn down, he makes a mistake . . .” That’s fantastic storytelling there. We are so used to TV and movie fights were no one gets tired and no one’s eye ever swells shut!
      And if you’re paying attention to not falling into the “and then MAGICK!” trap, you’re doing fine.
      Fights come in all different forms. Bring on the snappy dialogue, it’s just as much part of some fights as the pnuches.


  3. Long time martial art practitioner here, in fact just got some bruises yesterday. This is a topic I love and which I find isn’t discussed as much as it should be. What should a fight be like? To answer that I like to use the French word “fulgurant”, meaning fast and intense. You don’t have time to think, and you have to react to many unpredictable movements. Believability in fight scenes comes from that sense of life threatening-danger, primal chaos and violent exchanges happening in mere seconds. Sometimes I read fight scenes and they give me the impression that they’re unfolding in bullet time; that’s a mistake. Keep the prose short, concise and punchy. Convey that frightening sensation of how your life could end in one second. Also, here are a few tips:
    – Show that characters are not flawless badasses: let them fall prey to confusion, hesitate before doing something reckless or let out screams of pain. Make their struggle relatable.
    – Showcase cleverness: that’s a huge part of the entertainment factor in a fight. Using feints, waiting for the opponent to get tired, or even taking advantage of the environment and resorting to nearby objects. Remember in Fury Road when Max uses a car door to protect himself AND retaliate? That was well thought and compelling. You don’t necessarily need intricate strategies, but yeah a bit of brains along with brawns goes a long way.
    – Give an emotional weight to a fight, have some real stakes. Not just the hero wiping the floor with some nameless goon. Make it personal.
    – Avoid cliché lines of dialogue that we’ve heard God knows how many times. Sometimes a silent fight is more impactful.
    – You can add characterization during a fight: make characters cocky, sadistic, hesitant, reckless, treacherous, determined etc or reveal their motivation (without indulging in longwinded monologues)
    – Show consequences of the fight: an injury which becomes an obstacle later. Or the character has to take a break to treat his wounds and recover. You could even modify character design a bit.
    I hope this helps. I really love fight scenes not because of the violence but because they test a character’s resourcefulness and determination. I always have at least one fight in my stories!

    • Hi Khalid –
      I love what you put in here!
      I once asked one of my ninjas (at three am, on facebook) “I need three unique things to do with a shovel. Help?”
      Written fights have the neat ability to walk the line between pure entertainment and realism. Creative fighting is a great way to do that. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, too. Her creativity was in her punchy one-liners and snappy comebacks. Sometimes it’s a car door, sometimes it’s a shovel!

    • Car door – I always thought that Marty McFly should have slammed the bully’s foot in the car door. Grab foot, pull out, slam door. A couple of times.

    • I love this list. I might just copy it for reference.

    • thanks for this info, I have so much to learn in writing my book and have already learned tons. I have a growing list of about 100 issues/subjects to thoroughly research even as I speak. This is my first novel at an older age so time is critical, but patience is so invaluable. I love the whole writing process, wish I didn’t have to be strapped down to a full time job. I could write 12-15 hours a day (I have!) and never be bored or extinguished so to speak. I’m almost done with my first draft that will need a lot of revision but I WILL do it. I want to make sure it’s right. I’m not going to be one of those that pumps out stories just to pay the bills, my story is sacred. Anyway, I need as much as I can find to make 2 particular fight scenes right. Thanks again!

  4. Oooh! *Cackles gleefully*

    Great topic. Thanks for this post! I look forward to more comments on this. I do have fight scenes in my stories; they often involve a weapon (ray guns) or a creature (drakaina) that doesn’t exist in real life. So I do everything I can to leaven the fantastic with as much verisimilitude as much as possible.

    It helps that my main characters aren’t supposed to be battle-hardened warriors, so they can make awkward mistakes or Jackie Chan their way through it (turn random nearby objects into weapons as they try desperately to escape).

    The characters who are supposed to warriors (soldiers) are still obliged to use more cleverness than brawn against foes that are either titanic in size or better equipped in weaponry. I design the fights this way partly because I don’t have a Bruce Li handy to game them out 🙂

    I like Khalid’s tips; particularly don’t skimp on the consequences. In the last fight I wrote, one of the heroines gets wounded and she’s fearful because the blood trail would make it easy for an enemy sorcerer who can control wild animals to hunt for her. This sets up suspense about her fate and her next encounter with enemy forces because she is literally not out of the woods at that point.

    If there aren’t any consequences then fights will quickly lose any stakes in the readers’ eyes. Not only that, but your character could enter Mary Sue territory.

    I’ve been binge-reading REH’s Conan stories, and so I’ll add: Mind your character’s build. It matters. If your character is a hulking muscle-bound giant, do not try and claim he is more agile and fleet-footed than someone more lithe than he. Readers will roll their eyes.

    Even the environment can present a challenge: In “The Guardian,” a man with Conan’s build washes out of the Coast Guard because that body type does not do well in water. Different body types have different strengths and weaknesses. Account for them; this would be the time to show off your character’s cleverness or stamina and so on.

    • Excellent points Jamie. I too thought of Jackie Chan movies. And as you said, body types are important too: a person with a bulky build (me when against the younger gym members) will get exhausted quickly, but on the upside he/she will be very hard to knock over.

    • Hi Jamie –
      YES – consequences are a big deal. Sometimes a fight is necessary because the consequences are needed in the story.

      I’ll add this too: we have a physicist at Authors Combat Academy, and I sat in his class last year. He’s amazing with ray guns and created weapons and such. Brought up a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before when designing my own weapons. Such as all weaponry is about Energy. Where does it come from? How focused is it? What kind of equal/opposite reaction is there and how do we mute it, so our hero isn’t blown backward by his own ray gun!?
      He was so helpful!
      That way you can design things that have relatable consequences even if you created a brand new weapon 🙂


  5. I enjoy writing fight scenes, maybe a little too much. If i’m having trouble visualize the scene I draw the area and mark the walls, stairs, piles of junk etc. I use coins or game pieces to move the fighters around the area.

    Something which is vital to a good fight is every one takes a a few hits. I remember as a yellow belt ( never got past that sadly),the blacks belts were extra careful with the lower belts because they were unpredictable. A book in which the hero never gets punched isn’t going to be very exciting because the reader won’t believe anything bad will happen.

    Another tidbit from karate was that most people, no matter what level have favorite moves and patterns, and that can be exploited. Rarely is anything simultaneous, though it might look like it.

    Last thing, fighting is hard work, but physically and mentally.

    • Hi Alex –

      I’m an orange belt! And have remained such since getting it (haha, not much of an achievement) years ago. 🙂 I think I’m a prime example that non-fighters can write fight scenes. I’ve had fighters say “Well, it’s obvious you’re a fighter.” And all I can think is “Please don’t hit me, I really can’t defend myself!”
      What you’re doing is great. Blocking a fight scene is so important. I’m a book thrower. If the writing is really bad, or the scene just doesn’t hold up, I’ll throw the book across the room. It’s really satisfying.
      I’ve thrown more than one book over blocking! I’ll think, “Wait, he was just on the other side of the room.” or “No, you just broke his ribs, he can’t do that.” or “Good lord man. You have to tell me he’s not human because no one could survive this let alone be making witty comments at this point!”

      If you get the opportunity, find some ninjas. They’ll bring up whole new things. (And congrats on your yellow belt!)


  6. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, A.J.!

  7. Steve Mathisen says

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing. 😀

  8. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the article.
    The devil is in the details and this post helped focus and direct which details on concentrate on.

    I have a good book on this subject, Write the Fight Right by Alan Baxter, a former champion fighter and writer.

    Can’t have too much information on how to observe and choreograph a good fight.


    • Thanks, Rich!
      Check out the ACA website too. We have a page to download to prompt thoughts on your fight scene before you write it.
      All our online stuff is free for writers!

      It can help focus your scene before you write the scene and make sure it comes out the way you need it. The last thing any of us needs is beta readers pointing out big plot holes in our fights!


      • AJ, great article. I just went to your website but following the links I couldn’t find the Fight Scene Questionnaire.

        I have a couple of fight scenes to write and my protagonist is a Taekwondo Red belt and his fights are against a single armed (with a hunting knife) opponent and the second against a group of three street thugs armed with fists ad cudgels.

        As its a Time Travel novel the first is set in the 21st century and the second in 1836 England

        Appreciate the exact link to the questionnaire if you could

        great service to provide these tips.please?

  9. The first question that needs to be answered before a fight scene is: why isn’t one of the characters already dead? Killers don’t fight. They don’t give you the opportunity. It’s all well and good to know about martial arts, but the world doesn’t follow the rules of the dojo.

    I recommend Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller. No matter how you go about physical conflict, it will help. It covers the psychology of violence, which is often much more important than the arbitrary nature of who punched who where and when.

    • Thanks so much for the book tip. I’m writing a mystery/thriller where things do get violent, and I need to know this stuff. Awesome.

    • A very good point. It’s something to consider. So many *real* fights aren’t like the movies. Often the winner wins VERY fast. In many cases, the loser is dead before he even realizes there’s a fight. But it can still be an engaging and dynamic fight scene in your book! It all depends on how you present it.
      To me, that’s the beauty of print over picture. I can give you as much time as the scene deserves for weight and detail (either a lot or a little!) when in *real time* everything is over very fast.

      Thank you!

  10. NEVER EVEN THOUGHT OF MOST OF THIS STUFF. I mean, I don’t blog about a lot of brawls, but now I know where to start. Great post, AJ!

    • Hahaha – ME EITHER, Carrie!
      It took me a while to figure out how to do it well. But when I had a 5’3″ female assassin who did NOT have supernatural powers, I realized I needed some research.
      At least it’s fun! One of the things I did was start hitting and stabbing things. And we are going to have a Tactile Room at ACA this year. I’m off-my-rocker excited. Attendees will have the opportunity to get into it! We’ll have gloves and fighting dummys and trainers, so you can learn how to throw a great hit AND what it feels like to do it. And more things — throwing knives even.
      Talk about taking your writing to the next level. (You’ll be able to find me in that room this April! That’s for certain.)


  11. Great article, AJ! I loved the questions your Ninjas threw out about which hand is dominant. Sometimes whilte writing I have to get up and walk through the action. My fight scenes are between amateurs for the most part, so lots of missed punches and “ow” moments. I have had characters who use magic eventually throw it to the wind and duke it out physically. It’s so satisfying!

    • It really is satisfying, I agree.
      One of the things I talked to my ninjas about was that my main character was self-trained. It allowed her to make mistakes and not have to follow/conform to any particular style and that helped a LOT!


  12. David Bayne says

    I was a school yard scrapper and then a bar room brawler before I trained in three styles of martial arts, Jujitsu, Aikido, and straight-up Karate, respectively, and form years of experience I can only add that in a fight, a real fight, attitude often trumps aptitude.

    In my mind, there are three kinds of combat:

    Competitive Combat – where you are judged on form as well as successful strikes and a winner is chosen.

    The Bar Room Tussle – where more often than not you are forced to deal with an obnoxious person invading your space, not life or death and ending in bloodied knuckles, smiles for the victor and a couple of free rounds. And

    Hell on Earth – this is life or death, you don’t win, you survive. This is close combat, hand to hand, face to face, where everything stops and all that exists is your will to be the one standing when its over. Nothing ever prepares you for this, and going through it changes who you are to the core. It makes you a killer, justified or not, and you deal with that afterwards.

    Anyway, thought I’d share some of the “real world” so that you can keep it in mind when working on a character study.

    Thanks for all the great articles and help you provide.
    David Bayne.

    • That’s great stuff, David.
      And yes, “what is the REASON for the fight?” is a very important question to any scene. It definitely changes how it should be handled and how it plays out.
      If you’re in a bar and someone gets belligerent and you start stabbing people, then you have a whole different story on your hands. Just getting away with as few bruises as possible is sometimes the goal.

      An excellent point. 🙂


  13. Thanks so much for sharing! I go to an Isshinryu dojo which was built as a ministry. I’m really basing the fighting techniques the main characters in my books use on that style (that’s only natural, as that’s what I learned), and the way/reason they learned being based on that of the people of Okinawa, where they weren’t allowed weapons, so they learned to fight with what they had. I want to make it different from Isshinryu, at least a little, and my dad (an ex Marine and black belt at my dojo) has done well helping me. Reading your article, I realize I need to be a bit more specific in my fight descriptions. Luckily, the first book in the series is more running than fighting! 🙂

    • Hi Hannah —
      I agree. That’s something that I took over as the writer. My ninjas say “roundhouse” and I use descriptive words instead. It wasn’t until I saw a few different styles and had that moment of “Oh Gosh! The names of the moves don’t even mean the same things across the styles!” that I realized how glad I was that I had written for non-fighters.
      Because of exactly what you are talking about, we bring in fighters AND writers for ACA. That way you can learn the moves, the tricks for describing them, and also some really great hooks for keeping the work dynamic. It’s a real challenge to weave all three together well and keep your characters on target.
      A really good point!


  14. This post came just in time. I am working on my final scene and so overwhelmed with trying to get two people in my head to do the same thing on paper. Thank you so much! The conference sounds so interesting to. I’ll definitely check out the Facebook page.

    • Hi Cindy —
      Final scenes are awesome in their own way. (Often simply because they are final!)
      Getting from your head to paper is helped a LOT by seeing how it plays out in real life. Actually, that’s how Authors Combat Academy got started. I was at another writer’s conference and we were talking fight scenes. I mentioned I had ninjas and all the other writers got jealous . . . honestly, I thought everyone had ninjas!
      Check out the website too, we have lots of free resources there and we send out mailings, too. 🙂
      Our goal is to be year round support for writers. Helping you find resources and experts and more!


  15. A great post, thanks for sharing.

    I’ve got a number of fight scenes in my book (a contemporary urban fantasy for kids). While I’ve trained in Karate, Hapkido and Wing Chun, I don’t get down to the technical aspects of finger grips, blocks, angles and types of strikes, they’re broader-brush punches, kicks, tackles, and (because they’re ogres and werewolves and sidhe and vampires) ripping and tearing and teleporting to position.

    They’re also always fights between groups of characters – I’ve yet to write anything one-on-one. One of the things I’ve found most useful in choreographing these melees is my experience in coaching football. I draw up each ’round’ in the sequence like an offense v defense play. Yay the Xs and Os.

    • Hi Andrew —
      you bring up a really good point for all non-fighters: Use what you have!
      I have dance training and I use that, but your football training works, too, and there must be more useful non-fighting techniques that writers can use to help explain. I’m thinking gymnasts know what it feels like to hit the ground, or land from somewhere high. Runners know the feeling of feet on pavement and muscle exhaustion, even just a good aerobic class will give you a good feeling for kicking, jumping, etc. Even a turned ankle can be put to good use when you’re writing!


  16. Lydia Hansen says

    This is good stuff! It’s nice to hear it from this realistic point of view, too, rather than just from a person who writes. The fact that you’ve been there, practiced some of these, and given them a try to see if they’d logically work definitely helps make fights better. I’m also a martial art student (plan to test for black belt in 9 months) and I can definitely say the practice I’ve done there has made me think of combat scenes in a different way. 😀

    • Congrats on your pending black belt, Lydia!

      I think that we all have things to bring to the fight, even if we don’t fight. For example, I wrote much more descriptive fights (rather than named moves, etc) mostly because I wasn’t confident at the time of getting the moves right, or that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Later, I realized that was important, because my readers aren’t all fighters themselves.

      And even if you are used to doing the fight, there’s a lot to be said for 1) feeling it 2) watching it as a third party and 3) planning it in your head. In my mind, it’s ideal when I get to do all three!
      It keeps me in the fight, and it keeps me with my readers, too.


  17. I thought I’d share this here . . . At Authors Combat Academy we run on two principles: 1) what Eli Jackson can organize (because she can make things happen!) and 2) what does AJ say that writers need?
    So this year we are adding a TACTILE ROOM to the conference. Everyone who wants to can sign up for a time. There will be a variety of fighting activities that you can safely participate in! We’ll have dummies, and trainers, and gloves, so you can learn how to deliver a proper blow and then FEEL what it’s like to do it. Our knife thrower will do demos AND train you! (He trained me, and my character SIN/Cyn is a badass!) One of our goals for this year was to give you–the writers–a chance to DO/FEEL the fights without having to get into a real bar brawl!
    And I’m so excited that Eli is making it happen. She rocks!

  18. Great article – I’m tagging this for myself to re-read it next time I do a fight scene!

    Another thing that hasn’t come up yet is how to describe everything that is *not* the fight, especially if you’re writing from the POV of one of the people fighting. I’ve seen this problem in my critique group a few times. The character enters a room and is suddenly attacked. But before getting to the fight in progress, let’s stop and describe the room, and the person or creature attacking him/her, what they’re wearing, who else is there, the whole scene. No, let’s not! That takes the reader completely out of the action. The character wouldn’t notice any of that if they’re being attacked, so focus on those key things they would notice, and how fast it all comes. (Side note: I admit that I’m a sucker for a character oddly fixating on something irrelevant – hey, that guy’s only wearing one shoe – and getting punched because they weren’t paying attention to more crucial details.)

    The same thing goes for what the character notices about what the other person in the fight is doing. I completely agree that as the writer, you need to know exactly what each person is doing, and where and when and how, but that doesn’t all need to go into the text. Maybe expert fighters can see all things at all times, but your average character might find himself watching the bad guy’s weapon and be totally surprised by “something” hitting him from the other side. No time to figure out what, too busy trying not to fall.

    Some more ideas to think about!

  19. Hi all! I have a note on email that I cannot find in the comments here.

    So for Andrew and anyone else who commented about it, here’s the link to join ACA.
    It’s free and we send out reference materials and support for writers all year long. — just sign up at the top.

    For resources, the one called “Preparing for Rent-A-Ninja” is our fight scene planning guide. It’s brief enough to not overwhelm and thorough enough to get you thinking! — It’s here:



    • haha, you really are an adept ninja! master at deception, diversion and disappearing down dead-ends!

      followed the link for the planning guide, and, yep… dead-end! (404 error code). just fyi

  20. I write a lot of fight scenes in my books because they’re often fantasy or something that needs it. They are one of the parts I need to work on. This post will be very helpful for that. Thanks.

    • Hi Rachel —
      Seriously, spend some time with a physicist. You wouldn’t necessarily think that would be a good idea for fantasy, but a good physicist who can talk in simple terms is a GREAT resource. I sat in our class with our ACA physicist last year and he changed the way I think about magick and created weapons in my stories. I think that’s an important thing because even most fantasy worlds contain real elements. Think “Enders Game”: Ender had to work in anti-gravity. Or Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, it contains dragons and magic, but there’s still gravity, focused energy, big demons and their bigger height and strength. How does an elf defeat them? It’s all rooted in physics. Even the parts we overcome with magicks!


      • This class sounds awesome! I doubt I’ll be able to attend in person any time soon, but if there’s ever a webinar or something, I want to join it!

  21. Thank you for the article and good insights. As there will be plenty of fight scenes/battles in my WIP, wanted to read this for any additional help I could get.

    The one concern I had when reading through was meeting with a group to choreographic a fight scene, and how, if too well choreographed can come across as unrealistic as well… more like a timed dance than a fight, much like one of those b movie kung fu/spaghetti westerns.

    Compare a choreographed karate kata/demonstration fight to the actual chaos of full contact competition and the beauty of the former is lost in the latter: a blur of slaps, punches, kicks and hits that largely go unchecked.

    But then as I was considering that, I thought about the Borne series as well as the Daniel Craig’s Bond… Casino Royale (specifically) how those, though extremely well choreographed, came across as very realistic, the protags themselves taking damage, both physically and emotionally.

    • I think you have a good point about over-choreographing something.
      It should probably only be done if that fits the style of the book.
      But I have found that seeing it play out gave me a lot of ideas, rather than creating a dance that was step-by-step planned.
      For example, I told my ninjas for one scene “I need my character attacked from behind. She’s held at one point, and she gets out. Everyone lives, but I need the attacker not to ever see her face.”
      So the ninjas chose roles by size, and tried out three different things until the attacking ninja said “there, that one, I can’t see his face when he did that escape!”
      Then I had them walk me through enough of the move that I could see how it was done. The rest was up to me.
      As a reader, I get really frustrated when I’m reading something that pulls me out of reality. (A recent character–not mine!–cut an artery then walked/ran a mile to the nearest house. Sorry. I’m tapping out. You have to tell me how someone spurting arterial blood got that far!) I don’t want anyone feeling that way about my fight scenes.
      I want the non-fighters to say “That was cool!” and the fighters to think, “Yeah, that’s how you get out of that!”


      • Great, thank you,that’s really helpful! … and agree a lot with your last paragraph!

        Thanks also for the links/resources, will look into them.

  22. Interesting food for thought. What might be my weakness is that in fight scenes I always have the end goal in mind: “What needs to happen to get this fight to the next bullet point?” rather than having a very good idea of what I want to include in the fight. Partially this is because when I think of action scenes in novels, I think the scenes that I tend to skim over or skip because they often get confusing or feel like padding. The questions presented in this article give me a step in the right direction.

    • You bring up a really important point. You don’t want readers skimming anything if you can help it. And a fight scene has the opportunity to be one of the best, most dynamic scenes in the book.
      Crafting that right, getting a good grip on not just the blocking and physicality of the fight, but also the cadence of the sentences and the knock of the wording can really make it pop.
      I often use shorter sentences with more hard consonants for physical moves. And longer more grammatically complex ones for the characters thoughts during the scene. But that’s me. That’s my voice. It’s all something to think about!


  23. The only fight I have in my novel is when my hero fights off an assailant who is trying to sexually assault his girlfriend. But he spent 6 years in prison mind you, (from 16 yrs to 22 yrs) but he’s not that kind of hard core prison type. My fight played out pretty well, according to the advice given up top in comments and in the article. Great article, thank you AJ! I have a question though, what kind of fighting style would someone who has been in prison use? his basic response is more self defense in my scenario anyway. I’m curious on anyone’s thoughts. Thanks for the awesome post and comments too. Very informative

    • Such a great question!
      I would make that character what I call a ‘found objects fighter.’ No formal training–but someone who’s been in prison has been attacked before, by surprise. He may have learned the value of staring someone down and of being the top dog.
      There’s a huge psychological advantage in the fight to having no fear. Many of us can get there when we are far enough down that we have nothing left to lose, but a guy who had been in prison that long ought to be able to react quickly without those moments of ‘is this really happening?’ that others might have.
      He may also case every place he goes for what weapons he can use. After all my writing, I find my brain wanders that way. I go into my grandmother’s house and think things like “The lamp is hefty. I could yank the cord easily, so no worries there. Also, once I shatter the glass lampshade, that adds to the value of it as a weapon.”
      I don’t tell my grandmother that I think these things about her household objects . . .
      My guess is that anyone who attacks your character is in for a rough surprise!

      I hope that helps! Let me know if you have other questions 🙂


  24. The Preparing for Rent-A-Ninja document link has been fixed!!
    Also, if you join in, we send out resources periodically and you’ll stay up to date as we add more.

    Thank you for your patience!

  25. I’m actually a ninja myself…just kidding. I’d like to think of myself as one though. That fight academy sounds pretty neat. I’m still trying to picture you dancing. Lol!

  26. This is such a great idea!!! I watched YouTube video after YouTube video to help visualize some of the fight moves my character was performing, but I never thought about enlisting the help of actual fighters!! I think I’m going to go make some ninja buddies of my own!

  27. Hi all!
    I wanted to write a general reply to Brooke’s comment about finding your own ninjas.

    Probably obviously, if you can find ninjas who fight in the style you need, that’s best. But you–as the writer–can make a good escape move or whatever fit your character/fight/scene.

    In my mind, one of the best things to ask is “Are you a fiction reader?”

    A ninja who is a fiction reader can do more than just give you moves. They can tell you what to avoid. Ask them when they read fight scenes, what do they hate the most? What do they like the most?

    This is not necessarily going to become the be-all, end-all (because you are probably writing for a wider audience than just ninjas) but it will give you very valuable insight.

    Also a reader-ninja will understand that you maybe want a flashier scene or you need a death to go a certain way for the story. They can help with that!

    Also also (on of my personal favorite phrases) a ninja who reads may be very excited to be your ninja in exchange for getting listed as a thank-you in the front of your book!

    Hope this helps.

    Happy writing everyone.

  28. Hi there,

    Great post on fighting scenes. In the fantasy-novel I’m currently working on they’re an important part. My characters often get into wierd fights with improvised weapons and such. I’m sadly not a martial artist at all. I do have some practice in sword and spear fighting. This really helps me imagine the moves that my characters make.
    The most difficult thing for me is to keep the different personalities of my characters in mind. One girl gets nervous really easily for example, while another girl (the main character) admires her and is willing to jump in at any time for her.
    If you have the time to give me any tips, I would really appriciate it.

  29. AJ, great tips. Heading over to your site now 🙂

  30. Greatest fight scenes behind-the-door do comes from martial fight. between husband and wife as well boyfriend and girlfriend or vis versa. Experience developed after years of trials and drills would transference into story of something real and believable. Whether involve relationship quarrel that bounds to be erupt on the street or actual bawl match with cops to resist arrested, being foolish is not way to go.

    Once upon a time I witnessed drunked man behave like he was walking on tightrope. After that night I wanted to recipate what he did. I really had my chance in the Philippines. With Tanduay Rhum 40% Alcohol 80 proof the force was so great that I was always favorite among my Filipino drinking circle. Lucky enough I have a wife watching over me and stop when men get to far with drinking round.

    Hence, you must be part of the problem before writing out your solution. Tanduay rum taught me what’s like to be beaten, or worse to be defeated. Be insider, not outsider, getting realistic on any form of fighting.

    • In second paragraph “recipate” is suppose to be “replicate.” Couldn’t catch the misspelling that iOS autospell rudely insert, thereby prevent me proper way to correct in mobile environment.

  31. Chandlor Desper says

    Interesting Topic, makes me think about one of the fight scenes near the end of my first book where the main Protagonist fights a larger and stronger Antagonist with a sword.

    The Protagonist is faster than the Antagonist but the Antagonist is blocking the only way out. When they fight the Protagonist is blown back with every hit sending pins and needles down his arm. Though I’m not sure how a fight like that might actually go.

    My book is a fantasy Novel and the Main antagonist is capable of shrugging off sword strikes.

    • Ms. Albina says

      In my book there is a fight scene between Leilani and the evil sea deity first she uses run/backflips, the the defense moves with arm blocking and kicks and also doing it with a staff then her powers that she has. This is in my book.

      Example: I get my warrior clothes now. I do my warrior cry. “Ieieie,” or something like that. Then I run them do three backflips. The spy and I slam together. Then I do hand to hand combat with Zane’s brother. After that I do my defensive skills the ones I have learned blocks and kicks. How to defend my self. I do some karate-like moves against Zane’s brother.
      The brother blocks me. I do it again this time faster.
      Not wooden like.
      Then I do my staff skills I twirl my staff.
      He twirls his.
      Then I use it to block him with it.
      He blocks me, then I block him.
      Next I do my powers starting with my barrier or force field power.
      The brother has water powers. I block him with my barrier power light purple light comes out of the palms of my hands where the runes are.
      Think force field or barrier. I think to myself. Come on, Leilani. I say to myself. I can do this.
      I spread my hands out then the barrier power shields me from him.
      I shot this power from me toward him.
      He flys backward. High in the air hitting a tree.
      The brother now looks real bad to look at. The brother summons his healing abilities from his shapeshifter powers.
      He does another power this time.
      I use my water power. I leviate three feet off the ground. I summon the water to me. The water travels high then coming horital to verital. My hands taht are behind my back are now infront of me. The water power that I am using makes the brother wet.
      He hits me with something. His power.
      I am okay. The wind what just knocked out of me.
      I am now enraged.
      Lighting comes out of my hair. My eyes change from green to storm gray.
      I am so enraged.
      I start to leviate off the ground now flying into the sky. I look at the sky.
      The color of the indigo now becomes dark because of me.
      Lighting comes out of my hands. The lighting comes into the sky.
      Now it is starts to thounder.
      Boom. boom. Boom.
      Then lighting.
      Wind starts to woosh.
      is this good?

  32. Thanks for sharing this great article A.J! Very well-written!
    To write effective combat scenes in thrillers, you need to be concise, considerate of emotion, and realistic.
    Please read my blog: The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Combat Scenes in Thrillers
    Hope this will also help, thank you!


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