Fight scenes are a difficult animal in the same way sex scenes are (and I know some people might be looking at this and making faces at me because none of my books that are currently out have sex scenes in them but it isn't because I've never written any, they're just not those kinds of books) in the sense that they're typically an entire scene based around a certain kind of action that most of us as writers probably don't do a whole lot of.
Both are intimate. Both are physical. Both are primal and instinctual in a way that is difficult to put into words, and yet putting them into words is exactly what we're trying to do.
So let me start off by listing some of the advice I've read that has been helpful to me, spoken by far wiser people than I am, and then I'll add what I can after.
- Write inside the body - Get up and strike poses if you have to, think about your character's position and what they are doing and it will be easier to figure out where they will move from there, particularly when it comes to more complicated actions. Most of this doesn't need to be described but you the writer still need to know, particularly if your character is hurt and their left arm isn't working as well as it should for example.
- Put your focus on the emotions - Most readers are going to respond much better to your character's fear or anger than they will the exact fencing move they just used to disarm their opponent.
- Be concise with your details - As I've said before in previous journals, the human mind is made to fill in holes. If you see the whole fight in your head, great. If you want your reader to see the whole fight in their head too, all you need to give them is the important bits and they will see it too. Will it be the same thing you see? Probably not. And that's okay. They will see what they want to see and it will look bad ass to them.
- Be immediate - Short sentences give impact. If you can describe something in two words instead of four, do it. Better if it's just one. "His fist crunched into her face" is much more visceral than "He swung and drove his knuckles at her mouth, making contact". Most fights in real life are over quickly and you don't have a lot of time to analyse every movement. Let what's happening happen and move on.
Now as far as what I have to add, it's not a lot. My suggestions are as follows:
- Write the kind of fighting you are actually interested in. - If you don't care about sword fights don't try to write sword fights. Or at least, don't try to write the kinds of sword fights you don't care about. Find something you do like instead. So you aren't into the idea of an armored fighter, try someone going florentine with a pair of rapiers instead, or write a story with guns in it. It's also totally okay to go over the top anime as hell if you want to, just make it clear from the get go that anime as hell is the kind of story your reader is getting themselves into.
- If you don't want to be realistic then don't be. - All over the internet I see people saying "don't do this and don't do that and whatever you do don't write prettified fight scenes because that isn't how it works in real life" but if your readers wanted real life violence they'd be watching MMA. If you want your protagonist to carry a sword twice as big as she is because that is what you love and you just want her to, then do it. I'm writing you a prescription. Don't let a bunch of elitists ruin your fun. Just be up front about it and own your ridiculousness. One of my favorite books I've ever read culminates in the main character riding a zombie t-rex into a wizard battle in the middle of modern day Chicago. And it was amazing.
- Know what level of realism you are writing at - Gritty sci fi and fantasy calls for gritty combat in which one solid blow might actually kill you if not now then from infection later. The campier you go the more wiggle room you have, as long as you are consistent. Keep in mind that just because something is more exaggerated combat doesn't mean it has to be sunshine and rainbows, either. No one ever said you couldn't be both over the top and dark (we're looking at you RWBY).
- Just remember that your fighting is like your magic - In the sense that you aren't required to follow arbitrary rules just because 'that's how it works in real life' but you'd better be consistent. If your 5'3" protagonist is wielding a 7 foot long sword easily, just make sure you establish it early on that it can happen and don't stop doing it or try to use "but I'm small and not strong enough" as an excuse for other stuff (unless the sword is made lighter by enchantment or having an air elemental in it or something). If beheading isn't instant death for your good guys then it sure as hell better not be for your bad guys either unless there's a good reason. Make your rules, apply them equally, keep them consistent.
- Internal monologue - I do so very much want to know what your character is thinking. This matters far more than the play by play. The reader isn't going to remember exactly how your bad ass elf beheaded the giant, they are going to remember how she kept telling herself she could not go down to this because if she did he was going to eat the captives in the cage in the back of the cave and how horrible it would be to let that happen.
- Go do some text based RP. - As in roleplay. If you're a D&Der you might fall into the rut of "I got a 17, I hit the monster for 10 damage". If you're a LARPer, you're not even describing your attacks, you're actually doing them. Text based roleplay makes you get into more detail than that. I've learned more about writing combat just RPing it with other people than I ever have from any amount of studying or writing it on my own. If what you're doing gets your blood pumping you are doing it right.
I might end up with more to say about this later but that's all I've got for now.
What I learned today: Feverfew is good for a headache.