Different Kinds of Death Scenes

There are thousands of ways to die, but when you’re writing a story, there are at least four kinds of death scenes:

  1. Shocking Death—the death occurs as a complete surprise
  2. Pending Death—this death is pending but uncertain—the character may or may not die.
  3. Inevitable Death—a prolonged and absolutely unavoidable death
  4. Inescapable Death but with a Twist—this death is certain, and you know exactly how the character is going to die…and at the last second the character dies but not HOW you expected.

So which of these are most emotional? Before we can dive into that, we must acknowledge that everyone is different. What kind of person the reader is, where they are in life, what they experienced that day, and their current emotional state all play into how emotional the actual death scene will be. Some people won’t cry at all while others will break down at every death. There is no magic formula to conjure tears in your readers eyes, which is unfortunate but true.

Let’s break down each kind of a death scene.

Shocking Death: The death occurs as a complete surprise.

These are shocking deaths—usually so shocking that the reader doesn’t fully comprehend what happened but have to go back and reread the passage a few times to come to grips that this specific character is now dead. Once I was reading a story, and there was a scene where this family went to an ice cream shop for a good time. They stepped out of the shop laughing and smiling, and then there was a drive-by shooting, and one of the characters died. I was so surprised that I couldn’t grasp what happened. Did she really die? How exactly did she die? What happened?

If this is done quickly, the reader won’t feel anything but disappointment and confusion. However, if the scene is dragged out, the reader has enough time to snap out of the shock and scream in denial. This is what happened at the ‘Red Wedding’ in George R. R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’. When characters started being murdered, people were shocked at first, but then more and more characters died, and readers (viewers for the TV series) quickly realized everyone was going to die. This is tricky and quite an extreme. This card only works if more than one character is put to death and if the executions are carried out immediately rather than dragged out. This method should be used sparingly. Otherwise, it becomes predictable and loses its shock factor.

Pending Death: Death is pending but uncertain—the character may or may not die.

This basically summarizes every horror story. A lot of characters are going to die, but some will survive. As the reader, you don’t know who will die or live. You also don’t know how or when a character will die. The method of death may startle and horrify you, but will you be reduced to tears of sorrow? Unlikely. Tears of fear–probably.

Another example of this method is having a character held at gunpoint. Someone is negotiating for that person’s life, but you aren’t sure if the negotiations will be successful. If the character is shot and killed, you might be shocked, horrified, angry, and greatly distressed—or maybe you won’t be surprised at all. This method has the ability to induce tears in the reader, but it completely depends on the relationship between the characters, all the aspirations or failings of the character, how well the reader got to know the character prior to this point, and ultimately the reason why the killer decided to end this character’s life this specific way while sparing the other character. Also playing into the emotional aspect of this method of death is what the readers are personally experiencing in their own life, and that is beyond the author’s control.

Inevitable Death: A prolonged and absolutely unavoidable death

An example of this version of death is a character has cancer throughout the story and dies in the end. This can be absolutely heartbreaking or they can be a complete relief that the character is finally dead and no longer suffering.

There’s a book I read, and I know this specific character dies in the book. Regardless of my knowledge of this, every time I go back to that book and read it, I still get teary eyed—every single time. The series wasn’t focused on her, and she was only mentioned occasionally but always fondly. When you meet her in the story, she’s a fun-loving character but someone who is physically weak. She put much effort into living, but she still dies in the end—a quiet death but taken too soon. These kinds of deaths, if crafted well, are heart-wrenching.

However, at the same time, if the character is suffering horribly, when he dies, even if he was a good person, everyone will be relieved. For instance, in my historical fiction novels, King Baldwin IV suffers from leprosy. There are four books in the series, but after each book, my reader comes to me and asks, “How on Earth is he going to survive another book??” Everyone is expecting him to literally drop dead. Since the series is based on his life story and ends with his death, he does die in the end, but no tears are unlikely to be shed. He was a great and honorable king, but he suffered horribly in his life, so all those around him were relieved when he died because he finally found peace. Although this method of a death scene doesn’t usually invoke tears or sorrow in the reader, it does make them appreciate the life of the character and all they did or tried to accomplish.

Inescapable Death but with a Twist: Death is certain, and you know exactly how the character is going to die…and at the last second the character dies but NOT how you expected.

I’ve only seen this very few times. It starts off much like the last method I mentioned about having an unavoidable death. For example, you have a character who’s suffering from lung cancer. It’s a horrible and painful way to die. He’s weak and feeble but convinces his wife to take him to the beach one last time. They know they’re going to say their goodbyes. He’s getting weaker, can’t stand, and can’t stop coughing. You expect him to keel over dead any moment, and then his wife shoots him in the back of the head thus putting him out of his misery.

This stuns me because it’s completely unexpected. I have to reread it to make sure I read it correctly, and in the end, I’m never sure how to respond to this method. It’s personal but also unrealistic. At the same time, it’s extremely heartbreaking because you know the character who took the life of the other character did not want to do it. She was sparing him an anguishing death.

There are the different kinds of death scenes that exist in fiction. There may be more, but this has been my observation. The actual method of a character’s death is innumerable, and we won’t go into that.

Now, you must determine one important factor when approaching the death of a character. Other than the fact that it’s a turning point for the story, how do you want your readers to react? I once spoke with a student of mine, and she exclaimed, “I want to make them CRY!” While this is a worthy endeavor, it should be the byproduct of the scene—not the ultimate goal. In order to make someone cry, a lot needs to line up—things you don’t have control over. You can write the perfect story with the most heartbreaking death scene, but the reader still not cry. Why not? Well, for one, he could be someone who has tremendous emotional control—crying is just something he doesn’t do. Or she could be someone who has had the worst week of her life, and she’s already cried bucket-loads before even reading the scene, so by the time she reads it, she’s drained from any emotion (on the other hand, it could make her break down and cry all over again. Everyone is different). Or she could be someone who is emotionally detached and analyzes everything.

In other words, making someone cry is a hit-and-miss scenario. However, you can shock people, get them angry, make them confused, or feel numerous other emotions. How the readers respond to those emotions will differ from person to person—some may scream or gasp or slam the book shut or simply stare—holding their breath without realizing it as they quickly continue to read the passage because they’re hoping beyond hope that the character is still alive.

So which methods of death scenes conjure what emotions? Emotions are extremely hard to put in a single compartment, but this is a rough sketch as to which emotion associates with which death scene. (NOTE: everyone is different and may react contrary to what is listed here, but this is a very basic outline.)

Shocking Death

Emotions: surprise, horrified, confusion, denial, anger, sorrow, and maybe disappointment

Pending Death

Emotions: surprise, horrified, anger, denial, sorrow

Inevitable Death

Emotions: sorrow, relief, and maybe a bit of anger and regret

Inescapable Death but with a Twist

Emotions: confusion, shock, denial, guilt, sorrow

There are depths of this I’m not going to discuss because it varies so much from person-to-person and even character-to-character. However, now you can see that a death in your story isn’t just another death scene. There is actually a process to it. Granted, as the author, you don’t have to sit there and think of which method you want to use in order to target specific emotions in your readers. Instead, you should let the story flow naturally.

If your reader doesn’t cry at the death scene, don’t let that discourage you. It could be that the method of death scene you had written in your story for that specific character might not have lent itself to that emotion. However, if you can’t seem to invoke the emotional response you want from your reader, it is always good to look back at your writing and examine it. Did you rush the scene? Did you show enough? Did you show too much? Did you let the characters themselves feel, or did you skim over it?

Keep in mind, if you show ten people your story, you’ll likely get ten different responses, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just continue to write, but keep this information in the back of your mind when you come to these specific scenes.

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Writing a Battle Scene: Important Details to Know

There are a few things you need to know before you begin writing a battle scene. They are the follow:

  1. The character you will follow into battle.
  2. The location of the battle.
  3. The purpose of the battle.
  4. Step-by-step how the battle should unfold.

First, you need to know which character the reader will follow into the battle. This is important because it will determine the feel of the scene. For instance, if your character is a mere foot soldier, he’s not going to have the overarching view as someone like a general or the king. If you’re writing from a king’s POV (point of view), the king may not enter the battle immediately but survey the situation. He’ll send in skirmishes but hold back the rest of the army to see what his enemy will do. One little tactical mistake may be all he needs to defeat his enemy without too much loss of life. You can stick with one character throughout the entire scene or have a select few whom you bounce around to show the bigger picture. It depends on your writing style.

Another cruical fact you must know is the location of the battle. Once I read a story, and it opened with a battle, but it never showed the landscape. I had no idea where we were! Fighting on a plain is different than fighting in a forest or on a beach or just outside a city. If all those elements are there, and the fight is going to pass through those areas, it is important to have a character survey the battlefield before the actual battle. Do it before the fighting begins because when the fighting breaks out, everything will be too chaotic to pause for a moment and take in the surroundings.

So you know the characters and the location. Now, as always, you must know the purpose of this battle. It isn’t simply ‘who’s going to win and who’s going to lose,’ but rather who will die? Who will be injured (and how)? Will someone save a rival and thus cause them to come to an understanding? Will someone see something that will completely change their life? So you see, it’s not merely the fighting that is important, but little things throughout the battle that can have a major impact.

Now you have all the basics, and the task of this battle scene looks daunting, but take your time. Plot out step-by-step how it will unfold. It may be chaotic, but keep the rhythm going. When armies collide, keep this in mind: an army is not simply a mass of people. It is organized, and each part serves a function. Most people are tempted to write both armies charging at each other and hope for the best, but that is an novice way of handling the situation. Take your time. Some of the characters might not be in their intended position at the start of the fight, and you need to find a way to put them into proper position for whatever momentous encounter they will face on the battlefield.

Once everything is in position, no need to rush headlong into battle. That is the temptation yes, but you need to keep a clear head because the characters are about to be thrown into a whirlwind of chaos. You need to know what you’re doing—always keeping in mind the snapshots you’ve envisioned for this scene and the major points of the battle. Also, bear in mind that in the midst of this battle, some characters may die or live against your wishes, and you need accept that. You need to go with the flow.

Armies collide—full force. All the order—for the characters—is now nonexistent. Everyone is fighting for their lives. Throughout the battle, focus on those specific individuals you chose to follow into the fight to give the reader a wider view of what is happening. Make sure everything progresses. If all your character jump is doing is fighting left and right, that’s not very important; this is a battle. That kind of fighting is expected. If your character is fighting and gets injured, okay, that’s pivotal because it hinders his ability to defend himself. If your character is fighting and injures or kills an vital opponent, that’s something of significance for the story. If your character does something (by accident or on purpose) that unleashes a chain reaction that ultimately ends the battle, you will want to record that.

This is where it is important to know the points of the battle. What is the reason for it? As the author, you have the ability to be in the heat of the battle in one moment, but then in the next moment you’re above it from an omniscient point of view. This allows you to keep track of what is happening where on the battlefield, and if you see something is getting out of hand, you can send a character to intercept it.

There are many ways to write a battle. Imagine you’re playing a video game—how does the battle unfold? However, one paramount aspect to remember is that each soldier in battle is a person. They have their fears, issues, hopes, and dreams. In the chaos of battle, adrenaline kicks in, and it’s just about survival. But then something unexpected might happen to a character and stops him in his tracks. Suddenly, he’s not just part of the senseless chaos. In the midst of everything going on—canons blowing up on his left, arrows whizzing by his head, his best friend cut down right in front of him, his commanding officer shouting at him—despite all of this, he is completely and utterly alone with a decision in front of him. Depending on the person he is or the development of character he undertakes, he will respond one way or another, and that is an crucial moment to record in the battle.

Can you just write a battle of two armies colliding and be done with it? Sure—if that’s what you want. However, if you want the battle to mean something, and if you want your reader to walk away satisfied with how the battle unfolded, then don’t rush it. Plot out the battle, be patient, and take it one step at a time. You’ll be rewarded with moments when you can speed things up for brief spectacular moments, but then you need to slow down for those more quiet but epic moments.

This takes patience and a lot of practice. One crucial thing to keep in mind when you are writing anything (or really doing anything in life): never say you can’t do it. You might not know how to do it, but reading up on things like this and simply trying will get you further than you might expect. Your imagination is more powerful than you realize. Don’t rush it. You will make mistakes. Your work won’t be perfect the first numerous times you try, but practice makes perfect, and practice takes patience.

Writing a Battle Scene: The Basics

Battles and war have existed throughout all the age—from Biblical times, to Greek and Roman times, to medieval times, through the Renaissance, to the Revolutionary War and Civil War in America, both World Wars, and so on and so forth to the present day. Wars have been fought with stones and strikes, swords and bows, and guns, jets, and tanks. Most of my stories and the battles I write are set in medieval times, so that will be the example I will use.

Before we get too far into this topic, let me set one thing straight that I’ve noticed time and time again in books and movies. The protagonist announces, “We’re going to war!” and then all the characters get geared up and head out. You have one battle, and then the war is over. That’s unrealistic. That wasn’t a ‘war’—it was a ‘battle’. The difference between war and battles is that a war contains multiple battles, and a battle is merely a huge fight.

I know it’s more awesome for the antagonist to announce, “This means war!” than to say “This means battle!”, and there is little you can do to get around it. I’m not saying your character shouldn’t make that declaration. Just recognize the difference between a war and a battle. Someone can declare war and utterly fail in the first battle, but that wasn’t a war—it was just a battle; they simply overestimated their strength.

A war can span an entire book series. In my books ‘The Last King of Legends’, the events take place during one huge war, and the war doesn’t even end with the end of the series because it spans generations.

However, say you don’t want to write too many battle scenes because each one requires so much thought, time, and energy, so what do you do? Summarize. Yes, I’m giving you permission to ‘tell’, but do your very best to show the passage of time and the progression of the war as each battle nears the final decisive one, and then you can put all your energy into that scene.

Now, let’s get to the basics facts of medieval warfare. For the most part there is no military ranking as we know it with generals, privates, lieutenants, etc. Each lord and baron has a number of knights. When the call to war comes, he will gather his knights and meet the rest of the army. This baron is captain of his own knights but must carry out the king’s commands.

Above all the captains but below the king is the constable. During non-war times, this man sees to the training of the men of the kingdom, checks the borders of the kingdom, and he is the representative of the army in the king’s court. If the king is killed, the army will automatically look to the constable for command until the next king has been chosen.

An army is made up of several sorts of warriors. It may differ according to the landscape of the battle and the decree of the king, but this is one example. In the front line are the foot soldiers carrying tall shields. They carry short swords with them. Immediately behind them are soldiers with huge lances. When the shieldbearers halt and take up position, these soldiers then stand between each shield and stab their lances into the ground pointing over the shield, so if the enemy’s cavalry came charging through, the lances with stab the horses or the riders. But this is the first line of defense which may or may not be used depending on the command of the king and his strategy for the battle.

Behind these lance carriers would be the cavalry. These mounted warriors are trained in various weapons—sword, ax, hammer, or any choice of weapon. They are a powerful force and can easily take the front line, but usually a king will wait to see how the front line holds and the strength of their enemy before using his specialized soldiers.

Now behind the cavalry is a mass of soldiers. They may be knights organized under their captain, but most of the time they are commoners with farming tools as their weapons (don’t underestimate the ability of a sickle swung by a warrior in the midst of a battle). These commoners would have gathered under a baron (perhaps a poorer baron who has few or no knights at all) to answer the king’s call to war. Some may be there for the glory of war while others are just trying to defend their homes.

Behind all of them, often at a strategically placed position, will be the archers. Usually they’re someplace with good vantage point and can attack from afar. They don’t have engage in actual battle unless the fight turns against them. If that happens, and the fighting gets too close for them to have time to shoot, they won’t bother shooting, but instead they will use their arrows as small spears and stab the opponents. You can also have archers on horseback, and those are expert horsemen and marksmen.

So this is the basic structure of a medieval army. It is not always set up like this, but recognize an army is actually made up of smaller part. When you realize this, it easier to manipulate outcome of the battle.

Of course, a battle is more involved than what I just described. You have characters you love and hate and a whirlwind of emotions to take into consideration. Also, the battle will have major effects on the rest of the story. An important character or three may die or become seriously injured. The enemy (or even the hero) is defeated—or at least pushed back. Some things may have happened that you hadn’t planned, but for the most part, everything should have gone according to plan.

Now two things to keep in mind when approaching a battle:

  1. Communication is almost always lacking or at least delayed. Use this to your advantage.
  2. The initial attacks may be skirmishes rather than full engagement of both armies. This is a way for the commanders of both armies may determine the strength of their opponent. Also, a small mistake in a skirmish can lead to the defeat of the enemy. This isn’t always the case, but things do happen.

In next week’s post, I will go into more detail explaining the two points above and much more. This post merely covers the basic elements of a battle you should keep in mind when writing such scenes. 

Writing Multi-Combatant Fight Scene

When a fight scene involves a fight between two-against-two (or more), this is different than when one person is fighting all the opponents. This is because you have two protagonists you have to keep up with rather than one.

Now, if you’re writing in First Person, the approach to the scene will be very similar to a single protagonist fight against multiple antagonists. This is due to the fact that First Person limits the POV to a single individual, and your character can’t really know what his fellow protagonist is doing at all times since he’s focused on defending himself. The only element you should keep in mind when writing First Person multi-combatant fight scene is the character whose POV the scene is in will keep an eye out for his friend and help in any way he can. Another way to write a First Person multi-combatant fight scene is from the POV of someone not involved in the fight but rather observing.

Other than that, when you write in Third Person, you have the ability to shift focus from one protagonist to another. This can keep the scene fun, fast, and engaging. Before we get into detail of the exact changes, let’s do a brief review:

Prior to actually writing the scene, you need to know the following:

  • Who is fighting?
  • What’s their personality and style?
  • Where is the fight taking place?
  • When (time of day/year) is it taking place?
  • What is the predicted outcome? (don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out the way you had planned)

Here are a few things that won’t change when you need to write a fight scene:

  • Beginning: Approach the scene, start slow. There is nothing wrong with a sudden attack, but the characters will fight in confusion at first before they fully comprehend what is happening, and then they will really start fighting.
  • Middle: Speed up the action but allow for potent pauses or slow moments.
  • Ending: Slow the scene back down or end it abruptly.

Now when you write a Third Person multi-combatant fight scene, you have the opportunity to shift from person to person (usually from one protagonist to another). Keep the action moving. When one part of the fight gets too fast to keep up with or if it slows down, shift to the other person.

Let’s say it’s a hand-to-hand fight. Derek and Claudia are well-trained fighters—maybe part of a secret government agency. Picking a fight with them isn’t the best idea, and Marcus knows that, so that’s why he’s brought a bunch of his friends (about six of them) to help him out. They corner Derek and Claudia in an alley, and the two friends share a look, and everything goes downhill from there. So, what’s my approach to this?

Several of the goons will likely attack Derek and Claudia first. I imagine they have metal pipes in their hands, raised over their heads as they charge in with a shout. Marcus isn’t absolutely stupid, so he stands back and lets the goons take the first few hits.

At first, Derek and Claudia will share an amused look then get into fighting. They’ll probably fight back-to-back for a bit, but then someone punches Derek a bit too hard, and he gets angry. The moment he steps away from Claudia, the dynamics of the fight change. No longer are the two friends fighting as one, but each of them are in their own individual fight. Keep in mind they’re recycling opponents until an opponent gets knocked out, killed, or runs away.

Let me show you this scene along with my notes, but first these are the only details I know about the scene: 1) Derek and Claudia are attacked together, so they fight together—at first. 2) They get separated somewhere in the middle of the fight. 3) They’re victorious in the end. I don’t know what their injuries may be or if Marcus will attempt to fight or just run away. Also, the scene might not unfold exactly how I imagined it.

Seeing the silhouettes of seven men in the hazy streetlights at the end of the alley, Claudia immediately recognized Marcus leading them. She almost rolled her eyes but refrained as Derek also came to recognize their old friend as well as the different homemade weapons the goons carried—metal pipes, brass knuckles, and switchblade knives. Claudia noted only three of them carried guns, but they were holstered and covered by their jackets. Likely they wanted a fistfight than a shootout. Claudia supposed they could give them that.

Note 1: In the paragraph above, I set up what kind of fighters we have and weapons they’re up against.

Marcus, my man!” Derek spread his hands out as he greeted the man who tried to kill them two times before but failed, and Derek smirked. “Guess you’re thinking the third time’s the charm!”

That’s what they say.” Marcus nodded.

While the two continued to exchange banter, Claudia took in their surroundings. The alleyway was wide enough for a garbage truck to drive through, and buildings lined one side while a brick wall lined the other side. Along the wall were dumpsters, and Claudia noted the discarded chairs at the dumpster behind the Italian restaurant.

Claudia looked back at Marcus and his gang advancing and spreading around them, and she moved into position to stand back-to-back with Derek. “You’d think when we got out of the agency, our weekly poker game wouldn’t end with a fight,” Claudia muttered under her breath just loud enough for Derek to hear and laugh.

Note 2: Here I lay the groundwork for the setting, having Claudia observe different things that might come in handy for the fight later.

Guess Marcus doesn’t like not being invited anymore.”

Claudia shrugged. “Guess not.”

The first man charged in with a shout—his metal pipe raised over his head. He charged right for the middle, and the two friends simply stepped aside, allowing the man to run between them without actually hitting them.

Derek smirked when the man’s cry went from courageous to confusion, and he looked back at Marcus in time to see a brass-knuckled man swinging a left hook straight for Derek’s head. Derek sidestepped then slammed a solid punch directly into the man’s gut.

At the same time, a knife-wielding fighter slashed at Claudia, but she dodged, snatched the man’s wrist, twisted it and locked it behind his opponent’s back. Seeing Derek had also immobilized his opponent, the two of them shared a look, had the same thought, and then slammed their opponents heads together and watched them crumble to the ground—one unconscious and the other groaning.

Note 3: Claudia and Derek are fighting together. I want to separate them.

Claudia chuckled then lifted her gaze back at Derek—only to see Derek’s own smile quickly fade, and he clutched Claudia’s shoulder, yanking her out of the way.

Stumbling forward, Claudia looked back confused and saw Derek had caught barehanded the metal pipe of their first attacker. Derek rose to an intimidating height with anger radiating off him. The attacker cowered before him, but Derek backslapped him. When the man went sprawling across the ground, Derek grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him back to his feet. “You think you’re brave, don’t you? How brave are you now?” He punched him again.

Movement caught Claudia’s eyes, and she saw several of the other men moving toward Derek. She knew she couldn’t keep them off him, but she had to try. Racing up to them, she intercepted moving with speed, grace, and agility found only in a small number of fighters.

Note 4: They’re finally separated. We now enter the Middle of the fight where things get fast.

Two of the men got around Claudia and went for Derek while she moved swiftly fighting three at a time. She never stopped moving. Twisting and turning, she punched and kicked, blocked and struck. When someone grabbed her, she used his momentum against him and disentangled herself from him.

Note 5: The paragraph above is a summary of her fighting.

Two of them snatched her arms, pulling them back behind her, and Marcus approached her. She glared at him, but he smirked as he shoved up his sleeves, fisted a hand, then slammed a solid punch into her gut.

Note 6: Precise detail of specific actions.

Across the way Derek heard Claudia’s cry, and he shot his gaze across to her in time to see her punched by Marcus again. Red rage colored his vision, but before he could go to her aid, something hard slammed into the side of his head, knocking him to the ground, blacking out his vision momentarily.

Note 7: We whip back to Derek. This is a low point for both protagonists.

He was going to kill Marcus this time, he decided. He didn’t care anymore. Claudia always stopped him because they used to be a team, but Marcus couldn’t keep hurting her. Derek wouldn’t allow it.

As specks of his vision returned, Derek fisted his hands. He swore after he left the agency he would never let his killer side out, but why couldn’t they just leave him—them—alone?

Note 8: Glimpse into Derek’s mind. Too much of this will slow down the scene, but right now Derek is trying to recover his senses after being hit so hard. He’s going to fly into action soon.

Although still partly blinded, Derek heard behind him the familiar sound of a grunt—someone lifting a weapon to strike him. No—he wouldn’t allow that. At the same time, he heard someone approaching him from aove.

Lifting his gaze, he saw brass knuckles heading straight for him. With a stone cold face, Derek moved his head barely out of the way, felt the breeze of the punch pass him, and he snapped into action. Reaching up, he grabbed the bulky man’s head, slammed it down upon his knee. At the same time, he twisted and caught the metal pole in his bare hand as the attacker struck from above.

Derek locked eyes with the young man then smiled coldly. “I’ll take this.” With that, Derek yanked the pole out of his grip, spun it around a few times then whacked the man across the face sending him sprawling to the ground.

Now that he had a weapon, it was only a matter of time. His attackers shared a cautious look. They’d rather back down now if they could, but they had been paid good money to seriously hurt these folks. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t get paid. Reluctantly, they looked back at Derek—saw the glee grin on his face, and they knew this was a bad idea.

He swirled the pole once then twice but didn’t wait for them to attack him. He flew into action.

Across the way, Claudia suffered a few punches, but when Marcus pulled his arm back to punch her a third time, she leaned back against the two men who pinned her arms behind her back, and she tucked her knees to her chest, planting her feet on Marcus’ chest. His eyes widened, and she smiled then ran up him—kicking him in the face purposely—and flipped back.

Her action surprised the men holding her, so they let go of her arms. She flipped over them and landed low to the ground. She noted the leg of a broken chair just within reach near the dumpster, and she snatched it.

Note 9: While Derek finally becomes lost in the fight, we shift back to Claudia and see she’s not completely helpless. Now the fight is tilting back into their favor.

Marcus and his men looked surprised, but Claudia smirked at them then ran at them. With constant movement, she struck at one man with the chair’s wooden leg, elbowed another, blocked a punch, grabbed his arm, twisted, and threw him to the ground. She kept moving, sidestepping attacks, turning with the momentum, attacking, and blocking. She kicked and punched, ducked and lunged, grabbed and twisted, and threw yet another opponent to the ground.

Claudia!” At Derek’s voice, she snapped her gaze over to him, saw the metal pipe he tossed her way, and she snatched it out of the air while she cast aside the small wooden leg of the chair she had found.

Swirling it once to carry through the momentum of it being tossed to her, Claudia resumed her fighting stance with the pipe in her hands.

She realized Marcus was the only one standing.

A low whistle sounded behind her, and she glimpsed over her shoulder—while keeping an eye on Marcus—and saw Derek take his place beside her. He shook his head at Marcus. “Don’t know about you, Marc, but I’d be pretty terrified at the sight of her right now.” He jutted his chin to Claudia who had yet to relax her stance. “She seems pretty angry, and you remember what she does when she gets angry…” He trailed off and let Marcus’ memory fill in the blanks.

Marcus’ face hardened with rage, but disgust also crinkled his nose, and he straightened from his fighting stance. “You’re not worth it anyway.”

Claudia raised an eyebrow but didn’t lower her guard. “Worth what? Because it looks like you went into a lot of trouble to beat us up. You still hold a grudge?”

For a long moment, Marcus glared at his two former teammates, and they stood ready for one of his blind rage attacks. However, his fury melted away into a dark smile, and Marcus began to laugh. Claudia shared an unconvinced look with Derek then both looked back at Marcus as though he had lost his mind.

Still Marcus kept laughing until he finally shot them a smirk. “What can I say?” He spread out his hands as he stepped back. “You know me so well. I’m surprised you’d think I would really want to hurt you.”

Well, punching me in the gut seemed to give me a pretty solid impression that was your intention,” Claudia pointed out.

Gotta keep you on your toes.”

Derek narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?

Marcus’ smirk widened. “Testing you, of course—always a test.” With that, he left, and Derek and Claudia stared after him long after he disappeared from sight.

Claudia grimaced as she finally relaxed from her fighting stance. “I don’t care what you say, I still don’t trust that guy.”

Derek nodded then draped his arm over her shoulder to steer her out of the alleyway. “Well, let’s get out of here before anyone here wakes up.”

Note 10: This part began with a summary of Claudia’s actions which then immediately led to the ending of the scene.

When you are writing a Third Person multi-combatant scene, the one luxury you have that you don’t have in First-Person or a single combatant against one or more opponents is the ability to switch from character to character. In this fight, when Claudia got busy with lots of action, I switched over to Derek. When he got swamped with a blur of action, I switched over to her. When something bad happened to her, that affected Derek immediately, so I switched to him to show his reaction, and so forth until the scene came to an end.

Is this the only way to write a Third Person multi-combatant scene? No. You can stand focused on one character the entire scene if you would like. However, I view such scenes like a movie in my mind, and the camera is always moving. The characters and settings are factors to the equation, and I move from one character to another because 1) it stretches the time of the scene without it seeming to drag out, and 2) it is more realistic. You can’t capture every single second of a fight, so going back and forth between characters is a way to showcase each character’s skills and move the scene along.

What I set before you is not a concrete rule of how to write fight scenes. It’s an example and a guideline, but you need to determine what works for you and your writing. Once you’re comfortable writing fight scenes, there are so many ways you can expand them and have fun without overwhelming the reader by bogging down the story.

Next week we’ll discuss writing battle scenes because those can be cumbersome and intimidating. However, if they’re approached correctly, they can be fun, intriguing, and vivid for your readers to read.

Basic Fight Scene Formula

Is there a formula to writing fight scenes? Yes—and no. Yes, because each fight must have a beginning, middle, and end. At the same time there isn’t such a formula because you can change it any way you want to fit your writing style and the story. So let’s break down the first bit:

  1. The Beginning – two characters (or more) come together with either the intention to fight or an attempt to resolve a conflict which leads to a fight.
  • There might be some dialogue exchanged, warning the other person about the consequences of their actions if they decide to attack or pleading with them to think through it, or it could be jesting or bickering.
  • Characters might circle each other, mentally measure the room as well as their opponent.
  • Someone will choose to attack. The first few strikes and tricks should likely be mentioned in the scene to show the fighting style of each character.
  1. The Middle – the two characters are full into the fight.
  • Don’t write every single move. The more detail you write, the slower the scene gets, and a fight scene isn’t slow.
  • To show the quickness of the scene, summarize. If it’s a sword fight scene, use language such as this: “Their blades became a blur as they swung around striking and blocking then twisting and ducking.”
  • Allow poetics and redundancy into your writing because the characters are striking at each other again and again. Show this by the language your use even though you can still be vague on the details. “Left, right, high, low, they struck at each other again and again, twisting and turning, ducking and dodging each other’s blades and punches while trying to land their own.”
  • The middle connects the beginning and the end, so specific things happen throughout the middle leading to the end. Perhaps the result of the fight is a character falling to his death or something. Your characters need to move from where they originally started to that location. This is why you must be aware of the setting and location of the fight prior to the scene.
  • Just as you wrote the precise strikes each character did at the beginning of the scene to get it going, use include similar language sprinkled throughout the middle. A mix of summary and detail keeps the reader grounded in the scene. This is also an opportunity to show one character getting bested by the other and then reverse the roles a little later on. Ex: “Conrad moved too fast for him to see, but he kept fighting—blocking low, blocking high, and as soon as he felt Conrad’s blade touch his, he snuck in an attack only for Conrad to parry it and quickly riposte. Having enough, Draven locked blades with the older man then slammed a punch into his stomach. When Conrad grunted and hunched over, Draven fisted his hand around the hilt of his sword then smashed his guard into Conrad’s face, sending him sprawling across the floor. When Draven approached him, Conrad twisted and kicked Draven’s feet from under him, knocking him to the floor, and the two began to grabble…”
  • People get tired when fighting, so there are pauses in the fight. This happens when they push away from each other and circle one another (maybe trade a few witty lines or accusations), or they could lock blades especially at the hilts and press against each other. Yes, the latter isn’t very relaxing because you’re constantly pressing against the other person’s weight. However, because your entire body is used to keep the lock in place, it’s easy to maintain without too much strain as long as both fighters are equal to each other and not one above the other. The respectful way out of this is both fighters simultaneously push away from each other. These pauses are good opportunity to move the characters further along to where they need to be at the end of the scene.

3) The End – both characters have either resolved their differences or one of them has been defeated or there is an interruption that ends the fight.

  • Just like in the beginning when you used precise details to get the fight going, you need to use strong detail to bring it to an end. Something is going to give in the fight. Someone will either yield or die. This is when you show what exactly happens. Then you nicely wrap up the scene.

And thus you’ve written a fight scene.

Now is it as simple as that? In writing, nothing is ever that simple. That’s a good thing though. It means you can do whatever you want in order to create your own style of writing fight scenes. This is merely a rough sketch of such a scene especially when it’s one-against-one.

This formula can also be used with multiple people against one person, but it’ll be a little bit different. By having attacks come from all sides and different times (or the same time), another element of fighting is added. The singular fighter must be keenly aware of his surroundings and number of opponents at all times. Of course, this is impossible, but he must try to be as aware as possible. This means you, as the writer, must know how the fight will unfold. Imagine it like a scene from a movie. Where are the characters? What are their surroundings? What objects could be obstacles or weapons? As the fight unfolds, it will get out of hand, so there’ll be times when you need to have your main character dive behind a pillar or something just to reevaluate the situation and assess where everyone is. This gives you a chance to breathe and plot out the next few moves of the scene. Once you’re ready, throw the character back into the chaos.

However, when you have five-against-two or more, the dynamics change drastically. Although the overarching approach to a fight scene remains the same, handling a group fight is different, and I will go into more detail of this in next week’s post.

So remember, prior to actually writing the scene, you need to know the following:

  • Who is fighting?
  • What’s their personality and style?
  • Where is the fight taking place?
  • When (time of day/year) is it taking place?
  • What is the predicted outcome? (don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out the way you had planned)

When actually writing the scene, remember the following:

  • Approach the scene, start slow.
  • Speed up the action but allow for potent pauses or slow moments.
  • Slow the scene back down or end it abruptly.

If you ever get overwhelmed, then step back and breathe. Take a break if you must. Reevaluate the scene. Listen to the characters. You never know when something is supposed to happen in the scene that you did not see coming. A character might announce, “Oh by the way, I’m supposed to die here,” and you respond, “WHAT?!” That’s part of the fun of writing. Remember, if you’re surprised, your readers will likely be surprised too.

A few points to keep in mind:

1) If the locking of blades occurs anywhere along the blade rather than at the hilt, this is strenuous, but there usually is a reason for such action. The normal rule of engagement is that as soon as you feel your opponent’s blade against your own, you parry (block) and riposte (attack). This is called ‘disengagement of blades’. So if two opponents’ blades are locked somewhere along the middle of the blade, they’re trying to prove something—most likely that they’re stronger than the other person.

2) If your characters are sword-fighting, the goal behind every strike is to maim or kill—not to be fancy or entertaining unless one character is obviously taunting the other. Yes, if you’re fortunate enough for your books to become movies, the choreographed fight scene will likely have more flare to it in order to be eye-catching, but be careful about adding that flare to your writing.

In other words, if your characters are using swords to fight, they are not playing around. Every move they make is either to prompt an action from the opponent in order to create an opening, or they are defending themselves, or they simply blast in with an attack—aimed to kill. This means the characters will not attack each other’s blades because the blades aren’t the problem—it’s the person holding the blade that is the actual threat.

FUN NOTE: If your characters are training with swords and one person doesn’t have a clue how to use the sword, one thing the master swordsman will most likely say is, “Do NOT attack the blade!” And they’ll say this over and over and over again because this is what every beginner does without fail. How do they stop attacking the blade? It just happens, but it takes a while.

So next week we discuss a small group fight scene. We will eventually talk about writing battle scenes.

How to Approach a Fight Scene

I have trained many years in Martial Arts. My experience has taught me the basic elements of a fight, and more precisely how to be aware of my surroundings and therefore how avoid the confrontation, deflate the situation so there is no confrontation, or not be surprised when attacked or thrown into the middle of a fight.

Being aware of every single moment and movement in a tense situation is key to a fighter. Anything is possible, so they have to be ready for anything. Surprise is your enemy (unless you have the element of surprise on your side). Even if you are surprised, you don’t let the other person know that. You just start moving.

Movement is very important, and it is almost always constant. A lot of fights are two equals coming at each other punch for punch, kick for kick. With movement there is momentum. When someone punches, their body is moving one direction. Now you can either stand there and get punched, or you can twist your torso, watch his fist fly past you, then you grab his arm, twist it behind his back, slam your heel into the back of his knee thus forcing him to the ground. Keep his arm locked behind his back, putting pressure on the elbow, and you’ve got a pretty good handle on him because he won’t be able to move.

However, there are very strong people who can get out of such a grip—or they don’t care about pain and dislocating their shoulder—so with this kind of person you need to wear him down. He’s going to come flying at you with everything he has, but if you keep dodging, he’ll wear himself out, and this creates an opening for you. Since you haven’t used all your energy, now you can strike.

What I just described was a basic fight and the mindset of a mature fighter who has nothing to prove. People who are trained fighters and warriors on the field are least likely to pick a fight—mainly because it is unfair to everyone else. They know what they can do, they are confident in it, they don’t worry about it, but they will fight if they have to defend someone they love or are duty bound to protect, and when that happens, you better know how to defend yourself too or else you’re just going to get pounded.

Sure, TV and movies show guys fighting all the time—whether they are trained or not. It depends entirely on that character’s personality. If he feels he has something to prove or is insecure in any way, he will fight to make himself appear bigger and stronger than everyone else. The problem is when you have a lot of insecure people in the same group because, you’ll have a mess.

So when you sit down to write a fight scene, you must already know your character because that will determine how they fight. No one ever gets up one day and says, “Hey, I’m gonna fight today!” Well, I suppose someone could, but then he’ll have to decide whether or not he’ll get training before he fights, but more importantly he’ll have to decide why he wants to fight.

Once you know the ‘why’ for a fight and ‘how’ both characters fight, you need to determine ‘where’ the fight will take place. Will it be in a bedroom, in a hallway, the kitchen, the parking garage, in the middle of the shopping center, or in a forest?

Use the surroundings to your advantage. Jackie Chan is a master at this in his movies, and he uses anything as a weapon or a shield. Take your cue from him and imagine the setting and the little details. Stools are always great to break over someone’s head—so are wine and beer bottles. Throwing someone into a glass front disorients them, and big shards of glass automatically become a possible weapon. Pillars are great to slam someone against, hold someone against while choking them, or to be standing with your back toward and then ducking at the last possible second as the antagonist moves to punch you only to punch the steel pillar instead.

Another important detail to know is ‘when’ it’ll take place because if the place is a public place like the shopping center, it will help determine the elements of the setting. For instance, more people would be out and about at lunch time leading to a more crowded environment for the fight rather than how empty the place would be at night.

So you need to know the following:

  1. Who is involved in the fight
  1. How your characters fight
  1. Why your characters are fighting
  1. Where the fight takes place
  1. When it takes place

Now you know your characters and those details. Next week’s post we’ll discuss how to write the actual fight scene.