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.

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Determining the Person

Before you write a story, you must know which ‘person’ you will write it in. This isn’t as simple as “Oh, well, I wrote a story in third person last time, so I’m going to write in first person this time.” It might work out that way for you, but when you approach a new story, you must listen to your characters. Listen to the voice of the story.

I once co-wrote a story with a young writer, and our story was written in third person. As we wrote more and more, I coached her in different aspects she needed to improve. One day she revealed something to me, “I hate writing in third person. I only ever write in first person.” On the surface there is nothing wrong with a preference of person. However, if that preference gets in the way of your practice of the other persons, then it’s a problem. It’s part of the Playground Experience to play with different persons.

Let’s recap on the terminology of persons in writing:

Person: The narrative point of view in which the entire story is written. There are three kinds of ‘persons’—First Person, Second Person, and Third Person.

First Person: I, me, my, and mine, such as I watched the meteor shower last night.

First Person Plural: We, us, and ours: We watched the meteor shower last night.

Second Person: You and yours. You watched the meteor shower last night.

Third Person: Elizabeth, Samuel, he, his, him, she, her, hers, it, its, they, them, their: Elizabeth watched the meteor shower.

Third person is the most popular choice for writing novels. First person is more common for shorter pieces of fiction—especially flash fiction, but it is gaining popularity with novels.

Second person is the least popular for two reasons: it is commonly tied into present tense, which is an uncommon tense to use for writing, and it can come across as accusing the reader of actions they’d rather not do. It’s almost like those ‘choose your own adventure’ books or short videos. The last thing the reader wants is to die or get hurt in the story, but when you don’t fully understand what’s happening in the story, you can’t make choices wisely.

For instance, there might be a simple sentence in the story that reads: You went to the fridge and grabbed the milk carton. The reader might dislike milk and argues, “No, I didn’t! I’ll have the orange juice!” This pulls the reader out of the experience of the story and therefore breaks the connection.

Some people might like this, but most of us don’t, so when we see a book is written in second person, we put it down. Our life is dramatic enough. We don’t need a book on something we’ve never done but written as though we did do it.

However, every writer should practice writing second person just as a skill to have. The best time to use it is when writing stories in the form of letters although I have read some extraordinary stories written in second person in which I completely forgot they were written in that person. If a story is well-written, the person really won’t be noticeable.

Now, back to first and third person. The main difference is the limitation of POV. In first person, the point of view is limited to the character narrating the story because we as individuals cannot read other people’s minds. Third person, however, can be all-seeing, all-knowing, and wherever you want whenever you want.

These two should be distinctly different.

Or should they?

Yes, first person is limited to a single individual’s interpretation of events and people. Unless you’re a narrow-minded and lacking an imagination (in which case you really shouldn’t be a writer), you can read people—their facial expressions, body language, the aura around them—and determine their motives. The more you know about them and their background and dreams, the more you understand them. Even if you can’t pinpoint their agenda precisely, you can still get the feeling, “This person is up to no good.” Now, apply that to your writing:

I watched Elizabeth stare at the stars blazing across sky in wonder. Ever the city girl, she never had clear, dark skies to view a meteor shower. Her mouth moved with ‘wow’s each time a star streaked across the sky, and—feeling my stare—she caught my gaze and smiled thanks.

How did the narrator know Elizabeth felt his stare? Have you ever stared at someone long enough that they finally turn and lock eyes with you? You never approached that person and asked, “Did you feel my stare?” You know the weight of stares, and you know it is an actual feeling. Apply your knowledge of life and your experiences to your story, and it will broaden your abilities especially in the otherwise limited first person narration.

Now, taking the same paragraph, but let’s switch it to third person.

Samuel watched Elizabeth stare at the stars blazing across the sky in wonder. Ever the city girl, she never had clear, dark skies to view a meteor shower. Her mouth moved with ‘wow’s each time a star streaked across the sky, and—feeling his stare—she caught his gaze and smiled thanks.

There lies the trick. Switching first person to third person without disrupting the flow of the story. When you can do this, you will fully understand both persons, but you can develop each to your preferred writing voice and style.

As an exercise, write a story you never plan to publish. Experiment using each person in the course of the story, but do so in a carefully constructed manner—not merely switching persons because it suits you. Plan it, and then achieve it. I once wrote a novella that went from third person to first person to second person back to first person and finally to third person. Sure, I likely will never publish it, but writing it helped me better understand the differences and similarities with each person.

Someone might tell me, “I can’t write in third person! I like first person better!” Having such a preference is fine and acceptable. Your writing style might consist mainly of first person or third person, but don’t think that you ‘cannot’ write one of the other persons especially when you might called upon to do so.

Remember, most people are comfortable with writing in first person because it is closest to what they wrote in their journal/diary prior to story writing. You shouldn’t eliminate third person until you have at least tried it and mastered it enough to be comfortable with it. If it’s not your preference, that’s fine, but at least you know you can do it.

Origin of the Narrative

Last week, we discussed the narrative—the telling part of the story—and I explained how necessary it is. Now we’re going to take a step back and determine its origin—not the literal origin but rather its beginning with each writer. So, where does the narrative begin? Lets consider the general beginnings of a writer.

As a young person, your parents or teachers probably encouraged you to keep a journal. This is usually the first introduction a young person has to writing. It is a ‘safe place’—someplace you can go and tell all your secret thoughts, dreams, desires, fears, and failures without being rejected or discouraged. You begin by recounting your day and how the events unfolded. You capture snippets of conversations you truly had or overheard, and you draw (sometimes literally) pictures of things you saw or imagined. Journal writing is very sacred, and they might never be read by anyone other than yourself all your life.

Then as you get older, you might dabble with poetry—maybe as homework assignments or as mere experimentation for yourself. It’ll likely appear in your journal here and there. The key with poetry is its profound depth of emotion. It is raw—very close to you, and it might be rare for you to share them with anyone. You don’t want people to know that side of you or all those secret thoughts or feelings in those situations. No, you have a persona to present, so you lock them away—howbeit in immortal ink on paper.

After much reading with adventures alongside the books’ characters, you decide to channel your experiences through story form. How do you do it? You choose a storyline that captures your attention—something like a character stumbles upon the truth that fairy tale characters are real and are part of another secret government agency, and everything unravels as the main character (the MC) tries to determine truth from fiction, and so forth. All right, so you have the story, who will be the MC? If you’re a guy, you’d likely decide the MC to be male. After all, you don’t want to mess up writing a female character! The women will likely butcher you if you mess up any representation of them. Women, the same applies for you. You’d likely create a female MC. If you’re young, the MC will likely be around your age—probably a teenager.

So you have the story and the MC, now you have to decide the proper ‘person’ for your story (first person, second person, or third person). Now, up to this point, you’ve only written in your journal with the focus being on all your experiences in life. Naturally that is written in first person, so you’re comfortable with it. That is likely what you will choose as the person for the story, so the story will be primarily from the MC’s point of view (POV).

So what does all this have to do with narrative? It is essential to a story that the narrative be invisible. This means the author must not be noticeable. There are times when I read a story, and I know the author is writing fictional tales of their life. To be honest, I don’t care about the author’s life story (unless I bought the book understanding that is what it is about—in which case, it’d better be non-fiction). I’m an author, and personally I know how boring a writer’s life can be. Who wants to read about someone sitting at a computer writing? There are only so many ways that can be done and redone creatively before it gets boring.

When the author decides to go on an adventure but under the guise of a character, it sticks out. For instance, I mentor young writers all the time, and their first few stories are always about a character of their gender and age carrying out the story. The character has the same personality and habits as their author. This is most evident when the story is set in a different era, and the characters talk with modern dialect when there are no time-travelers.

Author-based characters borderline ‘Mary Sues’—the ‘perfect’ character, who ends up being the most loathed character in the story as well. Why do these characters become ‘Mary Sues’? They’re based on the author, and as a human being, we don’t want to fail. We don’t want to be fooled or make a fool out of ourselves. We don’t want people laughing at us but rather respecting us, and we don’t want to lose. Therefore, the story becomes stilted because it is compromising for a single character, and that is unrealistic. As authors, we strive in making our characters’ lives miserable.

Is it wrong to have a character or narrative based on the author? No. Many books are published where the author is the obvious narrator. The problem? Writers do this when they’re at the beginning stages of their writing and have little experience. This is comfortable for them because of their experience with journal writing and such. When I see a narrator like this in a story, I put the book down. What impresses me more is when the author is completely invisible—when I don’t notice the narrator, and when the characters are so unique and individual that they capture my attention completely and yank me into the story.

“Okay, so how do I make sure I don’t write an author-based narrative?” Since characters and narratives are closely linked together, in order to ensure your narrative is invisible, put distance between your characters and yourself. If you’re a guy writing a story, make your main character (MC) female. If you’re female, then make the MC male. You might wince at this thought, but surprisingly oftentimes men write better female characters than women while women tend to write better male characters. Why? Because in the end, both men and women are people. Down at their core and values, they all have the same struggles, fears, and desires.

When your MC is the opposite gender, suddenly there is a distance. You don’t worry about what people will think of you or if they’ll think you’re the character. Instead, you know that character isn’t you, and you will be more receptive to listen what that character says and show what that character does without fear of you yourself being judged. Once you develop this relationship with your characters, it’s easier to write those characters of your own gender because you have already established the necessary distance between your characters and your own person.

Another way to keep the narrative invisible is to use third person rather than first person because it offers yet another distance. Is it wrong to write first person? No, but it is the person most commonly used by novice writers because of the transition from journal writing to story writing. To become more experienced with writing, you should experiment with all different persons (including second person) until you find which one you are most comfortable with—the one which best shows your story.

When writing, don’t sit there thinking, “Must make my narrative invisible. Must make it invisible. Is it invisible?” Don’t worry about it. Don’t fret over it. All this information is necessary to have in the back of your mind, and when the moment comes, you’ll have it right when you need it. So keep writing. Be mindful of what I said, but don’t fret.