Fight Scenes – Give 'em a Knuckle Sandwich



Buckle up, my darlings, I've got tons of info and tips at the ready. I love action movies and TV shows with lots of pow, bang, boom! Something you may not know about me is I studied Mixed Martial Arts for many years. I was close to testing for my Brown Belt when I tore a tendon in my elbow while breaking wood. After surgery I bounced back but from that moment on the classes I participated in were just for fun. My point is, I enjoy the fight scenes and want to incorporate them into my books. There’s something so satisfying about the bad guy getting his a$$ kicked or the bitch-chick receiving her just deserts. (Yes, that's spelled with one "s" but pronounced dessert, like to desert one's post.)




Get your fight on! Decide what kind of fighting your characters will engage in. If your character is a professional boxer or proficient in Krav Maga, Jiu-Jitsu, fencing, or any number of other fighting styles, you’ll need to research so you can toss in some jargon. I say toss in because you don’t want to bore or bombard the reader with lots of precise words. That makes a fight scene too meticulous and sterile. Decide if weapons will be involved. If so, research my darlings!



For your garden variety combat, you will most likely have your characters engage in street fighting where they will throw bunches of punches and strike with killer kicks, in a public forum. Fists will fly with jabs and right crosses, upper cuts, and hook punches or a hammer fist to the side of the head. Your characters will hit their opponent with kicks a plenty. If you feel the need to drop in a name or two you may want to keep it simple with front kick to the groin, a round kick to the hip, or a back kick to the thigh or stomach. Add finger-pointing, shirt-grabbing, hair-pulling, slaps, scratching, takedowns, and headlocks. Hopefully no biting off of ears.



Though the fighting itself is important, it's best to focus on more than just the blow-by-blow of the action. That gets boring fast. Instead, lead the reader into the essence of the characters who find themselves in this combative situation, and make sure the scene moves the story forward.



Questions coming at ya! Ask yourself a few questions before you write the scene then again after. What makes this fight scene important? Why is the character fighting in the first place? What is revealed about the protagonist or other main character who is fighting? What goal is achieved by the conflict? Are there stakes involved? What kind of fighters are the characters? Is one very powerful and one not so much? Think about a strong man and a petite woman in a battle. Does one use physical prowess while the other uses, intelligence? Can the petite woman overpower the strong foe with her wits? You get the picture!



Use dialogue to keep the pace in a steady forward motion. Mix it in with the fighting to break up the monotony of punches and kicks. There’s probably going to be a lot of yelling and cursing. Use that in your dialogue tags. Avoid long drawn-out sentences. Keep them short and sweet just like the fight itself.


It’s not just about a fist connecting with a nose or mouth. Help the reader visualize everything in the scene through sensory details, colors, inner dialogue, feelings, and clues.



What are the characters seeing in their environment? Readers want to know. Is there something of importance nearby? Something that will perhaps become clear by the end of the battle.



What sounds do the fighters hear? Are others cheering them on? Does a school bell ring in the distance? Is there a screeching of tires or a horn beeping? And what sounds emanate from the fighters themselves? I'm talking about sophisticated onomatopoeia, not cartoon or comic book splats, bonks, and clunks. Have at it with grunts, groans, thuds, heavy breathing, the scraping of feet on gravel, the crack of bones, and anything else you can dream up!


What reeks? Are there distinct smells in the air? Sweat for sure, but what about something in the environment? Where does this fight take place? Bring in those surrounding scents. A restaurant or fast-food parking lot for example probably contains a plethora of possible odors – hamburgers, fried chicken, Italian or Asian food smells. Maybe the fight is near a gas station so oil and gas aromas can add to the scene. Or the stench of garbage from a nearby dumpster. Maybe onlookers are smoking. Don’t underestimate the bad breath or B.O. of one of the fighters, remember fighting can be a close contact event. Get your smell on and start sniffing!



Stick out your tongue! Okay, you might not think so, but taste is another avenue to explore. The obvious is the taste of blood, but what about salty tears, or sweat? What about a combo of blood mixed with vomit or snow when one fighter is knocked to the ground? Sand or dirt may not have starring roles but they can play a part too. Don't sell strawberry lip gloss short either, girls fight too!



"Come on, come on, come on, come on, now touch me, babe . . ." Sing it with me loud and proud! It's The Doors. No? Okay, I just aged myself. Moving on. Touch is palpable during a fight. A fist connects with a jaw, a kick in the groin drops a fighter to their knees. You follow? Expanding on the idea of touch, what if one character is so out of breath, they retreat by bending over and touching their thighs? Get it? Got it? Good!



Now comes the fun part, inner dialogue, feelings, and leading the reader to the end of the incident by sprinkling in clues. Fight scenes don’t need to be all bloody noses and fat lips, they can be a psychological dance between the characters, a strategic chess game of minds.


Expanding on an idea from above, imagine two characters facing each other in a closed space; one a petite woman, the other a brawny, tough man. Let’s pretend for a moment they are cordial enemies and stuck in a place they both want to escape, but the woman knows the man still intends to kill her.



One can compose the narrative in a clever way. Suppose the woman is far superior intellectually to the burly man which gives her a huge advantage. While he thinks he can overpower her, she’s like a lady Mac Gyver, busy scanning the room for items to help her out of this jam. Imagine writing the scene from her point of view.


She elicits conversation between them. The female character listens and plots while the male character discloses his intentions and perhaps further personal information, she can use against him, gleaned from his body language. Maybe he injured his leg or wrist and she can gain the upper hand by approaching him from that side, or inflicting further injury.


The reader is privy to everything she sees, hears, and smells but perhaps not understanding the meaning behind each of the items she sees, the sounds she hears, and the odors she smells. The reader is not yet appreciative of exactly what she’s plotting. But all will be clear in due course. The perfect moment arises to execute her plan. Her plot is revealed step by step, but in quick succession and she overpowers him and escapes. When done successfully, the reader will have an aha moment.




Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.

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I co-founded and managed a successful author and writer group on Long Island for five years. During events with publishers and authors I learned what matters, what agents are looking for, and the benefits and pitfalls of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

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