Guest post by TC Southwell: How to write a good fight scene

Today we’re pleased to host fantasy author TC Southwell’s virtual book tour again. As part of the tour, The Queen’s Blade II, Sacrifice, is free on a 3-day promotion, today being the last day. Grab your copy while you can (Book 1 is permanently free). Coupon Code: EN88H

Enjoy the below guest post written by Southwell, which we’re sure all writers will find invaluable.

A fight scene should be gripping, believable and fast-paced. I always write a fight scene at the speed at which it happens, so it’s ‘real time’, and the reader can, therefore, imagine it at the correct speed. You can’t add much in the way of thoughts or feelings during a fight scene, as this will slow the pace of the action and the characters will ‘pause’ in the reader’s mind while the protagonist has his/her thoughts or feelings. Aside from that, someone in the middle of a fight won’t have time to think about stuff. They’ll be too busy fighting. Feelings such as fear, panic, pain and rage should be added briefly, as they happen. Actions must be clearly described and believable.

Try to imagine the scene, and write what happens. If your protagonist is attacked from behind, you can only show the result of this, since your character only knows what happens when he or she is struck, stabbed or shot. They don’t know who did it or how, just that someone must have sneaked up behind them or attacked from a concealed position. If you’re writing from the point of view of an observer – another character who’s not fighting, not god – you can show your readers everything that happens – such as enemies sneaking up on the protagonist – but this method will distance your readers from the true impact of the fight, since an observer won’t experience it first-hand and, therefore, neither will your readers.

If possible, I like to switch points of view during a fight scene, to give a partial first-hand account and a partial second-hand account. This is because an observer can see things the protagonist can’t, and his or her feelings can be described, briefly, to enhance the reader’s overall impression of the fight, not only from the point of view of the fighting itself, but also the pathos of a sympathetic observer’s feelings about the conflict’s outcome. Make the actions believable, so your hero/heroine isn’t doing the impossible in order to survive, unless, of course, your protagonist has super-human abilities, but then these must have already been established. If not, the possibility of developing such abilities must have already been made clear, so that a sudden onset of a magical power isn’t a ‘deus ex machina’ – god from the machine – where an untenable situation is resolved through an unexpected and contrived ability, person, object or event. That will only make your readers snort and roll their eyes.

Describe the scenery before the fight starts, to give a complete picture, and add changes as they happen, such as blood, broken weapons, corpses, the protagonist’s exhaustion and injuries, and so on. In order to give your readers a true and vivid impression of the fight from a first-hand point of view, it’s important to only describe exactly what the fighter experiences. For example, if your protagonist has a head injury, he or she only knows that something warm is running down his/her face; he or she doesn’t know it’s blood, although he/she can probably guess.

It’s easier to write a fight scene between two antagonists, but if you’re describing a battle in which the hero or heroine is embroiled, be sure to take a moment every now and then to briefly describe what’s going on around him/her, as he or she would see, hear, feel or smell it. All the senses are important, not only sight. Describing smells, sounds and sensations will give your readers a far clearer and more engaging experience. Never, however, say that your protagonist saw, smelt, heard or felt something. Those words are a no-no in first-hand writing, as they distance your readers. Show the scene, don’t tell it, and never, ever, use the word ‘suddenly’! Show that something was sudden; don’t tell your readers it was.


T. C. Southwell was born in Sri Lanka and moved to the Seychelles with her family when she was a baby. She spent her formative years exploring the islands – mostly alone. Naturally, her imagination flourished and she developed a keen love of other worlds. The family travelled through Europe and Africa and, after the death of her father, settled in South Africa. T. C. Southwell has written over thirty novels and five screenplays. Her hobbies include motorcycling, horse riding and art.

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19 Responses to Guest post by TC Southwell: How to write a good fight scene

  1. I think it’s best to stick with your natural style, as that’s what you’re most comfortable with and therefore will come across the best. Trying to change your style will only distract you from the more important task of telling the story the best way you can. For me, switching viewpoints mid-scene comes naturally. That’s just the way I see it in my head and I’m not even conscious of doing it when I initially write. Only later, during editing, do I spot the POV changes and add in the line breaks to separate them. You do have to be careful, however, of making POV changes too short, as these can be confusing to readers. I have, on occasion, changed POVs to combine several that were too short. Great to have you following the tour, Michelle, and thanks for all the cool comments! Thanks for being such a great host, Fireblade!

    • I agree that most of the time it’s best to stick to your natural style, though experimenting can be loads of fun too if you aren’t working on an existing series.

    • Yes, I’m definitely not going to change my style to something that I can’t write fluidly at all! 🙂 Writing from the perspective of my main character in third person POV is what has always come naturally to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play around with other styles every once in a while, just as exercises.
      Enjoyed reading your posts, T.C!

  2. Yes, you really need to pay attention when watching a series like that!

  3. I’m so behind on following this blog tour! I hate it when I get too busy to keep up with my blog reading…

    Another great post and I must admit that I’m guilty of slowing my fight scenes down with thinking. It completely ruins the flow, but it’s a very hard habit to break as my fight scenes normally come right after something important has been revealed and my characters need to make up their mind about something. But at least I know where I have to improve!

    • I’ve managed to stay up to date, though I’ve been horribly sick with flu, so my comments on other tour hosts’ blogs have been short 😦

      I find that switching POV during fight scenes can help to keep the action tense and fast while allowing a little more leeway for internal dialogue. Of course, it isn’t always possible to do that without ruining the scene.

      • I have tried switching POV in writing before and I must admit that it just doesn’t work for me… I love it in books, but I simply can’t make it work myself. And for once, I have no idea where I go wrong. 😦
        Sorry to hear that you have been sick!

        • It’s super frustrating knowing that you’re going wrong, but not being able to figure out exactly where/how. I’ve been there too! If you have some old snippets where you’ve changed POV during a fight scene, I’d be happy to give them a quick read to see if I can figure out why they don’t work. A fresh set of eyes could be all you need (it’s helped me tremendously in the past with similar problems).

          • I don’t have any fight scenes with switching POV. I normally write from the perspective of my main character only, and I found out that is a very good idea when I tried an experiment where I started to write a book with switching POV. I simply couldn’t do it! Maybe I should try with something less complicated first(I remember trying to switch POV in the middle of a scene, maybe that’s too tough for dual-POV virgin…)

            • For me, when writing from more than one POV during the same scene, having shorter POV scenes works better. The longer each is, the more jarring when I switch POV. Really short scenes for each POV during a fight scene can also increase the tension and keep the flow nicely without confusing the reader. Each writer is different, though, so you might find that it just doesn’t work for the types of fight scenes you write, because not every fight scene is the same type.

              • I might take it up as an experiment again sometime, but I doubt I will ever use it in my main manuscripts as it will take huge amounts of practice for me to get comfortable with it. And maybe I just don’t have the feel for it?

                • I think how much time you spend on it depends on how badly you want to switch POVs during a fight scene, and how necessary you think it is. If your scenes work they way they are, it’s silly to spend huge amounts of time trying to change your method ‘just because’, but if you feel that multiple viewpoints would add something to the reader’s enjoyment, it’s worth the time. I remember when I first started switching viewpoints, I used to make a mess of my timeline, which got rather confusing (and caused me no end of aggravation)! Thank goodness for beta readers who are also authors with an eye for detail!

                  • I think my biggest problem might be the interaction between the characters… Maybe I just can’t wrap my mind around suddenly being inside the head of the person I was speaking to just a second before.

                    But right now, I’m working on book 3 in a series that never had POV changes, so it’s not even relevant right now as I can’t just change my writing style 3 books in.

                    • That could be it, yes. I’m lucky in that, once I’m ‘in the zone’, I find switching viewpoints easy. Wish I could say the same for keeping my timeline in order! :p

                      I agree that switching your method in the middle of a series is a bad idea; it could very well throw your readers right out of the story, which you obviously wouldn’t want.

                    • Yes, it would be way too weird changing at this point!
                      And timelines are tricky little things that refuse to keep in line. I really admire the writers of series like Doctor Who, who can have their timelines completely jumpled up and still get them to make sense in the end… I can barely keep up while watching it!

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