Five Tips for Writing Fight Scenes in Romance by Christy Carlyle

Let me tell you about a recent note from my fabulous Avon editor. She pointed out that while I spent a lot of time building up to a brawl in my upcoming novel, How to Woo a Wallflower, I never actually, you know, wrote the fight scene. In the novel’s initial draft, I wrote around the fight. I set up tension before the event, and then resolved the whole thing way too quickly. I tend to do that. Sometimes I have trouble being too hard on my characters. But, in this case, I also knew how challenging it is to write a good fight scene.

But my editor was right. I needed to write that scene and give the reader a payoff for what I’d been setting up for several chapters. So, what have I learned as I rework that scene? A few tips that I hope can be helpful to other writers out there working on fight scenes too.

Make the Fight Matter

Obviously, the fight needs to make sense in terms of your romance plot. Though I’m always up for a good fight scene, it matters most if the stakes are high, emotions are raw, and the encounter advances the story for your hero and heroine.

But it’s also essential to make the fight matter to your character(s). Make the outcome matter. Make an emotional turning point hinge on whether your hero/heroine wins or loses. While all fights can arguably be a matter of life and death, make it more personal. As personal as it can be. Will they lose love, wealth, their sense of who they are if they lose this fight? Will a bad guy go free if they lose? Does the life of someone they care about hang in the balance? Will this fight finally settle some longstanding dispute and give them peace?

Get Inside Your Character’s Head

Going along with the first principle, it’s important to get as deep into your character’s perspective as you can during the encounter. Sure, you don’t want lots of internal thought, but that’s not what I’m referring to so much as deep point of view. Get us inside his or her skin. Inside his or her head. Avoid distancing words like: looked, watched, felt, thought, etc.

What does victory mean to him? Why is he fighting this fight? What does she hear, smell, taste, touch as the fight proceeds? These aspects shouldn’t overwhelm the scene or slow the pace of the fight, but they will make the scene richer if you can include some details. Especially if you can link a scent or taste to the character. Perhaps the coppery tang of blood in her mouth is something she’s tasted before because she has a dark and violent past. Maybe he’s fastidious and the smell of his opponent’s sweat makes him want to retch.

Let Your Words Set the Rhythm

Now, after just advising you to add some description, I’m going to make your job harder by pointing out that a fight scene is not the time for lengthy sentences or flowery language. Avoid adverbs and try not to pile on adjectives. During the fight itself, it’s most effective to shorten your sentences to increase the pace and give a rhythmic sense of the increased speed of the action. Punches, feints, ducks, dives, and strikes happen quickly. Short sentences move the reader faster through the scene, giving them a visceral sense of a fight’s momentum.

Don’t Forget the Emotion

Choreographing a fight scene can be a challenge, and making sure to include some sensory details is important. But a fight scene will matter most to your reader if they can feel your character’s emotion. Is he or she angry? Jealous? Afraid? Beyond self-preservation and a need to survive, what is fueling them emotionally during the scene? This could link in with why the scene matters. Is he proving himself to someone by fighting this fight? Is she finally breaking free of the rules that have repressed her by standing up for herself? Make sure to highlight the emotional power of your fight scene.

Research Action

What if you’re not into fight scenes in movies? What if you find that kind of action boring or it just moves too fast and you’re not sure of all the components? Research, my friend, research. I’ve googled articles on fighting, watched YouTube videos, and even had my husband pretend he was wrapping his arm around my throat to see where his arm landed on my shoulder, etc.

If you’re stuck writing your fight scene, watching some, or even throwing a few fake punches yourself, is a great way to get motivated to write one. Put yourself in your character’s mind and heart, imagine what they feel as they move through that scene. Sometimes walking through a scene physically is the best way to see it more vividly in your head and get it onto the page.

Writers, how do you prep for writing a fight scene? Any tips to add?

Readers, tell me about the best romance novel fight scene you’ve read.

4 Responses

    • Christy Carlyle

      Thanks, Denise. There are entire writing craft books on this subject. But these guidelines helped me edit my scene. 🙂

    • Christy Carlyle

      Aww, thanks, Barbara. I’m sure there are folks who write fight scenes all the time that have more tips, but these worked to help me get through writing the scene. Thanks for commenting!