Five Great Fight Scene Signs:
- The fight scene is believable—in the context of the portrayed world
- The fight and the scene are logically carried out
- The fight scene has a good story supporting it
- The fight, conflict, or battle is driven by meaning
- Scene and fight are created by someone with some knowledge of writing and fighting
As a past practicing martial artist and a fellow human who loves a good adventure, I admire great fight scenes.
Some of the best books and movies for fight scenes include: R. A. Salvatore’s The Dark Elf trilogy for sword work; Lisa Tawn Bergrin’s River of Time Series for staff-wielding females; the The Bourne Trilogy and The Last Samurai movie for martial art applicability, prowess, and a glimpse of another world; all with the languages, costumes, and characters true to themselves. And these touch but the tip of the iceberg. And I must add Beyond the Mask, which had some tight, well-played action scenes.
Of course, all of these, especially the movies, are more or less realistic as far as a real fight with various weapons goes. Much depends on the actor or character and the right build of tension and credibility throughout the story around the fight scene. I should add that in my experience the quality of the surrounding story highly impacts the fight scene.
In a story, book or film, there’s a fine ratio between exhibitionism and realism. In books, I especially lean toward realism—in the context of the portrayed world, as I say above. For instance, there’s a large difference between an elf’s swordsmanship abilities and a man’s.
I dislike blatant impossibilities such as the river scene and some of the others in the last segment of The Hobbit movie. They do not strike me as quite true to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. On top of that, impossibilities of real bodies in motion yank me out of the story. (I still like The Hobbit, just not as much as LOTR.)
Practicing martial art has given me insights into how to make a fight scene believable. Full contact Tae Kwon Do gives you some idea of guarding, striking, balance, action and reaction: the give and take of forces. It also gives you the experience of falling and how you feel when hit, how it feels to take down and hit someone else, and gives a multitude of techniques for excellent martial art scenes in fantasy adventure stories.
For a fight scene in any medium to be anything more than a brawl, it must have meaning behind it, within it, and ahead of it: a goal achieved by it. The goal “achieved” can be success or failure, depending on how it serves the story. The stakes must also be logically solid, which leads to emotional meaning and characters basing their actions or desired outcomes on the stakes and their meaning.
And someone may know how to fight, but not how to write, or script, or film. I imagine that’s why there are instructors and editors involved in both movies and books. So if you’re trying to write a great fight scene for script or book, take a few martial arts lessons or talk to someone who knows. Study the scenes you love and the ones that fit the five signs of a great fight scene.
So if you’re a writer or reader and you have a favorite fight scene or movie, leave a comment below and let me know. Please share this article with your friends on your favorite social media if you’ve found it helpful.
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