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The Key to Writing Great Fight Scenes For Young Adult Books

I'm not being payed to promote this book, I swear... but I did finish it recently and now have it on my mind at all hours of the day and night because I have yet to get my hands on a copy of the third book. Anyways... it got me thinking about fight scenes. More specifically, what it takes to write good fight scenes. You see, this book had a ton of physical altercations and I realized, after reading through a good portion of them, that there is a lot more to writing a fight than jabs and slashes. The most beautiful and noteworthy thing about these scenes in particular was that they didn’t go into great detail about the exact moves the person made; the type of kick, punch, mount etc. There was hardly any technical nerd-talk whatsoever! Most of it was vague, but worded in a way that still painted a clear enough picture to envision the outline of the fight in my mind. And I say “enough” because, although I am focusing in on how important it is to be a little vague in a fight scene, you do need some details to outline the scene. The reader can fill in the rest and you can give them the opportunity to do that through less detail at times, more vagueness. Optimally, both the writer and reader will have close to equal share in fight scene building. I found that being vague, with some details sprinkle in, made for the best fight scenes and will ultimately help you write better fight scenes.

I know, I know.. I’m sure your mind is spinning right now, remembering all those red marks that English teacher made on that short story of yours about how you needed to add more detail or that article you read the other day in “Writers Digest” that made it clear that without detail, your story is nothing. Well, detail is great. Of course you want your story to be detailed. Those tiny details are what make a story come to life. It’s what makes a world come to life. Right now, I’m talking about fight scenes. And I’ve read fight scenes where the author has added every last detail in down to the type of arm bar a character is using, and it just doesn’t work for me. It takes me out of the story. I skip over all the mixed martial artist jargon to get back to the story. It bores me.

For others, this is probably not the case, which is why I included in the title of this blog “… For Young Adult Books.” The mma jargon has a place in the book world, but for young adult readers, most of them don’t want to read all that technical jibber-jabber. So, yes, add in some detail about the fight. The detail usually comes at the beginning of the fight to set it up and get the readers head into the fight. In one scene from “Crown of Midnight” the main character (an eighteen year old assassin named Celaena) is surveying a building, inside of which her Captain is being held captive. Sarah J. Maas describes Celaena’s process of finding a way inside the building (she jumps through an open second-story window, surprising the her enemies below), adds in some detail about what she does first once she is through the window (hurls daggers at the archers), and then from there it gets a little vague. These are a couple of vague descriptions that she writes after she throws the daggers (from the Captains perspective):

“And he could only watch in horror and awe as she drew two swords---one of them his---and unleashed herself upon them.”

“She was a whirlwind of steel and blood. As he watched her cut through the men as though they were stalks of wheat in a field,...”

These are not detailed descriptions. They don’t detail every last move in the fight, but they still paint a clear enough picture. The word “unleashed” in particularly, is powerful. It’s lethal, furious, angry. You can see her tearing though these people. And then the latter description just adds on to the last. It's an entire scene in itself and it goes on for however long the reader wants it to. You can see the bloodshed, the energy surrounding her as she fights her way through her enemies. I think I even imagined a fire glowing in her eyes, this was so powerful. This word creates a lot of imagery and is a great example of a vague description that is still vivid.

Being vague also helps with pacing during fights. The pace needs to be fast most of the time, but switching between detail and vagueness will give the reader mini breaks from the sword slashing, which is needed sometimes. Fights are high adrenaline, high focus, high speed, high stress. Make your reader feel this by creating sentences like the second one I listed above. Where, in just that one sentence, you see an entire scene play out in your mind. And it can be as violent, beautiful, and impressive as the reader sees fit.

My main point is, you don’t need to write in every move the characters make. This is probably the worst thing you can do if you’re writing a young adult book. My advice to you... be vague!

I want to leave you with a challenge. Take a fight scene from a novel or short story that you have written and rewrite it. This time around I want you to “go vague” a bit, but with some details throughout, of course. Also, analyze your favorite fight scenes from a book and add in what you learn from those.

I love fight scenes, so I (and Stevie, I’m sure) would love to read what you have when you’re finished. Send it our way if you feel so inclined! Let us know what your favorite fight scenes are through our Facebook page. You can comment below! Happy writing everyone!

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