I'm sure this gets asked a lot, so I figured I might as well put in my two cents and see how it turns out.
A fight scene is only as good as the story and the writing, so naturally you want the story and writing to be solid all the way through.
A fight's "story" can be broken down into three parts:
- Negotiations Fail
- The Turning Point
- The Victor
These three points make up the story elements to why the characters are fighting, usually a fight happens when diplomacy fails, so if a deal starts going south, this is when the characters should be aware and ready to throw down. The turning point is what sways the fight in one character's favor, like backup, or a weapon like a knife, or gun. And then the victor is well…the victor.
So that's the story elements now we get into the mechanics of a fight, these are what make the fight stand out, this makes up what each character will be doing in the fight and the actions they take.
A fight's mechanics can be broken down into four different elements:
- Character physicality
- Action and Reaction
Character physicality plays a great factor into the realism of the fight as well as the actions and reactions the character will make. if you have a physically weaker character and a physically stronger one, the stronger one should have an edge, Now a weaker character would probably act and react in a way they can bring the bigger opponent down to their level, like tripping, dodging, etc, while the bigger character would hit hard but have much more of a wind up.
Now every fight should had some element of realism to it, meaning that every blow should be felt by the reader, and that there is a real threat of a character dying. Artificial tension takes away from the scene because you know that the character will most likely make it out of the fight, but if you show that there is an actual threat it makes the fights much more tense and real. Realism has its place even in high fantasy, say for example you have a dragon, realistically, if the dragon slashed with it's claws or lashed out with it's teeth, they would kill most creatures. Even a knight in plate would be quickly eviscerated by a dragon because of it's pure strength, and size. Grounding fights as realistically possible adds to that level of actual tension, because the consequences could be dire.
The length of the fight also plays a big part in realism as well. Most fights are not hours upon hours of fighting, some fights only last a matter of minutes. Wars are another story, they are long stretches of nothing, and short bursts of intense fighting. Some fights can be over in a matter of seconds.
Action and Reaction are the bread and butter of any fight. The best way to think of this would be Character A does something, and Character B reacts. Character B does something, Character A reacts. Rinse repeat until someone wins. But this is where you can get creative and come up with ways for the characters to attack each other. Try to avoid having too many characters in a fight at a time as this can make things disjointed and difficult because each character has to do something and contribute to the fight in some way.
So the action the character makes should make up the bulk of their time, these are things like throwing a punch, shooting a firearm, swing with a sword, etc., I like to think of a fight scene as each character taking a "turn" and there is only so much that a character can do during said "turn." If you want a character to do multiple things at once, split them up. Don't try to have everything happen in the same paragraph, try to keep it so there is one action per paragraph.
The reaction is something that a character does by sheer instinct. If the character gets punched, they would react accordingly. However a reaction does not limit itself to the characters getting hurt, the reaction can be them trying to avoid the action the other character is making, like parrying a sword strike, or shoving the character's arm to the side to make the gun miss.
This is the way I like to think of a reaction: Using the latter example from above, a character should only be able to react to one thing at a time. Going back to the "Turns" example, to put it simply; The character gets 1 reaction a turn and can't use it again until it's their turn.
When it comes to spacing the actions, as I said, you should break it up so there is one action per paragraph. Now describing the action comes down to personal preference, I like to keep the descriptions of actions short and sweet and let the reader imagine the fight to their own liking, trying to avoid giant walls of text.
Josh darted forward, swinging his sword in a wide arc.
Devon stepped to the side, avoiding the swing.
It's short, but gives the reader room to use their imagination. That's not to say that large descriptions don't have their place in a fight, they do, just try not to keep them too long because long walls of text can take the reader out of story.
Lastly we come to blood, and gore. Depending on your preferred audience, this is something you want to use in moderation. I like to use blood as away of adding grit and tension to a fight, because blood is a great medium for showing damage a character has received. Once the reader sees "Blood…" or "Crimson…" The reader immediately gets an idea of how hardy or powerful something is. A great way to use blood would be at the half way point of a fight because this means each punch, kick, and slash is felt, as the characters get more and more desperate.
Blood also adds realism to the fight, which reinforces that no character is (or should) be invincible. I'm heavily against having characters with plot armor, and when I have two or more in a fight, almost always will the MC (or MCS) walk away bloody, and bruised, if they're lucky. To cycle back to what I said earlier, with blood sometimes less is more. Writing "There was a spray of Crimson from their neck." can more effective then a wall of text describing every detail of a blade slicing the throat of a character.
That is the mechanical side of a fight, which ties hand in hand with the story side of the fight. With most of the fight scenes I've built and written out, almost always I've improvised it. Couple that with the lack of plot armor my characters have, makes for a thrilling, tense, brutal experience. Nothing adds tension more then when the writer themselves don't know who will win, which ultimately make the the outcome all the more real.
When you have all the elements working in tandem with each other, you can get a very well written fight scene, that is not only a thrill to read, but is also legitimately tense that any character can die in the fight. If you structure fights in life or death situations, coupled with no plot armor, you get something real that most Hollywood movies fail at. That's my two cents on making fights scenes, so anyone who needed help writing a fight scene, I hope this was good enough.
Source: reddit post