In the Write Like a Fighter series, I try to give you as much insight into a fighter’s mindset. This helps in crafting accurate narration, emotion and character development during the scene. Today, though, we’re going to focus on an element that leads authenticity to a fight scene.

I’ve mentioned before that in a fight—regardless of the fighter’s training—your characters will most likely get hit. The likelihood of injury goes up when knives or other weapons are involved. (Even training against knife attacks leaves bruises where the knife would cut you. They aren’t mortal wounds, though. There’s a give-and-take. Mostly you give them the what for and take a few superficial nicks in exchange.)

However, let’s focus on the most frequently used fights: those in bars and alleyways. Your character isn’t going to see this attack coming. He or she might be watching for trouble, but the truth is, most of these come on quick and sudden. The attacker is likely going to be untrained and throw big, wide sucker punches like haymakers. They’ll probably do it while you’re holding a drink and facing the other way. (Remember that awful Knock-Out Game from the news last year?)

This is where it’s important to remember, the first punch is free. Your character is unlikely to see it coming, and if she does, it’ll be too late to do much. If she’s able to dodge and limit the impact, awesome, but the important part here is to remember that if you aren’t the attacker, you are probably going to take a blow before you have a chance to start defending. Luckily, it can take a moment for our brains to register those strikes to the head. This means your character can still explode with an attack or defense before the pain overwhelms.

In the name of full disclosure: I hate training for these scenarios. It only happens in advanced classes at my school, but I have, indeed, closed my eyes and let someone else start the fight. Then I get to kick their ass. Some of that explosiveness comes from training to fight and being able to immediately crank up the aggression and strike smartly. However, another part of that is the instinctual need to retaliate after a strike that like. When they haven’t knocked your character out, they’ve only flipped them into fight-or-flight. If they go with the latter, the first few strikes will be fiery.

Is your character a well-trained fighter? If they see the strikes coming, that’s a whole other ball game. In that case, feel free to have them bob, weave and slip like a mofo.

Here’s my favorite video displaying avoiding punches to the face:

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Important note: These posts are provided as informational for writing fight scenes. If you want to learn self-defense techniques, I highly advise taking a Krav Maga class. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to handling stress situations.