Write Like a Fighter

Improve your action scenes with insight from a martial artist

An engaging fight scene can strengthen your readers’ connection with your protagonist.

Action scenes should propel the plot and the overall character development. Plus, they should be badass, right? In the Fight Like a Writer series, you’ll find the details to make your fight scenes believable from a logistics side—no one escapes a knife fight without getting cut, for example—as well as the emotional mindset during a fight and how to leverage that internal conflict to maintain reader investment and keep them turning the pages.

Chelsea is a martial artist with experience in Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Filipino Martial Arts (Eskrima, Arnis, Kali) and small-circle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Her strongest focuses are hand-to-hand combat and weapons disarm techniques. (Though she find stick fighting incredibly fun.)

If you want to craft accurate narration, emotion, and character development through fight scenes, you’ve come to the right place.

Breaking the Big Guys Down

Krav Maga fighting stanceA typical petite, urban fantasy heroine takes out a guy twice her size. We read it often, and I hear readers suggest she couldn’t really win that fight without supernatural abilities. It’s her vampire speed, the animal instincts of werewolf nature or magic slows time down for her.

I’m here to tell you a small woman can dismantle a large attacker without preternatural abilities of any sort. Really. Read More.

The First One’s Free

Let's talk about that sucker punch...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?) Read more.

3 Keys to Fight Scenes with Injured Characters

Fighters train to deal with any situation. As I’ve written time and time again, it’s about opportunity. That is still the divining principle here. Your character is going to use the remaining weapons (arms and legs count as weapons) to the best of her ability. The ones closest to the attacker are great places to start. Read More

3 Writing Lessons from Krav Maga

Fight dirty. If you’ve read Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series, you’ll know Bones teaches Cat to always kick the person when they’re down. He’d fit into the Krav world.

If you’re fighting for your life, there are no rules. Scratch their face. Kick them in the groin (this is practiced frequently). Bite. Whatever it takes to win. If your characters are playing by any fighting rules, then you’re missing the must-win element. Read more.

5 Reasons We Punch People in the Face (and Alternatives for More Interesting and Accurate Fight Scenes)

I’m a big fan of punches. My left hook is wicked and I’ll sneak it into pretty much any sparring match. However, it’s not always the best pick, particularly when you’re up against someone significantly bigger. Smaller women can absolutely win a hand-to-hand fight against larger men, but a punch to the face isn’t going to be your fight opener because reach (a.k.a. actually punching directly to their face without having to reach upward) will be an issue. Read more.

Self-Preservation is King When Fighting Injured

Well, dear readers, now I get to tell you what happens when you get hurt in the middle of a fight. I dislocated my left shoulder and clavicle a little over a week ago while doing some advanced, worst-case-scenario ground fighting. While my injury occurred in a safe environment while training, my body reacted like we were in a very real situation. Read more.

Willing to Take a Punch

In order to be close enough to throw a punch, your heroine is going to need to be in range to get punched. As long as this isn’t their first time in a fight, they’ll know it’s coming. It’s important to have your character considering the risks of their actions. Even with proper form, you can open yourself up to counter attacks with every strike. There are a few ways to get around that, but two that are most helpful to writing fight scenes. Read more.

Take Your Character from Victim to Attacker

Unless your character is an assassin, she’s probably not going out to find a fight. Instead she’s going to be the one finishing them. Regardless of the scenario—blitz, escalating talk at the bar to a brawl, mugging, fighting a demon armed with a knife, whatever—your character will likely be attacked and need to flip the switch to become the attacker. Read more.

Being Clingy Can Be a Good Thing

The No. 1 request I get when it comes to topics for the Write Like a Fighter posts is how to fight injured. We’ve talked about three keys to fight scenes with injured characters before, but there’s something I instinctively do when in a fight that’s built for being at a disadvantage. Read more.

Just. Don’t. Stop.

Your character may have a solid plan, but not every strike is going to land. Sometimes your protagonist is going to fail. They’re going to get hurt, they’re going to screw up, and it’s going to make the scene more realistic and better endear your character to the reader. Read more.

Regular Training Matters

Remember your character isn’t just magically good at fighting. (Unless that’s a plot point, I suppose.) It’s a skill that one hones. It requires practice. At the very least, basic cardio would be a part of their regular day. You don’t need to go all Rocky montage, but give your character the depth of training. The bonus here is you can illustrate a way your character is disciplined in this facet, whether that mirrors the other order in their life or juxtaposes the chaos. Read more.

Krav Maga Lesson on Distraction

When it comes to writing, the biggest takeaway here is the fight scene can be more than strikes; they can be mind games. The way your characters react to distraction techniques and their resourcefulness speak to who they are and, more often than not, their past. Read more.

Fatigue and the Fight Scene

During a fight, every attack is done full force. We want to overwhelm our opponent as quickly as possible. This means in the real world, a fight more than 30 seconds means you did something wrong and are about to be so very tired. Read More.

It’s Just Like Playing with Legos

Your scenes are more vibrant by varying the actions in your fights, but you also can help readers gauge your characters’ skill sets. Do they only know one or two moves, or can they bust out all sorts of things depending on the situation? Read more.

Real-Life Urban Fantasy Heroine?

We often read about heroines throwing punches, hurting the bad guys and generally kicking ass. Sometimes we get to read about their training — like all that running Rose Hathaway really hated in Vampire Academy. Today, I put myself in the shoes of an urban fantasy heroine and took my first Krav Maga class. Read more.

A Punch to the Face Can Be a Good Thing. No, Really.

There’s always a give and take when you reach out to strike. You will be open to an extent, and that means you have to be willing to trade your possible fight-ender for a little pain. It’s good to know how to take a punch and even better to know how to keep moving after the distraction of a glove to the ear. Read more.