Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader's lightsabers CLASH against each other!
Mad Max and Furiosa GRAPPLE desperately against each other, trying to get the upper hand.
Iron Man fends off attacks from Captain America and The Winter Soldier while trying to get his own hits in.
Audiences love a great fight scene, and there have been many memorable ones throughout film history. Screenwriters with an interest in action dream of the day one of their idealized fight scenes will get to play out on the big screen.
It's one thing to picture a violent situation or hand-to-hand combat scene playing out in your mind, but it's another thing to write it! How do you map out a fight scene on paper? Is there a specific format or technique to it? Keep reading because today I'm talking all about how to write compelling fight scenes. Many of these lessons apply to authors of books and screenwriters alike!
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Tips for Writing Fight Scenes in Books and Screenplays
Don't Overwrite the Action, Writers!
When writing a fight sequence, you might feel the urge to write every blow-by-blow moment that flashes across your mind. That's understandable; you want to give the reader the exact impression of how the scene should play out. Writers must temper that urge and find a happy medium. You want to walk a fine line between noting every literal blow and leaving room for the director and stunt coordinator to add their own creativity to the mix.
No Walls of Text in Your Script
Like with any other scene, you want to try to break up your fight scene into stand-out moments. You don't want huge blocks describing the action but more brief lines that highlight it. When you write large sections of text, readers tend to skim over it. You never want to give a reader an excuse to skim moments of your script! Keep them engaged with short, stand-out lines.
Use a Writing Style With Short Sentences
Use short sentences to keep things direct and brief. Don't be afraid to use tools like ellipsis and dashes to keep the eye moving down the page.
ALL CAPS to Highlight Action and Fighting Styles in a Battle
Don't be afraid to use all caps to emphasize something in a physical fight. Whether it's a noise - "BANG," an object - "GUN," or an action - "HITS THE FLOOR," don't be afraid to make meaningful moments of the battle scene stand out by using capitalized keywords.
You Probably Don't Need to Break Out the Camera Directions for Action Scenes
It can be tempting in action sequences to use camera directions. Maybe this would be an excellent opportunity to use CLOSE UP ON KNIFE. But for the most part, you don't need to. Let all caps words emphasize the objects or actions that require emphasis and let each line stand for a specific camera shot.
My Own Epic Fight Scene Example
Here's an example of a fight scene using the tips I noted above.
Fight Scene Script Snippet
Erica frantically grabs for a KNIFE from the butcher's block…
Jessica fires blindly, trying to wipe the FLOUR from her eyes.
BANG! A bullet explodes the wood cabinet by Erica's head- she throws herself for cover behind the island.
BANG! Another shot hits the right side of the island. More wood explosion.
Erica creeps around the left side of the island…
CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. Jessica fruitlessly pulls at the trigger. It's no use. She's out of bullets.
Erica LEAPS out from behind the island catching Jessica off guard. She tackles her to the ground holding the KNIFE TO JESSICA'S THROAT.
Other Examples of Fight Scenes in Scripts
My brief script breakdown above might not answer all your fight scene writing questions. For more action sequence inspiration, check out some of the following action screenplays linked below! Remember, one of the best ways to learn about screenwriting is by reading screenplays.
Kill Bill, written by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman
The Bourne Identity, written by Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron
The Matrix, written by The Wachowskis
Wonder Woman, written by Allan Heinberg
The Dark Knight, written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer
When it comes to writing fight scenes, don't be intimidated! Let these tips help you write action-packed fight sequences that keep readers engaged and trigger their own imaginations to bring your words to life. Happy writing!