I hope you've had some time to recover from those adrenaline rushes in the prior installment. Now for the nitty gritty. How exactly do you write a fight scene? What do you have to be aware of? How do you describe and keep track spatial relationships, weapons and movement? What is the most important part of writing it?
In my opinion, the most important thing in a fight scene is flow and continuity because those are the most important things in an actual fight. If you don't explain to your reader how your characters got a weapon, ended up across the room or how they punched someone when the last location cue you gave them was they had walked out of a door you will lose them. It has to make sense when it's read. If you describe a scene like this,
"Joe spun, then kicked out with his foot. It landed on the man's chest flinging him back. Joe walked up, punched him, knocking him out and stabbed him through the chest."
That is a very bare description and doesn't give your reader a lot to go on. Even if you're describing something as simple as a bar fight without any kicks or flashy moves there's a lot more that you can say. For example,
"Joe struck out with his right hand while grabbing a bottle with his left. His right hand slammed into the man's stomach, throwing him back against the wall. Taking two steps to close range, the bottle in his left hand connected full force with the top of the man's head, shattering the bottle and sending glass flying across the room. The man's eyes rolled back and blood began to flow. Joe dropped what was left of the bottle, unsheathed his knife and sunk it deep into the man's chest. Once the man's heart stopped pumping he pulled the knife out out and wiped the blood on the man's shirt. He looked around, no one met his eyes. The only sound was the warbling of the ancient jukebox. Once he sheathed his knife he grabbed his coat, turned and left the bar."
Now that second scene gives you a ton of visual clues, left hand, right hand, bottle flying, and the feel of the place after the attack. We know where the loser ended up, against a wall and the victor walked away. Not only are there increased visual clues but the pace of the sequence is much different, it's not monotone or simple. You can see it, just like if you were watching a movie and as we know, many readers "see" what's going on inside their mind when they read so the more visual cues the better. There is always a chance for overkill but fight scenes are somewhat self limiting which is nice. Unless you intend to describe every drop of blood, or every reflection off a blade there is only so much description that is needed to get your point across.
Let's take the same scene and throw a martial artist/assassin type of fighter into it.
"Joe was sitting at the bar and felt the man come up behind him, a flash of light reflected off the blade that was headed towards his throat from the right. He twisted and brought his left hand across his chest, catching the man's hand and stopping the blade inches before it touched his skin. The man screamed as Joe dislocated his wrist then drove his right elbow into the man's throat. The blade dropped from the man's hand, Joe caught it in his right hand, spun left and as the man staggered back he threw the blade over his left shoulder directly into the man's throat. It stuck and the man dropped to the floor. He watched to make sure the man wasn't going to get back up, picked up his drink, finished it, stood and left."
Now, to me, the first fight is between two brawlers, throwing punches and slamming bottles on each other's head. The second fight the victor is more highly trained and is all about precision and economy of movement. It's also telling that in the second fight the victor never drew a weapon, he used his attackers against him. That is usually indicative of a higher level of training and a much more one shot, one kill, leave no trace type of fighter. The visual cues are different here as well, this is a sneak attack yet our victor sees a flash of light and knows exactly what to do. By using terms like spinning away, and throwing an elbow into someone's throat the flow of the fight is much smoother and faster. There are no two steps across the room, the victor in that scenario never even left his seat. Can see how you can define your space differently? These all take place in the same bar but they are all very different fights.
Your first step is to decide what type of fighter your character is. How'd they get their skills? Why are they fighting? Do they like fighting? Hate it? Regret killing? Enjoy a good battle? There should be some backstory as to how they got their fighting skills. If your character is an assassin trying to stop killing he/she would fight much differently than a bloodthirsty character out for vengeance. Not only will they move differently but their internal or external dialogue would be completely different as well. I absolutely love writing dialogue internal or otherwise when I write fight scenes. It's so much fun to take a character into a pressure cooker situation like that and watch where they go in their head while they are in that moment. You can also change motivation mid fight. I wrote an entire chapter long fight scene that was basically an all out attack and my characters went from rescuing kids to losing control and going full on killer once their allies were seriously threatened. As mentioned in part one, once you decide how and why they are fighting dig through you tube, your favorite movies etc and watch the scenes, watch their expressions, listen to the banter if there is any. All that is important to replicate in your writing to make it realistic.
Next step on approaching writing a scene, where is it taking place? Why are they there? What weapons are there? How big is the space? How do you describe that space? How are you getting people from one side of the room to the next? Take the bar scene you just read for example, think about how many weapons are in a bar. Bottles, stools, pool cues, chairs, knives, plates, pool balls, pictures from the walls to name a few. Remember also that stationary objects are weapons as well, slamming people into walls, throwing them on top of pool tables or ramming their faces into a jukebox. All of those things should be taken into consideration.
Third step, describing the movement. If you don't have any personal knowledge of fight training this will probably be the hardest for you to do. I have several practice weapons and have quite often stopped writing, stood up and moved through a fight in my living room, physically doing the moves to understand the flow. To me that is the best method, however watching scenes works as well. For a very straight forward fight scene take a look at this one from Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
Now for something a bit more challenging, this is a scene from Kill Bill Vol 1.
Now for the internal dialogue part, as they are standing, knives drawn in front of the window and the first rush of adrenline leaves Vivica Fox, Uma's opponent, you can see her eyes start to shift, her expression softens. She's thinking about her daughter and if Uma Thurman is going to kill her before she can see her child again. Then when the camera shifts you can see Uma relating with her. If you have watched the movie you know that Uma's character, "The Bride" was "killed" by her fellow asssassins on her wedding day and was pregnant. So here we have Uma starting this fight looking for revenge and her motivations shift mid way through. Admittedly Uma gets her revenge but there is a human connection and emotional understanding between the two women in that moment. That is something that is absolutely delicious to write in the middle of a fight scene. The switch from killer to human and back again is something that audiences find fascinating.
As I'm sure you've noticed, these fight scenes are women centric. There are two reasons that I picked these scenes. First, I love kick ass female fighters, always have, always will. Second, when you watch this next clip and think about how to describe the moves notice the words you use. Are they gender specific? Probably not, as I mentioned earlier, a fight is a fight no matter the gender of the fighters. You can use gender to adapt moves, Angelina Jolie stated when she was making Salt that she and the fight choreographer discussed how she would fight. Laws of mass and physics state that in most cases a 5'6 female that is 160 lbs of pure muscle will probably not have as much mass a man of the same size and height who works out. Testerone gives males extra muscle building abilities and in most cases upper body strength and muscle density will favor the men. Women tend to have stronger legs, be more flexible and can move more quickly. As a result they had her character rebound off of walls and use her legs more than her arms. If you watch the fight scenes from Salt you'll notice it.
I am going to post two more quick scenes, the first is from the Bourne movies and the second is a Jackie Chan scene. The Bourne scene I am posting just to show that men and women fighting move the same and the Jackie Chan scene to showcase further the idea of space in a fight.