How to Write Battle & Action Scenes: 5 Tips

battle scene, elves, orcs, fantasy battle, fantasy war, Lord of the Rings, fight scene, swords, spears, fantasy

Epic battle scenes. Epic fights. We all love them, right? These are the exciting parts in the story where we cringe, squeal and goggle at the screen, while anxiously watching our favorite character to see if he/she will survive and how it will reshape them. The same goes for books: as we read through the epic fight or daunting battle we want to feel fear, amazement, be surprised, be anxious, our fingers clinging to the nearest pillow. We want to feel that it’s real, and that we are there watching it unfold.

This sounds like an incredibly daunting task for an author, doesn’t it? But don’t despair just yet, dear writers and authors. The “keys” to writing epic wonder that readers cannot get enough of can soon be yours! The following is a guide to help you reach those “keys” and achieve epic-ness! Let us begin:

1. Fight scenes: are they believable? Keep it somewhat real yet still fantastic.

Have you ever come across a fight scene that was too unbelievable? So over the top that it was ridiculous? It’s possible that a scene can go overboard to the point where it loses value and becomes too unrealistic to enjoy. Fantastic battle scenes are great and captivating, but what makes it work is if you, as the author, have convinced the reader that this scene really can happen. It’s not some thrown together thing for shock value.
Keep a little bit of it real, so it’s believable, yet still amazing and fantastic. Consider some of the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings: the weapons they used and the way they fought made you feel like you were really there—it wasn’t so over the top that you would roll your eyes and lose interest, and yet it was still impossibly grand. And when Legolas brings down the Oliphant and the myriads of enemies riding it—that was a fantastic scene and an amazing feat; something almost impossible, and yet for some reason we believed it. We believed that he really could do that, and did do that (most of us anyway 🙂 everybody has their opinion). It helps that he’s an elf—I seriously doubt an average human could pull something like that off, hehe. But the movie director and writers knew this, and chose the super strong and agile elf to accomplish this feat, and not one of the humans or dwarves. Plus Legolas was already made known for pulling off the seemingly impossible, so it wasn’t too difficult to imagine him doing this (I believe this scene was in the movie only, and not the book, but don’t quote me on that).
It’s a special balance: between keeping it fantastic and amazing, and just a touch real enough for readers to believe in.

2. Know how weapons in the scene are used.

If your main character is going to be wielding and swinging an axe around, it might be a good idea that you study up on how people in real life once used axes in combat. Some questions to ask yourself about a weapon:

  • How heavy is the axe?
  • What slashing and cutting motions is the axe best at?
  • Where is the safest place on the body to carry an axe, so you don’t fall on it and it doesn’t get in your way; or it fall off and get lost?
  • What are the pros and cons of having an axe for a weapon?
  • What are an axe’s vulnerabilities: can an enemy’s sword craftily knock it from your character’s hand? Is it too heavy and slow for your MC to battle numerous enemies at once?

There are exceptions: if your MC’s weapon is meant to be special and unique from average weapons, or if the MC uses a special power instead of a physical blade. In this case, you will have to come up with your own set of rules for that weapon/power. By keeping in mind the pros and cons of a real life weapon that is similar to it, it can help you begin setting up rules.

3. Think about the physical attributes and abilities of characters in the battle/action scene,

as it will determine how each character goes about fighting their foe. If your MC is small and agile, he/she will have to think up a strategy to win without brute force, while at the same time dodging their enemy’s powerful attack. If your MC is big and tough, he/she will be the one to face the enemy head on, dealing powerful blows while his/her friends attack from behind. What they are capable of physically shapes how the battle will be carried out.

4. Sentence and word choices.

Writing an action scene is very different from other scenes. The rhythm is different, the pace is fast, and this is accomplished by using short, brief sentences. Keep it simple; keep it urgent. Use simple word choices so they are easy and fast to read.

He ducked underneath the broadsword’s swing.

The broadsword’s swing approached and he ducked underneath just in time.

Both sentences are decent, but can you feel how the first is faster and more active, while the second is slower and gives that slow motion feel? “He ducked”—the first example has the action in the front of the sentence. In the second example, the action is in the middle of the sentence, giving it a slower feel. So, depending on how you want the action paced in the scene, where you put the action in a sentence matters.

5. Visualize it like a movie,

and make sure it makes physical sense, too. Once you have the visual set in your mind, break the action into simple and fast sentences to carry out the scene.
Movies are great at action scenes and grand battles. We want readers to feel the same way viewers do watching a movie. Yes, it is possible; it can be done! The Lord of the Rings movies were inspired by the books; the books have well written action scenes readers can visualize in their mind through Tolkien’s choice of words. And there are countless other movies based off of great books. For the author, it’s all about word choice and pacing, and knowing when to be descriptive and when not to be; where to put the action in a sentence, and how to keep things moving fast and simple.
In some cases, an added sound affect can heighten an intense moment, like a visual effect does a film; however, keep it simple and realistic: Thnk! Whump! Ch-chnk! Crunch!

Tiana Warner has an article on the same topic, writing Epic Battle Scenes; check it out.
Keep at it—keep practicing writing all that intense action, and before you know it you’ll be writing epic fight scenes and fantastic battles readers won’t be able to look away from!

More articles on Writing, World Building, and Weapons are on the way: Stay Tuned!

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8 thoughts on “How to Write Battle & Action Scenes: 5 Tips

  1. Great job, Elizabeth! I don’t have much to add; everything you mentioned here is essential to have in mind when writing those kinds of scenes.

    One thing I did to help with writing the action and battle scenes in TKC (a.k.a. my WIP) was watching movies that featured swordfights and battle sequences and re-reading specific scenes from novels. My goal wasn’t to copy anyone’s work, but to study the visual aspects (movements, tempo, injuries) and then the literary aspects (pacing, verbs, etc.). It helped me get in the right mindset for my story’s specific scenes, and imagine them as realistically as possible. George R.R. Martin and Tamora Pierce were my go-to writers when that happened. As for movies… well, let’s just say I was thrilled to watch the LOTR trilogy once again, just because. *lol*

    Looking forward to your other upcoming articles! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s an excellent idea, Sara! And a nice excuse to rewatch LOTR, lol. You can claim it’s for “research purposes” 🙂 Same with books. Going back and forth between visual and literary aspects is a great way to learn! Thanks for bringing that up.

      Liked by 1 person

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