Battle Scenes: How Not to Write Them

In all these years, believe it or not, I’d somehow managed to avoid writing a good old-fashioned, dragged-through-the-mud, elbow-to-the-eye battle scene. Until now.

Like you, I have certainly read my share. From hissing cat-fights to laser-gun fueled space war, I’ve read scenes that were so animated and spot-on that I had not a word to say. Or, in other cases, I had given notes that asked the writer to please, for goodness sake, use the generic situation (the fight) to convey story information (character growth, plot advancement, etc.). But somehow none of my rewrites or personal projects required more than brief physical confrontation.

Today is a different day.

Yesterday, actually, I committed to paper my first true mano-a-mano brawl complete with kicks, dodges, leaps, and body slams. Why am I telling you about it, you ask? Well, I learned this from all the fists-of-fury fun: we detail our battle scenes not only so our technical partners have a blueprint but so the filmmakers have an accurate idea of the scene’s length.

It’s a tiny thing, easily overlooked. If we condense a fist-fight to, “and they fight” then we’re missing all the good stuff there is to reveal about each person involved through their fighting style, their reactions, their physical abilities or inabilities, their degree of engagement with the action, etc. Also, we short the producers, directors, actors, and everyone else an accurate assessment of how long this particular bit of action will last on screen.

You’re probably surprised to hear my open-mouthed ah-ha at such a no-brainer but even though I knew all this (I did! Really!), when it came to working through a rewrite under a very short time allowance, all I wanted to do was to get on with it.

So this is my reminder to all of you out there who are tempted to write:

  • …and they make love.
  • …and they meet for the first time.
  • …and the war rages.
  • …and the monster decimates the village.
  • …and a spectacular car chase ensues.

Whatever you’re wanting to skip over because it’s been done a thousand times before and you’re only filling screen time between the real meaty scenes of the story, read this sentence again and know how very wrong it is.

We all forget the little somethings sometimes.

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