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Saturday, January 12

Real Life Diagnostics: Is This Fight Scene Working?

Critique By Maria D'Marco

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Zero


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are open.

This week’s question:

Is this fight scene working?


Market/Genre: YA Fantasy

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

The evil sea deities spy watches Zane and me. Then he comes out of the shadows. The spy says. “Let’s do this,”

“Yes, let’s “ I say. I touch my necklace my warrior clothes magically appear.

The spy and I are on different sides of the open field then first we bow.

I do three backflips as I run. Then I do hand-to hand combat. Next I do my defense moves.

I do my warrior cry. I do my blocks and kicks then the spy comes back for more.

I do my defense moves again quickly. After that i do my staff skills. Last I do my powers.

The spy has water powers. I block him with my barrior power. He is slammed into a tree. Next I put my palms behind me. I summon my water power. The water raises high coming horizontal then vertical. I have leatived three feet off the ground. My water power makes the spy wet. He is mad, the spy does a different power. I block him or try too. Next I become angry or enraged white lighting flashes in my eyes before turning into storm gray. Lighting comes out of my raven hair. The sky has turned from indigo to gray. I twirl my hands to the sky.

The wind starts to whish. Lighting comes out of my hands. Rain falls now coming down.

The spy leaves where I am. Then I become normal again at least my eyes too.

My Thoughts in Purple:

The evil sea deities [is there one sea deity or several?] spy watches Zane and me. Then he comes out of the shadows. The spy says. “Let’s do this,”

“Yes, let’s,” I say. I touch my necklace my warrior clothes [a description would be great here] magically appear. [does this mean the character was already wearing them, and the magic is that they are now able to be seen by the enemy?]

The spy and I are on different sides of the open field
[but close enough to speak normally, not shout across the field?] then first we bow.[What happened to Zane?]

I do three backflips [is there a reason for this? Does it trigger a superpower?] as I run [let’s show which direction, as in ‘toward the spy’]. Then I do hand-to hand combat. [what does this consist of?] Next I do my defense moves. [these need to be described]

I do my warrior cry. I do my blocks and kicks then the spy comes back for more. [we need to see what the spy is doing during these blocks and kicks, that he has been beaten back, so that him coming back for more makes sense]

I do my defense moves again quickly. After that I do my staff skills. Last I do my powers. [these statements of actions need to be presented as individual movements and what they accomplished in the fight]

The spy has water powers. I block him with my barrier power. He is slammed into a tree. Next I put my palms behind me. [difficult to imagine this movement] I summon my water power. The water raises high [is this character summoning water from thin air? Or is there a water source nearby that is being accessed?] coming horizontal then vertical. I have leatived [levitated] three feet off the ground. My water power makes the spy wet. [we need to show that the water was aimed at and dowsed the spy] He is mad, the spy does a different power. [we need to describe what that power is] I block him or try too. [unsure what this means – did the character block the attack or not? ‘try too’ infers the attack may not have been blocked] Next I become angry or enraged [‘angry’ and ‘enraged’ are words showing the level of emotion, so we really need just one or the other] white lightning flashes in my eyes before turning into storm gray. [does this literally mean the lightning is ‘in’ the character’s eyes, and then they turn gray?] Lightning comes out of my raven hair. The sky has turned from indigo to gray. I twirl my hands [this infers that the character’s hands are spinning like propellers on the ends of his/her arms] to the sky.

The wind starts to whish. Lightning comes out of my hands. Rain falls now coming down. [if we use ‘falls’, we don’t need ‘coming down’]

The spy leaves where I am. [we don’t need this, because the spy leaving assumes that he is going away from the character and the space the character occupies] Then I become normal again [meaning the lightning is gone, right? If these are powers, then ‘normal’ for this character is having and using powers, so you could just say that the lightning faded away from hands, hair and eyes] at least my eyes too [do(?)].

The Question:

1. Is this fight scene working?


Not yet. Currently, this scene isn’t really a scene, but we have an idea of what the scene, and the fight, are working toward. The main difficulty is that the scene isn’t showing the individual actions and reactions, but instead is telling through repeated statements.

Prior to the start of the fight, the evil spy is spying on Zane and the other (presumed, main) character. The spy then comes from the shadows and presents a challenge. The protagonist touches a necklace (which could mean that this character is female, but there are no rules anymore, soooo…) and a warrior’s outfit appears. However, we don’t know if the change means the clothing were always there and the magic allows them to be seen, or whether the clothing is magic and can mutate from common garb to warrior togs.

The trio is then placed in an open field, but we don’t know the distances. We assume it isn’t too large, since the dialogue between spy and protagonist isn’t shouted.

(Here’s more on writing convincing fight scenes)

At this point, Zane disappears. Since this scene isn’t the opening of the book, we assume that Zane might be wounded or fighting is against his beliefs or this isn’t ‘his’ fight, so he’s hanging back.

The fight opens with the protagonist doing three backflips, and then running. We assume she/he is flipping and running toward the spy, but that isn’t made clear.We also aren’t shown if there is a reason for the back-flips, but I figure it’s a flashy start and might freak out the spy.

We then encounter a stream of “I do…” statements (hand-to-hand combat, defense moves, blocks, kicks, staff skills, powers), none of which are presented descriptively, such as: The spy and I ran toward each other. I jumped at the last minute, spun in the air, and landed a kick to his too-round head. He staggered back. I landed, lowered into a crouch and threw a leg out, sweeping him off his feet and onto his back. I throw my head back and raise my voice in a blood-curdling warrior yell. He rolls away, leaps to his feet to face me, taking several well-timed jabs at me with his fists.

(Here’s more on describing and balancing fight scenes)

The repeated statements don’t pull the reader into the action. Plus, we need to do this: I blocked the spy’s moves against me. Instead of: I do my blocks. The first way, we have a verb: blocked. The second way, we have a noun – which can be more than one thing. Blocks, as in wooden cubes a toddler plays with – or blocks, as in strategic defensive movements using arms or legs to avoid being struck by an opponent. This might sound silly, but every author needs to be certain that their readers get the right picture.

To take this idea a bit further, with a fight scene, we want to describe it as you would a dance. What the steps are, who has hold of who, what movements are made, who trips up and who seems to be ‘winning’ the dance. If our protagonist is going to use her/his staff, we need to know where that weapon came from (strapped to their back?) and how it looks when she/he wields it.

The same goes for the water power. We need to ‘see’ where the water comes from and where it goes, and how it affects the spy.

(Here are more tips on writing action scenes)

From there, we have statements about emotions, with the spy being ‘mad’ and the protagonist being ‘angry’ and ‘enraged’. These feelings need to be shown as reactions or gestures or facial expressions, but they also need to have a reason for existing. Did something happen to cause both characters to feel angry, just at this point in the fight? If so, what was it? Did the spy fight dirty? Did the spy say something mean, or something about a memory painful to the protagonist?

The material about the lightning is better, since we get to imagine it in the eyes, the hair and coming from the hands of the protagonist.The added wind and rain also help the reader imagine the scene here.

When the spy runs away, we are forced to assume that it’s because the lightning power is overwhelming, because we aren’t told otherwise. The protagonist then returns to ‘normal’. This is a good chance to show how this happened, what someone would have seen if they were there.

Perhaps Zane will return at this point?

(Here's more on writing kick ass action scenes)

Fight scenes are tough to write, so don’t be discouraged. Decide what you want to have happen and why, then briefly describe the movements that are most important or most visual, so the readers can easily envision them. Take your time, use action verbs, and make sure you don’t have anyone doing the impossible!

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

About the Critiquer

Maria D’Marco is an editor with 20+ years experience. She specializes in developmental editing, and loves the process of wading through the raw, passionate words of a first draft. Currently based in Kansas City, she flirts with the idea of going mobile, pursuing her own writing and love of photography, while maintaining her fulfilling work with authors.

Website | Twitter

2 comments:

  1. Fight scenes are some of the hardest to write. Each time I write one my editor sends it back with big letters that say, SLOW DOWN! Its easy to want to write like we see action on the screen - fast with lots going on. One way I've found to better my action scenes is to add description and internal dialogue. By slowing down we ramp up the tension.
    Getting a scene, like this one, on the page is an important first step to knowing where you want to go. From there, adding the necessary ingredients to pace it, manage it, and massage it to a polished piece will be easier and rewarding. Good luck!

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  2. Maria had a lot to say about how to describe each step of a fight. Let me add some thoughts about planning a fight as a whole.

    In most ways, a fight has the same needs as any other scene. It happens because the characters have particular goals, and it shows them trying to find ways to make them work --win the fight-- and it explores that, and it ends by revealing something that might be more specific than just who's stronger.

    Why are your hero and the spy fighting? Simply to eliminate each other, or does one want revenge and that makes them reckless, or does one actually want to get past the other to escape or attack something else? (I'd expect a "spy" to be happier to break away and report back to his boss, but he may think a chance to kill the hero is too good to pass up.) Is Zane staying back just out of respect for the hero, or is there something else? You can mix in moves like that with more ordinary fighting moves so this fight keeps reminding us why they're doing it.

    You have different fighting moves here: there's punching and kicking, staff fighting, and also water and lightning powers. Think about just which moves the fighters use first and how you can show the reasons the other moves come next-- that's both more exciting and it also shows the *why* of it all.

    Did the hero start out with hand to hand to avoid using magic and then switch to magic because nothing else was working, or were the other moves to slow the spy down so the magic could finish him off? Should someone try to throw a water blast in the middle of the hand to hand, and maybe have trouble summoning full power while they were busy defending themselves at the same time? Should it be the hero or the villain who uses magic first-- if the villain does it often makes them look like they're less skilled at fighting, and more evil for switching to something more dangerous first.

    Think about how many kinds of attacks you want, and other actions (Zane getting involved, or someone talking or something else happening). If you make a list of how much could happen, you can try to think how many times you can use each, and in what order they happen. It could be making notes as simple as "punch, punch, water, punch, water, lightning" if you think about different orders until you get the one that's best.

    Also, none of the attacks you have are really changing the fight, until the hero's blast knocks the spy into a tree, and then the next attack sends him running. The best moments in a fight are more exciting because they're when one side is visibly hurt, or sees an important move fail or something else happen. (We've all seen movie fights where a wall is almost knocked down on someone.) How can you make your key moments mean more?

    A fight is when characters do everything they can think of to win. If you keep in mind how each character might have a different idea of what would be "winning," and how many ways they can think of and why each happens when, you'll be all set to write a battle that really shows what your hero's made of.

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