The purpose of fight scenes

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Susan Morris conducts an excellent interview with R.A. Salvatore on How to Write a Damn Good Fight Scene.  There’s a ton of great tips in that interview.  Go read it.  I’ll wait.


All right, one of things Susan doesn’t ask directly (though the answer is implicit in Bob’s responses, because he’s a master at this as well as at the pure choreography of a combat scene) is this:  What is the purpose of a fight scene?

I think the answer is simple.  The purpose of a fight scene (or any tense Shadowbredaction scene) is the same as the purpose of any other scene in a book.  It should be there if and only if it establishes or furthers character (emotional catharsis is included here), establishes or furthers setting, and/or advances the plot.   A fight/action scene doesn’t get a free pass because it’s a fight/action scene.  One should never be included, for example, solely to break up a boring journey sequence (instead, rewrite the journey sequence so it’s not boring; or write the fight scene in a way that does one of the things I mention above; or write in a tension-filled scene that doesn’t involve fighting at all).

At the end of the day, readers are smart.  They know a throwaway fight scene when they read it and it moves them not.

Remember that a fight/action scene is the same as any other kind of scene, except the tension in the scene requires a fight/action sequence to resolve.  So apply the same standards for the inclusion of a fight/action scene as you would to any other kind of scene.

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10 thoughts on “The purpose of fight scenes

  1. Excellent timing, Paul, and thanks for the link to the Salvatore interview. I’m working on a fight scene at the moment – hadn’t planned to have one at this point in the book, but in trying to work out a plot issue I realised I could fix it _and_ add a dramatic climax to an already tense sequence – what’s not to like? 🙂

  2. Alas, for me, I trained myself long ago to skim most fight scenes. Very few contain any meaningful plot or character development. I understand why they’re necessary to sell fiction, but for me they are by and large just page filler.

    • Well, if they’re coming across that way to you, then they’re not doing the things I mention above.

      Now, if you skip every fight scene in GODBORN (when it’s released), you’ll miss an enormous amount of material important to the narrative.

  3. In truth, much can be expressed through a fight. It is as the saying goes, sometimes actions speak louder than words. From a fight one can get a clearer image of who the other person really is. It is an expression of one’s motivations and personality. There is an art to combat (thus the term martial arts) that can be every bit as expressive as a painting. That I think is what makes fights scenes work as well as they do in telling stories, it’s about so much more than the action. It’s also about the flow, the rhythm, the motivations and emotions behind it as well.

  4. As a fan of fight scenes in general and Paul’s in particular, not to mention having written a few, I concur. This is an awesome piece, and now I should totally blog about it too.

    (Curses, inspiration!)


  5. i am not gonna rip on Salvatore as he was my favorite author until i read Resurrection in The Halls of Stormweather, but i am reading Gauntlgrym right now and i am finding it hard to follow the fight scenes with Dahlia using her chosen weapon, where as always before i could actually picture the fight scenes in my head, it might be her unique weapon of choice.

  6. I have stopped reading Salvatore’s novels when I read Twilight Falling ;). In my opinion, Salvatore has written many great novels, but they all felt the same. I know they all tell the story of Drizzt and his struggles, but after a while I lost interest in Drizzt. Paul’s books provide more innovation and something fresh for me. Drizzt seems immortal, but with Paul I can actually relate to the characters. They aren’t immortal, but human. Even Mask seems human in some moments. I think that knowing the heroes could actually fail, makes the reader appreciate the character(s) more. Paul’s novels always push the boundaries and shake the foundations of the traditions of the genre. I like that and my hat is off to you, Paul! I’m sure Godborn will shake things up all the more!

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