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How to Write a Realistic Fight Scene
A Ariel D

On one of the other forums, we've been discussing swordsmanship and how to write realistic fight scenes. Anyone who has advice or who has a question, please post here. Most of us have to face fight scenes when writing fanfic, anyway, and some of us probably use them in our original fic, too. Feel free to repost previous advice or questions from other threads. Having it all in one place would be great.

7/23/2007 #1 Report
Lady Fellshot

Well, I do have advice that bears repeating: a realistic one on one fight tends to be very, very short. I'm talking one, maybe two exchanges and then one person is either dead or incapacitated. I would like to point out that this also ensures that a story line is not carried totally by long, drawn out duels ;-) Be warned that when writing a fight, even a short one, it will probably end up being longer word wise than you thought. At least that's the way it works for me. I have to descibe each movement in terms non sword people can understand (at least that's the goal).

7/24/2007 #2 Report
A Ariel D

Excellent advice, Lady F. What I picked up in my session was that you immediately aim for whatever causes the most damage--namely the neck, the knees (slicing tendons), and the grion/gut. A well-trained swordsman will aim at all 3 areas, hitting both sides of the neck, both knees, and the grion in about 10 seconds time. We're talking multiple slashes at high speed. Basically, you try to slice them to pieces in your first move. Just as you say, the first "hit" you land will be the fatal one. There's no time to play around. Does anyone have more advice or want a more blow-by-blow description?

7/25/2007 #3 Report
Lady Fellshot

Let's not forget wrists, elbows and shoulders as well ^.^ No one can use a sword if their hands and fingers do not work anymore and it only takes something like 3 kilos of force to snap a collarbone and put an arm out of commission. As one epee person told me: "If you don't hit the hand, hit the crook of the arm. If you miss that, hit the shoulder or chest. If you miss that too, hit the neck. You do it all in one lunge and if you're really good you will hit them all with that one lunge." Legs actually are not as good a target as they could be because you open yourself up to a hit to the head. One of the other things I've noticed with blade fight scenes is that no one really knows what to do if the combatants get too close to each other to bring swords to bear. Then the contest goes to whoever has the shorter arm or weapon (usually). But while it makes for a great dramatic moment and all, really at that point the worst thing to do is have one of the fighters back up and open the distance. Running past (and away) is all right as well as ditching long swords for daggers, throwing the opponent to the ground and otherwise ending it very close in. I could probably rant about this all day but if anyone has anything at all to add: cool fight scenes in a book, movie, something they found on the internet somewhere, questions... please post!

7/25/2007 #4 Report

In fact, I'd love to have advice! I'm currently writing a scene where a young inexperienced man has to fight creatures (let's say, the size of a dwarf) with a dagger only. The creature doesn't have any armor. Which blows can be the more realistic?

7/25/2007 #5 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

I have a piece of advice I made up myself to keep myself from freaking out over fight scenes... It's a reminder that the masters/people who are skilled make hard things look easy. I tense up when writing a fight scene because -I- would have trouble in that fight. For a character, however, such as Artemis or Jarlaxle, it would look effortless to the observer. I try to capture that feeling of fluidity and effortlessness. The almost-over-before-it-starts blink-and-you-miss-it feeling. Do you think that's good advice or bad advice?

7/25/2007 #6 Report
Lady Fellshot

To Chi: That's wonderful advice and very true if the character in question is skilled and experienced. There's a joke that eventually all martial arts look like tai chi because the goal is to make all of those jerky motions fluid with every part of the body behind it. The other part of that is that in a sense it actually is over before you think about it, because people who are very good can read their opponents so well that they know what they are going to do before the opposition does it. It's a fluidity of mind as well as body. I hope that made sense :-P To Nuitari: Novices tend to fight defensively and do a lot of backing up. There is a tendency for novices with stabbing weapons, such as a dagger, to flail and slash with it anyway. So my advice would be to have the novice try things to keep the whatever it is off him and as far away as possible. Incidentally it's a good strategy for dealing with something that has a shorter arm reach anyway. Hope that helps ^.^

7/25/2007 #7 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Woot-ness. ^_^ I got something right. I try not to describe things as "clearly" as RAS because it's clunky. Not only that, but I know I'll get something wrong. If I stick to stuff I know I imagine, like the WAY a person dies, I can fudge everything else. *laughing* Announcer voice: Ohhh, and they're down! Yeah.

7/26/2007 #8 Report
Lady Fellshot

There's clear and then there's over descibed. I've always liked to descibe the lead in and end to a fight scene and try to get the middle part over as quickly and with as few words as possible to try to avoid confusing people. besides, the fight itself isn't as important as who is left standing after it's over ^.^

7/26/2007 #9 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

'the fight itself isn't as important as who is left standing after it's over ^.^' I agree. That's the part I always want to get to.

7/26/2007 #10 Report
A Ariel D

Random addition: an experienced swordsman will not turn his back on his opponent even after dealing a fatal blow. He will back away, keeping his eyes on the collaposed opponent until he's sure he's dead. Of course, that is a one-on-one scenario and doesn't cover the "mass surge" scenes we sometimes read in RAS novels. And if you want to add a nice detail in, the swordsman always slings the blood off the blade before sheathing it. I didn't look into the same sword style as Lady F, but I imagine she would agree with me. If not, she's free to offer counter advice. :P

7/27/2007 #11 Report
Lady Fellshot

Both details are good and strangely enough, it made me a little happy in the first War of the Spider Queen book to have Ryld cleaning his shortsword and scabbard up after having to jam the blade in while it was still bloody. Blood has a high salt content so it's not a good idea to leave it on steel else you get rust. And it is never a good idea to let an opponent have your back open to them. It is a nice place to try to get to though. I'd also agree that writing for many on one fight senarios is a different challenge than one on one. The strategy there is best summed up as never stop moving and line the opponents up from all I've found out.

7/27/2007 #12 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

I just want to say... That this forum helped me incredibly in writing fight scenes. I already wrote one which turned out the best I've ever done in the story 'Nothing'. I am amazed and totally pumped for another fight scene that may come my way.

7/28/2007 #13 Report
Lady Fellshot

I have one thing to say to that: Hooray! :-D

7/29/2007 #14 Report
A Ariel D

Yay! In that case, we must keep going. Let's see...what else? This seems small, but I'll mention it anyway. Whatever side you're attacking to, the same foot steps forward. In other words, if you're fighting with your sword in your right hand, and you strike to your right, your right foot steps forward. If you strike to your left, your left foot steps forward. Whether you're fighting with a sword or empty-handed, you have the most strength if you strike from the center of your body (in other words, your fist is in line with your sternum). Not all strikes come from there, of course, but someone who was getting weak or exhausted would not be making huge, wide attacks. Think about it: if you have to lift something really heavy, your elbows are next to your sides. You don't stick your elbows out wide and try to lift it. The center of your body has the most strength. It's also possible to strike from a seated position if you're both seated. You have to be sitting on your ankles, not "Indian" style. You come up to your left knee and onto your right foot (like a man who gets down on one knee to propose) and pull your sword and slash across all at the same time. Immediately, you would step forward with your right foot again and pull your blade back above your head, and with both hands on the hilt, bring the sword down on your opponent's head. After that, you would rise to your feet. That was kind of a sloppy description, so just get a stick and act it out. :P

7/30/2007 #15 Report
Lady Fellshot

An addenum to the stepping: it is generally ill advised to do a crossover step, where one foot crosses in front or behind the other. The reason being that it isn't as stable as when one's feet are shoulder width apart. Usually all strikes and blocks originate from the center and are powered or grounded by the legs, depending on if the person is thinking offensively or defensively. Striking from a draw: I would add that where the sword hand ends up after you've cleared a scabbard is a parry in and of itself with a counterstrike associated with it, at least in European sword styles. I can see it used as a counter for a kneeling draw too, under certain circumstances. A further note: I actually prefer to use pencils and pens in place of sticks, because there is less chance of accidentally hitting someone. And because I could do that without making a spectacle of myself ;-P

7/30/2007 #16 Report
A Ariel D

Oh, yes! In my description, there were no crossover steps. That might not be clear, but yes you do want your feet to be shoulder's width apart and you shouldn't allow them to crossover. Step straight forward with whichever foot is applicable. And yes, if you strike from a seated position in the way I described, you actually could strike or parry depending on your need. Wooden swords are cool to practice with...if you're outside. :P Otherwise you risk breaking something.

7/30/2007 #17 Report

I think it's important to keep in mind what kind of a fight you're describing. There's a big difference between describing a battle in a low level, low magic world and describing a battle between two level 20+ fighters with magical weapons, armour etc. It always makes me angry when I'm reading a battle scene and some little novice who can hardly hold a sword properly suddenly does some complicated move that would be difficult for an excellent fighter. But it's also annoying when an author forgets that he's describing great fighters who can do things that seem impossible to us, or when he forgets that there's magic in the world he's describing. I don't know if that's helpful. *shrug*

8/1/2007 #18 Report
Lady Fellshot

Armor definitely changes things. Swords actually do not work so well against most kinds of armor because there's too wide a distribution of force. Axes, maces and picks on the other hand work very well against most kinds of armor, generally. And it is very true that you have to keep in mind what role magic plays in your story and how your charater sees and uses magical items. This may sound like a really stupid thing to do, but one of the things that I found helped was if I knew I was going to be writing a fight scene with magic and/or magic items involved, I would make a list of who had what items, what each item did and what spells the spellcasters have available to them at that moment in the story. All I can say is that it keeps me from having my arcane casters throw "magic missile" too many times ;-P On a funnier note, the best D&D tactic I ever heard of for dealing with spellcasters was best summed up as "Dog pile on the mage!!!!" where someone tries to basically sit on top of the offending arcanist. Getting there could be really tricky though... [q]It always makes me angry when I'm reading a battle scene and some little novice who can hardly hold a sword properly suddenly does some complicated move that would be difficult for an excellent fighter.[/q] Well, compilcated, generally speaking, doesn't work if one doesn't know what they are doing. Simple, on the other hand, works ridiculously well regardless of training. The way it usually goes is simple attack beats no defense, simple parry beats simple attack, complicated attack beats simple parry and simple counterattack beats complicated attack, because it is quite often faster. This doesn't work all the time but it does explain why novices get lucky some of the time. Hope this helps ^.^

8/1/2007 #19 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Can I get some fighting strategy? I heard something about "having the high ground", but I don't understand why high ground would matter, how terrain really affects things so much except for really basic things, and how a person might size up an enemy before a battle and decide whether or not to fight in the first place. What do real warriors look like? How can you tell someone's a warrior? Is having a lot of scars realistic or unrealistic? I feel there's so much we haven't covered.

8/3/2007 #20 Report
Lady Fellshot

Fighting strategy it is! If I remember correctly, having the high ground meant that you could use the slope to make an army's acceleration better in a charge and have a better chance of breaking the enemy's formation. I could be wrong in that regard though. What it means in smaller fights, is that whoever is downslope must work harder to get up the slope to get to the other person. But for both fighters, their choice of places they can aim for and have a good chance of hitting is limited. The person upslope has better access to the more lethal targets of head and chest, but the person downslope has the legs more available for a disabling blow. With regards to terrain, a lot of that should be compensated for in the stance and how the feet are placed. Slippery terrain might result in more going with impact rather than trying to fight the force of a blow and lose balance. Rough but solid terrain might have a wider stance and careful movement. I don't think you can tell what a warrior looks like any more than you can tell anything else from a person by what they look like if they are wearing plain clothes and not armor. Armor in a fantasy setting is pretty much a giveaway that the character has some sort of martial bent. As for the scars, I would say that it would depend on how much healing they had available to them when they got hurt. Small scars on the hands are common for anyone who uses their hands in rough environments a good deal. Salles and dojos would qualify as a rough environment. I could see nicks of the forearms and wrists becoming scars, but those would tend to be small. I am of the opinion that big, obvious scars need to have a story behind them ^.^

8/3/2007 #21 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Small scars versus big scars: that's a good point. And thank you for explaining the "high ground" thing.

8/4/2007 #22 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Help! I don't know what to do when you're trying to help a group that's become surrounded! And does anyone know how tactics would change when fighting wild animals?

10/4/2007 #23 Report
Lady Fellshot

When a group becomes surrounded... Do you mean like on an open field where group A is surrounded by much larger group B? Historically speaking, that sort of formation usually ends in one of three ways. -Group A surrenders -Group B eventually wears down group A, who either surrenders or gets massacred. -Group A gets bailed out by Group C attacking any one spot in Group B's ring. The way it works is Group B is focused totally on Group A, then C hits B's flank somewhere. As B reorients to redirect its attention for two foes, C uses where ever it attacked as a wedge, forming a new battle line and making sure its flanks are protected as C pushes towards A. If A notices what's going on and has enough confusion in B, A starts trying to fight towards C. A can also maintain their position and hope that C manages to get to them. Most of the time though, A will try to push towards rescue. When there is bad terrain involved, if A is smart, they'll try to put somthing at thier back so they limit B's attack options and C's flying wedge of rescue will also try to protect one of its sides in its rescue attack. If you need more on this, please tell me or if it's something really specific, PM me and I'll try to help ^.^ With regards to wild animals, really unless the critter is very hungry, very territorial, diseased or there are cubs involved, as soon as they get a moderate injury, most creatures will decide it isn't worth it and leave. Anything that scares them, unless they are cornered, they will avoid contact. If the party or character looks small enough and the creatures are hungry enough, a pack of animals might go after them, but such instances are rare. Strange things usually encourage wild fuana to keep their distance. Fire almost always works as a deterrent. Really, most times, you would have to work to have a wild animal attack you or have very bad luck.

10/4/2007 #24 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Thank you. ^-^; I went ahead and wrote the scene with your advice, and it worked beautifully. You are such a help. I'm sorry I have to ask what may be a stumping question: How do two people sneak into a fortress guarded by lots and lots of people? Is that impossible?

10/31/2007 #25 Report
Lady Fellshot

Well... that depends. If the lots and lots of people gaurding said fortress all know each other really well, it would be difficult, but not impossible. Strategic use of Invisiblility potions while flitting from shadow to shadow and not disturbing anybody would probably be the best bet, but as with anything, Murphy's Law is indeed absolute with regards to things that require that much care. I'd have at least couple of contingencies planned for hasty retreat and escape. In [i]Condemnation[/i] (WotSQ), there is a passage where Nimor sneaks into a heavily gaurded noble drow house on his own to kill off the matron and her daughters. That might be a good model to use for a well guarded fortress where everyone knows each other on sight. However, usually in places with a lot of people it is remarkably easy to slip in if you look like you belong there. Even if the person(s) sneaking in are unfamilliar, if they are doing something that looks like they were assigned to do it, (ie lighting candles, sweeping the floor, busing dishes, etc) most guards will leave them alone, unless they are in a place where the janitorial crews are expressly not allowed. Since this is presumably set in Faerun, what you could have your rogues do is blend into the help staff over a period of weeks or months even and then they use come sort of invisiblity spell or potion to sneak around further. Mercedes Lackey's book [i]Take a Thief[/i] actually has some really good passages about sneaking into well gaurded, crowded places without using magic, if that is a limitation for you. Besides, nothing is impossible, just very, very improbable ^.^ I'm glad your battle scene turned out well. I look forwards to reading it :-D

10/31/2007 #26 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Once again I return to this forum, because I have absolutely no idea how to do this fight scene I slated for myself. Thinking about it on my own hasn't helped any. How would city guards and adventurers fight off giants? I am basing part of my story on a campaign suggestion from Silver Marches in which Nesme has been repeatedly beset by hill giants. I've looked up hill giants and asked people and come up with satisfactory answers about how the giants would fight...but I just realized I have no idea what the guards and adventurers are supposed to do. Heeeeelp.

9/18/2010 #27 Report
Lady Fellshot

Well, let's see...If I were an adventurer, I would send out the rogue or the bard to taunt them (or the wizard to throw magic missile or the archer to shoot at their faces) while someone with a great axe took out their achilles tendons from behind. Since the midsection is going to be pretty well insulated from blows by muscle, clothes and maybe some fat, better targets on the giants will be the face, the feet and the knees. Especially the knees. Take out a knee with a blow to the side of the joint (with the aim of tearing the ACL, MCL and the lateral ligament) and they will not be able to throw rocks very well. In general limiting the giants' movement will be beneficial to any armed group facing them and anything that causes the giant to fall to the ground will be helpful as well.

9/18/2010 #28 Report
M Surreptitious Chi X

Thanks! So, my intuiton was pretty much right, which means the risks are the same, pretty high. Cause to get close to one, you have to come into greatclub range first, and a group of giants prepared to fight would be really tough.

9/18/2010 #29 Report
Lady Fellshot

That's why a distraction with an attack from behind is the recommended course. Mounted soldiers with bows and lances might have a better go at it too.

9/18/2010 #30 Report
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