Get Into The Fight: How to Write Action That Won’t Show You’ve Never Thrown a Punch

Our books are getting so close to being finished! We’re in that weird almost-done stage where you can see the finish line but you still have so much left to do, and there are roughly a million decisions to be made. And all of this is happening as my daughter starts kindergarten this week.

*cue head exploding*

I admit to being more than a little crabby. I’m not quite to the point of wanting to smack people, but I’m close. Which is why I’m so grateful that Erin Flynn is here today to talk about….FIGHT SCENES! Just…you know. Strictly from a research standpoint…


fightI’m an enigma in that I’m a romance author who likes to write a lot of action into her books. An interesting side effect came about from that, though: lots of romance authors asking me on a regular basis to consult on their action or fighting scenes.

What amazes me is how often I talk to other authors who are baffled by the questions I ask them. Did you do any research? Some are honest and say they didn’t know where to start. Others act like I’m the twit and inform me there’s no way to research fighting.

Actually, there is. I’m a Chicagoian with an Irish temper, so depending on how snippy someone is, my reply can range from a nice suggestion of starting points to an offer of learning firsthand. Honestly, I say it to make a point—not that they should get in a fight, but that they could watch one.

I tell most authors seeking help that studying MMA fights is a great way to understand technique, timing, reaction, gut responses, and such that I see mucked up all the time in books with action sequences. Here are some of the most common pitfalls.

  1. Balance. A person can’t throw a punch with their right hand and step with their left foot. Punching is about more than the hand or arm. To cause any damage, the whole body is behind a punch and has to be on the same page.
  2. Taking hits with no recourse. I can always tell when someone has never been punched. They write their characters getting punched in the face as if they’re dropping a piece of paper on their heads. Let me tell you, it hurts. It really hurts if the person knows what they’re doing. Your characters will stumble backwards, see spots in their vision, experiencing ringing in their ears, feel bones snapping, and so on. And don’t forget to make your characters feel the fight afterwards. They will hurt from it!
  3. Timing. People are not semi-automatic weapons. It takes a bit of time to reset to throw another punch or get into position. It’s why boxers and fighters “dance” around so much. Give your characters a chance to assess their opponents. These are moving targets and oppositions with a plethora of variable components.
  4. The fingers wrapped over the thumb in a fist. The second that fist comes into contact with something hard and un-malleable—say bone under skin—that thumb will break. It’s broken, no ifs, ands, or butts. Maybe even shattered, and the hand is out for the count. The thumb goes on the outside of a fist.

I’ll share my favorite mistake only because those who winced while reading the list of pitfalls will feel better when they hear this. So, it’s a New York Times bestselling author, proving that we all make mistakes.

The author goes into detail about two guys goofing around—best of friends, shoulder to shoulder once again as they patrol the streets to keep them safe. Fred, who’s on Ted’s right, just as they’re on the right side of justice (yes, it said something like that, though they weren’t Ted and Fred) is listening all about Ted’s new woman.

Suddenly they’re attacked! Ted sees them first, grabs his sword, and extends it over his right shoulder to gain momentum before striking out at the enemy. Crisis averted, Ted saved the day.

Anyone else catch that? Yeah, apparently Fred wasn’t that great of a friend because Ted just beheaded him…or at least cut the guy up something fierce.

That is why I always tell authors and writers to physically draw their action scenes. It might sound silly or weird, but I have over a hundred books as Erin and my pen name Joyee, and I’ve drawn out every fight sequence, bomb scene, car chase, or anything that gets remotely complicated.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. Heck, my neighbor thought I was a football coach because he used to see me in my garage drawing X’s and O’s with arrows on my whiteboards all the time. But it works. It works for the NFL, doesn’t it? Movie stunt coordinators do it before filming as well.

First, I map out the location. Once I know what I’m working with, I mark up my available space. It’s also helpful for the visualization when it comes time to write the description of the room, but I’ll leave that article to someone else.

Hopefully this post showed that there are lots of tools out there to help with action and fight scenes other than jumping into a bar brawl. Though, those are always good fun, too.

Not that I’d know anything about that.

Growing up on the northwest side of Chicago, Erin is a loyal Cubs fan, but she also admits to being a die-hard Green Bay Packers girl. From target practice to putting puzzles together, she enjoys an eclectic list of hobbies that feed her outgoing and creative personality. To date, she has published over 90 books in the erotic romance genre, and her dedicated readers eagerly await each installment to her numerous series. You can find out more about her books on GOODREADS!

First Image: RyanMcGuire @ Pixabay


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This entry was posted in Characters, Experiments, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Villains, Writing Craft. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Get Into The Fight: How to Write Action That Won’t Show You’ve Never Thrown a Punch

  1. saleem mohd. says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Excellent points and great strategies!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. What a great idea! I used to ‘act’ them out but drawing them out is so much easier LOL.

    And yay Becca and Ange for almost finishing the next book! Can’t wait!!

  5. Marcia says:

    Excellent, excellent post! There is a way to research anything you want to write in a book and without research, how can you possibly write it well? Love your list of tips and the white board drawings! It’s is info writers can use in many different ways -from an argument that comes close to being physical to a full out battle. Thank you. I find many well-written posts lately that don’t offer any solid information to learn from, so your post was a very welcome change!

  6. Rosi says:

    Such a wonderful, useful post! Thanks so much for this one.

  7. This is really good stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever written a fight scene between humans, but if I do, I’m absolutely going to draw it out.

    Angela, I love that there was a cop at your conference to talk about fights. What a great resource for writers!

    Thanks, Erin, for this post.

  8. Joyee Flynn says:

    I WISH they were the gremlins. They can be bribed *pets gremlins at feet & feeds them junk emails*. I recently moved to rural NE outside Omaha. Gorgeous, quiet subdivision w/golf course… Only problem they have exclusive contract w/shady DSL provider that the UPGRADE is 12MB. *shakes head* The 5 months before the move I was averaging 8k words a writing day… now it’s like 5k. Granted, lots to do & still unpacking, but when I have to reload FB 3x to post anything & it takes 20 minutes to look up something simple like when hurricane season is in the Caribbean it slows me down SLIGHTLY, lol.

    Thanks again for having me. I had a blast! The comments were great and no one called me crazy, which is always my goal when opening my mouth! Best of luck on the new release!

  9. Gosh no worries–it sounds like you’ve had gremlins running amok on your computer, and as someone who sometimes sees blue screens several times a week, I get that. *stabs gremlins*

    I’m so glad you were able to drop in, and this is such a tricky area for so many, I know your advice is going to be super helpful to everyone who reads it. 🙂

  10. Wow! What a great article! This is something that I’m always struggling with, and now I’ve learned much more. Especially stuff that I didn’t realize I didn’t know. Thanks so much!

  11. JeffO says:

    I never thought to diagram a fight scene out like that–that’s a nice idea!

  12. M Pax says:

    I love writing action. Yes, it takes choreographing.

  13. Audrey says:

    Great post! My brother and I actually bought a pair of stunt swords a few years back, with the excuse that it would help me with those scenes. Now I’m going to have to test out ways to chart a fight scene.

  14. Great suggestions! As a black belt, I like to put my adult sons to work, either brainstorming or acting out what I want so I can choreograph and writer things down.

  15. Your post today made me smile. I know silly right? Smiling over fighting? I cheat on this one since my sons and I take Taekwondo. I just think about my last sparring session or latest move I’ve learned and slip that into my stories. Bonus, it helps my Taekwondo out too. I also cheat by letting my now 13 year old son and co-author write much of the battle scenes for me. That’s his think – mine is the setting and world building. Together we’ve written a pretty humorous middle grade urban fantasy adventure with lots of battles. Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers is available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

  16. Joyee Flynn says:

    Angela – I’m excited to get to talk to you! I got a chance to email with Becca when getting everything together, but we didn’t yet. Thanks for having me! Normally I say that first. I swear being late flusters me. I have better manners than that, lol. Hopefully Becca didn’t get annoyed with me the way I kept asking for any word/preorder links for your new book coming out. I’m looking forward to it!

  17. Joyee Flynn says:

    Bridget – Absolutely! I’ve used a chess set and everything from sugar packets because I was out to eat at a conference to show an example to my ENTIRE shot glass collection because it was a huge fight scene in a massive ballroom with 30 good guys against hundreds of swarming bad guys coming in from dozens of entry points. Different situations call for creative thinking and plotting. But hey, it’s like we can think outside the box or something as writers & authors!

  18. Joyee Flynn says:

    Angela – I would totally agree with that as long as the weapons weren’t guns. Then you normally have a lot of diving behind something for cover, peaking around for clean shots, etc. Those scenes don’t normally happen in open rooms face to face. But when it’s swords, knives, picking up pipes or whatever is lying around they can get their hands on? Oh yeah. Someone normally finds an opening pretty fast and gets in a killing or at least debilitating blow to end it.

  19. From writing for animation I learned to be sure that anything I described in a script could actually be reproduced in art. I learned to stage my scenes using action figures, and got top marks from my directors.

    Some time later, I wrote an extremely complicated scene in a novel of people pointing guns at one another while various things happened, including rescue by a German Shepherd. My editor was amazed that I’d carried it off and asked how I did it. “Action figures,” I told her. They’ve never let me down.

  20. Joyee Flynn says:

    *Head desk* And I guess I should have said that this is Erin Flynn because my google shows up as Joyee Flynn, my pen name. (Geez, didn’t you all memorize that from the bio, lol) Apparently my internet leaving the building made my brain do the same.

    Rebecca – Thanks! I have had authors I’ve helped on this topic and others tell me that, saying I speak plain & frankly without trying to fluff it or make myself sound all important. I still feel like a newbie & why would anyone listen to me. My closest friend (who’s an author as well) tries to smack me over the phone, saying I lost the “newbie” status after book #20 at least, at book #50 people would want advice from me how I lasted that long, & now after #100 I actually have wisdom. I’m still laughing over that last part.

    Ellie – I’m with you, sister! I think there’s an art to putting a good one together. And personally (and since I write mostly romance) I’m all about how to burn off the adrenaline fighting brings out after it’s all said & done, lol! But nothing irks me more than when I read a review or hear people praising a book about how accurate it was, well researched & I’m sitting there with my mouth hanging open thinking, “Riiiight. Not one cut or bruise on any character after ALL the fighting they did. And we’re calling that accurate? Absolutely. Totally believable. Let me just pull out that magic wand…”

  21. Oh yes, it would definitely depend on the situation! 🙂 I was meaning more fights where the goal is to win as soon as possible in a high stake scenario. In life or death, a fight won’t draw out–both people are committed to ending it as soon as possible and to be the one to be standing at the end. Without weapons, when people are throwing everything they have into it, they become exhausted quickly unless they have an extremely high fitness level. If weapons are involved, the fight will likely end quicker.

  22. Joyee Flynn says:

    Sorry I’m late! My internet hates me!
    Danielle – I’d still draw that out & have when a MC gets jumped. Otherwise I could write them into a wall or something if I’m not careful.

    Angela – Yes & no. My dad is a retired Chicago cop. 30+ years on the job so I’ve heard ALL the stories. For their line of work, yes, that’s mostly true. But I have friends in the FBI, DEA, & such that I served with. Hell, I boxed in the Navy and I can tell you that fights can last a heck of a lot longer than that… And I’m not just talking the organized ones. They’re very much situational. If an author is like me (writes paranormal) it’s a whole different barrel of monkeys & the name of the game is throwing interesting into the action so there’s reprieve from it & it doesn’t get boring. Not quite “Robin Hood:Men In Tights” where the guy calls a time out, but I like throwing in a little something that makes the reader just blink for a moment & leaves them doing a double take.

  23. Ellie says:

    I LOVE fight scenes. Watching them in movies, in video games. I love the choreograph of them. And I love writing them too. I have a playlist on youtube and references on Deviant art for it 😛

  24. Fantastic. You should teach a workshop. Especially if participants get to brawl a bit.

  25. What a great idea to whiteboard sketch it out! I hate it when I can’t visualize the way something is written.

  26. Important stuff. I attended a session at the May Backspace Writers Conference by author Jonathan Maberry about how to make fight sequences realistic. Once a writer loses her credibility, she’s in danger of losing a reader.

  27. I was at a conference this weekend and a police officer was was offering advice on fight scenes. He said it can be helpful to find a friend and act it out as well.

    Another thing he said is to remember that when people are putting their all into a fight (which they do–violence means intensity) it will last a maximum of 40 seconds. If there are weapons, he says it’s more like 20 seconds. So no long drawn out fights….anything after 40 and both parties are too exhausted to continue!

    Great post–so glad you chose this topic–it’s a tough one!

  28. Great advice! I’ll be hunting down some youtube videos and drawing out some scenes! Thanks!

  29. Danielle says:

    Awesome post! I’ve never thought of drawing out a fight scene, oddly enough. Though, to be fair, fight scenes don’t work out very well in my story, since the MC can’t fight back. (Literally.) But people do attack her, so this post is good in helping find my antagonist’s perspective. ;D

  30. I’m glad I’m not the only one who draws her fight scenes like football plays!! #awesome

    Youtube is a great place to find good fight scenes. I watched a bunch of knife fight training videos for one short scene, just because my brain exploded whenever I thought about actually fighting with knives. I mean WHOA. All I could think was *stab* *stab* *stab*. 🙂

    Great post!

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