Writing fight scenes

There’s a great guest post, on how to write realistic fight scenes, by Rayne Hall over on Suzie Grant’s blog. Everything needs to focus on the fight, and on how the environment affects its progress. It’s well worth a read if you’re worried that something in your fight scene doesn’t look right.

Tackling the rewrite

Cathy Yardley’s post on successful revisions provides a three-step process to tackle the rewrite. She advises writers to revise the novel at story level, scene level and sentence level. First get the plot right, then rework the scenes and finally check for writing style.

This method makes a lot of sense to me. There’s so much work to do during a rewrite that you really need a way to structure the process.

Elmore Leonard: on writing

Crime writer, Elmore Leonard, died this week. I’ve never read any of his books, but I’ve stumbled across his top ten writing tips (from his 2001 New York Times article).

  • Don’t start your story with the weather.
  • Ditch the prologue.

I’ve read that it’s best to launch straight into an action scene, or at least meet the character straight away. The prologue tip is interesting. I found myself writing a very brief scene that could act as a prologue, and wondered if I should expand it. The prologue is a massive info dump.

I have one character who’s obsessed with history. I’ll have to start calling him prologue man – he can help reveal what’s going on.

  • Only use said as a dialogue tag .
  • Never use an adverb to modify the said tag

“I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ”she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.”

These rules are seared into my brain. If I catch myself wanting to write something like “she ranted angrily”, I know I need to rewrite the dialogue to show just how angry she feels. Adverbs are a prop for weak writing.

  • Limit the exclamation points.
  • Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

Gah! He says no more than two exclamation points per 100,000 words!! *makes note to check for excessive exclamation points*

It’s a great point though. I think, like adverbs, the exclamation point is a way for writers to convey strong emotion, when the words just aren’t delivering. “Suddenly” is a good thing to look out for as well. (I think I’ve already deleted a few of these.)

  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

I did have some regional dialect in my first draft, but it was driving me crazy. So I cut all of it.

  • Avoid describing the character in detail.
  • Avoid describing places and things in detail.

You have no idea how happy I was to read these two tips. I’ve been trying myself up in knots about the lack of physical descriptions in my writing. I know what they look like. I have whole files on them. But I can’t find anywhere to shoehorn the details in.

Character descriptions are one of my pet peeves anyway. In one bestseller (that I despised) the main character was described to us by staring at himself in a hotel mirror. Ick!

  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The last book I read was brilliant, but I did skip some chunks of text. These tended to be bits where the character launched into an info dump about how the world came to be the way it was. It’s not that I didn’t find the background interesting, it was, but there was too much of it. Peppered across the book in smaller bits I may not have noticed.


featured image credit: ernest figueras via photopin cc