Thursday, March 15, 2018


When people think of a battle, most envision soldiers and tanks, warships and weapons … possibly rifles and a cavalry. But there are many types of personal battles, as Fiona mentioned in her previous blog post. These include internal moral battles, relationship conflicts, and personal vendettas. How your character deals with these issues is very telling and gives the reader much insight into that individual’s personality. It’s also a chance for you as a writer to provide an opportunity for your character to grow and ratchet up the tension in your story.

So how do you write a compelling battle scene, whether it be an actual fight, where the loser may wind up injured or dead, or a clash between two high school rivals fighting to become class president? I’m not sure if this is true for every writer, but when I write tense scenes, there’s always an urge to resolve the conflict quickly and move on. This is how I operate in life, as confrontation makes me anxious. But the reader doesn’t want a fight that’s resolved quickly and easily—without conflict there is no story!

So, if you’re like me and want to smooth out your MC's hardships asap, how do you build suspense and write an exciting fight scene?

I believe it was The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell that gave me some of the best advice for writing tense scenes. (Even if I’m wrong, it’s a great book—it’s been quite a few years since I’ve read it, and definitely deserves a reread.) To summarize the advice: whenever you have the opportunity to resolve the battle, throw another problem into the mix.

So, let’s say your MC is in a dangerous situation that results in an actual fight scene. Most readers will root for the protagonist to win, but how much fun would it be to read about the character throwing one punch and knocking the antagonist out cold? It’s better to create a fierce battle where the MC is the underdog, makes a comeback, and then just before success, something happens—the character drops a weapon, another person blindsides the MC, etc. The more the odds are against your protagonist, the greater the victory will be. Because in the end, most readers want the good guys to prevail.  

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