why fight scenes are boring

I’ve often remarked that one of the last scenes I will write in a novel is the ‘climax’ fight scene, or any other fight scene. I’m afraid I find fight scenes boring.

Every sentence in a novel or short story exists to either further the plot or show character, or ideally, both. Fight scenes don’t do any of that. Fight scenes are blow-by blow accounts of what happened. Unless their interest is in sword-fighting or war strategy, most readers won’t find them all that interesting.

Think of it: we get to the end of the novel, and your protagonist finally meets the antagonist face-to-face. We know there’s going to be a fight. They know there’s going to be a fight. We know that one of them will win. We know that the closer the scene is to the end of the book, the more likely it is that the winner is the protagonist. In any case: someone will win. We want to know who, and not be taken through three pages of backhanded cuts or army manoeuvres. Fight scenes are procedurals and long procedurals are boring.

You can make them interesting by adding a different angle. For example, the protagonist isn’t aware who they are fighting, and much of the fight is spent trying to find out. Or the antagonist drops an emotionally-laden comment during the fight (Darth Vader: I’m your father), or something unexpected happens (the elves turn up in the battle of Helm’s Deep). But there are a lot of fight scenes where something like this simply isn’t possible, plot-wise. Just keep them as short as you think you can get away with.

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10 comments on “why fight scenes are boring

  1. There is an amazing fight scene in I think it might be Tigana but it’s some Guy Gavriel Kay Swordwank but the son is fighting the dad and it’s all inside their heads and it’s just AMAZING, cos he jumps between the two of them.

    But most of them are dull. :/

  2. Yeah, fight scenes can be dull, if nothing’s happening with the characters.

    I think they’re like sex scenes in that respect — if nothing’s happening in a fight scene other than the characters fighting, you should cut it out.

    • I like sex scenes better than fight scenes. With a well-written sex scene, it’s hard not to – uhm – have some sort of emotional response (ahem). With a fight scene, I feel nothing. Unless you can chuck in something unexpected (which isn’t always possible), I prefer them as short as possible.

  3. “Think of it: we get to the end of the novel, and your protagonist finally meets the antagonist face-to-face. We know there’s going to be a fight. They know there’s going to be a fight. We know that one of them will win. We know that the closer the scene is to the end of the book, the more likely it is that the winner is the protagonist.”

    That’s comic book/Hollywood/video game resolution Patty. A good writer should be able to transcend that formula. Hell, even a mediocre writer should be able to.

    I use fight scenes where they’re required, like all other “scenes”. I don’t over-do them. I don’t know what you’d call fight scenes for the sake of fighting, but sex scenes for the sake of sex is called pornography. 😀

    • yes and no. There does need to be some sort of climax. When you write a story that relies on things being done with weapons, chance are that there will be SOME sort of fight involved in the climax. When you write sword-and-sorcery, there may be a magic fight, but more often than not, the climax involves a confrontation, an escape, the protagonist in a corner so there is no option but to fight. Strangely enough, if you resolve the story without the fight, people will be disappointed.

  4. A bad fight scene is like any other bad scene. Bad. The key is to write good fight scenes where they’re called for in the story. I’m working on a short ebook at the moment about writing realistic fight scenes, based on a workshop I’ve run a bunch of times now. There’s WAY more to a good fight scene than a “blow-by blow account of what happened”.

    I’ll let you know when the ebook is ready. 🙂

    • Cool Alan! I’ll be looking out for this one. Maybe it’s that I’ve read a lot of bad fight scenes, but I do tend to find the shorter ones more engaging.

      • Definitely. One of the things I talk about in the workshop (and the book, of course) is that writers need to be careful that one of the most action packed and frenetic parts of the story isn’t one of the most boring and slow to read.

      • That’s what I’ve always found: there is lots of action, but it’s slow as hell to read. I’d be interested in your take on how to keep tension in a fight scene.

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