Nothing gets your pulse pounding like a good fight scene. It’s better than coffee in the morning, and worse than a Red Bull at night””especially if you’re trying to get to sleep sometime before dawn. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who would confess to missing more than one lunch bell while engrossed in the middle of a particularly riveting fight scene.
A hallmark of the fantasy tradition, fight scenes are as common as whimsical six-syllable names in fantasy books, and yet, despite their frequency, there’s nothing harder to write. So when it came time to write this column, I knew I was going to have to call on the big guns, if I wanted to get it right: R. A. Salvatore.
Best-known as The New York Times best-selling author and creator of the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, who fights with his signature two-sword fighting style, he’s been mesmerizing readers with whirling blades and battle-raging dwarves for over twenty years. And there’s a reason he continues to hit The New York Times best seller list time after time: his characters are gripping, his plotlines are engaging, and nobody””nobody””does fight scenes better than R. A. Salvatore.
Susan: What makes a fight scene interesting?
Salvatore: It’s many things, all wrapped together in a proper package. Mostly, a good fight scene has to start with characters the reader cares about; without a sense of danger, what’s the point? Other than that, writing a fight scene is about mechanics (it’s got to make sense to people who know something about fighting – kind of like the science in a science fiction book has to pass the physicist test!); about emotion (anyone who’s ever been in a fight, sporting or for real, knows that you go to a different place in such a situation); and mostly, a good fight scene is about the pacing. I notice that my sentences get shorter, paragraphs become single
sentences or even sentence fragments, and characters are too involved in staying alive to muse about the meaning of life.
Simply put, if your pulse isn’t pounding with fear and/or sheer action, I’m not doing my job well.
Susan: What do you think about before writing a fight scene?
Salvatore: For many years, it was about the dance, about how two or more armed characters can move about each other in ways that mesmerize, excite, and make sense. Fighting is more about your feet than anything. Balance, balance, balance. Now, after so many battle scenes, I find myself spending my preparation thinking about the battlefield itself. If these guys were fighting in a ring, I’d be writing pretty much the same movements every time. Put them on a rocky hillside, or in a tight cave, or against a monster that is decidedly not humanoid, and I’ve got the variety that keeps it interesting for me.
Susan: How do you choose which points of view to feature during a fight scene?
Salvatore: After my first trilogy which introduced the dark elf character, my publisher decided to send me back for a trilogy explaining where the character came from. I thought it might be interesting to write the books in The Dark Elf Trilogy from a 1st-person point of view. Then I realized that there was no way I could do my fight scenes from that perspective, because a guy in a fight certainly isn’t worrying about the fight going on across the room. And I like to mix it up – lots of moving parts.
I wish I had a better answer about which point of view to choose, but honestly, I just go with my gut.