Max Gladstone talks about writing fight scenes

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMax Gladstone writes the CRAFT SEQUENCE which we love not only for its unique characters, world and plot, but for its awesome cover art. The most recent CRAFT book, Last First Snow, was released last week. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (can’t wait!), but I’m assuming it’s got some amazing fight scenes in it because that’s what Max is here to talk about today: Writing fight scenes!

One commenter with a US or Candian address will win their very own copy (including awesome cover!) of Last First Snow.

Fantasy writers and readers spend a lot of time talking about action. We want cool fight scenes! But what do we mean when we say that?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFights are tricky. We think we know what a “good fight scene” looks like, most of the time, because we know what a good fight scene looks like in films. Punches! Kicks! Spin! Speed! Jumps and spins! But try to write a scene like that way, and you’ll often as not choke your reader on choreography and dance steps. Some few writers can sell this marionette approach to fighting — but most end up tangled in their own strings without telling the story of the fight.

What, then, are we to do? Some writers double down on the blow-by-blow. Some abstract a fight to the point of poetry. Some avoid writing fights entirely, depending on their point of view character’s perspective. A lot of noir heroes find themselves in dust-ups so regularly they don’t bother to describe anything about the fights but how fast they end, and what that ending is.

I wrote about this in much more detail on my blog a while back, but I’m curious about your favorite fight scenes in literature. Were they choreographic? Short and punchy? Poetic? Suggestive, or precisely detailed? Off-screen entirely? Ornate, or bare-bones? Bloody? Abstracted? Does your preference change from book to book? Are there any true dealbreakers?

Readers, one commenter with a US or Canadian address will win a copy of Last First Snow.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. susan emans /

    Honestly, I’ve never thought about it! Fight scenes are not usually my favorite part of a book. As long as the fight makes sense in the sequence of moves and context of the story, I am happy. I just remembered two “fight” scenes that stick in my mind for the lack of fight on the male protagonist’s part. In M.L. Brennan’s Generation V, Fort gets beaten up. In Alex Hughes’s Vacant, Adam and Cherubino are attacked after a concert, and Cherobino handily disposes of her attackers while Adam is “lounging” on the ground. I love the Craft series and am also looking forward to reading Last First Snow which I picked up from my library on Tuesday.

  2. My preferences change from book to book because of the individual author’s style–sometimes they’re great at describing action, and sometimes their strengths lie elsewhere. For good examples of well-written fight scenes, I recommend Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Alex Marshall’s A Crown for Cold Silver.

    Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Gladstone!

  3. Margo /

    I like the way Sebastien de Castell writes choreographed fight scenes in Traitor’s Blade & Knight’s Shadow.

  4. Matthew Stover’s fight scenes in the Acts of Caine series are the best I have ever read. His martial arts background lends such authenticity to the choreography, and he’s got a wonderfully visceral, pulpy writing style that lets you feel every punch, kick, and twist of the knife.

    They’re also brilliantly good books. Everyone should read them.

  5. Trey Palmer /

    You asked a tough one.
    I’ve enjoyed the fight scenes (gun fights honestly) in David Drake’s Killer, Lacey And His Friends, Vettius and His Friends, the Northworld trilogy and The Sharp End. Why? Its visceral. There isn’t anything about the technical specs of the weapon beyond what it can do. The fights hurt. You can see what happens to the winners and losers, and the losers seldom go cleanly.

    More recently, its Ramez Naam’s Nexus. If you’ve read it, there’s a firefight in there that is the most screwed up thing I’ve ever read. It is for all the wrong reasons, totally avoidable, kills and wounds many characters and it has many bad things happen. It isn’t a solution, it is a problem. And I had to stop reading it several times because of what it did to characters I cared about.

  6. Brett Wallace /

    Fights are an area that I tend to be the pickiest with, regardless of medium. For books, I tend to like fight scenes that are detailed so I can picture them. Fittingly, a fight that is too vague tends to make me wonder why it was not just done “off-screen”. That could could lead to a tangent, but back to what I enjoy with fights. Complex fights where those engaged in it have different strengths and weaknesses, approaches, tools, ect. tend to get high marks from me… if it is done well. Unfortunately, it seems to take a good amount of skill to do this properly. Or I have bad luck. Either is possible.

    In regards to length and blood, those never really matter much to me. It can be bloody or “clean”, long or short. As long as what I view as positive aspects of a fight are done well. I’m good.

  7. Fight scenes I find most memorable are those that explore the combatants emotions. I like knowing the characters’ thoughts and feelings while the battles are taking place, a more introspective approach I suppose. A more visceral description also works better, where the emotions are palpable– fear, courage, doubt, etc.

  8. April /

    I prefer protagonists that avoid fights at all costs, even if it is by trickery, but then, if fights have to happen, that they are short and to the point. Or offscreen. Long, drawn out and detailed fight scenes are boring to me. My eyes kind of glaze over.

  9. I like fight scenes that are visceral and impressionistic, and stay with a viewpoint character. Jim Butcher does some good ones. Richard Kadrey has some good fight sequences in his SANDMAN SLIM series. I agree with April.My preference is the person who can strategize, think, talk, joke or trick their way out of a fight, but if it comes to blows/bullets, I don’t want a step-by-step lecture. Make it real.

  10. RedEyedGhost /

    My favorite fight scenes are one that provide that feeling that you’re right in there (that give me a cinematic feeling). Some of my favorites are The Bloody Nine versus the Feared, the Mountain and the Viper, most of them in the Mistborn trilogy (although I’m not a big fan of Sanderson the rest of the time), and of course Bernard Cornwell’s battle scenes – they’re the best I’ve ever read.

  11. Mia, if you have a US or Canadian address, you win a copy of Last First Snow!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading

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