Q & A: Hand to Hand: Neglected?

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I was wondering if you could give me tips on how to write hand to hand combat. I know I should be more specific, so I was think outside of the realm of weapons and more into the realm of grappling and martial arts. I know a few things, but it’s not enough to help my figments. We would appreciate your help!


I consider hand to hand a very personal type of combat — after all, you’re bashing faces and making pain with your own body. That’s a lot different than busting butts with a weapon. When you go in with just your fists, the way you fight tells a lot more than just your battle skill.

If you want to write believable hand to hand battles, you may need to study what you’re trying to write. This might take some time, but you will certainly learn things about combat and about your figments that will carry over to writing battles of all kinds.

Personality & Philosophy

If you’re thinking martial arts, don’t just think about action and movement. Consider it an extension of the warrior’s personality and philosophy. Many martial arts have codes and ideas that warriors uphold — some may be a bit more stringent than others. That’s when becomes a mindset more than just a method of battle. If you are developing a hand to hand style for a figment you know well, keep that in the front of your mind. Study the styles of martial arts that exist in your world and find a philosophy that seems to fit the character you are writing for. Consider morphing it into your own school of fighting, perhaps.

If you don’t know the figment well, choose a style that interests you and see what you can learn about that figment’ s philosophy and personality based on that. How much do they follow or stretch their code when they fight? Do they like to go against the grain? Do they like to spice it up in battle and keep the opponent guessing? Or are they like those darn Smash Brothers button-mashers who stick to the moves they know best and repeat them over and over and over… *huffs*

Resources to help:

Study Movement

Once you have a good idea of the philosophy behind the combat style, do some video searches. Watch marital arts practices, drills and competitions on YouTube. Just make sure you’re watching the authentic stuff. Also watch the screw-ups — all warriors who aren’t as cool as me will make mistakes sometimes. Watch the mistakes and figure out how they might fit into your writing and make your fights interesting.

Plan the Environment

Just like any other type of battle, your hand to hand fights aren’t being fought in a vacuum. Set the stage before you write the fight and decide what props surround your warriors. The better you can imagine it, the more options you can give your warriors. Is there terrain that makes it easy or hard for them to fight? Are there buildings and structures they can use to duck and hide or bounce off of? What’s the weather like — does it help or hinder the fight? Don’t be afraid to let them fight dirty — dirt in the eye, throwing something at the opponent, using something as a temporary shield.

Storyboard It

Once you have an idea of the style and the environment, consider drawing a short storyboard. This can just be frames of stick figures acting out the battle on paper. It gives you an idea of the flow and helps you create a timeline of events in a battle. This can be especially helpful if you have a long battle or a series of battles to plan. It also prevents you from coming up with a really cool move and forgetting it later when you try to put it into words. Just remember to stay flexible with the storyboard and don’t get overly involved. It’s a planning tool, not something set in stone.

Resource to help:

Writing It

When you write a hand to hand fight, consider all the senses that come into play in the battle. Unlike a fight fought with weapons, you don’t have all the clangs and slashes and bashes of metal. But you do have parts of the body coming into contact with the opponent’s body. What does that feel like? Bones breaking and organs bleeding? The nasty clammy skin of some guy from the other side of the bar who hasn’t washed in weeks? Can you smell him? Can you taste sweat in the air? What kind of damage are you taking? You feel the muscles working hard?

Really jump in the warrior’s shoes and make it a personal battle. Keep sentences short and to the point to speed up the action. Choose language that fits with your fighting style. Is it ruthless and bloodthirsty? Is it measured and precise? Is it honorable and patient? Is it defensive or aggressive? You’ll be surprised how much detail you can still squeeze in there if you consider the type of words you choose.

Hope that helps you out, Rose!