What Is More Dramatic Than A Fight? by Tiffany Lawson Inman

Welcome to Techie Tuesday here at More Cowbell! This is the day each week when I unleash my inner geek and we talk about some groovy piece of technology or a technical point of writing.

Only THIS week, I’m not doing the talking! Nope. This week, I’m letting that Naked woman loose on y’all.

Tiffany Lawson Inman (aka NakedEditor) is in the More Cowbell House, my friends! (And she’s here with a really hot <NOT naked> guy who’s gonna talk all about some rough, tough, sweaty fighting. *fans self*)


Thank you Jenny, for letting me slide into your spot on Techie Tuesday. I’m getting pretty amped up about the contest, and I hope you don’t mind, I brought a surprise guest with me today for an interview!  I KNOW the info he shares is right on the mark with our topic today.

The deadline for the Dirty Fighting Contest Round #2 is St.Patty’s Day! So, it seems like a perfect time to talk about writing physical action, eh?

Naked Editor’s favorite kinds of physical action:

  • Butt-kicking-action.
  • Weapons and sweat flying, muscles screaming, dirt-on-face-action.
  • Scared-for-your-protagonists-life type of action! 
  • Readers avoiding calls, texts, and emails because they are reading your action packed book type of action!

When Jenny invited me to judge and edit the first Dirty Fighting Contest, I was runnin-to-the-rooftops excited.  Because one of my favorite aspects of fiction are the BIG DRAMATIC ACTION SCENES.  And what is more dramatic than a fight?!

Don’t bother giving me tickets to the ballet. I’d rather attend one of Shakespeare’s fight packed Tragedies. One of the reasons I am such a good judge of this kind of emotional extravaganza is because of my background in theatre.

When reading/editing an action/fight scene, my theatrically charged brain knows:

  • what reaction should come next
  • if emotions are missing
  • what your character isn’t showing and should be showing
  • where to incorporate setting and description
  • when your characters should speak and the power behind dialogue and body language
  • how to use rhythm and cadence to enforce pace
  • why some choreography works and others doesn’t

The above list ALSO some of the many reasons you should be taking a class from me, hiring me to edit your manuscript,  or the most immediate course of action—– entering in the Dirty Fighting Contest– because if you win – your scene will be posted on Jenny’s blog for an onscreen edit from me!

And, gosh, IF you need another incentive – I will also be editing the 1st Place Winner’s FIRST TEN PAGES of their WIP!

First thing to do is get your writing blood moving and read good active fiction.

Here is a snippet of raw fighting from Veronica Roth’s bestselling book, Divergent, to get you started.  Roth shows us a very logical fight scene.  Her cause/effect is flawless and she keeps the reader connected through every moment.

I block the next punch with my forearm. The blow stings, but I barely notice it. She grits her teeth and lets out a frustrated groan, more animal-sounding than human.

We see both characters’ reactions to the blocked punch!

She tries a sloppy kick at my side, which I dodge, and while her balance is off, I rush forward and force my elbow up at her face. She pulls her head back just in time, and my elbow grazes her chin.

She creates more tension by showing us a swing and almost miss. A good thing to remember – the action is always moving forward but by bobbing in the middle ground a bit you can add intrigue.  Make the reader sweat!

She punches me in the ribs and I stumble to the side, recovering my breath.

Showing reality based recovery time! Not everyone remembers that their characters breathe.

There’s something she’s not protecting, I know it. I want to hit her face, but maybe that’s not a smart move. I watch her for a few seconds. Her hands are too high; they guard her nose and cheeks, leaving her stomach and ribs exposed. Molly and I have the same flaw in combat.

Mood enhancing internalizations. We also get a moment to analyze the picture with her.

Our eyes meet for just a second.

I aim an uppercut low, below her bellybutton. My fist sinks into her flesh forcing a heavy breath from her mouth that I feel against my ear.

VERY VIVID and active imagery.  She shows us how hard the hit was without having to say “I hit her really hard.”

As she gasps, I sweep-kick her legs out from under her and she falls hard on the ground, sending dust into the air. I pull my foot back and kick as hard as I can at her ribs.

My mother and father would not approve of my kicking someone when she’s down.

I don’t care.

Did it feel like we were in the front row for that fight?  I wish I could have shown you more…Go buy the book!  I’ve seen more embellished fights that I’ve liked just as much, but for this scene, her simplistic style works. Because she nailed each movement, I’m thinking that Veronica Roth probably did her homework and got physical before writing that scene, don’t you think?   I guess she could have hired a professional fight choreographer to help.

Speaking of professional fight choreographers… (cheesy transition, sorry) Here to help me get you guys even MORE rallied up for Round 2 of the Dirty Fighting Contest is fight choreographer extraordinaire, Teel James Glenn!   I twisted his arm a month ago and I must have HUGE burly muscles, cuz he agreed to an interview.

I figured who best to further immerse us into the world of writing violence, than a man who has traveled the world for thirty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, and actor?!  AND he has over two dozen books in print.  Genres including Steampunk, westerns, mysteries and the best selling SF thriller series “The Exceptionals.”

Teel James Glenn was a finalist in the EPIC book awards in 2009. He is also the winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark Ward for Best Author.  See what else he is cooking up – visit him at:   http://theurbanswashbuckler.com/

Now that you’ve gotten a bite of his bio, let’s see what he has to say about writing fight scenes!

How do you approach a physical action scene?

The fight scenes are always outgrowths of the plot so I don’t approach them all that differently than a dialogue scene. I try to determine what is the goal, i.e. who should win, who lose and what do I want to reveal in the course of the scene. Should I show some knowledge of the hero of a particular technique? Some fear or weakness to be revealed through the drama of the scene?

Everything starts with the characters so the arc of the story or the fight scene all come from the question ‘what am I trying to tell about this person or what is he/she supposed to discover about themselves?”

As a professional fight choreographer I’ve had to follow cause/effect formula when analyzing scripts to put the action on the performers and help them understand the characters. Each fight is a little story through which the characters’ personalities are exposed and the through line of the story reinforced.

In live choreography fights are composed in beats like a musical composition moving toward a crescendo and climax. The same can be said for written fights with the ‘notes’ and phrases determined by length of sentence, choice of word and paragraph arrangement.

How do you match the character to their fighting style and weapon choice?

Same way I decide what they wear; does it serve the story? In my Altiva stories the main character T.K. Mitchell has an ‘issue’ with bladed weapons- he can’t use even a steak knife to cut his meat. And yet he ‘falls’ onto a sword dominated world.

My solution to making him functional was to give him the Filipino stick fighting style of Kali as his main asset; it had the double advantage of allowing him to fight many different types of styles successfully and being a heck of a surprise since no one on the world had ever seen anything like it.

Do you find it’s harder to write verbal fights or physical fights or a combination of both?

I think verbal fights are more of challenge for me in that naturalistic dialogue in arguments can be difficult to keep from becoming like real life arguments- “Yes you did. No I didn’t. Yes you did. No I didn’t.” And don’t have much information, per se since the real life people arguing already know all the past history. In a book you have to give the history as the argument progresses the engage the reader.

Throughout a fight scene we can’t just write the physical action or it isn’t a full scene. How do you incorporate or what is your process to include:  body language, types of dialogue, environment, and non-fighting characters?

I actually start with all that information first, i.e. how it all serves the story, where is everyone else and what each characters objectives/gains are. I always try to incorporate the environment in the fight to put the reader in the middle of it.

What are your favorite settings for a fight scene?

I got to write a fight between two friends in a sword fighting academy in “The Daemonhold Curse” (in Songs of a Warrior Priest out from Whiskey Creek Press in June). It was able to introduce both characters, explain their fight styles and give a lesson in history of the world all in one scene.

If there is something that I haven’t asked, that you would like to share about writing physical action?

Since the fight has to serve the purpose of the story you have to use the same criteria as any journalistic or dramatic story. Ask yourself, ‘is this fight necessary?’ If it is then you can use the old six questions: Why, Who, How, Where, What and When? (my arbitrary order, here, folks, don’t write me letters)

  • Why? Why is this fight the solution to this moment of the story, instead of a dialogue scene?
  • Who? Who is involved in the action; the principal? A secondary character?  If so, what is their stake in the confrontation (their why).
  • How? How did the fight come about?
  • Where? Where does the action take place?
  • What? What is involved, physically in the fight?
  • When? When is it appropriate to have a fight instead of a non-physical solution?

When you have answered all these questions for yourself, you are ready to get down and dirty and start writing the fight!


Thank you Teel for sharing great insight and info!  And thank you all for joining us today!  I hope we got your Dirty Fighting blood bubbling and creative energy flowing to your laptop.

Comment below and tell us what author stokes your favorite action/fight scene fire!  What was it about the writing that grabbed you? Or just say “hi!”  

p.s. If you comment, your name will be in the hat to win a free spot in one of my April online classes offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy.

77 Secrets To Writing YA Fiction That Sells!  OR  From Madness To Method OR Triple Threat Behind Staging A Scene to be offered again in late-summer. 

Tiffany Lawson Inman (NakedEditor) claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. Here, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. She teaches for Lawson Writer’s Academy and presents hands-on-action workshops. As a freelance editor, she provides story analysis and editing services.

You can find Tiffany at http://tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor.com/ or on Twitter @NakedEditor.

Sign up for my Action Scene ALL DAY WORKSHOP this summer at: http://www.thinkbannedthoughts.com/Tipi-Tales.html

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
This entry was posted in Amazing Writers, Contest and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to What Is More Dramatic Than A Fight? by Tiffany Lawson Inman

  1. K.B. Owen says:

    Wow, a guest within a guest post, LOL! Cool stuff, Jenny and Tiffany!


  2. Good morning, Tiffany and Jenny! *waves with coffee in hand*

    Whoop! Keyboard caffeinated.

    I have not yet attacked writing a physical fight scene–unless a crotch-crunch counts. Does that count? If yes, those end quickly. Other than bolting or verbal goading, there’s not a lot of follow-up action required on the part of the cruncher.

    To date, mine have been verbal, or intentional use of sexual miscues to throw the perceived enemy off-balance.

    I’ve never been in a fight. Never witnessed one in real life. Never looked at one on-screen with eyes wide open.

    I know where to go (and who to read) in order stage them properly. Thanks for those excerpts and analyses. And, the peek behind the scenes with Teel James Glenn.

    Yes, I know. The deadline for Dirty Fighting contest entries draweth nigh. [Forsooth.] Since I deleted much of the choreography in my first entry in order to include multiple dirty fighting techniques in your stingy word count…

    Is it the number of techniques used, or the effectiveness with which even one is used that will be judged? If the answer to that question is, “can’t or won’t say,” my entry may begin with: “She stared at the blank screen. The cursor, blinking cursor flashed back, taunting. She right-clicked, scrolled to the paste option, left-clicked. An image of with two smiling blonde beauties scrolled onto the page. Two smiling blonde beauties with mustaches, nose hairs, and a glob of green spinach between their front teeth.”


    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      OH my….I am rolling! ROLLING, Gloria!

      It is the effectiveness of how EVERYTHING is put together. The Dirty fighting techniques are there to help you get started and maybe even structure your fight.

      Your scene better NOT start with “She stared at the blank screen…” That is 6 words that could be used for more sweat flying!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I almost choked on my toothbrush when I read this early in the AM.


  3. mliddle says:

    More Cowbell! More Cowbell! And Naked Editor! And definitely that extraordinaire of a man – Teel! I haven’t had something get me up and wanting to go since I had an awesome night sleep with a favorite person coming to visit me that morning! Even though I am not an action writer, this post, interview, and contest are luring me out of my safety zone. Due to chronic illnesses, I’m unable to be the active person I used to be: trail runner, swimmer, hiker, indoor climber, crosscountry skier, snowshoer, etc. But perhaps I could live vicariously through my characters and be a crazy adventurer who uses all her outdoor training and activities to assist her when it gets physical…Something maybe there! But thanks a lot to Tiffany and Teel for a great post and getting me going this morning. And Jenny – Excellent guests!


    • mliddle says:

      Mliddle, by the way, is Monique Liddle (FYI, Jenny)


    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Well hot diggity, Monique – Thank you for coming out to play this morning. I’m glad we were able to rev you up for some good ol’ action writing!

      One of the many things I love about reading and theater is the ability to live through those mediums. Characters and plots that pull you in. Action scenes are no different, in fact I hope they pull me in even more!

      Can’t wait to read your 300 words!


  4. Laura Drake says:

    “Each fight is a little story through which the characters’ personalities are exposed and the through line of the story reinforced.”

    Wow, I read that and had an epiphany! Now I have to go home and change.
    I never thought about a fight exposing unknown aspects of a character’s personality – that is so powerful!

    What an amazing blog! Thanks Tiffany, and Teel — and of course, your hostess, Jenny.
    Isn’t she cute in that French Maid outfit?


    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      WOOT WOOT ! We have an epiphany here folks, stand back, it could blow any second!

      🙂 Heck yeah! Fights show hidden strengths, embarrassing fears, evil undertones, and so so so so so much more. mmmmm just talking about it gets me HUNGRY for emotional dramatics.

      Hoping the last Triple Threat Lecture will BLOW YOUR MIND in the physical action arena – Should be in your inbox this week!



    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Laura, I am ROCKIN’ the French Maid outfit!! The leg warmers were an inspired touch. 🙂


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  6. Love the guest post (thanks for hosting Jenny) and for sharing your wisdom Tiffany and TJ. Great stuff to use. I love the direction, examples, and things to consider when putting together a fight scene. All great stuff! woot woot!


  7. I have a few fight scenes in my WIP… one with hitting, one has bondage (just someone tied up really) – oh wait, there are two of those..
    I am editing now.. I have no idea what I am doing, really. I think I will write down the list of ?’s and go from there..

    Thanks gals!! 😀


  8. Sharla Rae says:

    Very Interesting to get a real fighter’s POV! Thanks so much.


  9. Sharon says:

    I only remember one fight scene with something other than a verbal exchange. I don’t remember the book, but I do remember skimming through it to get to the end. I guess that must have been a bad fight scene. Oh, yes, I have read a few shoot-em-ups. I remember that in one the girl saved the good gunman. Couldn’t tell you the name of the book, but then I read 300 or so books a year.


  10. Janet B says:

    I love to read the fight scenes written by Shannon McKenna, I want to be able to write fight scenes with the same flow.


  11. Ginger Calem says:

    Fantastic post. Thanks, Jenny for having Tiffany and T.J. I took notes because I’m going to have plenty of fight/action scenes in the WIP I’m working on. Very helpful!!


    • YES! Ginger, i love it when I get writers taking notes 🙂
      Follow me on Twitter @NakedEditor – I will be teaching another Triple Threat Behind Staging A Scene this year, maybe even twice as it seems to be very popular!!! LOTS of cools stuff to do when writing action scenes.


      • Ginger Calem says:

        Done — following! 🙂 I’ve taking numerous workshops with Margie and still use my NOTEBOOK years later. One of these times I’m going to get to an immersion retreat too. I’ll look for the triple threat!


        • Ginger! yeay! Thanks for following!

          To note and to hopefully push you to commit to a 5day Immersion Master class *wink wink!

          I am now the bonus editor in the deal! Not only do you get to hang in the mtns of Colorado, get one on one deep editing workshop from Margie Lawson, but you also get two editors for the price of one!

          But in the meantime, you are MORE than welcome to take one of my online classes 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That’s fantastic, Ginger!! So, are you going to snip out 300 words and send them in for the Dirty Fighting contest???


  12. Fabio Bueno says:

    Loved these techniques. In my WIP, I had fights where physical confrontation was needed, but not fights to show character. Many useful tips there, Jenny and Tiffany! Thanks!


  13. tomwisk says:

    Your blog showed up just in time. I’ve got a 1,500 wd piece for a class. It’s my first try at supernatural thrillers. I left it yesterday in the middle of a fight scene. It was getting weak. I am going to punch it up to make it the heart of the piece. I want it beating and bleeding. This post has given me the legs to run with it. This piece is the first part of a trypthic. Part two is in outline and part three is lurking in the back of my brain.


    • FABULOUS! So glad you have been recharged to get the blood flowing…literally!

      What kind of supernatural thriller are we talking about here? What was your previous genre?


      • tomwisk says:

        A demon snatches a kid, priest is suspected detctive and priest’s replacement defeat demon. Priest tells dectctive of another disappearance, go on a road trip. It’s tied in with a piece about an empath who is tortured by the demon at the end of his fight he hitchikes out of town is picked up by priest and detective. Third story still lurks. I’ve tried everything. Ideas pop up and I write them down. I try an outline. If it works, I write.


  14. Fabulous post!! Adding a fight scene is like adding a sex scene…strip that poor character bare. Awesome. And I love TJ’s Why, Who, How, Where, What, and When order. I think I’m going to paste that to my wall.

    Thanks for sharing Tiffany and TJ. Thanks for hosting them Jenny.


  15. rathrift says:

    Followed Necked Editor’s link to this page. In my fantasy WIP I have one major fight scene. This info rocks! I’m gonna go back and change a few things based on your insights. Thanks again.


  16. Wow! What powerful information, thanks for sharing.


  17. Ali Dent says:

    Neat that you are an expert writer of fight scenes. I haven’t thought through how to do that. My boys are theatrical sword fighters. It’s one thing to build a fight and place it in a play but to arrange words on a page for the reader to feel present at the fight is a whole other thing. You’re awesome!


    • Ali, You have to rework some of the wiring in your brain for this kind of thing. I could help you – I’ve got some fancy tools 🙂 Fantastic that you have theatre in your family – USE them to your advantage! Put them to work if you need to see something played out. how perfect to have your very own life size dolls. Lucky duck.


  18. Julie Glover says:

    Oh my goodness, this is going to be SO HELPFUL for my current WIP. These two high school girls are coming up to a knock-down, drag-out in formalwear at prom. I want to make sure the reader feels like he/she is there watching those otherwise sweet darlings coming to vicious, below-the-cummerband blows. I’m bookmarking this post! Thank you.


  19. Hi Tiffany!
    Another great article. I always learn from your fresh perspective on writing.
    I do hope to finish your Triple Threat Class some day and of course take more classes from you 🙂



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  21. Catie Rhodes says:

    I enjoyed reading both your example and the interview with Teel James Glenn (or T.J. ?). It’s useful info because in this day and age the majority of people our age have never been in a physical altercation. And, if they have, they haven’t been in enough to write about it realistically.

    My protagonist gets in fights, but she gets her butt kicked most of the time. She tends to put up her fists when she should run because her opponents grossly outmatch her. I often wonder if I’ve done it realistically.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this wonderfully informative post.


    • Catie – As long as you have a smart motivation (internal and external) for her to get in all of those fights, the reader won’t question it.

      Ask yourself if she learns anything from getting her butt kicked to use in the next fight? Or is it painfully obvious how stubborn she is in each fight?

      oooh I’m curious! I wish I could just pop inside your story for a second to see a writing sample 🙂 OR better yet – you could give us 300 words of on of these butt kicking fights for the Dirty fighting contest!!!


  22. Oh wow, sorry to be late for this one Jenny and Tiffany!
    Fight scene. I had forgotten that I wrote in a physical fight scene in one of my WIPs. Hmm.
    I’ll have to check it out and incorporate what you brought out in your interview within a interview. Who knew you could do that? LOL! But somehow you did it! Love that!
    Thank you! 🙂


  23. Sheri Fredricks says:

    This is truly one of the best blogs I’ve read on fight scenes. Jenny Hansen’s blog site just keeps getting better. Thanks Tiffany – loved your guest post.


  24. bronjonesnz says:

    Tiffany, Jenny – thanks for another fabulous blog.
    What if the fight is between a middle aged, spinster daughter and her old father and the weapon is a walking stick? There’s heaps of potential for “you always/you never” etc, blaming, a bit of a whack with the walking stick on the table, a bit of scuffling. How can I make this worthy of a Dirty Fighting comp entry?


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Well, Tiffany would have to give her opinion, but i think it sounds like a great entry! Take a 300 word snippet and send it in to jennyhansensmail@aol.com 🙂


    • Yes yes and more YES!

      Love the use of the weapon on-hand sotospeak, sometimes those are the most believable. Check the list of Dirty Fighting Techniques to make sure you are actively using one of them in the scene – sounds like you already are. We’d like to see a beginning middle and end – and that means you might have to shrink it for the contest – editing it so it fits the 300 words AND keeping the integrity of the fight.

      Yup. We know it’s a challenge! 🙂

      Worthy of being an entry? What I am looking for :

      correct and timely reactions,
      showing emotions for all characters,
      making sure you are showing with body language-dialogue-vocal cues,
      incorporate active setting/description,
      how you use dialogue and if it is natural,
      your use of rhythm/cadence/word choice for pacing,
      and the flow of your choreography.

      I didn’t say it was easy, but yes, it IS DOABLE !! !

      I know 300 words isn’t a lot.

      If I see a piece that has 85 percent of this in it and the concept and construction is “WOW”ing me right off my feet – if that entry is the winner I will be showing how to incorporate the other 15 percent when I dive into my onscreen edit.


  25. And the WINNER IS ————————————————- Julie Glover ! !! ! ! ! !

    Julie, you get to pick between my 3 current courses. Coming up in April: 77 Secrets To Writing YA Fiction That Sells, From Madness To Method: Creating Oscar Worthy Characters and Emotion. Or offered later this summer tba: Triple Threat Behind Staging A Scene:Choreography, Physicality, and Action.

    Thank you ALL for reading and commenting over the last two days. THANK YOU THANK YOU to Jenny for letting me crash her party AND bring a guest.

    I hope the rest of you will pop on over to Lawson Writer’s Academy and sign up for one of our many classes. No, it doesn’t have to be mine (although it would be nice… 🙂 ) ALL of our instructors rock pretty hard when it comes to the level of teaching over there. These are HANDS-ON courses!

    Don’t forget to enter the Dirty Fighting Contest this week. If you win – you get 10 page EDIT

    Besides using one of the Dirty Fighting Techniques, here are the things I am looking for:
    correct and timely reactions,
    showing emotions for all characters,
    making sure you are showing with body language-dialogue-vocal cues,
    incorporate active setting/description,
    how you use dialogue and if it is natural,
    your use of rhythm/cadence/word choice for pacing,
    and the flow of your choreography.

    And if you don’t know how to work ALL of these elements into your writing – take one of my classes! This is some of the cool stuff I teach and this is the “stuff” that turns your WIP into a bestseller 🙂

    Thanks again for reading and I hope to see ALL of your names in our entry list by St. Patty’s Day!

    ~Always be learning,
    Naked Editor


  26. Extra excited about this post, because I just ordered Divergent for the Grade 8 Book Club bins at my school.


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