Breakout 5: Self-Defence For Women: How To Write a Fight Scene – RWAus14

Susanna Rogers – 2nd degree black belt in kickboxing, published romance author.  Publishes under the name Nina Blake 

  • likes to feel powerful
  • teaches kickboxing
  • can’t run, catch or throw, but can kick and punch


When in stressful situation or danger:  fight or flight mechanism kicks in

Physiological changes include:

  • heart rate rises
  • increased blood flow to muscles
  • pupils dilate
  • non essential things slow down (digestion stops)

There is a third factor that is rarely mentioned:  freeze

When in dangerous situation the key is:

  • situational awareness
  • trusting instincts


When you are out:

  • look around
  • be aware of what is around you
  • keep an eye out for dangers
  • assess level of risk
  • trust your gut


Attackers / criminals:

  • can easily spot a victim (have trained themselves to do it)
  • will go for an easy target

All personal protection is based on the ability to think like the opposition / enemy


Tips & techniques:

  • if they want your bag, throw as far as you can in one direction, and run away in the other
  • go for soft points:  eyes (with thumbs), throat, groin
  • yell no, repeatedly


Trust your gut

  • nagging feelings
  • apprehension
  • unease
  • if you feel all this, you are probably correct


Don’t rely on anyone else

  • they don’t want to get involved
  • they don’t know what to do
  • a lot of the time will not even call police
  • find someone and give instructions
  • eg not ‘someone call the police’, instead say ‘you call the police’


Some attackers seem nice, charming

  • unwanted assistance
  • unwanted information
  • loansharking – ‘I have done something for you, you owe me now’
  • discounting ‘No’ when you say it
  • we expect people to be nice because we are


If you are told to get in a car boot, don’t do it

If you are in a rear boot, kick out the lights and stick your foot through



  • say no to them once very clearly
  • say ‘I am not interested in a relationship with YOU’
  • don’t say I am not interested in anything right now – they will perceive that as in a while
  • cease all contact
  • friends may feel you are overreacting, but you are not – trust your instincts


Stranger danger:

  • it isn’t always a stranger that is the danger
  • find someone nice to talk to
  • tell children to find a female, with family if possible


Trust your instincts:

  • Suzanne had an uncomfortable feeling about a doctor, he was convicted of paedophilia 20 years later
  • Aerton Senna didn’t want to race the day he died, he knew there was problems with the car.  He did it because he felt pressured – if he had said not, he may have got criticism but would still be alive
  • don’t have headphones on and be texting as you walk around – oblivious to surroundings


Writing a fight

  • ask yourself why have a fight seen
  • should have a purpose
  • move a story forward
  • link to Goal – Conflict – Motivation
  • readers should not think it is unnecessary violence if your story is structured correctly
  • just because something is violent does not mean is it gratuitous or unnecessary


beware of numbing effect of too much violence

  • too much action becomes ‘another day at the office’ for a protagonist
  • will be come routine, boring for reader


Writing a fight seen is a lot like writing a sex scene

  • difficult to write
  • build up of tension
  • build up over time from previous scenes
  • if all that happens is a fight, then no point to it, not moving the story forward


Suzanne is a big fan of being in an alley way – think it through

  • how does it feel?  It will be a different answer depending on geographic location (materials of buildings, the ground, any plants etc)
  • what does it smell like?
  • who is attacking your heroine?  It takes two to fight
  • heroine doesn’t fight because she wants to
    • she fights because she has to


True character is revealed by the choices a person makes under pressure

  • does she crumble?
  • does she outwit opponents?
  • does she find extra reserves to push on?
  • put her in a situation where she has to do what she doesn’t want to do


How we write it

  • make it larger than life
  • if someone hits with the right it will hit on their left
  • think of positioning and flow
  • sequence:  describe action, show reaction
  • eg she punched, he falls back.  He stands up and kicks, she dodges
  • use lots of action verbs
  • watch out for filter words – eg no think, wonder, realise, choose etc
  • watch out for ‘could’ and ‘can’ – she does, she takes it
  • adverbs – don’t use in fight scenes
  • sentences should be short (but do mix it up a bit)
  • the fight isn’t over when it is over – there needs to be consequences, show the effect
  • physical consequences
  • emotional consequences
  • could also be police investigation consequences


Then go through scene one more time ‘with feeling’

  • senses
  • physicality


Make the scene your own, have fun with it, do it your way

Fighting language has made its way into everyday language:

  • roll with the punches
  • back foot
  • backed into a corner
  • dropped her guard

So feel free to make up your own terms, find something that has impact outside the ‘everyday’

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