My story begins with a woman minding her own business and is forced to fight for her life; against a grotesque (but unseen) creature. The creature is too strong for her, she isn’t strong enough to defeat the creature but she starts hitting it without tiredness; until she is forced to flee ( I thought that this would make the character stand out more )

I have read that to write a fight scenes the words have to be simple and must be carefully written - the rest of the story never seems to refer back to this very scene even though I think it could prove that the character has got courage and survival instincts - if I weren’t to write a fight scene at all would my character/victim seem less insightful?

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    Having the MC lose a fight shows the reader she isn't some overpowered superwoman. It shows a weakness in the character that will provide her a challenge she can overcome. Resolving the challenge can show character growth. So in short it can help as a plot hook. Jul 3, 2018 at 15:21

3 Answers 3


As Totumus Maximus noted in a comment, the fact that your character loses the fight shows, right off the bat, that she is not going to be an overpowered Mary-Sue who wins everything without even trying. The fact that she can't defeat the creature (and probably knows she can't) but tries anyway shows that she is courageous and doesn't give up easily, which are very heroic qualities.

However, I'd say it's just as important, if not more important, to consider how your hero fights. Consider the scene in which Indiana Jones is confronted by a swordsman in a crowded market, and instead of engaging him in a drawn-out sword-fight, he just shoots him. It's not much of a fight, sure, but it shows Indy's practicality, no-nonsense nature, and ability to adapt to unexpected challenges - and does such a good job of it that it's become one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history.

There are plenty of other ways of showing your character's personality through their fighting style:

  • If her blows are wild, poorly-aimed swings, she's either unskilled, scared out of her mind, or both;
  • If she charges in head-first without any kind of strategy, she's probably reckless, hot-headed, or impulsive;
  • If she instead hangs back and tries to look for potential weaknesses or openings, she's probably a more intelligent, analytical person;
  • If she's a more sly, trickster sort of character, she may engage in more underhanded tactics, from minor things like engaging enemies in witty banter to try and put them off (probably not applicable to your story), to stuff like attacking enemies from behind, or while they're talking... or, indeed, bringing a gun to a knife fight.
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    Fun fact, in the script for Raiders of the Lost Ark, there IS a long sword fight scene. But Harrison Ford was sick that day and wanted to quit filming early, so he shot his opponent instead, and Spielberg the idea so that's the take they went with.
    – Ryan_L
    Jul 3, 2018 at 16:27

A fight scene can prove a lot; while a play-by-play is likely to feel like you're describing a movie rather than writing prose, there's a lot one can tell about the way a character fights, how they win/lose a fight, and what they do after their opponent is at their mercy. For example, I've been writing a novel recently, with a protagonist who is very into using her physicality/magic to establish dominance, especially if she's ideologically compromised (she's physically strong, ideologically weak).

Her first 'fight' isn't really a fight; she's a leader in a mage cult that values strength, and after one novice gets a little too cocky and confrontational, she confirms his intent to start a fight. When he says yes, she swiftly gets to work and uses geomancy in combination with good ol' fashioned beatdowns to break the boy's ankle, even when he realises how in over his head he is and attempts to run and yield. In addition, her motions when casting are all associated with belly-dancing and keeping time, contrasting the brutality of her physical attacks with the grace of her magical attacks.

Once he's disabled, she uses her magic to assist his mobility briefly, then throws him to the rest of her subordinates, apathetic to whether or not he'll be bullied for his defiance-based injury.

The 'fight' (read: domination) scene gets across several things early on:

  • Her struggle is not going to be centred around beating up a bad guy, as she's plenty good at beating people up.

  • She considers acceptance of a fight the point of no return and will not stop until, at the very least, they're no longer a threat.

  • She herself is a bit of a bully; she can and will shut defiance down with physical force without hesitation. This links to point one: Her struggle is more about maturing to a point where beating opposition up is not her immediate option.

  • She is both masculine-coded (in terms of raw athleticism, stoicism, and tendency to show off physical might) and feminine-coded (incorporating graceful, rhythmic, dance-based motions into her fighting style).

  • She strongly believes in an edgy, toxic rendition of 'survival of the fittest', in which the injured aren't given special consideration.

And all these facets are covered in a simple fight scene given context by a lengthier set of dialogue and buildup. Every fight scene needs to have a purpose; think through what your fight scene is proving, because unlike a movie, raw spectacle is simply not enough.


Consider these three possibilities:

  1. A blow by blow. This is often recommended against.

He threw a fist hard toward her face. It connected, and she hit back and looped her foot around his ankle. Now he was on the floor. She straddled him, grabbed his head and thrust it into the dirt. His hands found her throat, he was throttling her, she threw a hand up to pull them away.

  1. Reactionary, within point of view character.

He threw a fist hard toward her face. It connected, and a ringing pain shattered through her skull. If she didn't fight back, hard, and soon, he'd have her in the truck and all hope would be lost. She hit back, had no training in hand-to-hand, no hope of success, and somehow her foot tangled around his ankle and miraculously he was on the ground. She clambered onto him, but her head was still ringing, and she couldn't breathe, he had her by the throat, she couldn't breathe, needed air, his head was in her hands. She didn't need training--she was fighting for her life.

  1. Reactionary, within point of view character, but distinctly different character traits.

He threw a fist hard toward her face. It connected, and a ringing pain shattered through her skull. Oh, like hell you motherfucker, and she hit back, every minute of hand-to-hand training coming on line, she paired the jab with an ankle loop. Take that! Now on top, in for the kill, and she jackhammered his head into the ground. He was a feisty one, had her by the throat, she wrenched his hands away and heard something pop in his wrist and he cried out in pain. You're gonna hurt a lot more than that, you son of a bitch.

It's basically the same sequence of events in these three but you get a different sense of the woman in each. usually it's recommended to use #2 or #3 (point of view, reaction) rather than #1 (blow-by-blow.)

Answer: You are proving character.

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