How would you describe a complex dogfight? The issue is that to describe a simple single movement is hard enough, but there are many of them happening in a short period of time. So how exactly can you describe a dogfight?

Airplane 1 flew over the other airplane, then it swung to the left, swung to the right and then performed a somersault.

Airplane 2 decelerated, swung to the left and decelerated some more and got shot down.

The issue is you have single actions and a series of them and then you need to describe the movement of 2 airplanes at the same time. I have no idea how to do this, and also you can't use poetic language in a dogfight or at least it would feel odd.

  • 1
    Airplanes don't "somersault." The first step is to understand what airplanes are capable of and the existing terminology. The word "dogfight" has a specific meaning. If you are going to use it, then you need use other words from the same vocabulary when describing the action.
    – JRE
    Sep 20, 2021 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


Check out "Red Storm Rising," there are several sequences that are different kinds of battle scenes in it.

The first thing Clancy does is he describes the action from a perspective. In your case, it would be the pilots. The closer to the action, the better.

The next thing he does is, he makes the scenes extremely short. We're talking scenes a couple of paragraphs long. Some of the shortest scenes are 50 words long.

This would only leave room for a little bit of action. Going through a dogfight takes several of these short scenes, but he only uses extremely short scenes when "roads cross," and to create suspense.

For example, your dogfight might begin with a bomber squad guarded by a fighter wing (I'm thinking WWII here, not sure how much dogfighting there is in modern wars). Maybe some longer scenes of the crew in a bomber and a pilot in the escort.

Then cut to an enemy fighter hunting for prey and detecting a bomber.

The scenes get shorter.

The escort detects the enemy and maneuvers to cut them off. The enemy tries to outmaneuver the escort but blows past them. The escort hunts the enemy and shoots but misses. The enemy's wingman comes up behind the escort and shoots at them, the escort breaks away in a deadly dive.

For tempo variation, it's probably time for a longer scene, maybe the escort pilot cursing while trying to control his plane. For suspense, make the reader wonder if he'll make it, and then, when he breaks the dive and can't find the bombers, make them worry about that bomber crew.

Then cut back to the bomber's gunners, trying to shoot down the enemies as they swarm around them. Don't forget the enemy's POV here. Cut back and forth a couple of times, then just as the enemy has our bomber in his sights, perhaps even blasting some holes in it, our escort fighter comes back, sneaks up behind him, and boom.

End of action and time for longer scenes, or a scene from someplace else.

Obviously, you can't do short scenes forever (although the medium scene size in Red Storm Rising is just above 500 words—there is one 6000+ words behemoth but most long scenes stay around about 1000 words)

By using perspective and suspense you decide what gets longer scenes and what may even be omitted.

  • Using perspective is key. It's like any writing: you need to focus on what is at stake for the characters, even if they're minor figures and the main thrust of the story is elsewhere.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 24, 2021 at 10:46

Fact is... You don't.

In general, a common advice while describing a fight is that you don't need to be too detailed or "complex". Fights are quite rough and tense moments, and most of them -in real life- tend to be really short.

So, especially if you are telling the story from a character's POV, it would be logical that with so much stuff happening at the same time, not even the POV character can process everything he is doing or seeing.

In conclusion, you are allowed to be short and straight to the point. Don't feel like you must go out of your way to make the fight "epic" or something by describing every tiny action, because it's the total opposite.

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