Fight Scenes and Motivations by David Lucas

The internet truly is an egalitarian place. Where else would I be able to meet someone like David Alan Lucas, a writer, poet and martial artist who is an expert in the arts of physical and psychological combat?

David belongs to my Suspense/Thriller Writers’ group on Facebook, and he has been discussing fight techniques with the group. I asked if I could post part of his discourse, and he kindly said yes. Thank, you, David!

Fight Scenes and Motivations by David Lucas

This might be a bit of a ramble, but let’s talk about fight scenes. We all have our areas of expertise. Do you ever feel thrown out of a story or movie when “they” get it wrong? I know I do. I have closed those books and never picked it up again. If I go to a movie by myself, I will walk out of it. When I am with others, they can usually tell from my facial expression that I am biting my tongue. (I’m polite and don’t ruin it for them—there is always the after movie drive to talk about it.)

Besides being a writer, I am a fighter. I am a 3rd degree Black Belt in a Black Art (Black=War Art instead of a sport style). I have been in more hand to hand (or bare hand vs armed) fights than I even want to contemplate. Fight scenes are hard to write, even for me. But when someone gets it wrong I shake my head. But when they get it right, I want to jump up and dance (I almost did that when the 2009 Sherlock Holmes came out and they actually got into the Holmes’ head as he planned the fight before it began).

As a result of being a fighter and a writer, I have been writing about fight scenes and have given a few seminars. While I would imagine there is a book on how to write a fight scene, I haven’t seen it. So, I am going to tear apart the process as best as I can over the several months. Before I begin to outline it, let me be very clear: Writing is an art. Martial Arts is an art. There is no one way to do anything. Take from this what works for you, knowing that, like all writers and marital artists, we all walk our own path.

The first thing I do with writing a fight scene is to understand who is involved. When people fight in real life, everyone has a set of skills, a way they think, and a motive to be in the fight. Let’s work this backwards and start with motive. Why does your character want to fight?

Let’s face a few facts about fights. On film they can look exciting. But the truth is that in every fight (even among friends) there is a risk—even if it by accident—that you can lose your life. Let me use a real life example.

fightHave you ever been there when someone yells, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” People gather around cheering it on. They are stupid. No I am not holding back punches. Here is the true story that happened in one such case and why I called them stupid. One of the fighters in such a case—it was at a bar—took a glass bottle and broke it. He swung wildly at his opponent. His wild swings cut the throat of a guy I knew in the crowd who had stupidly thought he was going to see a fight. His funeral was a few days later.

All fights are dangerous—being in one, seeing one, etc. It doesn’t matter if it is in a ring where people are trying to be sure that no one is harmed in the long run or on a battlefield somewhere—and they are painful. What were the two drunks I talked about above fighting over and what had been worth so much for someone to die?

Someone can be beaten to a proverbial pulp or lose their lives over trivial issues–like a pair of shoes, a spilled drink, or (as a guy I once knew discovered) looking at someone’s girlfriend the wrong way. In St. Louis, Missouri a game among teens has developed where they go up to complete strangers and try to knock them out. Fights can start over imagined slights, being drunk, forced to protect yourself or a loved one, property and so forth.

Why is your character willing to fight?

Before you decide to turn your character into a super hero or the next Jet Li, let me break down the motivation a bit. There was a story my Master Instructor once told me that I have never forgotten.

A man, who was studying Martial Arts and had grown so confident that he felt like he was bullet proof, was once asked what he would be willing to fight for. He was asked, “If ten men were leaning on your car and causing trouble, would you fight them?”

He replied with confidence, “Of course I would beat the . . .” You can fill in the words.

His instructor then asked, “What if they all had chains and baseball bats and you were unarmed?”

The student thought about it and agreed he would not fight them.

The instructor then asked one final question, “Take these same men, armed the same way, and now they are raping your wife. Would you fight them?”

His answer changed.

The circumstances in real life and in our fiction writing are what will determine if someone will be willing to risk their lives in a fight. What are you willing to fight for and lose your life over? If you answer that quickly, I personally ask–plead with you–to think about it a little more. What is your character willing to fight for? What is their line in the sand?

How do they fight? More importantly, how do they think about fighting?

If you have questions about writing fight scenes or about how various characters might act in a fight, please feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer your question. Your question’s response may even lead to a blog entry in my blog relaunch on The Writer’s Lens.

David Lucas’s blogs: and

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3 Responses to “Fight Scenes and Motivations by David Lucas”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    It was a bit of a ramble, but it was a ramble with a good point to it.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    A lot of good information here. Mostly I write about characters who don’t want to fight. I do believe, however, that there are people who lose it after years of physical or psycological abuse or both and decide to take on their own partiucular goliath or goliaths regardless of the consequences. In the case of someone with a gun it may mean taking on all the jocks and their girlfriends in some high school or college.Now that has been done before in the USA and elsewhere.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My characters don’t like to fight, either. In fact, I only did two fight scenes, both highly motivated, and they were over fast. Amazing what determination and the element of surprise can do.

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