I promised to revisit the topic of how to write a fight scene!
Last time we broke down a fight scene with the villain that ends when the hero is rescued by another character. Today let’s flip it around and look at a fight scene that ends with the hero rescuing a friend. This is an attack by a weaker bad guy.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry and Ron fend off a troll attack to protect Hermione. In The Hunger Games, Katniss fends off an attack by Cato and the Muttations to protect Peeta. In Twilight, Edward fends off a group of ill-intentioned men to protect Bella.
Let’s look at the 16 steps to write this type of fight scene. First, here’s a chart that summarizes these scenes. (Yay, charts!)
Attack/Protect Scenes in
Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight
|Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone: Attack by Troll||The Hunger Games: Attack by Cato/Muttations||Twilight: Attack by Group of Men|
|Quirrell announces troll||Cato is chased by Muttations||Bella gets lost|
|Harry & Ron head away from troll||Katniss shoots arrow at Cato and it bounces off||A group of scary men pass her and say hi|
|Harry smells/sees the troll.||Katniss, Cato and Peeta run away from Muttations||She tries to ignores them and walks faster|
|Troll goes into bathroom||Katniss shoots an arrow at Mutt to protect Peeta||The group of men call for her to wait|
|Harry & Ron lock troll inside||Katniss climbs the Cornocupia / it burns her hands||Bella walks away and around the corner, notices it is getting dark and cold|
|They hear Hermione scream||Katniss wants to shoot Cato but shoots Mutt instead to protect Peeta||Two of the men are following her|
|Harry & Ron return to the bathroom||Katniss pulls Peeta on to Cornucopia||Bella quickens her pace|
|Hermione is scared||Katniss searches for Cato and sees he is busy with Mutts||Bella considers flagging down a passing car but isn't 100% certain she is being followed|
|Troll breaks sinks and approaches Hermione||Mutts attempt to climb cornocopia||Bella reaches a dead end and must make a turn|
|Harry throws sink tap against wall to confuse it||Mutt pulls Peeta by leg, Katniss holds him||Bella heads for busier intersection but sees the other two men.|
|Troll approaches Harry||Peeta stabs mutt||One man blocks her way|
|Ron tries to distract troll by throwing the pipe||Katniss pulls Peeta back on Cornocopia||Bella tells them to stay away from her|
|Harry instructs Hermione to run but she is too scared||Katniss looks for Cato, uses arrow on Mutt||Man laughs and tells her "don't be like that"|
|Troll approaches Ron||Cato grabs Peeta and puts him in chokehold||Bella realizes she can't fight them all|
|Harry jumps and holds onto troll's neck from behind||Katniss aims arrow at Cato's head, realizes will take down Peeta too||Edward arrives and almost hits one man with his car|
|Harry's wand goes up troll's nose||Peeta marks Cato's hand with an "X"||Edward commands Bella to get in the car|
|Troll is in pain and thrashes||Katniss shoots Cato's hand and he releases Peeta||Edward pulls away in car wildly|
|Ron does spell and club goes out of troll's hand and hits its head||Cato falls over ledge into Mutts at the same time Katniss grabs Peeta||Edward is very angry and asks Bella to distract him|
|Professors arrive and Hermione explains||Cato is attacked by Mutts at length until Katniss kills him out of mercy||Edward tries to convince himself not to hunt the men down and kill them|
|Harry, Ron, and Hermione become friends||Katniss and Peeta move away from Cato's body to the beach||Edward takes Bella to dinner and admits he can read minds/ is a vampire|
Now that we have a slo-mo view of what’s going on, let’s breakdown the common elements in these fight scenes.
1. A bad guy announces the fight.
The hero isn’t necessarily looking for a fight but instead learns that one is about to happen– from the bad guy.
- In Harry Potter, Professor Quirrell runs into the dining hall to alert Dumbledore: “Troll — in the dungeons — thought you ought to know.” (HP Ch.10).
- In The Hunger Games, Cato runs through the forest which alerts Katniss to the fact that he’s being chased by Muttations. “We’re on our feet . . . when Cato smashes through the trees and bears down on us. He has no spear. In fact, his hands are empty, yet he runs straight for us.” (HG Ch.24).
- In Twilight, Bella’s would-be attackers make her uncomfortable when they call out to her on a deserted city street. “‘Hey, there!’ one of them called as they passed, and he had to be talking to me since no one else was around.” (TW Ch.8).
2. The hero observes the general scariness of the bad guy.
The hero takes a moment to explain to the reader why the bad guy is intimidating.
- Harry Potter sees (and smells and hears) that the troll is a terrible beast. “Twelve feet tall, its skin was a dull, granite gray, its great lumpy body like a boulder with its small bald head perched on top like a coconut.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss’s opponent becomes much scarier when she realizes he is wearing body armor. “My first arrow hits his chest and inexplicably falls aside.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella observes that these raucous men appear to be miscreant types. “A group of four men turned around the corner I was heading for, dressed too casually to be heading home from the office, but they were too grimy to be tourists. ” (TW Ch.8).
3. At first, the hero begins to save himself.
The hero relies on his flight-or-fight instincts, and his first impulse is to run!
- Harry and Ron follow directions and begin to head back to their dorms to avoid the troll attack. “They passed different groups of people hurrying in different directions. As they jostled their way through a crowd of confused Hufflepuffs…” (HP Ch.10).
- At first Katniss follows her instinct and begins to run away from the Muttations. “Then I am stumbling blindly after Cato with no thought of anything but to save myself.” (HG Ch.24).
- Bella gives an initial “knee-jerk reaction” by mumbling “hello” to the group of men before attempting to get away. “Then I quickly looked away and walked faster toward the corner.” (TW Ch.8).
4. Then, the hero remembers that his friend is in danger.
Alas, the hero must change from “flight” to “fight” in order to protect his friend!
- Harry realizes that he and Ron must go back to save Hermione, who was not in the dining hall when the troll was announced. “Harry suddenly grabbed Ron’s arm. ‘I’ve just thought — Hermione.’ ‘What about her?’ ‘She doesn’t know about the troll.’” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss realizes that she left Peeta behind, who cannot run well because of a leg injury. “My hands have just landed on the metal at the pointed tail of the Cornucopia when I remember I’m part of a team.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella’s situation is a little bit different because Edward is the one who rescues her, not the other way around. She doesn’t know yet that Edward is on his way to save her, so she keeps trying to save herself: “‘Hey, wait!’ one of them called after me again, but I kept my head down and rounded the corner . . .” (TW Ch.8).
5. The hero, the friend, and the bad guy enter a confined space.
The whole gang winds up in a closed space. Running away is no longer an option: The hero must defeat the bad guy in order to leave the space.
- Harry Potter locks the troll in the girls’ bathroom, where Hermione happens to be: “With one great leap, Harry managed to grab the key, slam the door, and lock it.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss and Peeta get stuck on the Cornucopia with Cato (and can’t get down because of the Muttations at ground level). “Cato has made a beeline for the Cornucopia, and without question I follow him.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella is trapped on a deserted street, with a pair of men blocking her way on each side. (Edward isn’t in the space yet). “I realized then that I wasn’t being followed. I was being herded.” (TW Ch.8).
6. The hero anticipates that the bad guy wants to hurt him and his friend.
Previously the hero observed that the bad guy is objectively scary. Now the description shifts to show that the bad guy is an imminent threat to the hero and his friend.
- Harry Potter understands that the troll is a threat to Hermione. “The troll was advancing on her, knocking the sinks off the walls as it went.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss realizes that Cato will try to knock her and Peeta off the Cornucopia. “Cato has still not regained his feet, but his breathing is slowing and I know soon he’ll be recovered enough to come for us, to hurl us over the side to our deaths.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella takes her clues from the weather and concludes that the men are sneaking up on her. “The sky suddenly darkened further, and, as I looked over my shoulder to glare at the offending cloud, I realized with a shock that two men were walking quietly twenty feet behind me.” (TW Ch.8).
7. As the hero thought, the hero’s friend needs help to fight off the bad guy.
The hero already realized that his friend was in potential danger. Now, the hero confirms that his friend really is in trouble, perhaps because of a physical disadvantage.
- Hermione needs help because she has the disadvantage of getting cornered by the troll first: “Hermione Granger was shrinking against the wall opposite, looking as if she was about to faint.” (HP Ch.10).
- Peeta is at a disadvantage because he is holding a knife and has a bad leg. “I hear Peeta cry out, feel the yank on his body, the heavy weight of boy and mutt pulling me over the side. If not for the grip on my arm, he’d be on the ground, but as it is, it takes all my strength to keep us both on the curved back of the horn.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella realizes that she will have a big disadvantage in trying to fight off these four guys on her own. “That same pessimistic voice in my mind spoke up then, reminding me that I probably wouldn’t have a chance against one of them, and there were four.” (TW Ch.8).
8. The hero yells directions to the friend in trouble.
The hero’s first act of aid is just some verbal instructions. This shows the hero’s reluctance to challenge the bad guy head-on.
- Harry instructs Hermione to escape the bathroom: “‘Come on, run, run !’ Harry yelled at Hermione, trying to pull her toward the door, but she couldn’t move, she was still flat against the wall, her mouth open with terror.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss yells multiple instructions to Peeta. First she tells him to “Climb!” so that he gets on the Cornocupia. Then when Peeta is attacked by a mutt, Katniss instructs him again: “Kill it, Peeta! Kill it!” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella first instructs herself via inner monologue “Shut up! I commanded the voice before terror could incapacitate me.” Then Edward arrives in his car to save the day with more instructions: “’Get in,’ a furious voice commanded.” (TW Ch.8).
9. The bad guy makes his move.
The bad guy initiates a series of aggressive maneuvers, but doesn’t make contact with the hero.
- The troll first decides to attack Harry. The troll’s “mean little eyes saw Harry. It hesitated, then made for him instead, lifting its club as it went.” (HP Ch.10).
- Cato grabs Peeta while Katniss is distracted by the Muttations: “. . . and I’m just turning back to face Cato when Peeta’s jerked from my side. I’m sure the pack has got him until his blood splatters my face.” (HG Ch.25).
- One of Bella’s attackers blocks her way in the deserted street. “The thickset man shrugged away from the wall as I warily came to a stop, and walked slowly into the street.” (TW Ch.8).
10. The bad guy is momentarily distracted.
The hero has another chance to delay the fight when the bad guy gets distracted.
- The troll is distracted from advancing on Harry when Ron yells at it: “The troll . . . heard the yell and paused again, turning its ugly snout toward Ron instead, giving Harry time to run around it.” (HP Ch.10).
- Cato doesn’t immediately attack Katniss and Peeta because Cato is distracted by the Muttations. “Then I remember Cato waiting at the top and whip around, but he’s doubled over with cramps and apparently more preoccupied with the mutts than us.” (HG Ch.25).
- Edward’s arrival to the scene serves as the ultimate distraction, because it effectively ends the attack. “Headlights suddenly flew around the corner, the car almost hitting the stocky one, forcing him to jump back toward the sidewalk.” (TW Ch.8).
11. The hero tries to help but without much success.
The hero has the best intentions, even when the strength of the bad guy seems overwhelming.
- Harry throws a sink faucet in an attempt to distract the troll. “‘Confuse it!’ Harry said desperately to Ron, and, seizing a tap, he threw it as hard as he could against the wall.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss wants to shoot Cato but she keeps having to use her arrows on the Muttations. “I arm my bow, but the arrow ends up taking out a mutt . . . .” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella tries to mentally prepare herself for the attack. “I braced myself, feet apart, trying to remember through my panic what little self-defense I knew.” (TW Ch.8).
12. The hero hurts the bad guy but it’s not enough.
The hero gives it all he’s got with his next move. Even though the hero is being brave (and a little reckless), this alone doesn’t save the day.
- Harry jumps on the troll and sticks his wand up the troll’s nose to keep it from advancing on his friends. “Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: He took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll’s neck from behind.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss shoots an arrow into Cato’s hand, the one part of his body that is not covered in armor. However, this has the risk of killing Peeta as well. “. . . by that time, my arrow is piercing his hand.” (HG Ch.25).
- Despite mentally reviewing her self-defense knowledge, Bella’s only move is to give the attacker a verbal warning. “’Stay away from me,’ I warned in a voice that was supposed to sound strong and fearless.” (TW Ch.8).
13. The bad guy makes another move.
The hero must deal with the bad guy’s reactionary maneuvers. As you see below, this can come before or after the hero hurts him.
- After Harry jumps on the troll, the troll has a dangerous reaction. “Howling with pain, the troll twisted and flailed its club, with Harry clinging on for dear life; any second, the troll was going to rip him off or catch him a terrible blow with the club.” (HP Ch.10).
- Cato chokes Peeta, but Katniss cannot kill him because he will bring down Peeta if he falls. “Cato stands before me, almost at the lip of the horn, holding Peeta in some kind of headlock, cutting off his air… Cato just laughs.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella’s attackers escalate the situation by verbally confronting her. It’s clear now that they really were trapping her and that they may have something else on their minds beyond robbing her. “’Don’t be like that, sugar,’ he called, and the raucous laughter started again behind me.” (TW Ch.8).
14. The hero needs help from his friend to end the fight.
It’s all about the teamwork! The hero can’t quite finish the job by himself, and his friend dishes out the final blow.
- Ron casts a spell with his wand to lift the troll’s club out of his hand, which then falls on the troll’s’ head. “[Harry] was shaking and out of breath. Ron was standing there with his wand still raised, staring at what he had done.” (HP Ch.10).
- Peeta signals to Katniss she can shoot Cato in the hand to release Peeta (instead of shooting Cato in the head which would kill both of them). “As if in a last-ditch effort, Peeta raises his fingers, dripping with blood from his leg, up to Cato’s arm. Instead of trying to wrestle his way free, his forefinger veers off and makes a deliberate X on the back of Cato’s hand.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella doesn’t do much in her fight scene, but Edward needs her to help him from breaking his code and not kill the attackers. “’Distract me, please,’ he ordered. . . . ‘Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down,’ he clarified . . . .” (TW Ch.8).
15. The bad guy’s demise is a little ambiguous.
After the fight, it is not clear what the consequences are to the bad guy.
- Harry and Ron are not sure whether they killed the troll. The reader does not know whether the troll is released or killed later by the teachers. “‘Is it dead?’ ‘I don’t think so,’ said Harry, ‘I think it’s just been knocked out.'” (HP Ch.10).
- After Katniss shoots Cato’s hand, she grabs Peeta and Cato falls from the Cornucopia down to the Muttations. However, because of his body armor, he doesn’t die right away. Eventually Katniss shoots him as a mercy. “Peeta and I hold on to each other, waiting for the cannon, waiting for the competition to finish, waiting to be released. But it doesn’t happen. Not yet.” (HG Ch.25).
- Bella’s attackers receive no punishment. (Probably.) Edward tells Bella: “‘But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those . . .’ He didn’t finish his sentence, looking away, struggling for a moment to control his anger again. ‘At least,’ he continued, ‘that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.’” (TW Ch.8).
16. The fight leaves the good guys with a closer a bond.
After the attack, the relationship between the hero and his friend changes for the better.
- Harry and Ron become friends with Hermione, as described in this famous quote: “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” (HP Ch.10).
- Immediately after the fight scene, Katniss and Peeta are thrust into a tense situation when they learn only one of them can be the winner. Despite all her previous strategizing, Katniss no longer wants to kill Peeta. “’You shoot me and go home and live with it!’ And as I say it, I know death right here, right now would be the easier of the two.” (HG Ch.26).
- After the rescue, Edward fesses up that he was able to rescue Bella because he is able to read minds, and then admits that he is a vampire. “’You can trust me, you know,’ I murmured. . . . ‘I don’t know if I have a choice anymore.’ His voice was almost a whisper.” (TW Ch.8).
Why It Works
Is this really a fight-scene if the hero gets off without a scratch?
Either way, this scene provides some much needed physical action to show that the stakes are real, and is a nice break from some more introspective scenes.
The fact that the hero goes back for his friend is a good example of show-don’t-tell: we don’t need to be told the hero is a good person because he acts so noble and true!
And, because the hero is trying to avoid the fight (via running away, telling his friend to run, distracting the bad guy), we know that he has the moral high ground.
Finally, this physical experience is perfect for bringing characters closer together and adding a depth to their friendship.
I am not going to add an index card to the master outline for this scene. (gasp!)
We’ve already identified two scenes that could include this kind of attack: the botched rescue scene in Chapter 13 of the master outline and/or the gatekeeper scene in Chapter 18 of the master outline.
Today’s post serves to further deconstruct the elements of writing those fight scenes, so I’ll add a link to this post next to each of those index cards.