A Fight Scene’s Secret Weapon: Location

Fight scene from The Matrix
Fight scene from The Matrix where the location is a key element

To make a fight scene interesting, place it in an unusual venue. What’s the quirkiest possible location in your novel?

How about a sauna, a laundrette, a playground, a morgue, a potter’s workshop, a lady’s boudoir,  a cow shed, a minaret, a sculpture gallery, a stalactite cave, a theatre’s prop store room, a sewage tunnel or a wine cellar?

What features are there that the fighters can jump on, leap across, climb up, swing from, duck under? What items can they topple or toss?  The more creatively you use the space, the more entertaining the scene becomes.

Rayne Hall's hero is definitely not a wimp.
Rayne Hall’s hero is definitely not a wimp.

Staircases work well because the fighters can stand on the steps, they can run or  leap, they can stumble, fall or tumble, and maybe slide down the banister. They can also use the stairs to move from one location to another, which is useful in prolonged entertaining scenes. To make your fight scene stand out, make the stairs unusual in some way. Perhaps they’ve been freshly washed and are still slippery, or maybe they are so dilapidated that some boards are missing.

In a long fight scene, the fight can move right across the terrain. This adds variety. Try to arrange it so the climax of the fight happens in the most dangerous place – at the edge of the cliff, at the top of the tower, on the narrow crumbling wall.

The terrain also helps to make your fight scene realistic. As soon as you mention what kind of ground the combatants are fighting on, the scene gains authentic flavour. What’s the ground like: Persian rugs? Concrete? Lawn? Uneven planks of splintered wood?  Hard, firm, soft, squishy, muddy, wet, slippery, wobbling, cluttered, sloping? I suggest mentioning the ground twice: once to show how it feels underfoot, and once to show how it affects the fight. Perhaps your heroine slips on the wet asphalt, or stumbles across the edge of a rug.

To keep your fight scene plausible, consider how large the space is. How much room do the combatants have to fight? How high is the ceiling? What obstacles restrict the space?

For example: The hero is a warrior, used to swinging his sword  in a high arc. Now he must fight indoors, where the ceiling is too low to raise the sword overhead. How will he cope?

Most staircases are too narrow for big sword swings, which can add interesting difficulties. In medieval castles, spiral staircases were  almost always built so they favoured right-handed defenders. The person coming down had room to swing the sword-arm, while the person coming up had not. This makes an interesting challenge for the hero fighting his way up, or for a left-handed defender.

Spatial restrictions make the fight scene authentic, plausible and interesting.


During the fast action of the fight, there’s no room for describing the setting. This can be confusing for the reader. To help the reader understand the location, show it in advance.  If the plot allows it, place an earlier scene in the same venue. Alternatively, let your point-of-view character check out the terrain immediately before the fight starts.

Here are some famous fight scenes from the movies which use the location creatively.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxWA4GPtM6Q (Robin of Sherwood)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0JYNznbL0Q (Jackie Chan’s First Strike)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGzdusxI5XA (Snatch)

You can study them for inspiration. Enjoy!

Please click the book cover image to read more about author/editor Rayne Hall and her books.

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