Recently I posted about story structure. Typically, the entire story has 40 or so scenes, each one with a beginning and end. What to do with the stuff in between? That’s where more structure comes in, and you can literally use the same structure to figure out the beats of a scene. This way, there’s an emotional change in every scene, which keeps us glued to our seats.
Fight scenes fall into the same category. A well-structured fight scene keeps the pace going, instills drama, and drives the story. I’ve got a rough template for when I script my own fight scenes. Please steal it, or if you can improve upon it email it to me so I can steal it back. Note that if the fight is just a small bit in the story, or a little line of text in a script, character growth may not be necessary and this structure won’t apply.
- Problem – Show the problem faced by the protagonist. Secondary dangers are a plus. Environmental danger, other exterior motivations to win, etc.
- Theme – Demonstrate the problem in more detail. Villain gets to show off.
- Reality check – Problem is “brought home” in some way. Some non-debilitating injury for the hero, etc.
- Search for answers – Give the hero a little bit of ammunition, but not enough to
- First Answer
- Hero discovers something that gives him an edge (This may be the only “turning point” if the fight needs to be shorter, if so jump to the end)
- Execution of the plan – Movement (have fun here, demonstrate how the plan works)
- Counter – Villain pulls a new trick out, putting hero on edge again (more movement)
- (Second Answer – Optional)
- Similar to first answer. This might involve a different element altogether, like an environmental variable.
- Near-death – Give the hero some real damage, bigger Movement
- Third Answer
- Final intelligent answer by the hero. Use a major theme (ease up on Movement)
- If that doesn’t work, show something especially life-threatening from the villain
- Tie it up – pull the rabbit out of the hat. Make it interesting. The more human the better. If this is the finale, pull something from early in the film to wrap the entire film up in one move.
- Finishing blow
There are a million different ways to do a fight scene, but this is about as general as I can make it while still sticking to the standard story structure.