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Guest post by J. F. Kirwan…..

J F Kirwan

Writing realistic fight scenes

Guest blog by J F Kirwan

In 88 North, Nadia and her small entourage come up against a martial arts specialist called Blue Fan. The first third of the book is set in Hong Kong in triad territory, and there are several fight scenes without guns. This kind of stuff works well on the silver screen and gaming videos, but usually less so in books. Are you ever reading a thriller, and in a key scene there is a fight, but you get confused: the hero or villain seems to have three arms, or is facing one way then suddenly another, or else you just can’t visualise what is going on, and you really want to…?

Me too…

It’s not easy writing fight scenes – it’s hard for three main reasons. First, most writers have probably never been in a real fight, and being in a fight is completely different from watching one. Second, most readers don’t know karate, kung fu or wrestling, and so the various moves need to be explained in a way that is visual and understandable. If it’s simple and over quickly (e.g. A punched B in the gut, then knee’d B in the head as B doubled over), it can be done in a straightforward way. But if you want something more exotic, it’s harder. The third reason is related, since if you start over-describing things, many readers will disengage and lose interest just when you don’t want them to…

So, here are seven solutions I use.

First, I admit to having done a lot of martial arts over the years, including full-contact sparring, so I know what is possible, what is fantasy, and what it feels like (including being hit and even knocked out). You don’t have to know all that to write good fight scenes. But you do need a basic idea of anatomy…

Second, I write them out in full, as if choreographing a dance, because in a way that’s what such scenes are, and that’s how they are developed for the big screen. Then I pare the description back to give the minimal information that still makes it visualisable and understandable.

Third, I add in things that are visual to give it a cinematic feel so the reader can see these things even if the actual fight is less clear to them. Ordinary things – like the umbrella in the short extract below – rather than exotic artefacts.

Fourth I add in other visceral details (sound/touch/smell), to keep the reader engaged (thunder and warm rain in the extract below), so that it feels real rather than watching a video game.

Fifth, I raise the stakes for the reader by putting the central character in serious jeopardy, to engage the emotional connection between the reader and the central character. This is important: would you like a character that easily beat up someone? The line between hero and bully is quite thin (see for example the ‘ragged child’ in the extract below, who could so easily have become ‘collateral damage’).

Sixth, I add an environmental element, in the extract below, a cyclone, because the fight happens in Hong Kong (where I trained, incidentally) in August, which is cyclone season.

Last, I add a surprise, because, let’s face it, fight scenes have become ‘normal’, almost banal. It’s at the end of the Prologue (i.e. beyond the extract, as I have to leave you in some suspense J)

So, here’s a short extract from the Prologue, portraying two martial artists squaring up in a fight to the death on a market street in Wanchai district, Hong Kong, just as a cyclone hits the island…

Blue Fan heard it before she saw it: the stuttered hum of a bladed weapon tomahawking through the air. She dropped down low into a snake posture, right leg outstretched on the soggy ground, left leg bent double, as the axe missed her and squelched into the forehead of a balding man holding an umbrella, his shirt spattered by rain, a sheen of sweat on his face from the intense humidity. Until a moment ago he’d been next in line to buy fish. He keeled over, rigid, silent, already dead, eyes unseeing, the umbrella falling with him like a frozen parachute. Blue Fan triangulated the position of the attacker behind her, and was about to let one of her razor fan-knives slip from her fingers, when a ragged child ran across her path.

Time slowed. Her eyes met the assassin’s: an athletic male with jet black hair lashed back in a ponytail, a tiger tattoo on his inner forearm, its front claws outstretched, its jaw set in an eternal, angry roar. Others around her suddenly caught up with events. A woman screamed. The fishmonger vanished into the dark recesses of her shop, while another shopkeeper stumbled backwards and tripped over his wares, upsetting water-filled cartons, spilling gawping koi and angry crabs onto the cobbled pavement. People ran. The attacker removed two more short axes from his belt, one in each hand, and crossed them in front of him as he faced her. A male tourist tried to video them, until Blue Fan skewered his iPhone with one of her blades. He stared at it a moment, then dashed off.

Thunder cracked, loud and close. Warm rain lashed down, drenching everything. Wind whipped water into her eyes. The cyclone was early. On cue, the siren wailed, and everyone vanished.

Good. Now it was just the two of them.

Thanks so much for writing a great guest post for Chat About Books, J. F. Kirwan. It’s a pleasure to be a part of your blog tour!

Thanks, as always, to Rachel for her hard work and for the opportunity to take part.

88 North cover

88° North

The deadliest kind of assassin is one who is already dying…

As the radiation poisoning that Nadia Laksheva was exposed to in Chernobyl takes hold of her body, she knows she has mere weeks to live. But Salamander, the terrorist who murdered her father and sister has a deadly new plan to ‘make the sky bleed’. Nadia is determined to stop him again, even if it is the last thing she ever does.

The only clue she has are the coordinates 88˚ North, a ridge in the Arctic right above one of the largest oil fields in the world, three thousand metres below the ice. If Salamander takes hold of the oil field, he could change the climate of the whole planet for generations to come…

But can Nadia stop him before her own time runs out?

The gripping third and final novel in J.F. Kirwan’s brilliant spy thriller series. Perfect for fans of Charles Cumming, Mark Dawson and Adam Brookes.

Purchase from Amazon UK –


Author Bio

J. F. Kirwan is the author of the Nadia Laksheva thriller series for HarperCollins. Having worked in accident investigation and prevention in nuclear, offshore oil and gas and aviation sectors, he uses his experience of how accidents initially build slowly, then race towards a climax, to plot his novels. An instructor in both scuba diving and martial arts, he travels extensively all over the world, and loves to set his novels in exotic locations. He is also an insomniac who writes in the dead of night. His favourite authors include Lee Child, David Baldacci and Andy McNab.

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Previous posts on Chat About Books featuring J. F. Kirwan and his books…..

66 Metres #BlogTour J.F. Kirwan @kirwanjf #GuestPost @rararesources

37 Hours by J.F. Kirwan @kirwanjf #BlogTour #AuthorInterview @rararesources


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