characters / descriptors / writers resources

How to Describe a Fight

Ever wonder how to describe the violence of a fight between two characters in your story–if you’re not a fighter? I’m not so I took note of how my favorite thriller characters did this–people like Jack Reacher. I realize it’s not so much about


Physical or verbal? This post deals with the physical.

the wham-bam as the focus, the preparation, the concentration that goes into success.

Here are some samples. As with all my descriptors, don’t use these verbatim!. They are some other author’s intellectual property. Use them for inspiration. See how others have done it so you can create your own unique path.


  • And charged. He threw up his forearms like an offensive lineman blocking a defensive back, but Pike slipped to the side, pushed the man’s elbow down and away, caught his head, and rolled him into the floor. Third of a second once contact was made, and Pike was on his feet, watching the muscular man rush toward him in slow motion as the three other men, even more slowly, jumped to their feet.  The muscular man reached under his shirt even as he pushed past the tables. Pike did not try to stop the gun; he rolled his hand under the man’s wrist, drove the man’s arm over and back, and pulled him backward and down. Pike had the gun before the man slammed into the floor, and hit him on the forehead with it two hard times.
  • He put out a nice stiff left, which he planned to follow with a right cross. I slipped to the left, which threw him off enough so that I could step inside the right cross and get a handful of his hair. I pulled his head forward and broke  his nose with my head. Still holding his hair in one hand, I got my other hand into his crotch and put my shoulder into him and lifted him off the ground and slammed him down on the hood of the truck. He grunted, and went limp. When I stood back, he slowly slid off the hood and lay in the street with his mouth open
  • Wells tackled him, a linebacker drilling a quarterback from the blindside, a clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit that arched Marley’s spine. The gun clattered from his hand and skittered into the drainage ditch. Wells kept coming, driving his legs, finishing the hit.

  • He smashed an elbow into the side of Marley’s skull, the soft spot high on the temple.
    old west

    Gun fights used to be all there was

  • Slapped his right palm down on the man’s face, shattering his nose.
  • Black rugby shirt swung his chain wildly now, his eyes dropping to check on his friend and then darting back up, with equal measures of fury and terror, to the bearded man in front of him.
  • Dewey yanked back with his right forearm, snapping the man‘s neck like a tree branch.
  • He expected it, anticipated it, and in the moments after landing he let his body relax.
  • His partner was on his hands and knees how, scrambling toward the bed. I caught him and dragged him to his feet and turned my hip as he tried to knee me in the groin. I banged his nose with my forehead and pushed him away and hit him left cross straight right and he fell over on the bed
  • Took another step forward, crowding him
  • I slapped him with my open left hand full across the face. It rocked him and he took a step back and then steadied himself, blinking his eyes and staring at me. His headache must have been a starburst.
  • I hit him a left hand in the V under his ribs where the sternum ends. It paralyzed his diaphragm and he gasped and doubled over and then pitched forward onto the sidewalk.
  • I grabbed his wrist with my left hand and held his gun hand against his chest, the gun caught under the jacket and I hit him twice more with my right, square in the nose. He sagged and I shoved him away,



Muscle over mind


  • Mortal danger brings clarity
  • Like two scorpions in a bottle


  • He absorbed the trauma, swallowing the pain, then kicked his way slowly back to the surface.
  •  Pain was just an illusory sensation that his mind could shut down if it needed to, he told himself. Put it aside.


  • Paralyzes vocal cords with a strike to the neck
  • Box ears to break their ear drums
  • Banged together the heads of his two helpers. It sounded like a bat hitting a baseball.


knife fight

Classic knife fight


  • He had a knife. I moved away from him. He was stronger than Ichabod and had a knife. He started toward me. I had my gun in an ankle holster but I didn’t want to start shooting in the middle of the street if I didn’t have to. I took another step back and slid my belt out of my pant loops. I looped it around my left hand so that the buckle end swung loose


  • Multiple small incisions on the thighs, all just splitting the skin. He’d then applied the salt


  • Bullets tore through the door, sending splinters flying.
  • Windows shattered, spewing glass shards everywhere
  • Bullets gouging the walls
  • Spray of bullets tore through the line of front windows, striking a side wall, shattering a beautiful gilded mirror
  • The man had seen Jack’s shadow, seen awhisper of movement and dove to the ground. Jack’s bullet went tinto a tree and spewed up a whirlwind of leaves
  • Ignoring the pain in his thigh, the blood seeping from the cut in his left arm and tried to move as quickly and quietyly as possible
    gun fight

    How do you win a gun fight without a gun?

  • Shoot the smell off a skunk at a hundred yards
  • Some were home by now having their first drink before dinner. Maybe looking at the paper. Probably none of them were planning to shoot it out with a bunch of sociopaths.
  • He lunged for Pike’s gun, but Pike rolled his hands down and away with a minor wing chun deflection, and snapped the Python up hard into the bottom of the man’s chin, popping his jaw like a rat trap. The Python flicked again, and this time, Pike hit him in the Adams’ apple.  The bagman clutched at his throat, choking. His face turned bright red
  • Opened up with sharp, recise three-round bursts, their fire guided by the infrared dots visible through their monoculars.
  • Carver’s reaction was subconscious, automatic. He fired at the man and the backup who came after him.
  • He never turned his back on a wounded man


  • Badly bruised, lacerations, and at least one of his teeth had recently been knocked out
  • My hands were sore. I stumbled out into the kitchen and put ice cubes in a bowl and ran some water and put my hands in to soak.
  • I knocked five of them out—what’s wrong with that—nothing except there were 8.


  • I took a deep breath. It hurt my ribcage. I exhaled, inhaled again, inched my arms under me and pushed myself up on my hands and knees. My head swam. I felt my stomach tighten and I threw up, which hurt the ribs some more. I stayed that way for a bit, on my hands and knees with my head hanging, lik a winded horse. My eyes focused a little better. I could see the snow and the dog’s footprints. I crawled over, got hold of the park bench and slowly got myself upright. Everything blurred for a minute, then came back into focus gain. I inhaled some more and felt a little steadier.

Watch this slideshow of fights. What story do they tell?

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and four ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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35 thoughts on “How to Describe a Fight

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  14. I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I want to, but I love that every time I do stop by one of your posts, I learn something valuable. Thank you for taking the time to keep teaching. I

    By the way, I’m also not a physical fighter, but I’m certain some scenes that include fighting could add necessary suspense, so when it’s time to right them, I hope I remember to check back here first.


  15. Writing violence and writing sex are similar. Most writers struggle with creating scenes that feel legitimate, believable. These tips are good examples.


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