Fight Write! With Carla Hoch (To Write & Have Written)

For this month’s Learn With Me, I sit down with martial artist, writer, and fight editor Carla Hoch to talk about creating confrontation and conflict in story — everything from how to choose your character’s best technique to choosing a setting.

Find Carla’s book Fight Write: How to Create Believable Fight Scenes here.

Video (from Twitch and YouTube):



Fight Write! Combat and action scenes with Carla Hoch. – powered by Happy Scribe

Some flashy things.

Yes, we have sound, awesome.

Can you hear me? OK? Yes.

The chat says they can hear you.Oh, my gosh.

Thank you guys for being patient.You know what?

What a pain that was.This is normal.

This, I don’t even know what I just did.

I will sort it out later.Does it matter?

Don’t worry about it.We’re going to keep this, OK.

And so I’ve had to disable that, soI could run it through here.

So do you want me to run down my my list

of stuff I’ve done whileyou’re working on things?

Yeah.Let’s do that.

OK.Take a moment to brag.

Give us the good news.

This is not bragging.

This is just a history lesson.

No, it can be bragging.That’s fine.

OK, about you know what, it’s weird.

I’m not really sure how many years ago Ithink I was about nine years ago,

I took a hapkido based self-defense classbecause I was writing a fight scene

and didn’t know the firstthing about fighting.

And I thought, well, I’ll go to oneor two self-defense classes.

How hard can it be?

I kept doing it and it was a lot of college

students and they went all back to collegeand I showed up, and it was just me

and the instructor, who wasa terrifying looking man,

like Mr. Clean, like Mr. Clean

and his partnerwas even bigger than he is.

And he’s like, you know what,you’re not bad at this.

And I’m like, I’m not good at it.

And I cried a lot.

Not joking because it really scared mehaving somebody come at me like that.

And he came at me and that I kept going

and he said, why don’t youtry the MMA training class?

And I said, I can’t do that.

And he goes, sure you can.I’m like, no, I can’t.

So I went ahead and did it.

And I did the MMA training class for about

three years, and I did notget in the cage and fight.

I didn’t start martial artstill I was in my late thirties,

so I stayed with that.

And from there I did Taekwondo and I wasintroduced from MMA, you know, mixed martial

arts is just a wide swath of allthe different martial arts together.

But specifically I also did taekwondo

some Muay Thai, judo, Aikido, iaido,

I know I’m forgetting some,Filipino martial arts.

I have experience in street defense, whichis self-defense with guns and knives.

I had a professor who was kind enoughto teach me a tiny bit of kung fu.

I call it “kinda fu” and I still doand compete in Brazilian jujitsu.

So that’s my that’s my fight background. And I’m also a writer.

And you’re working up to a competition

coming up. Right?I


I have a competition next month, November 21.

Two days beforemy forty eighth birthday.

So awesome.


Where I was going with that initially is,this is why Carla is qualified to speak

about hitting peoplein creative and effective ways.

So yeah.Her website.


And I also taught self-defenseand all that good stuff.

Yeah.And her website

which you can see on the screen

here,has been a Writer’s Digest best site

for writers in 2019 and 2020.

She has a podcast which you should

probably check out and she hasa book called Fight Write.

So easily put together.

So oh yes it is displayedbehind a very lovely framing.

Beautiful, beautiful.Yeah.

Right.So all kinds of good stuff.


also Carla’s just kind of awesome.

Like we met at a conference

five years ago, I thought,oh gosh, yeah, it’s been a while.

And just I, I think Carla’s a great person.

Like we had a costumed event and she camejust like covered in an apron covered

with blood and red hands and all sortsof things and knives and whatever.

And she had come costumed as an editor,killing our writers’ darlings.

And because that’s really where I started.

I started as a fight scene editor.That’s my first.

I mean, I’d had a lotof writing experience.

I used to write for a magazine and allthat, and I had done some editing.

And that was kind of my first thing was I

signed with Quill Pen editorialas their fight scene editor.

So that was my first job.Perfect.

And in the writing, yeah.

Are you still taking individualconsults for fight scenes, too?

Yeah, I do sometimes.

Enclave’s Publishing, my

my agent is Steve Laube and he ownsEnclave Publishing, and whenever he has a fight

scene come across his editor’s deskthat he’s like, he passes it along to me.

And so yeah, sometimes Ido one on one consulting.

I just kind of depends on my schedule.

But I may start doingthat a little bit more.

And I also Teach

for Writer’s Digest University nowand I contribute to their blog.

I think I have a regular shtickwith them now once a month.

So all of that, the hubfrom which you can find all things

Carla is of that.

So try and track that down.

So but I wanted to just take tonight,

you know, the Learn With Me is always like,let’s just go have fun.

Let’s explore something that writersfrequently struggle with.

And I mean, I love writing action scenes

like you are so good at it, too,that you know what,

for those of you who don’t know Laura,I hit it off like that.

It’s like we didn’t even speak,we’re just like, we get along.

All right.

So I have to tell you, possiblyone of my favorite ever Carla stories.

And it’s a little hard to pick one,

but there’s one that’sparticularly epic in my mind.

We were at a conference and Carla wastaking appointments with writers to shop

action scenes. And you neededan extra body to do some demonstration with.

Do you remember this?I say I do.

Keep going.Yeah.

So Carla’s like, hey,Laura, can I borrow you?

We need to work out this scene.

I do remember.

OK, keep telling.


there was a writer in,

I think the scene, like I

wasn’t involved in the consultat all, but I think the scene was like

a sexual assault scene.An intimate assault, it was.


So you’re like, oh, attack me,get me on the floor.

You’re going to be choking me out while,

you know, putting me in this position and,you know, we’re down.

And obviously this is not the kind

of thing you just doin the middle of the cafeteria.

Right.So we had nipped around the corner just.

Yeah.And the writer

and ducked into this darkroom that wasn’t being used.

And so she’s off to the side.

You and I are downworking at our position.

I’ve got my hands right on your throat

and a hotel employee walksin and turns on the lights.

You and I on the floor,

Me choking you out in this incredibly

compromising position and somebodystanding there taking notes and…

Yeah, yeah, yeah.So that’s it.

We’re done with the episode,that’s enough

to check out.

It was so helpful.I really needed it.

And I knew.I knew.

See, here’s the thing.

Whenever you do things like that,people think you can just grab anybody.

You’ve got to grab someonewho has some fighting knowledge.

Otherwise they won’t respondin the way they should respond.

So I really you are very helpful in that.I appreciate it.

And I think what I actually said was,”I think I need you to rape me.

Can we just walk?”

And you’re like, I’m like, “you know,they need it for their work.”

OK, ok.OK, that’s good.


So all that said, it’s like,hey guys, it’s open question night.

And where we’re gonna go, as youcan see, there’s no standards.

Just ask whatever you want to ask,

the bar has been set, you know.Yes.


But let’s let’s do let’stalk about because.

I mean, we’ve all read the fight scenesthat, there’s two kinds of horrible fight

scenes. There’s the “thishas no purpose in the story.

We just stuck it in here to have an action

scene,” and then the “oh, my gosh,this is supposed to be dramatic.

And I’m laughing toohard to be able to read.”

You know what,

And there’s one more, there’s onemore, that it’s the writer saying,

“Let me show you how muchI know about fighting.”

Oh, yeah.

Like the hard techversion of a fight scene.

I’m going to read you all

the specifications of the Oriondrive, only with fists.



so that if we want to avoid those, let mestart with just, what are kind of some

rules of thumb,my checklist for not being bad.

We’re not yet good.

I just want to avoid being bad.

Right.Well, you know what?

I’m actually in I’ve juststarted a series on

on things to remember whenyou’re actually writing the fight scene.

And this week, the subject is how much?How much of the action do you write?

And I give two examples.

And the first example I have isa recap by a sports journalist

of the Thrilla in Manila,the fight that was in 73,

I think, between Muhammad Aliand Joe Frazier.

And it is considered one of the greatestboxing matches of all time.

And then I tell you the stats,

I think there was about fivehundred punches thrown.

It was a ridiculous amount of punches.

And I tell you how much action took place.

And then we read what the journalist wrote.And the journalist did not write,

“He did this and then hedid this and then he did…”

You don’t do that.

And even when you have people who know

about fighting and I am in circlesof people who, we watch fighting pretty

regularly and we talk to each other aboutthe fights, when we talk to each other

and we recap a fight, we don’tgo through every single move.

Even though we’re all familiarwith the moves, we don’t.

We just highlight the big points. After the

the recap from the journalist I have, and Ihate that I don’t have my iPad with me.

I have a fight scene.

People generally ask me, oh, tell me, whatare some of your favorite fight scenes?

And go figure.

Some of my favorite fightscenes are from Fight Club.

I love Chuck Palahniuk.

If you’ve not read his work, he’s raw.

So you have been warned.

But those fight scenes arebrilliant because they are very

like one or two sentences.

People tend to be surprised when they find

out the book Fight Clubisn’t about fighting.


Yeah, there’s a club and people gettogether and that’s a slugfest.

But that’s not reallywhat the book’s about.

And his fight scenes, oh,

I wish I had it, they’re just completelybrilliant because it’s just like he says,

there’s a sleeper hold wheresomebody puts your head underneath their

arm and then they just pound your faceand you imagine all of this going on.

But he doesn’t go actionby action, by action.

He highlights the bigger points.

And this really nothighlighting the bigger points.

I really think readers more than wantingto know what happens in the fight scene.

Technically, they wantto know the impact it has.

And I tell that I tell writers

in my class for Writers Digest,one of the things that I really stress is

get your reader off the couchand get them into the arena.

And here’s what I mean by that.

When you watch any type of sporting event

on TV, you have a better vantageof what’s going on than the players do.

If you’re watching a fight with, say,

that we’re watching a boxing match,we have a better view than the boxers.

We have a better view than the coaches.

We have a better view than the cameraman

because the cameramen are onlyseeing one view at a time.

We get to switch around to all

the different cameramenand see what’s going on.

So when you have that great

of a perspective on a fight,why would you ever go see a fight

in person? Why is it we watch footballgames and not with COVID,

but previously there would be hundredsof thousands of people in the stands? If

you have a better view of the game athome, why would you ever go to the arena?

And that’s because what you see at homeand what you can’t see in the arena,

you feel there’s just a ceiling and youyou do there’s an electricity in the air.

And I just I just getchills thinking about it.

And that’s what you want for your reader.

You want to get them off the couch whereit’s just a 2D kind of passive thing.

You really want to get the sensory thing

in there because, you know, when whenyou go see fights, you really don’t.

You have a very not greatperspective of what’s going on.

But you see the facesand you hear the crowd.

Even if you don’t see the faces,you feel the crowd around you.

And I think you really need to make ita sensory experience for your reader.

Remember, if it is first person,if your fight is first person,

that sensory experience is goingto be much different than.

Obviously, third person, I was thinking,I was like, OK, second person,

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a bookthat second person,

but it’s going to be very differentbecause when you want to be on the inside

of the fight,there’s not a lot of emotion, if any.

It’s just very simple, straightforwardsurvival kind of thoughts.

You may feel some pain.

And I have a video on YouTube about this

on 10 lies writers need to know aboutbefore they write their fight scene.

And one of them is people say, oh, youdon’t feel anything when you’re fighting.

That’s not true.

You do feel some it’s to a lesserextent than when the adrenaline ebbs.

But you really need to get the sensory

experience and imagine, OK,what perspective is this being told from?

If it’s from the person inside the fight,you need to understand that’s a whole

different game than from the personon the outside looking in.

The person outside looking in is goingto see things, hear things,

smell things that the peopleon the inside of the fight won’t so much.

Since you’re watching this,you’ll get a sneak.

I’ll go ahead and tell you whatI’m going to blog about next.

And that’s what actions do you need

to highlight while you’rewriting your fight scene?

And if any point, I need to stop talkingbecause I’m going off subject,

please tell me.

I’m here tilllike eight am, so we’re good.


when you are trying to decide and I point

I think I pointed this out a little bitin the blog post this week,

but I’ll go more into it next week whenyou’re trying to figure out, OK,

what actions should I highlight and whatactions should I just let slip by?

We don’t tell everything in our books.I don’t know

the last time I read a book that included

the character saying, “hold on,I need to go the bathroom.”

But it’s understood.

Characters are real.

They eat, they sleep,they go to the bathroom.

That’s how that’s how life works.

And it’s the same thing with fight scenes.

You don’t have to include everything,something some things are understood.

But to really figure out what moves youneed to highlight, imagine that the fight

scene was in a comicbook or graphic novel.

Imagine what

what actions would behighlighted in those panels.

Comic books and graphic novels are

fantastic resources for people writingfight scenes because

comic book, if you don’t knowif you’re not familiar with comic book

writing,it’s very difficult because you have

to tell an entire storyin a panel in one little frame.

And so you only have a certain amountof room that you can put words.

And it’s amazing.Sometimes they have to go back and redraw

it because they realize theyhaven’t left enough room.

But you have a limitedamount of space for words.

And so you really have to show.

And so that’s why you seethe look on their faces.

You see the sweat fly off, you seethe call-out balloons, boom, crack, pow.

They are only illustrating the movesthat make the difference in the fight.

Now they will highlight the smallmoves if it changes the fight.

If one of the characters reaches behindtheir back slowly and pulls out a knife,

they’re going to show that because it’sgoing to change the course of the fight.

So just just read through it and jot down

a little piece of paper and say, OK,what would show up in a comic book panel.

So I think I answered the question.

That’s a great way to think about it. And wehave some comments in the chat.

And you were talking

the impact of being present versusheavy and Natalie’s talking about

that makes sense that you’re goingto get that different vibe there.

You such a different vibe just


You dropped some hints for my.

We’re going to segue into my next question

there, because you didn’t know youwere setting me up for that, so.

Oh, good.

But I was we have fights that can just be

action scenes, or we can havefights that can be part of the plot,

actually advancing characterization

and plot in there.So how much self-awareness is there

in a fight and how much of that changeswith the type of fight that it is?

That’s a really good question.

So what we’re talking about is if you are

the person fighting and if it’sbeing told from your point of view,

first of all, you’ve got to take intoaccount adrenaline. Fighting is science.

A lot of times people say,well, how do you know this?

How do you know this?I don’t know this.

I know science.OK, now this.

I do happen to know first handadrenaline has some objectives.

And one of the objectives isof adrenaline is to dull your emotions.

You don’t want to be as emotional as you

are in everyday life if you’re in a lifeor death situation because you don’t need

to think about the ramificationsof what’s happening to you.

So your emotions are a little bit dulled.

Your pain response is a little bit dulled.

You don’t feel fear.It’s not fear.

It’s something very different.

And I actually I’m in several women’s

jujitsu groups on social media,and I asked one of them, well,

somebody was saying they had a really hardtime with anxiety before they competed.

And what do you do about that?

And I said, well, here’s the thing.

You’re only going to be afraiduntil the ref says go.

And she was like, I don’t know.

I think I’m afraid the whole time.

I don’t it’s not fearso much as there is a

it’s there’s a drive to survive.

There is a drive to win.

But once you’re in that moment and thefight starts, nothing else exists.

There is nothing else you can.

I have competed in a room wherethere were hundreds of people.

And from the time that the ref says, go,

there’s nothing, sometimesyou can’t even hear things.

I mean, that’s a

that’s just a known factorof what adrenaline does to you.

You just get that tunnel vision.It has a purpose.

You get auditory exclusion like.All right.

Is very well documented.Absolutely.


And all of that hasa purpose for your survival.

I can only hear my coach.

It is the weirdest thing.

Every now and then I’llhear somebody else.

But I hear my coach has is a very loud

voice and it’s also a veryheavy Brazilian accent.

So that kind of helps.But one time I couldn’t hear him.

One time I couldn’t hear him.

I got my butt kicked hard.

But on the inside of the fight,

it’s just not that big of a sensoryexperience on my blog.

I also have if you’ll go to the index,I think it’s called being attacked.

And I interviewed a woman who wasattacked by half a dozen people.

And one of the things too people think ispeople kind of hit