1. Theoneandonly99
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    Theoneandonly99 Member

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    How do you write a fighting scene?

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Theoneandonly99, Jul 10, 2015.

    To be more specific, what is a good way to write, let's say...

    A fight between two swordsmen? I want the scene to be thrilling and action packed, but still fairly realistic. Which means no one will be jumping from a castle wall, and doing some crazy sword trick. I've tried writing some, but mostly it doesn't satisfy me. It's either too dull, lacking in the impact, and failing to portray the gravity of the conflict, or too wordy, with too many descriptions and lacks the immediacy that I want in an action scene.

    Would you try to write every move each fighter makes? Or would you make it in a more "outer" view, describing only the atmosphere and the nature of the fight and whatnot. I try to strike a balance between the two, but it ends up usually leaning towards one side too much.

    Any suggestion is appreciated.
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    How much do you know about sword-fighting? And exactly which swords are they going to be using?

    I think that you'd want to be in first person POV, or close third, so that the reader experiences it from the protagonist's perspective.

    I thrust at him quickly, thinking to catch him off-balance, but he parried my blade away to his left with a deft flick of his wrist. Damn, but he was good!

    And, of course, you need to have introduced the MC to us before this, so we FEEL the fear as he realises how good his opponent is.

    Don't make it blow-by-blow...that gets tedious, and you'll have a repetitive rhythm to your sentences.

    Before I could bring my blade back to my defence, he was on me, thrusting and hacking with bewildering dexterity. It was all I could do to fend off his blade with the cloak wrapped around my left arm, giving ground all the time, hoping that there was nothing to trip me up.
     
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  3. croak3r
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    croak3r Member

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    I would recommend reading Joe Abercrombie's Heroes. Most of the book is a fight and he really knows how to make it entertaining and thrilling, while still advancing the story at the same time. His other books are pretty good for it too.
    Also if you have ever been in a re-enacted battle then you will know how crude sword fighting really can be. It's not like people imagine with fancy blocking and parrying, but mostly sheer force and brutality.
     
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  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've actually seen a bout in a fencing match from the Olympics, which appeared to be won by one guy just running, sword in front of him, straight at the other guy! Try describing that and making it thrilling and full of suspense.

    There's one of the Arthurian tales where the hero hacks away at the other knight, bludgeoning him so hard that pieces of armour fall off. But beneath his armour, the dastard is wearing a leather undergarment, which is tough enough to resist the blows of the hero's (albeit, now blunted!) sword. I think the hero eventually won by discarding his sword and wrestling the guy to the ground.

    There was a debate on this forum about mediaeval swords (especially the "two-handed" great sword) and how they were used, and I'm in the camp that believes that their chief merit was as a blunt instrument delivering blunt force trauma, rather than being sharp enough to cut through chain or armour and cause blood-letting wounds.
     
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Is it worth suggesting that you attend a re-enactment someplace? I don't know where you live, but here in the UK there are lots of 'battle' sites where people dress in realistic gear and re-enact battles from the time period relevant to the site. These folk would not only be worth watching, but I'm sure they'd answer your questions if you asked them directly. Re-enacting is a very absorbing hobby, and folks do love to talk about their hobbies, don't they? They might even allow you to try it yourself, to get a feel for how heavy the armour and weapons actually are. Nothing like first-hand experience with this kind of thing.

    YouTube is also a great resource. Here's a short one for you, showing Viking style fighting and explaining how real fighting was different from Hollywood style fighting. This of course isn't 'fencing' or any kind of stagey fighting (like duels) where there were rules. This was battle. It was interesting for me to see how active the shield arm was.

     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2015
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  6. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Hello,

    I am one of those guys who loves writing action scenes! Action scenes are something you need to experience to actually know how to write about them. Reading about them is all in great, but experience is usually the only way you will truly ever know the rush of combat or action. What I mean is take a fighting class or watch one. Think of what is going on in that persons head while fighting.
    In most combat situations I have been in (Not a solider, martial artist) its been a rush, the fight ends pretty quickly, with each decision being basically if I lose my mobility, do I attack etc etc. Fighting scenes are usually quick and fast, to keep the pace of the book going, as dragging out a fighting scene will bore the reader.
    Entertaining the reader with spices of fighting scenes is usually the way to go.

    But it definately helps to know how swords work and how heavy they really are. Swords are pretty heavy (up to 8 pounds sometimes) And are often the staple of fantasy writing and are seen as heroic and noble. It is a common cliche that we writers like to use. (Cliches are tools so that isn't bad)

    Writing about a sword fight is usually going to be very interesting, as every fantasy world has their own fighting style. Its either flashy with acrobatics or it is a normal sword similar to dark age europe.
     
  7. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    I love writing action sequences as well, its my meal ticket xD. I believe that if you want to write a fight scene with real meat to it, you have to analyze what goes through the combatant(s) heads as the fight draws nearer its conclusion. The victorious character should be thinking about exploiting weaknesses in their opponent, and looking for holes in their defense to land a hindering or fatal blow, and of course having a story behind every fight is key. Is a long running vendetta being settled? Is your MC protecting his/her loved ones? Does your MC carry the flag of a particular faction and is simply a soldier carrying out orders? I stray toward flashy, acrobatic fights where both sides suffer grievous wounds, and it is a close fight, keeping the reader glued as he/she doesn't know who is going to win. An overpowered MC can really be boring. If you already know who is going to win, i.e. the New England Patriots, you lose some of the shock value of a good sword duel / battle. If you'd like to check out a scene from my book as a bit of a reference point, i'd be happy to shoot ya an email. I am very happy with how this scene turned out, and maybe it could be helpful to ya :)
     
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  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I echo what others have said already My first tip would be to take your reader into the thick of things. I wouldn't describe the fight from afar like a reporter, but, like @Shadowfax suggested, take it up close and personal with the character(s), show the effect the fight has on them. It might mean there's less detail and more confusion, but that's what fights tend to be like... tunnelvision, instincts, adrenaline dumps... Learn to write well. Even the best, most realistic sword fight won't be worth much if it's written dully. Google for writing tips and read other fantasy books with fight scenes (Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, Richard K. Morgan... Even Andrzej Sapkwoski).

    My second tip is to try it out yourself. Go to your local HEMA club, if there's one, or check out if e.g. local universities hold fencing or medieval martial art courses (the history department of my uni threw a course a while back, which I joined, and it was a blast!) You'll feel much more prepared to write it when you have a better idea what it's really like, even though you obviously won't get the exactly same experience as your potentially seasoned fictional fighters. But I think it can still help.

    And like @jannert said, go to YouTube and watch videos. Check out e.g. Skallagrim's channel (if you don't mind Norwegian accent, lol) and basically any sparring videos by Guy Windsor. Should give you loads of ideas.

    When you've written the scene(s), have someone read it and provide feedback. Do they think it's confusing? Too detailed? Riveting? You won't know if you're on the right track unless you get a second opinion... or third and fourth. :)

    Good luck!
     
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  9. croak3r
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    croak3r Member

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    One thing i would say about those kind of battles is that although it's as realistic as your going to get, a lot of the realism is taken away from them not being able to hit hard or at certain body parts like the head and they often count awkward hits that wouldnt do anything to a man. I would still recommend going to a re-eneactment though just to see what a battle would be like. I used to do dark age re-enactment and i think there really isnt any way of knowing what being in a shield wall as arrows hit you, or fighting packed shoulder to shoulder in a room feels like without actually doing or seeing it.
     
  10. Theoneandonly99
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    Theoneandonly99 Member

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    Thanks guys! Your replies helped quite a lot. They were very insightful and it gave me quite a lot to think about. I'm planning to watch some live re-enactments if the opportunity arises and those youtube ideas look pretty promising as well. I'm leaning towards the flashy and acrobatic style, but I still want to keep it fairly realistic.

    As a question, Do you guys think it would be an exciting idea to switch the viewpoints in the middle of the fight? Like I start from the perspective with one combatant then somewhere in the fight, I change it to the person he's fighting against in order to really flesh out the emotions that are being felt in the battle. Heck, maybe I'll even insert some third-person narrations of the fight in the heat of the battle.
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    In answer to you question about switching POV in the middle of a fight? I'd say (in general) no, don't do that, unless both characters are of equal importance to your story, you regularly head-hop between them, and you are a very skilled writer. Then go ahead, but realise that readers (in general) don't like head-hopping at the best of times. In the middle of a fight, where a life is perhaps at stake? Probably not.

    Just as in any other kind of scene, in order to create intimacy and identification with emotional situations you show what the non-POV character does, and let the readers guess the emotions that cause the actions. Is the POV character's opponent suddenly shrinking back, starting to slow down and take evasive action, or his blows have less force than they did before? Did what your POV character just do to him cause this—or is it maybe a ruse to make the POV character become overconfident? Or is the opponent maybe suddenly stepping up his attack, maybe glaring straight into the eyes of your POV character, or starting to make really aggressive (or desperate) sounds, or maybe even laughing? Head-hopping tends to create distance between your readers and your story. This kind of 'showing' will take your reader into the fight.

    Joe Abercrombie's latest book Half a World opens with a training fight between a girl named Thorn, who is one of the POV characters, and three male opponents. One of the opponents is another POV character in the book, a boy named Brand, but Abercrombie resists the temptation to head-hop during the fight. He keeps that scene fully in Thorn's POV, but by what Brand does in that scene, we get a pretty strong impression of his personality. Later on in the story (at several points) Brand recalls this fight, so we do get to see it from his perspective, to some extent. But not during the fight itself.

    You could do a lot worse than read Joe Abercrombie. The particular book I mentioned has lots of fights in it, although they tend to be the primitive, Norse-style sort of fighting. To get a better notion of the more 'flashy' or choreographed (but also serious) fight, you should read at least the first book in Abercrombie's First Law trilogy ...the one called The Blade Itself. Jezal, one of the POV characters, is studying the art of fancy swordfighting, and there is a great deal of contrast between that style and what some of Abercrombie's other characters use.

    One of the things a few other people on this thread hinted at is also worth noting. While re-enactments and YouTube videos can give you an idea of the look and feel of weaponry in action, what they will NOT do is give you much of an idea of what a 'real' fight—where your objective is to actually kill your opponent and not be killed yourself—is like. That, I'm afraid, is an aspect you'll need to create from your imagination.

    That's where you will need to put yourself firmly in the situation of your POV character, and let your mind grapple with the problems your character will have had. Terrain, climate, discomfort, perhaps fatigue (from a long march or a long battle.) Slippy shoes, sodden clothing? Dry mouth? A need to take a piss? And of course fear. And the closeness of a battle, if it's a battle you're portraying and not simply a duel. People in a battle will only see the warriors beside them and coming at them. They won't be fully aware of what's happening on other parts of the field. The yelling, clashing of armour, shrieks of men and horses must have been overwhelming. Maybe the sound of horns as well. So this is where your imagination needs to fill in the details. And it's these details that will make your writing sing.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  12. Theoneandonly99
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    Theoneandonly99 Member

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    I just googled the books you mentioned and they do seem very interesting. I just jotted them on quite a high position in my list, actually Yes, I've thought about it and it really does seem like a risky idea. But I think it could still work, maybe it's just not for me to write it yet. As for the part where you said I'm in charge—the "drama" part, if you will—the part where I show the internal emotions of the fight, you are correct, there's no really much outer reference you can turn to for that. But I feel quite confident about writing that already to be quite honest. I was really looking for advice on the "mechanical" aspects of the fight, like the movement and the attacks and what not. Thanks so much for they reply, it really helped!

    Hey, I started a conversation with you (is this the equivalent of a private message here?) containing my email address. I'd love to take a look at this scene of yours!
     
  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for this, @jannert , as my WIP is set late in the viking era, this it invaluable.

    I love Skallagrim! And his girl-friend is awesome, too!.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just had a thought. Wonder what it would have been like to be a left-handed swordsman. Or to have faced a left-handed swordsman, if you were right-handed. That might be fodder for a story.
     
  15. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those 'Vikings' are a bit tame, milling about on the spot like that. You really have to get in there and kill him. I suppose he kills me at that point. I just lost my cool sense of objectivity.

    Going to write a fight now.
     
  16. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I've never actually written a fighting scene like that, but if I was going to, the first thing that springs to mind is the gritty physical aspects: adrenaline, fatigue, heavy breathing, blood and sweat, and so forth. I feel stuff like that would add the realism.

    As people have been saying above, knowing something about actual sword fighting would be necessary as well: how to hold the sword, the techniques, the weight of the sword AND armour, what constitutes as a overwhelming, winning attack.

    Edit: I'd also think about how the characters would interact with the surroundings as well; technique and stuff would probably go out the window during a real fight, and it'd become more of slugfest with chairs and stuff flying about.

    Hope this helps. :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
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  17. Jòn Blazé
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    Jòn Blazé New Member

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    Add some martial arts, learn sword-fighting jargon, have their surroundings do things etc. The best way is simply to watch great sword fights and think of how you would describe them, as it is difficult to think up an entire sword fight from the comfort of your writing desk.
     
  18. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    My advice is to think about the emotions of a few key fighters. It's fun to write about how badassedly they gloriously kicked the other guy's ass, but if we don't get into their heads, understand why they're fighting and/or what it is they're fighting for, it's just a bunch of sweaty dudes and dudettes banging away at each other with swords, etc.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    When it comes to the mechanics of the fight scene itself, there are varying approaches you can take. Some authors provide a blow-by-blow account of the fight, others may get into specifics for a few key moments, but otherwise present the fight in more summary form. I agree with those above about knowing the details of whatever fighting style your characters are engaged in. How detailed you want to get in presenting the actual fight is entirely up to you.
     
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  20. Thunderface
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    Thunderface Member

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    First. Watch fights. Learn about fighting. Know what you're talking about.

    Second. Get into fights. If you go to clubs and ask to be shown the ropes and that you're trying to write fight scenes, they should understand and probably try to help a lot.

    Third. LEARN ABOUT SWORDS. Cannot stress this enough. Www.hemaalliance.com
    learn about how swords were really used!! This will help in all writing that pertains to swords.
     
  21. Thunderface
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    Thunderface Member

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