1. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Member

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    How to describe weapon-fighting

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dagolas, Feb 4, 2012.

    My fantasy novel will (obviously?) contain alot of swordight, archery and other...

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    Anyway, how would one describe a fight specifically? (but not too detailed, or the reader would doze off :p)
  2. fb.
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    For what it's worth - which might not be a lot! - here's my opinion.

    Just do a bit of research online. A few light-touch details like the right terminology will give verisimilitude. Actually try archery so you understand the basics and know how the bow and arrow feel in your hands. Don't have armoured knights snicking each other's heads off with big swords that would have been used primarily for crushing (I don't know if that's true, by the way - it's just an example).

    Don't be too ambitious when you describe things that you don't know about. I once wrote 10,000 words of a high fantasy novel set in a world with lots of airships. All the jargon in the world couldn't disguise the fact that I didn't really know how an airship worked, and nor did I know whether any of my aerial combat scenes were even physically possible! The nagging fear that I might have been writing complete nonsense eventually capsized an otherwise promising manuscript :(
  3. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Member

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    Good advice, thanks.
  4. jc.
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    jc. New Member

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    Read RA Salvatore's The Legend of Drizzt books. So much amazing detailed combat.
  5. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Member

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    Or the "Illiad", which my friends say is a very (boringly?) detailed book because of the 50 page fight scenes.

    (A bit how like Tolkien used an entire page to describe Sam's cooking)
  6. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    The Iliad BORING?? Bite your tongue, young man! There are loads of lovely gory, graphic descriptions of death in battle, heroes spearing people through the liver or through the helmet and scrambling their brains, gouts of blood flying everywhere... if Homer does perhaps weigh down the narrative with patronymics and biographical detail of those slain warriors, it is merely to drive home the point that every man killed in battle is someone's son, husband, father, everyone had an ordinary life before he came to fight, had hobbies and friendships, and now they're choking out their guts in the dust.

    If anything, the Iliad is an anti war epic and teaches us that there is nothing glorious about death in battle, while depicting it in all it's lurid detail.
  7. RickySchaedeWrites
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    RickySchaedeWrites New Member

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    What really helped me was learning key terms on the internet and then actually watching movies/shows/scenes of swordfighting. Things lik GoT, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Kill Bill all give awesome combat inspiration. Try archery is a really good idea that I agree with, because I have done archery in the past writing about it is a lot easier. You've just got to get into the energy of battles, watch a lot of them (of course a TV or movie battle wont ever really compare to the real thing) and find the terms for what they're doing. Cool words like riposte can give a flair to your fantasy writing.
  8. jonsnana
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    jonsnana New Member

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    Well said. Newer series such as the Belisarius series by David Drake and Eric Flint, the book Wisdom of the Fox
    by Harry Turtledove, and The Excalibur Alternative by David Weber, would also help see how others have written these scenes. There are re-enactor sites online that have good pictures of the weapons and I find it easier to describe something I can visualize.
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In addition to reserach. Read. Read authors and their novels which you anticipate will be similar to what you're going to attempt. See how they did it--from individual fighting/combat to larger scale engagements. Pay attention to wording, perspective and POV, detail and description, pacing, etc. Then, take what you learn and apply it to your story and writing style.
  10. colorthemap
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    Please please please please please, don't use the word parry lightly. So many times that word is thrown here or there and it is simply not correct, real fighting should be a lot of actions in not a lot of time. Just because someone parry's does not mean they have time to chat, as all good parries are followed by a riposte(a counter attack.) Also people do actually fight like in the days of yore it is a sport for them, look that up.
  11. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    And also, remember that real fighting, as opposed to fighing for sport, is not all about huge long bouts of 20 perfectly choreographed moves. Most encounters on a battlefield (as opposed to duels) are very sloppy, hurried affairs, with each opponent doing whatever they can to jab, stab, slash or hack their enemy, without much thought as to technique or finesse. Training helps, but in the heat of the moment you go for whatever opportunity presents itself, and if that's a sword thrust under the rim of a shield up into the groin or into the thigh, then that's what you do.

    Most encounters on a battlefield are not immediately fatal either. Your aim is to disarm or disable your opponent, put them down and then move on, not decapitate them in a flashy backhand swing. Chances are they'll stick something pointy in you while you're still raising your sword over your head anyway.
  12. 160thSOAR
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    I disagree here. I don't think Salvatore did a very good job of combat, simply because so much of what he said just sounded cool, but was actually totally incomprehensible when you looked more closely at it. He focuses on choreographed duels that last an extremely long time.

    As someone else above me said, real fighting tends to be short, with one person simply trying to incapacitate the other and move on. I don't know how many of you have ever lifted a sword, but the ones I've touched are pretty heavy. Swinging a sword around for a long time will tire your arm out very quickly, so it is in the fighter's own interest to make the fight short.
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Awaiting a good story in the local pub... Contributor

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    Yeah, that's pretty much what a real swordfight would be, if it were engaged in battle rather than a 'proper duel'. No time to talk, finish the other guy off as quickly as possible. No flashy, choreograph moves.

    Also, read historical descriptions of sword battle. If you can get excerpts from a diary/journal belonging to someone who had been in the fight, all the better.
  14. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Senior Member Contributor

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    Historically, most duels are over in less than five blows. If you're going for realism, 50-page fight scenes a la the Iliad are not what you're aiming at all.

    The best advice I can give (as someone who's writing an 11th century war novel and has something of an obsession with claymore swords) is to visualise what the impact of a weapon would do to you if swung in a certain manner, and write about that. Too many authors treat what would be a grievous wound as a slight whack. It's not just the weapon, but the environment. Is there room to swing a sword? Is one character at a disadvantage, and how do they work around it if so? Is there a mismatch in the abilities of the combatants, and what can they do about it? Armour, too, is important: if your characters dive around in heavy armour, it's going to break ribs.
  15. Dagolas
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    Indeed, I will have realism in my book. Your not going to have pole-sized sword as big as a cow (Like in World of Warcraft) and heavy armour will be incapacitating. (But not for elves to a certain extent, since they can support more weight).
  16. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Awaiting a good story in the local pub... Contributor

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    I think a big flaw in some fantasy stories with big battles is that the writers overestimate how long a battle can go before the other side has to retreat, or they think that throwing a battleaxe/sword is a good idea.

    There are multiple variables one has to consider, especially the environment and the natural endurance the human fighters have. Elves have a pass on that, as they may be capable of going longer than a human.
  17. Dagolas
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    Endurance will also be an incapacitation.
  18. Link the Writer
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    Exactly.

    How long can a guy decked out in a full suite of steel armor, swinging a sword and blocking with a shield go without getting tired? That coupled with the mass confusion of hacking at multiple opponents all around you, accidentally getting knicks from your own comrades, etc.

    Though I do wonder: How long have historical medieval battles last before they have to break apart to rest and bandage the wounded to start again the next day?
  19. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Senior Member Contributor

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    The longest is about ten hours. They've always stopped due to the weather, though, not fatigue. Most professional medieval soldiers had the stamina of a demi-god, by modern standards, even those in armour.
  20. 160thSOAR
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    Really? I've always heard that people in full plate armor could barely move around when not on a horse, and were pretty much screwed if they got dismounted. I must be wrong. By "professional soldiers," are you talking about people like the Swiss mercenaries?

    I'm not very familiar with medieval combat, something I should fix. Time to do some research!
  21. Dagolas
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    Indeed, off there horses they could not get up, so they were more than screwed.
  22. naturemage
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    If you read Prince Caspian, the sword fighting is very good. There is a section in the beginning of the book with a minor sword fight that goes into details of some of the techniques, and then when the main sword fight between Peter and King Miraz, there is less to be described and more action.
  23. Dagolas
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    Yeah, got the narnia series (read them about 4 times each), I shall look into PC.
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    My two cents is to be exact, if he's swinging at a knee, then he's swinging at a knee. I don't think the reader really needs to know how he's holding the pommel whilst he swings, or what angle his elbows are at. You can include these details though, if you think they're relevant.

    In most fights the combatants already know beforehand what they're going to do, you should too, think about how skilled both sides are, who's going to win, their individual styles, strengths and weaknesses, and also don't be afraid to let them do something unexpected during the fight, it can be a useful twist and can help build suspence and interest in the story.
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