1. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    How To Write A Good Battle Scene?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by TLK, May 2, 2013.

    Hi guys,

    Just wondering if you had any tips on how to write a good (fantasy) battle scene. I've picked up quite a few from reading, research and talking to like-minded others. For example, I understand that "less is more" and that you should keep coming back to the exploits of your main character(s) throughout the battle. I was wondering if you had any more advice?

    Thanks in advance! :)
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Refrain from being too technical or descriptive about the fight. It confuses 80% of the readers. The reader doesn't need to know about every little move your characters make in the fight. Most of the times the person himself/herself doesn't remember most of what went on in the fight.
     
  3. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is this battle between two armies or two people?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You, and what army? :)
     
  5. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    I like to read battle scenes that are short and easy to follow so I can understand. Just focus on the character, what his actions are, what he is seeing, and what he is feeling.
     
  6. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    It might be a good idea to give the reader a broad visualization of the battleground before hand. What I mean is, provide visual locations to armies or soldiers so the reader knows where everyone is in relation to each other. Even if the reader can get confused when you go into the sword clashing details of the fight, the reader still has that initial visualization to fall back on. For example, a mage does some crazy magic that you describe thoroughly, before hand, the reader should already know the mage is at the top of the hill and there's a battalion of a hundred men marching uphill trying to kill him.

    If you try to describe soldier location and spell detail at the same time, it can be confusing. I think it's important to make the reader feel comfortable first by describing the setting, army size, army type, daytime or nighttime, before going into the actual fight. This isn't always the case, and sometimes you need very little description of setting because your POV character has little knowledge of it. Whatever you do, make sure the reader is able to fortify an image in his mind when you go into detail and description so the reader can visualize the rest on his own.

    As for writing the actual battle, you would most likely be describing it as a scene, not as summary. But I guess you know that already.

    Write an action sequence with as much description as your imagination lets you. You can always trim it afterwards. Don't constantly think about "short and precise" the entire time you're writing the scene because it pulls your attention from the actual story.

    I'll just randomly think about a scene and then edit it afterwards as an example. Draft and then revision:

    Ok I just typed that really fast ignoring that annoying critic in my brain. The initial sentence takes too long to get to the point it can be shortened. I'll make a few other adjustments:

    To me, the fact he is holding the sword with two hands is irrelevant. I don't need to say "young soldier" because I already state afterwards that he's under 15. When I start the next sentence with "He", it can be confusing who I'm talking about so I changed it. You "swing" an axe, you don't "thrust". And so on.

    The process for describing a battle should be no different than describing a chess match. Both need tension and imagery to hold the reader's attention.
     
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  7. Samuel Paul
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    Samuel Paul Member

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    I hope it's okay to post Youtube videos here. I not I apologize in advance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEvXaNbMH4Q
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Fans of Fantasy battles should read Joe Abercrombie. He is a MASTER at writing battle scenes. He can give the overview and the personal involvement both, and keep you turning pages like mad. He's about the best there is.
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Seconding Abercrombie (as in, you won't trip on the telling. You might trip on the degree of realism, but that's another thing, it can still be riveting even if it's a bit stupid). He can put a battle in words, so read his stuff for inspiration, analyze the scenes, how action and emotion are shown. The emotional involvement is important or else it becomes a battle manual or some to-do list.
     
  10. RainbowWarrior
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    RainbowWarrior Member

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    Graphical descriptions. The readers love it.
     
  11. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for the replies, everyone, keep 'em coming!

    And yes, just to clarify, it's a Fantasy Battle between two opposing armies.

    Another question though, what would you consider a "large" battle, in terms of number of bodies on each size? Personally, I'd reckon about five thousand, but I've always been horrible at estimations.
     
  12. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    X, as per normal is spot on in my book. There is nothing harder to follow then a list of movements, I actually skip fights written by some authors - their stories are so good, but their fight scenes are incredibly hard to follow. Focus on the characters feelings a little more an let the reader fill in exactly what movements they're doing.

    E.g.

    screams of the wounded and the clang of swords filled the air as Allen leapt to his feet. He gathered his sword and blocked a rightward swing. The swords clanged together, he stepped back, deflected a downward swing, then thrust. The assailant jumped back to avoid the blow, and brought his sword in from the left. Allen blocked with his steel gauntlet, but his enemy drew a second blade and Allen was forced to duck the rapid blow as he backed off. His feet slipped into the mud as he was pushed back... Towards a canyon... Filled with Minotaurs.

    Vs.

    Wounded screams and the clang of swords filled the air as Allen leapt to his feet and gathered his sword. The warriors exchanged a flurry of blows, before his assailant drew a second blade and he was forced onto the defensive. Allen's mind raced as his feet slipped on the muddy ground, each blow forced him back further, and further.... Towards a canyon... Filled with Minotaurs.
     
  13. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're writing a battle scene, it's important to keep track of both the character(s) involved and the overall tactical events. This is easier to do than it sounds. It's basically the same as skimming from one subject to another in the narrative:

    The balance of character vs. tactics should generally be in the character's favour. Though they can be described interestingly and are often the centerpoint for the plot in battle scenes, tactics rarely hold the same appeal as combat. It would help if you write tactics through a character's eyes, which becomes easier if you have two or three characters on the battlefield rather than just one. In the above example, one could switch to the commander of the right flank via Somhairle seeing him amidst the fray, and describe what's going on over there through his eyes.

    Now, for writing combat from the character's perspective, you're going to have to put yourself in their shoes: if you were in there fight, what would/wouldn't you notice? A lot of aspiring writers fall into the trap of describing things like their hair, their face, their injury. In a real fight you'd have no time to notice any of that. To engage your readers in a fight scene, you'll need make sure that the characters are engaged, as well. Focus on the senses: what do they hear, smell, and, in particular, feel? Not just emotionally - in fact, aside from the raw, basic emotions you shouldn't delve too deep into them at all whilst the fight's going on. No-one stops to ponder why they're punching their opponent in the face in the middle of the act - but physically? Think how a wound would feel. How would it impact them? A slice to the ankle would make them limp, a cut across the face would smart with pain, etc. How, also, would it affect combat? Include this in your writing. If a character's slowed down, show it. If they're blinded, show it. Too many writers describe the injury, then ignore it as though it never happened. In realistic fight scenes, actions have consequences.
     
  14. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Lots of good replies here already, but I would add that you should abide by the laws of physics. Even if you have magic or some such in the story, create rules and restrictions to its use and its effects and follow them. There are few things more disappointing/annoying than when an author puts the hero(ine) in a pinch, you're on the edge of your seat, wondering how s/he will survive, and then the author goes and throws out the rulebook just because they created a situation that was difficult to resolve with accordance to physics/the rules of that particular world s/he has established in prior parts of the story, and the author was too lazy to come up with a sensible solution to the situation.

    Also, if you don't know much about real fighting (be it with fists, guns, or swords), don't go into details, because those with an eye for such things will spot faking a mile away. If you still want to put in details like descriptions of techniques/tactics etc, consult those who do know the subject matter. I've asked loads of dumb questions from a SEAL, a military combat instructor, an expert on traditional European swordsmanship etc. and they've all been very eager to offer their knowledge, glad that some authors actually care about the little details. Better yet, go train the stuff you write about yourself and gain some first-hand knowledge even if you'd never reach their level of expertise.
     
  15. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for the replies here guys, each one of you has given some good advice and/or food for thought.

    I have done quite a bit of fencing in the past, FWIW, but I'll read up some more on swordplay and take all your advice on board.
     

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