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  1. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    Light-hearted battles in non-comedy novels

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Florent150, Feb 26, 2011.

    I've been contemplating how I want to write some of the battle sequences in my novel. I'm writing an epic fantasy which I want to have a light-hearteness about it as a kind of undertone throughout what will be a very deep and psychology story during it's major events. I think I can get the balance right through almost all situations, but with the battle sequences I'm scratching my head a little bit.

    I can write it to be a very real experience and try to resonate the atmosphere and emotions of real battles; for example I think Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers often get praised for that portrayal of the what the battles in WII were really like and their real emotions and consequences. Or, I can write it much more light-hearted, with people running towards water while on fire, soldiers having trivial arguments while firing at the enemy, people running away from vehicles shouting "****!" as it's about to explode, that kind of thing.

    For the particular fight scene right now, it focuses on a group of soldiers that I'm trying to introduce as a group of mates, bickering and mocking eachother with dry sarcastic humour. I'm also trying to point out that these guys are total, self-confident pro's (better than normal humans) who are just doing something they always do and have done for 10 years. It's also at a point in the story where nothing major has happened, and these guys are pretty care-free. So I'm inclined to make this battle a little light-hearted.

    I'm confident I can write like this without making it too cheesy, but I'm wondering if I should, and whether publishers or audiences will look down on treating something like a serious battle in a major war (it is an important battle, but the soldiers I'm following don't treat it very importantly because they're so confident and self-assured) so light-hearted.

    I'm also wondering if it's possible to have different war battles in the novel have different moods or if that's a bad idea. It's entirely possible that later in the story I have a battle sequence that's much more tied to the plot and during or after a very traumatic event for the Main Characters, like immediately following the death of a major character or the revelation of some seriously bad news, when the main characters are insecure, traumatized, stressed or vulnerable in some way, and thus I might write it very gritty with much more realistic emotions and descriptions of what a real battle means. So in a way I'ed kind of link the mood of the battle to the mood of the overall situation.


    But what do you think? I can think of battles were alot of the actual fighting is kind of light-hearted; The final battle at Hogwarts comes to mind in HP: Deathly Hallows, where comical events are happening at every turn despite Harry being seriously stressed about the severity of the situation. Do you think it's bad and too unrealistic to treat battles in this way?
     
  2. BlackScorpion
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    BlackScorpion New Member

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    In my opinion it really depends on how serious you want your novel/story to be and how serious you want it taken. If I went to a bookstore and picked up a an action-war book, expecting something really deep and meaningful, but then whilst reading it found out that all the battle scenes end up like missions from Call of Duty or something, I wouldn't be too impressed. By making the battle scenes serious, and life threatening to the main characters, you could get a real depth with the emotion they display, whilst if the battles were too comical, it would just come across as one big joke or dream. I am a major fan of both Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, and the seriousness of their battle scenes and the genuine emotions that the soldiers express is really what set them apart from other war movies. I haven't gotten round to reading the last Harry Potter book, so I can't help you there, but even if the battles are all seriousness and what, you could still go with your ideas of having all the team of soldiers ribbing each other, because that's what soldiers would normally do. But really all comes down how serious you want your story to be.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    You know, I think realistically (not that I've ever actually fought in the military, but it would seem realistic at least), a battle scene would go both ways. At first, when they're walking toward the battle site and setting up to get serious, there'd be a lot of joking around and stuff to hide the nervousness. Then at first there's be some of the "Sh*t, it's gonna blow!" comments, running toward the river, etc. But then, the tone changes. Maybe the protag's troop is being dealt a lot of casualties, and the odds become tougher, or there's a situation where someone close to the MC has to die. The tone would definitely change, but you'd have to rely on showing, not telling, and you'd have to be a good writer to pull it off well: saying "The war became much more intense" before infodumping cartoonish action won't cut it.

    Look at the end battle in the first LOTR movie. It starts out relatively lighthearted, with epic sword maneuvers and Merry and Pippin yelling insults at the orcs to distract them from Frodo, etc. But then Boromir dies and things get much more serious, and the last few scenes were very poignant about not giving up on your friends or your mission. This gave the battle a very deep feel, although it had somewhat comical moments at its beginning.

    Similarly (yes, I'm a nerd about these movies), look at the "Return of the King" LOTR battles. It's constantly peppered with the dwarf jokes between Gimli and Legolas, Eowyn hitting on Aragorn etc, but it's definitely serious and moving overall as a whole.

    Another example that has both emotions is the POTC movies. While LOTR tends to be epic/serious with comic relief, the POTC set is 90 percent comic relief, crazy stunts like swordfighting balancing on the masts, and Jack's humor. But still, there are the key moments that are serious and that give the movie more depth. Jack's Kraken scene and the final battle with Elizabeth's "hoist the colors" speech, for example.

    In movies like LOTR (you say you're writing epic fantasy), the factor that makes the battles serious/moving to me is not the action or the death aspect, but the themes. For instance, LOTR isn't just a movie about hobbits dumping a ring in Mount Doom and fighting off a bunch of orcs; you could present that same material in a cartoon book or a poorly-done book/movie and I wouldn't care about it at all. The themes are very prevalent; fighting the hard fight to protect your world from enslavement, stepping up to the plate when no one else will and sticking through til the end, not bailing out on your friends in hard moments, etc. I think the LOTR battle scenes do a great job at highlighting these themes in a poignant, show-don't-tell way, and that's why they're so good. I think this is something to keep in mind when writing battle sequences.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I think it's a wonderful idea as well. Write it.

    Black Beauty is the story about a horse who goes through a series of owners before being reunited with his true family - it's been a while, but as I recall, it dealt with animal abuse issues and serious themes.
     
  5. Writing in the Mist
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    Writing in the Mist Member

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    I personally have never had a problem with professionals handling their job casually or without to much attention. (I tend to enjoy firefights in which the men are tossing banter back and forth.)


    You seem confidant that you pull it off, and I know of no reasons for avoiding it. All it would take is sufficient buildup to the mood. Make sure your reader is at the same place as your characters, and that there is sufficient reason for both (characters and reader) to be there (place/mood).

    ~ Mist
     
  6. RightBastardWriter
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    RightBastardWriter Member

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    Write it.

    Then pass it to your beta readers and see how they react.

    That'll tell you if it's working or not.
     
  7. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    You are aware that the movies you cited are not realistic, because they are overly dramatized, for the purpose of telling the story as opposed to portraying any sense of realism of "what the war was really like".

    Case in point, allied soldiers killing enemy soldiers in direct combat is one thing, but once the enemy surrenders, is disarmed and confined under guard, you are NOT allowed to murder them (as defined under the international laws of the Geneva Accords). An emotionally upset soldier reading a letter explaining this brother has been killed in combat, that is overcome by rage and anger at the "Krauts" is NOT allowed to vent his frustrations by murdering unarmed prisoners. Sure, it can make for an emotionally gripping piece of fiction, but it isn't allowed in the real world. A real world example would be the American soldiers guarding prisoners at Abu Grave prison in Iraq, facing criminal abuse charges for brutalizing prisoners...such things are not allowed because they are a violation of international law.

    If you had ever been on fire from a gasoline explosion or napalm strike, I doubt that you'd think it was very light hearted. Likewise, trivial arguments between soldiers fly right out the window when a firefight erupts, because not paying attention can get you killed.

    However, if you story is a comedy, then my above points obviously do not apply.

    The thing about total, self-confident professionals is that they always put on their "game face" when they deploy. They take everything with a hard core seriousness, like their life depends on their not making a single mistake...because it does.

    Real world commandos and Navy SEALS don't jump in the middle of the badguys, who surround them and wait their turn to get beaten up, like they do in the old Chuck Norris movies. Real Special Ops soldiers remain totally concealed in the darkness, painstakingly move with deliberate slowness to avoid making a sound as they surround their enemy, then all strike at the exact same instant, killing virtually all of the badguys before they even know anyone is there. This is HOW special ops get a 50 to 1 kill ratio on the enemy. Screwing around, not taking it seriously, not paying full attention, when something as simple as a snapping twig can alert the enemy to your presence and turn your vastly superior advantage into a straight up 50/50 firefight between your 12 guys and the hundred badguys you just encountered isn't likely to end well for your team.

    If your target demographic for selling your book is the U.S. market, keep in mind that the U.S. is presently fighting two wars with many of your potential readers having family serving in the military. A favorable and heroic portrayal of your soldiers might be better received by the current expected reader base.

    That is a very realistic way of looking at it, because certain battles are far more emotionally intensive and draining than others. Certainly the D-Day invasion of Normandy was far more emotionally draining than the later battles at the end of the war, where many German soldiers just wanted to surrender because it was obvious the war was over.

    Just my two cents.
     

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