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  1. Boka B

    Boka B New Member

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    How to make good battles?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Boka B, Sep 22, 2021.

    Hello,everyone!This is my first post here. I am currently making a story with lots of battles between armies,though I often find making them hard. What are your tips about how to make good - quality battles?
    Enjoy your life and all the best!
    Have a suuuuperior day!

    Boka B
     
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  2. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    read a lot of books who do good battles, read a lot of history about the time period concerned, research the weapons used , watch reenactments and films with good battle scenes...

    once you've done the research you also need to think about viewpoint - the view of a general on a hill or in a command post ordering units about is very different to that of a foot soldier killing the enemy to protect himself and his comrades.
     
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  3. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    I'm going to do a megapost!

    Here's a technique that really works. Trust me, I've had non-writers have great success with this. (Well, they consider themselves writers, but they're . . . not, haha. Not yet anyway. I'm sorry, but it's true. It takes work, not wishes.) The bad thing about this approach is that it's too close to plagiarism to put into your own work fully. It's just an exercise, but it will put the basic structures in your head, and if you do it faithfully for a few weeks, doors will start to open.

    Start with a perfect battle paragraph. This is an example. It's a free excerpt you can read online at the publisher's site. It's supposed to be three paragraphs, but I've joined them into one for purposes here.

    What you do is take each sentence and extract 3 phrases from it. Not too much! Just the essence of each phrase. It can have a little descriptive color, but don't just rewrite the sentence. I'll do the above paragraph because I think this is fun:
    • black figures, paced, palace sprawl
    • armored men, trudged like men, giants 140 meters tall
    • Mechanicum, deployed, Titan war engines
    • around soot-black ankles, troops flooded, breaking wave
    • Luna wolves surged, detonations bursting, lifting rippling fireballs
    • Blasts juddered ground, gritty thump, showered dirt
    • Assault craft swept low, between shambling Titans, lifting smoke into vortices
    • Astartes helmet, vox-chatter snapping, voices roughened by transmission
    Read the paragraph several times to get the feel of it. Then, without looking at it again for any reason, use just your notes and rewrite it. You're trying to duplicate it, more or less, but this isn't an exercise in memory. Memory comes into play, and you can write down exact details you remember (that's a legal cheat), but you add whatever you want. You leave out whatever you need to. You will get a different paragraph.


    That's my one pass edit. It should be different from Abnett's paragraph. (and it is) There's probably some typos and empty-reps in it. It's a bit clipped at the end. I probably needed a bit more description, but that's okay for a single pass. I'll remember that for the next exercise.

    In my opinion—and I'm climbing onto my sermon pulpit here—when you want to learn something difficult, it takes work. If it didn't, then you'd already be able to do it. Everyone would, and so what would be the point? No one is impressed by an outcome which any child can master. So never feel bad about wanting to improve. It means the target is worth having.

    To master this technique, follow these 6 Steps to Success:
    1. Admit you have a problem. (You've already done this! It's just like AA.)
    2. Find someone who is a master. (I chose Dan Abnett. He has great battle scenes. He's naturally cinematic and has that Brit flair.)
    3. Rip them off! Make their success yours and try to be just like them.
    4. Realize your result is going to be different. Your voice and personal experience will make your writing unique.
    5. Give an honest appraisal of what you've written, good AND bad. Don't leave out either.
    6. Repeat.
    If you did a couple of these a day (in the morning and evening), and you kept it up for a month, I promise you that it will give you great insights. Your voice will start to absorb aspects of whoever you're studying, so make sure that they deserve that honor. There is more to it than this. Really, you should be studying sentence forms too so that you get good basic flow. You should be using shifting structures. Eventually, you'll be able to build a paragraph starting from a simple list. And after that, you'll be able to create that list on the fly. That takes a while, so don't hurry it. Just keep practicing.

    Useless addendum. This is from an essay writing program I looked at. It's quite good. I changed it a little and didn't mention everything in it. The basic idea is very 19th century. It's how writers used to learn. They emulated a chosen master. Sometimes I mention here that Jack London did this with Rudyard Kipling's work. It's how he developed his style. There's nothing wrong with this approach. It absolutely works. It relies on old school rigor and your own desire. Both of those aspects must be present.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Aaawwwww yeah!! This is gonna be good. *Starts taking notes*
     
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  5. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    1. You gotta make battles count. You can't just hurl redshirts on redshirts and expect the audience not to be bored out of their mind. Make the battle feel like it counts, the results unpredictable and the characters engaged. In writing, you don't have CGI and explosions to keep it all together.

    - You can build the battle as the culmination of character-conflict. Eg, have both sides feature a POV character, or multiple important characters. I think GRRM has to be given some thumbs-ups for this.
    - You can involve a protagonist in a "zero chance to win this" battle and portray their struggle.
    - Or even have multiple main characters continue their peacetime interactions, just in war scenes. War & Peace does this - battles are little more than a change in scenery and a declaration that "characters may die horribly here" - beyond that, the battles are all about character involvement and their development.

    Make sure to choose your POV well. It might be tempting to portray a battle from bird's eye - that'll leave your prose look like a wikipedia article. Character focus is my personal preference (with a note at the end of my reply).

    Also - throwing around numbers doesn't quite matter. For the audience, it is irrelevant whether you write "250 horsemen charging down 400 infantry" or "25.000 horsemen charging down 40.000 infantry" - hectic numbers will make your battles look kinda awkward and break the suspension of disbelief. GRRM /is/ guilty for this, pushing Napoleonic numbers in the ten thousands.

    2. Your battles should make sense. Really, biggest issue with Hollywood. The walls of troy stand strong and ridiculously tall, double-line of archers picking off Greeks while they are charging against the walls lacking any siege engines, ladders whatsoever. And what does Troy do? Send out a whole bunch of their own troops to get muddled down in a fight! Gosh I hate it. Malevil's end-battle is a perfect counter-example: the protagonist learns that their enemies are armed to the teeth and their lil' castle won't help them - so they move out for a roadside ambush and surround the enemy.

    Biggest issue here is that most people want to portray HUGE field battles and EPIC sieges whereas the historical / realistic example are very few field battles (before the early modern times, that is) and prolonged, boring sieges lasting years (and in the early modern era, sometimes decades). Another kudos to GRRM doe.

    Best advice here is to pick a less-known battle, deconstruct it into main steps + movements and then re-create it within your world. The battle of Friedland is a good example to toy with:

    The French side allowed the Russians to slip to the other side of the river at Heilsberg, only for them to find themselves separated by the river from the city of their Prussian allies. Since the city is besieged, the French know that the Russians will attempt a river crossing - therefore they hatch a plan. The Russians make their crossing at Friedland, where they are met by Lannes' army corps. Lannes withdraws from the river but maintains a frontline & keeps the Russians engaged so that they are bogged down right at the river crossing. Then, Napoleon arrives with the full army and executes an encirclement of the Russian army, destroying their single bridge crossing. The decisive defeat destroys any chance the Russians can relieve the siege, therefore the Prussians surrender - soon followed by the Russians.

    There's also a point to understand some basic principles. Warfare's a science of its own, and just like biology or phyiscs, jumping into it straight thinking you can BS up some explanations and moves just won't work. Sun Tzu is unironically good material - find a text without the comments / notes and drill through it in an afternoon. I don't recommend Clausewitz because he deals with modern warfare. Even better if you find something close to the era you're writing about - that's the base of good research.

    3. Don't forget about small war. It's the biggest mistake writers make, 95% of them in fact (largely because mainstream academic study of historical small war started very recently - in the late 90s). Kudos to GRRM once more. "Small war", "Skirmish warfare", "Frontier Warfare", "Banditry", "Raiding", "Countermarching" - I am referring to the time before, after (and often during) major battles when tiny forces clash over small landscape features, villages, creeks, bridges, etc. We all know about the BIG BATTLES because they're well-recorded, small war tends to be sidelined or even completely ignored. However - when it comes to writing, small war allows you to focus on the specific actions of a much smaller set of characters and their contributions to the war.

    Example: the medieval army in which your protagonist serves marches against the army of the enemy kingdom. You would normally think "Yeah, should do a marching scene, a camp scene and then a BIG fight and be done with it" but that's neither realistic nor provides much content for character development. Small war here would refer to your protagonist participating in a raid on a village, where they'd have to decide how to treat the locals. It could feature a woodland skirmish where they meet the enemy for the first time and perhaps capture some. An assignment to capture & guard an important bridge, laying ground for a more tense "camp" scene than the safety of a military encampment. A death-sentence assignment to serve as rear guard for the army while it retreats, or being the vanguard for the advance. A poaching raid on the enemy camp during the night, or on their supply caravan.

    A favourite history youtuber has done a wonderful video on small war. There is endless content there for unique & exciting scenes.

    I personally separate my battles between those I describe in detail from those I just "feature" to move the story forward. The latter's necessary because I'm writing Napoleonic era stuff - can't just say "A and B marched at each other, B won" because that simply makes no sense.

    For the battles I do feature, I try and define perspectives. I prefer "big battles" for commanders, and intrigue inbetween. For simple soldiers, I really enjoy writing scenes about small war - but it makes a very good contrast to portray the same battle from both perspectives. If a battle isn't unique, isn't pivotal or doesn't feature any scenes of drama value (change in status quo, development, etc) I just reference the results and put a summary of the battle in my addendum. I can just cut it if need be.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I don't know anything about war or battles, but I can say this about writing in general, when it includes setpieces such as battles or musical numbers (thinking of movies here obviously).

    Each setpiece (scene involving battle or a musical number or whatever the case may be) should advance the story, not be a break from it. Characters should learn important information, possibly about themselves, such as what their breaking point is compared to what they thought it would be, what they're really made of (we often don't know until we're severely tested emotionally and physically). Many of their peacetime illusions fall away and they're forced to see the ugly destructive side of people and of society. And we learn what really drives or motivates each of the main characters, despite what they pretend does during the easy times. Some may discover they're surprisingly more courageous than they expected to be, some that they're a lot less so. Some will exhibit cowardice and then pretend it didn't happen. How do their friend react to this? Do they remain friends? Can they, even if they want to?

    Of course to write things like this it helps if you've personally experienced something similar. It doesn't have to be actual war, just painful trials that severely tested some of your convictions and revealed deeper levels of truth that we tend not to be able to access during the easy times of life.
     
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Also battles and war are a good setting to compare and contrast the recruits (newbies, greenhorns, people who are experiencing this for the first time) and the grizzled battle-hardened veterans. But of course that would be a lot easier if you've been through it yourself or known some veterans and talked to them about it, or if you observe people and pay attention to how they interact in such situations.

    It would be similar to how the newbies compare to the experienced in such situations as a difficult and demanding job for instance. Fast food can be like a battleground in certain ways. I know, I used to work the slicer at a place that made roast beef sandwiches, and I felt like I was working a piece of heavy artillery, lobbing roast beef missiles up toward the front lines, where the cashiers and drive-thru operators were confronting the enemy face-to-face and hand-to-hand, armed only with a smile and a professional demeanor (if they're worth their salt). If I didn't have the skill, experience, and fortitude to really work my artillery piece effectively under the greatest of stressful situations everything up there and in fact the whole operation would break down and I'd never hear the end of it.

    Of course when I was new it was a different story, nobody expects a fresh-faced noob to handle a difficult siege like that. And you could also observe how everybody felt betrayed by a worker with a bad attitude who selfishly lets the whole crew down in times of stress when everyone's best is demanded. And especially if the management or the upper echelons don't do their part, if they let the slackers slack and expect the hard workers to work twice as hard to pull everything through.

    I'm just trying to illustrate that you don't necessarily need to have combat experience, we've all been through some very similar situations. It's your ability to see the connections and find the underlying truths that allows you to use those experiences to relate a story about something you haven't personally been through. It doesn't have to be fast food, it could be any kind of demanding and stressful job that requires teamwork and good attitude where things get extreme at times.

    Just learn to pay attention to situations, to how people interact especially under stress, and compare that to how they interact without the stress, how things get so much more real under duress, and how the illusions that are allowed in the easy times fall away for the hard and harsh truths when it all hits the fan. These are the human truths from which good art is made.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  8. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    another point is that although you should do as much research as possible you don't have to then show all that research to the reader... i was readinga book set in the Vietnam war a while back where the author spent four pages discussing how to set up an L shape ambush - by the time he got round to initiating it i'd near lost interest ...

    and on a related point make the reader care about your characters... if they don't give a monkeys whether bob survives, or aren't sad when Bill takes an arrow in the throat then the most beautiful battle description known to man will be wasted... this also doesnt mean that they have to love the character... they might cheer inside when the obnoxious political officer gets run over by a panzer, or the jobsworth lt gets fragged by his own men in the heat of battle... but they have to feel something.
     
  9. HARKNESS

    HARKNESS Member

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    What I love seeing in Battles is this stuff in no particular order:

    * Enemies are actually competent!
    -This raises narrative stakes and makes hyped-up enemies look fearsome. I was disappointed in Starwars when Kenobi talked about the 'accuracy' of the stormtroopers only for them to miss a million of their shots! Enemies that apply even basic battle tactics when written properly make it also seem that they have unit cohesion and are a force to be reckoned with.

    *Logistics
    - "Amateurs talk about tactics however real generals talk about Logistics" - Unknown. This is what makes or breaks battles before they even start. The more well-fed and supplied army will beat the stretched forces, Just ask the Germans and Napoleon when they invaded Russia.

    *P A N I C and STRESS!
    - When bullets fly or swords come down, there is going to be pandemonium. Characters who are not well trained who actually panic and make mistakes make it absolutely thrilling, I remember reading a book (forgot the name) where the character had very basic firearms knowledge was dropping a lot of his equipment in panic. Mags falling out of pouches, Reloads are slow due to fear and fatigue just taking a toll on him. Also, that dude was so scared he muzzle swept his friends which got him a sound scolding from his more experienced comrades.

    *Strict Chain of Command
    - The Military has a strict chain of command, Shit in Hollywood where privates slap lieutenants don't fly. Your gonna get a swift UCMJ! You do as you are told. No getting around it and if your superior is a troglodyte...Well, Good Luck! The TV Series Generation Kill is a good example. There are stuff where this may not be the case like a rebel/insurgency or unprofessional army might be different.

    *Malfunctions
    -Your weapon is made with the lowest bidder, Sorry but guns are machines and will break down!


    The best source I got in battles was from reading from Veterans there is a dude in Quora who is a great source
    https://www.quora.com/profile/Roland-Bartetzko
    The dude was a veteran of the bloody Balkan wars in the 90s and fought for the KLA. The dude is a German paratrooper and his stuff is amazing! But I must warn once you start reading you will enter a rabbit hole of just reading article after article.

    Hope it helped!
     
  10. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Senior Member

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    I would add that in this "small" war- which is the substance of a lot of wars- armed bands are often not confronting other armed bands, but avoiding combat and attacking weak targets: civilians, supply lines, infrastructure, etc. It's decidedly grim, unsexy, and unromantic stuff but that's what actual war is like. Terrorizing civilians- from the pro-slavery death squads in "Bleeding Kansas," to the 90's Balkans wars, to the sectarian militias in Syria, to the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia- is a much more important part of war then the over-focus on big battles like Gettysburg would lead you to believe.
     
  11. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Loved the points you brought! Want to comment on them & add to the discussion.

    It really is a huge mistake a lot of writers & screenwriters make. Especially when a repeated narrative pins "good" rebels against an "evil" empire/kingdom - how are the rebels more organized than the very totalitarian force they seek to overthrow?

    I especially loved the Battle of Bastards for this. The sheer professionalism of the Bolton army depicted is brilliant - up until the deus ex machina that ruins the whole thing, of course, but sorta expected past season 5. It's also important to note here that you can treat an army as a character, and depict their /traits/ in the form of their tactics, appearance and organization. I think it was in Druon's series on French kings where France's armies are ever-depicted as basically 5 independent sides that are ready to pounce on each other and are only kept in line by vague alliances. Tension, every moment.

    I would push my remark on Small War here. Napoleon's invasion didn't fail due to lack of logistics - but due to scorched earth & raiding cossacks. The cossacks tied down 2/3 of the Grande Armée simply raiding the supply train and engaging in skirmishes day and night.

    Logistics are a fickle thing because they can be very counter-intuitive. It's a topic where I tend to suggest: if you read an article on army movement and logistics and it includes modern and early wars BUT not Napoleonic sources, then it isn't worth much. The Napoleonic wars had some astonishing performances - for example, Davout's marching of 3rd Corps from Vienna to Austerlitz, 70 miles in 2 days (which is a remarkable performance even for a modern elite team (quote the Falklands war & Goose green).

    That is to say, you can get away with a LOT for logistics, and having firm logistics can really change an army's power level. As Napolron once wrote, an army's force is the same as physical force: mass multiplied by velocity. Fantasy & Sci-fi stuff can really shake things up, your army won't need a supply train if food and ammunition can be teleported in or conjured, etc. But army movements will still remain important.

    Also:
    Never, EVER forget how much food Horses eat. War horses usually needed half grazing, half dry food from a supply train - and lots of water too. It's just astonishing people tend to treat them like mechanized infantry and go like "XY brought 12.000 horsemen from the city of Gobbeltroff and the county of Stadtendorf". It doesn't work that simple!

    When archaeologists started excavating Napoleonic battlefields, they founds a large number of muskets that were loaded 4-5 times over. The assumption is that soldiers were under such a high stress, they didn't even notice they forgot to prime their weapons (or had spent flint) and pulling the trigger didn't actually shoot their muskets - so they did the reload motion like robots and continued jamming more and more cartridges down the barrel.

    It is important to note whether your soldiers are SEASONED veterans, or whether they are rookie conscripts! Napoleon's Imperial Guard could march down a line of enemies without flinching or even stepping off the beat of their drummer, even when gunfire and cannons swept away their sections. On the other hand, bayonet charges often never actually ended in a clash because the sight of charging infantry was usually enough to break morale and scatter the enemy line.

    Now you should also mind friendly fire, especially in early-modern and medieval battles! Just imagine being in the middle of this chaotic bout and you don't really have a way of distinguishing friend or foe, unless you fight a different fantastic race. The bright Napoleonic uniforms tried to clear things up and make friendly fire a thing of the past, but the thick gunpowder smoke often confused troops still. At the Battle of Waterloo, the arriving Prussian reinforcement still wore the French-model of uniforms (as Prussia was subjugated by France between 1807 and 1813). The arriving troops found themselves under fire from Wellington's Nassau infantry, who believed they were flanking Frenchmen. They had a firefight lasting more than 10 minutes before realizing it was friendly fire!

    Now this is something very interesting, because people can easily confuse various militaries and how structured they were. Especially in a fantasy or sci-fi universe, I think it is important to define how "coherent" and "organized" your fictional nation's army is. On one hand, you'd have the Napoleonic model of Marshal Berthier, which is pretty much the model of leadership / delegation used to this very day. On the other hand, you could have something like the army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had during the Great Northern War, where internal rivalry and strife chokes the army into a mass of vaguely cooperating noble regiments. Two Lithuanian counts defected their elected king's call to arms, approaching the Swedish King instead and pledging their armies because they were promised protection against another noble family who were raiding them at the time.

    The culture of your army also determines how the miltiary handles disobedience. If it's a modern army, you are likely to have court martials and a swift removal from position. In an army of Earth's totalitarian era, "disappearing" is an alternative - this happened a lot for Soviets and Germans, of course. Remember, Rommel died to a cyanide pill he was ordered to take, else his family would have been arrested. Then there's the Roman army, largely similar to the Soviet/German level of discipline; except ritualistic suicide was the norm which meant disgraced military leaders were expected to take their own lives. And on the other hand, you have medieval armies were disobedience wasn't the exception but the norm, each magnate trying to push their agenda in these great field battles. After all, if you're a magnate and you can withhold your troops while your rivals send in theirs to aid the king, you'll have a much easier time conquering a barony or two from them after the war.
     
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  12. HARKNESS

    HARKNESS Member

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    Good Stuff! Some of these little things are worth adding and I learned lots of new things from you, Thank you!
     
  13. Stephen1974

    Stephen1974 Active Member

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    My advice is dont try and describe the battle, thats so boring and often sounds awful. Instead, try and focus on the characters, their thoughts, their dcisions, their objectives. Some description is fine but move the story forward instead of having the story stop whilst you describe a battle. In the following example (another great use for e-books - Quotes ) The scene is great, but the description of the fighting is very minimial. We get interesting dialogue instead that advances the story and there is more of a focus on the characters thoughts, feelings, intentions and fears, than worry about the actual combat that takes place. Thats made as simple as possible.

    A bit of a longer quote (hope thats not against the rules) with more description of combat, but thats broken up with sections that advance the story line, why are they doing this, concerns about the future, simple explanations of actions. All that outweighs the volume of writing given over to the description of the fight.

    To me, this leaves a lot up to the imagination. I have enough information to picture the scene and I can envisage the two in combat, but what holds my interest is the advancement of the story.
     
  14. MartinM

    MartinM Member

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    @Boka B

    What a brilliant question with some fantastic responses from the forum and in depth too. I’m a complete amateur and know nothing, however I struggled with this same issue. The Napoleonic era with sea battles is my interest, but applies to any warfare. Reading factual accounts of Trafalgar and other such actions are great. It comes from a Seagal’s eye view with hindsight. All plans on both sides laid bear with buildup, to engagement and the final outcome.

    Trafalgar by Roy Adkins is a brilliant book on the battle. Even if uninterested in the era, the battle and how it’s told is an amazing description and well worth a read. Its got facts, but also pace, it moves along in an entertaining way. Adkins uses time slices to describe different actions happening across the battlefield. He jumps from individual actions between two or three ships, across to other engagements and updates. It sounds confusing but actually works with an overall view in place.

    Seeing a strategic plan tactically unfold whether in success or failure is engaging. From a fictional point of view, it will feel distant and at times an information dump even boring. Reading many fictional battles, I became frustrated at the likes of Patrick O’Brian and others take. Normally an author would steer clear of large actions. Describing the engagement post event in a tale from a third person. Who would describe the overall movements inter laid with his individual involvement? So, you’d get the look down tactical view with a localized ground level action story.

    Patrick O’Brian, used only small skirmishes between not more than three ships, no fleet actions. Also told mainly from Jack Aubrey’s perspective. This was never satisfying, I wanted to show a top-down view and multiple individual actions. This is what I did, feedback was good and even none military readers didn’t get lost. However, never trust your mother or close friends’ opinions...

    My story builds up to one big fleet battle. Prior to this each chapter is told from a different character’s viewpoint. How through luck or other they become involved. Each chapter progresses the timeline forward to D-Day, but also show’s the reader some important information. This ranges from ship design to intelligence gathered. In fact, the chapter prior to the battle I show a meeting conducted by one sides admiral to his captains of his plan. This to give the reader a general head’s up...

    The battle chapter itself I use Adkin’s timeline. Each part told from a different characters POV that you’ve already met from the previous chapters. Head hoping is I know a big no-no when writing POV, but this sort of works. Each character must have some very distinctive traits to stand out or is memorable to the reader.

    With a well-choregraphed battle, I can jump from place to place and character to character. With each local section I can dig deep into that part of the fight. And with each jump a little more time progresses showing the overall battle unfolding. I’m not telling the story from single individuals’ point of view here.

    For me this sort of solved the problem, however it meant the build up chapters needed to work. Each time jump wasn’t forced, but rolled naturally forward. The reader knew the explosive power of a French first-rate broadside without needing an info dump to show why the British were shit scared.

    For your story with multiple battles a similar system might work. However, one battle after another can become tedious and boring even if they’re well written. In a similar way I’d use each battle to build on the previous one. The first battles show how the armies operate and unique features. The next battle shows some form of evolution, one army learns from its mistake? And so on with each encounter building the tension up to the inevitable mass engagement at the end. Have a read of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

    I sincerely apologize for the length. The other posts are fantastic and telling. As I said from the start, I know nothing so take what I said with a pinch of salt. Let me know your thoughts and how you get on...

    MartinM.
     
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  15. Catriona Grace

    Catriona Grace Senior Member

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    This. This this this this.
     
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  16. MartinM

    MartinM Member

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    @Lazaares

    You make some great comments, good rebels against evil empire for one. Star Wars becomes awkward with collateral damage caused, so too the Roman empire. What have the Romans ever done for us? And Napoleon himself, as an Englishman it always leaves me at odds in my opinion of him. Devil or messiah?

    Napoleon is an astonishing study, but it’s the whole picture that’s needs to be taken in. Military Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Brigadier General Esposito for the battles and timeline. Napoleon on the Art of War by Jay Luvaas, in one volume the author distills from written correspondence the emperor’s philosophy. It is extremely insightful. Napoleon by Vincent Cronin gives a very French viewed Biography of his life. This diving deeper into politics as well as warfare.

    With just these three books you can clearly see an intelligent man, that could improve the lives of every citizen in the western world with a radical new system. However, his addiction to power caused him to make fundamental errors at home and then on the battlefield. Wellington commented Napoleon hadn’t adapted his strategy or tactics ever.

    Blucher’s army should have retreated back along its supply line towards Poland. Wellington insisted he retreat directly North instead. Napoleon became predicable sending Grouchy out on a wild goose chase to cut Blucher off along this supply line. Effectively reducing the French forces and their inability to split the British and Polish armies in two and attack each one individually.

    This is what Wellington predicted. The man as whole had changed or evolved, but for the worse. Ego started to take center stage rather than strategic logic. Russia for example crippled the economy his standing and his manpower... because he wanted to teach the boy Tsar a lesson?

    Writing warfare or battles with the largest, best equipped and well-trained army in the world with a Genius of a leader that still loses is pure gold. Adapted to sci-fi or fantasy or anything else, it is truly better than any fiction.

    You made some great points, sorry for the waffle.


    MartinM
     
  17. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    What kind of battle? The time period makes a huge difference. The battle of Lexington was very different than the battle of Agincourt. Tactics for chariots are very different than for calvary. Even within the same war, different weapons produce different battles. The battle of Midway was won very differently than the hunt of the Bismarck.


    I have a comment about the strict chain of command. Depends on the doctrine, the US has a doctrine of flexibility. Chain of command tells them what their objective is, but front line officers tend to actually decide how to do it. That prevents confusing if the chain of command is broken. The US had a lot of success against the Iraqi Air Force by not engaging them, but destroying their communication. The Iraqis wouldn't engage unless told to, and without comms they couldn't get their order to attack. Probably the most famous battle of that particular war as 73 Easting, in which the McMaster had orders to only get to 70 and not engage the Republican Guard. When he got there, he realized he had them by surprise and decided to engage. Because of that, they were not able to regroup and were completely decimated by US firepower. Midway went the same way in WWII. Pilots were definitely not supposed to get into a situation where they had to ditch their plane, but when low on fuel the pilots decided not to return to the US strike group and to keep searching for the Japs, and they found them with their pants down. In most countries militaries neither would happen, but the US' doctrine is a little different. They can't just defy orders or slap their superior, but front-line commanders do have some agency in how they complete their mission.
     
  18. evild4ve

    evild4ve Member

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    Fictional accounts of historical battles are labours of love for qualified historians: that genre has become rather inaccessible to laypeople and amateurs.
    Speculative-fiction battles can benefit a lot from following either professional write-ups of actual/historical battles, or eye-witness accounts. Even if you don't want to model your battles on specific real ones, doing this type of research shows how the narrative focus has to zoom in and out, the kinds of events that change battles' courses (truth is stranger than fiction!), and the types of details people on battlefields notice. The research needed to avoid immersion-breaking slip-ups is very laborious - I personally find I need about a day per page for medieval settings.
    Finding the books to research is much easier than it used to be - I use archive.org constantly for this stuff. If you need an authentic treatise on how a certain sword was used in formation, it's often on archive.org somewhere. The level of detail available though is absolutely mind-battering, as is what's required for the level of general knowledge readers have nowadays. Woe betide us if our characters do a move with nunchucks that has been debunked on Youtube.

    And even with the internet, I fill shelves and shelves with physical books I've picked up from ebay and charity shops just in case they had some gem of information in them. Readers are like "tell me something I don't know" so anything that's a bit interesting or that isn't common knowledge they'll have patience for.

    In a novel, the characters' psychological world-of-words is real, but their physical world is an illusion we make for them with our words.
    So a battle usually involves taking some of the focus off the characters to narrate sequences of unreal events (which isn't usually desirable - often less is more)
    Battles are (IMO) more versatile than close-up fight-scenes, though, because they can add flavour, or give swift exposition, or serve as a plot device (why is Supporting Character dead and the McGuffin lost?: it was the battle). On the plus side, they can 'reset' a story and mark a transition between Parts or a change of pace and tone.
    Also compared with a close-up fight, there is more room for wordplay (distraction tactics!) to avoid listing minute details of troop movements

    For me, battles are high on the list of things to consider chopping out or skipping, and I try to set myself a list of things the battle needs to contribute to the development of characters and themes. They might be important to the world the story is set in (whether real or made-up), but that's not enough to justify making the reader read about them. Even if I was committed to telling the story of a character whose life-journey took him/her through Calais in October 1415, I'd rather invent some spurious reason for getting them out of Agincourt, than describe Agincourt.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2021
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  19. Oscar1

    Oscar1 Member

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    I was thinking about this the other day while listening to Expanse audiobooks.
    To be absolutely perfectly honest, when it gets to a physical choreography (a detailed description of the fight) I can NEVER follow it. Seriously, if the authors put too much detail, something that sounds like it could be a fight, I realized that it became a bit of non-essential noise in my head. I am not saying authors should simply say "and then they fought and Ruppert won." of course, but if it gets too much into detail, something that sounds as if it was a choreographed storyboard, it kind of loses me even with good authors.
    It could be just me, though. In essence, I prefer a simple, direct description. If it sounds too much like a dance, I am (as a reader) lost.
     
  20. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    There's a level of abstraction that an author has to do for a fictional battle. Describing every action/step will overburden the reader, while also concealing important aspects of the battle.

    The above might work if you focus on one specific POV an their participation. But if you want to portray multiple POVs or the battle as a whole from camera-eye, abstraction is necessary.

    My personal preference is the reduction of military formations into "characters" of their own, and describing their actions appropriately. "The Austrians made several attempts to take Glinzendorf and Grosshofen. Advancing with the same precision as before they stopped only to fire then advanced with fixed bayonets to meet with the same fate as the previous assaults." sort-of like this, from Zbynio Olszewski's napoleonic website.
     
  21. Oscar1

    Oscar1 Member

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    True. I just mentioned it, because I listen to audiobooks in a car and this almost always gets me, I'll start zoning out when there is any prolonged descriptive battle, thinking about if I was supposed to buy milk or socks and what I'll be eating later.
    It is probably as with any description. Describing one unique interesting detail is better than a bunch of mundane ones.
     
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  22. waliwiw

    waliwiw New Member

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    I thought to share my experience here and send some good examples of the description of the massacre, but everything has already been said before me. On my own behalf, I can only add that George Martin is very good at describing the medieval battle with swords, axes and bows.:):):)
     
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  23. Oscar1

    Oscar1 Member

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    I think you should do it, there is always place for examples.

    I should check G Martin writing style too. I am aware that he must be an exceptional author (or so they say) but I can't make myself read the books. Still, I would love to see how he handles battles.
     
  24. Justin Fraser

    Justin Fraser New Member

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    The old Conan the Barbarian stories have a lot of battle descriptions for reference. Watch some action movies and contemplate how you might describe the action to another person. For large scale battles, dive in and out of what is happening with multiple characters, generalize large battlefield movements rather than following the full course of a particular strategy, and use the result of an action to portray the act itself.
     
  25. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    For fantasy writers, probably the best example of a modern fantasy writer doing 'battles' (small and large) is the British author Joe Abercrombie.

    Abercrombie has the knack of getting inside the heads of the people engaged in the battles. Sometimes it's the generals and politicians planning the event—with or without adequate intelligence about the enemy's position and condition. Sometimes it's the underlings in charge of certain aspects of the battle who are partly informed as to tactics, but not necessarily appraised of the whole picture. Sometimes it's just the grunts on the ground, who move when they're told to move and haven't a clue what for.

    Some participants are eager to get started, some are terrified, some are confident (or overconfident) some don't seem bothered and are just in it because that's how it's gone down. Some are motivated by the possibility of personal glory. Some are pessimistic, even before the battles begin. And etc. They get thirsty, tired, cold, overheated, suffer pain, fear, exhilaration, the strange detachment that people often experience in stressful situations. You name it, they'll feel it. Ensure that these feelings get incorporated into the writing.

    The battles in Abercrombie's stories are detailed, and often go on for many pages, but the reader is always 'in' that battle from whatever perspective Mr Abercrombie chooses for his POV. He never departs from a strong POV, and rarely seems tempted to take the omnipotent approach. I think that's the best way to approach any kind of scene, really.

    If you want to write battles that keep most readers glued, the battle has to MATTER. Don't get too caught up in setting up clever chess-piece moves. (Although your battle 'planners' —generals, kings, etc—will certainly engage in this, at some point.) Chess pieces and other gaming boards and figures are an intellectual exercise. If you want readers to actually care about a battle in real time, you have to give them something to care about. There will be consequences, how ever the battles turn out. A board 'game' results in the participants just walking away afterwards, no matter who won or lost. They live to fight another day, and probably look forward to doing so. A 'real' battle isn't like that. Awareness of consequences, whether personal (will I get wounded, will I live?) or political (will we be forever ruled by these monsters if we lose? Will I lose my crown?) is what gives a real battle its spice. For most of us readers anyway.

    Put yourself (and your readers) in the shoes of the people engaging in or watching the battle. Make sure they all have really life-changing stakes in the outcome. If you do that well, the battle scenes will be memorable, and will probably drain the reader a bit ...in a good way.
     
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