1. Lyon06

    Lyon06 New Member

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    Writing Magical Fight Scenes

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Lyon06, Oct 6, 2017.

    Fight scenes have always been a struggle for me, even when just reading them I tended to gloss over the details because I couldn't quite follow what was happening. Now my story involves magic, magical weapons, and actual fighting because apparently, I'm a masochist.
    • Honestly, it's hard for me to even articulate what I'm struggling with, but I'm going to try.
    • How do you find the words to describe the scene?
    • How do I make it easy for readers to follow whats happening?
    • How can I incorporate other characters into the fight without it being confusing?
    • Should I describe what magic is being used? Or just focus on the effects and let the reader fill in the gaps?
    • Has anyone else struggled with this? What was hard for you and how did you get over it?
    Some, probably, helpful context:
    • Guns don't exist in this world.
    • The magical weapons are basically weapons infused with the users magic and the soul of a deceased soldier/warrior. This is because most of my characters usually relied on their magic, but because of the Big Bads, their powers have been weakened. So not only are they trying to learn the limits of their powers, but they've never used hand to hand combat. The soul of the deceased soldier/warrior instils them with the souls battle skills.
     
  2. John Calligan

    John Calligan Active Member

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    I think people are usually confused when information is withheld to create fake tension, or the author put action before explanation.

    Description > Explanation > Action with Clairity

    I saw two men step into the clearing. They were too close to use my bow. I summoned a ball of fire in my right hand, charged forward and threw it like a javelin. I struck short, hitting the ground at their feet. They backed up and began chanting their own spells.

    Compare that to usual confusing fight scenes using hidden information and passive voice and stuff.

    Fire forced my enemies to back up. I had prepared my fire spell and hurled it like a javelin as they entered the clearing, but my throw fell short. The two men were going to cast their own spells at me.
     
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I mumble quietly, "There's no passive voice there...."
     
  4. John Calligan

    John Calligan Active Member

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    Yeah, I rewrote it a couple times trying to make it crappy enough, and missed the mark.
     
  5. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    (Immediately off-topic, but I love your icon, @Lyon06. Every installation of that 'hoard of ...' series of art is fantastic.)

    So, first advice: find stuff to read with magical battles. I know I was influenced by Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy, and I remember some interesting things from Libba Bray's A Great And Terrible Beauty series. Might help you with just figuring out how to describe/visualize the magic itself - how it feels when people use it, and when it's used against them.

    Second advice: honestly, I think battles tend to not be that interesting to read. There are a couple in my WIP and I found them kinda tedious to write, and my betas reported kinda glazing over them. Possibly I'm just not good at writing them ;) But I figure if you don't find something interesting to read or write, why do it? How can you avoid writing complicated battles? For my WIP, once I realized I didn't really like doing them, I instead pushed the character towards finding ways to get out of having to do them, because let's be real - if you can avoid the life-threatening danger, you're going to do it. (It helped that I also banged one of'em up pretty bad in an early scene, so they were especially loathe to have a re-do of all that nonsense.) Making yourself and your characters come up with clever ways to stealth or talk their way out of combat is, imo, always going to be more fun to write, and probably more fun to read.

    If you do really want to pursue this and/or there are genuinely pivotal battle scenes that can't be skipped out on, I'd mostly advise brevity. Fights don't tend to be drawn-out things when the combatants are skilled - or when they're unequally skilled - so your fight scenes should probably follow suit. Granted, that can only apply to melee combat since we can't actually say how long a magic battle could go on. Depends on your magic! If you can find a way to make magical combat really interesting and not either a battle of the wills (that's not riveting reading, at least to me, anyway) or just a version of shooting bullets at each other from behind cover, except with fireballs, then great. Lemme know how. Because for my money, hitting whatever beat you need the battle to hit - [character A] is getting better with magic, or [character B] saves [character A]'s life, [characters A and B] can work together now, [character C] demonstrates a new power, whatever - and getting out is the way to go.

    All that said, your actual questions:

    How do you find the words to describe the scene?
    I do this thing where I watch something, and I narrate it in my head. I do it with random movies a lot, but maybe find some movie/shows with well-choreographed fights, or watch some MMA or boxing or fencing or whatever, and just describe what's happening. Rewind if you need to, rewatch, pay attention to both fighters, and put it into words. Doesn't have to be fancy or poetic. Just start with the barebones, step-by-step movements so you understand the flow of the action. You can revise it into something prettier later.

    How do I make it easy for readers to follow whats happening?
    I think feedback is really important for this one. Maybe take your test scene from above and see if a friend can understand it well enough to act it out with you. Or, just set it aside for a few days, pick it back up, and see if you can still understand it. Also, keep in mind that getting into the minutiae of the battle is going to bog down the action and most likely over-complicate things - sometimes more detail just makes things more confusing. Focus on the important bits, keep it punchy (pun intended).

    How can I incorporate other characters into the fight without it being confusing?
    I don't see why it should be confusing. Once you have a grasp on how a fight works itself, I think including additional parties shouldn't be too hard of a step.

    Should I describe what magic is being used? Or just focus on the effects and let the reader fill in the gaps?
    Going back to what I said earlier, I think this depends on your magic. Is it going to be more interesting to read about how it works, or how it looks? In my WIP I wanted to use magic as sort of an allegory for personality, so I described how different types of it feel - the snappy, prickly character's magic is cold and electric, and the mostly happy-go-lucky, cheery character's magic is sunny and warm. I think it's interesting to describe how they use their magic in different ways, even to do the same things, and how it can drain them, so I did focus on that. If you're more interested in the results of the magic, maybe focusing more on how it looks externally is the way to go. And keep in mind that in an action scene, you don't really want to slow down to explain. That's definitely the time for "Dave threw a fireball at the unicorn, incinerating it immediately" - not time to talk about how Dave has to summon up memories of his dead father in order to make fireballs happen. Well, unless the battle is about Dave's dead father. Eh.

    Has anyone else struggled with this? What was hard for you and how did you get over it?
    My problem has always been with keeping these things interesting. I've tried to combat that (listen I'm on this pun train now) by using setpieces, because I'm very visually-oriented and those are always things that appeal to me in movies. Basically, it's a feature of the terrain - doesn't have to be literal, could be a burnt-out truck or even a dead body or something - for your combatants to interact with. It gives the scene some focus other than hitting swords together etc. Maybe it's a threat: both/all people involved keep having to really try hard to avoid falling into a pit, or onto a landmine. Maybe it's an opportunity: your mc notices a half-rotted-out tree and instead of fighting the big monster head-on, she dances around it and aims for the trunk and gets it to fall on the monster and her dirty work for her.

    Anyway I've talked much much more than I intended to. I hope some of that helps :)
     
  6. John Calligan

    John Calligan Active Member

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    Someone give this man a blog.
     
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  7. Lyon06

    Lyon06 New Member

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    Wow, seeing it written out like that makes it seem infinitely clearer. Thank you!

    Thank you so much for your response! This will definitely help me out in the long run, especially the "reading to a friend" part, I never thought of that! I'm thinking now that I'll probably go into more detail about magic (how it works, what it feels like) when my MC is learning it, and not so much in battle. This is so extremely helpful and I can't thank you enough!!!
     
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  8. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic Supporter

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    By the first question I've quoted, do you mean new characters join the fight while it's happening who were not there originally? Or do you mean that you want to describe several characters other than your MC fighting? For the first, I think you would need to note their arrival on the scene and a few of their actions (are they attacking the MC or helping them out?) but then leave it at that. None of your characters are going to have an internal monologue wondering who this person is and why they're here during the action, and they're probably not going to notice every detail of their features and outfit, either. Picking out one distinctive thing to describe them with will be useful, but no paragraphs on the shade of their hair or anything, please. ;)

    If it's the second, the actions of all the characters don't need to be described all the time. Your MC will mostly be aware of what they're doing. When I write fight scenes, I only describe what the others are doing when the MC is "free" and is going off to help another character, or, on a battlefield, is checking the formation. While they're actually engaging in combat themselves, they aren't going to be able to describe what their seven other friends are doing.

    As to the second question, I think I struggle with every fight scene I write. Most are battles with big armies, so I'll write it blow-by-blow for maybe one paragraph, and then take a more general look at the battle, focusing on what different divisions are doing and what tactics are being used, and I describe the way the battle is going. I'm not too sure how well this would work on a smaller scale, but there you go. If you really struggle, then make sure you're always including combat for a reason. If the characters can get away, then they should, and wondering if they're going to successfully crawl through that sewer without being caught is more likely to get my heart racing then reading about them engaging in combat for the tenth time and wondering if they'll survive. (Because at this point, I know they probably will.)

    I recommend the fantasy books Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo because they're packed full of action, but it doesn't always present itself in the form of combat. (But when it does, reading it might really help you out.) Chapter 2 of Six of Crows especially may interest you, because there's a lot of tension surrounding the possibility of a deathly fight, but only one thing happens, I think (one person is shot) and most of it is actually the two gangs threatening each other in clever ways that gets you worried about how it's all going to go down.
     
  9. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I take it you read fantasy? I think you'd find answers to your questions in other works of fiction. Brandon Sanderson capitalizes the magical 'powers', e.g. in Mistborn, he talked about Pushing and Pulling, which described the magical actions of the characters when they were using their metal bending magic. I think Brian McClellan did the same in Promise of Blood except it was gunpowder bending. If I were you, I'd read fantasy fight scenes for inspiration.

    With fight scenes, clear sentences, precise and strong verb choices, and a close point of view usually help make them effective, for me anyway. I'd also keep the action scene quite short. If it's a long battle, I'd throw calmer moments in between the hard action (like reflection and dialogue), to make the more dramatic moments pop. I'd also decide carefully in advance what the limits to the magic are and make sure the reader understands them as well.
     
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  10. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    There is no easy answer or quick fix for the concern.

    Realizing you indicated that you struggle reading through fight scenes...this will make the task a little more difficult. Nevertheless, pick up some novels from successful authors that have fight/combat scenes similar to what you're planning to attempt. The same POV is important, as is possibly the number of combatants and somewhat similar situations. Then read the scenes for an overall effect, the read and study what the author did--how he relayed the action, the emotions, to the reader. Word choice, dialogue, description, paragraph length, pacing...and what was not included in the fight, left to the reader's imagination to fill in.

    Then, using the techniques observed, do what you can to apply what you learned to your own writing style and project. It's going to take multiple drafts...get it all down. Those examples you read by the authors, they took more than a few drafts to get right as well.

    Good luck moving forward.
     
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  11. Stormburn

    Stormburn Senior Member

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    Ok, here goes my response. Take it with a shaker worth of salt.

    How do you find the words to describe the scene?
    The details are related to POV. In my series, I use 3rd Person, limited. In a small fight, like in a bar, I can set the stage in a few words with a single POV. In a larger fight, like a group of characters charging up a hill, I will reveal the stage as it is revealed to one or more POV's. I really focus on what the POV can see at that time I'm writing. Not only does it pinpoint what I need to describe to the reader, its a natural source of tension.

    How do I make it easy for readers to follow whats happening?
    I have a background in graphic arts. I thumbnail my action/fight scenes as if storyboarding a comic book or video. But, you will discover that different writers has their own way to 'see' the action they are trying to describe. Even through my characters actually have fighting styles (for example, my MC has a capoeira fighting style that incorporates swords)I do not get technical when describing the action. Some writers do and there is a market for that. Me, I warm up by watching MMA matches and gymnastics on YouTube, for example. Then, I try to describe my thumbnails using those visuals and sounds. I go for immediacy and impact. But, again, discover not only what works for you, but, also, for that scene.


    How can I incorporate other characters into the fight without it being confusing?
    Again, I do this with POV and staging. I draw a very rough overhead map with the starting locations of all the fighters. Then, I roughly diagram the fighting from beginning to end; noting where everyone is as the fight progresses. Then, I story board this from the POV's of certain characters. This is really a pain in the butt process, but, once I started writing the fight scenes (one scene had the MC and her party driving a large force of bandits from a mountain pass and the other they charged through a castle and took it from the bad guys)they unfolded onto the page. This is also fuel for creativity. In the mountain pass fight, I realized that my character was on a ridge where she could be seen by everyone. That inspired a very nice scene that I had not planned.

    Should I describe what magic is being used?
    I really struggled with this one. The game changer, for me, was coming to terms with the magic in my story. Once I understood my magic system, I could include it as another element in the story and not just a plot device gimmick.

    Or just focus on the effects and let the reader fill in the gaps?

    I treated magic like weapons and fighting styles. I wanted to go with imediacy and impact, so I described it in sensory terms. By describing something that is really happening (in my head) the reader should be able to figure out how things work from observation. I believe that this will give the reader a sense of discovery about the magic, weapons and fighting styles as the story unfolds.
    Here is an example of how I use effects:
    I have a D&D style entanglement spell that uses vines. The vines sprouts as thin whips. As they grow thicker, flowers blossom. Then, when they begin to grow stiff, the petals fall off. This gives the readers visual cues to what is happening so I don't have to use exposition.

    Has anyone else struggled with this? What was hard for you and how did you get over it.

    After writing my fantasy series, and then rewriting the first two books, I'm now getting to the place where my action scenes are workable. Read, read and read some more. Pick books that you normally wouldn't read, but, are know for good action writers. Listen to the advice of others. Be critical, because what works for one writer may not work for you. What works in one scene may not work for the next. Then, write, write and write. I've spent a lot of time creating action scenes for the practice of writing them.
    Godspeed!
     
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