Thursday, December 4, 2014
How to write a bloody, brilliant battle scene
Australian Bookseller + Publisher says I write the best battle scenes since the late, great David Gemmell.
So how do you go about writing a bloody, brilliant battle scene?
Here's my top tips for getting the readers right into the guts of the fight. Literally.
After all, these days you can't get away with the old JRR Tolkein trick, of having the main character cop a blow to the head and then skip all the action!
First of all, you have to set the scene. And I'm not talking so much about the scenery of the battle, although that is important as well.
I like to take readers through the minds of each main character before a climactic battle, reminding everyone of just what is at stake.
Here you also need to bring in what the amazing director of Buffy, Firefly and The Avengers, Joss Whedon, calls "internal action".
External action is the battle that's about to start. Internal action is what is going on between the characters and how their relationships will be affected by the battle.
Perhaps two friends have fallen out and now find themselves on opposing sides. Perhaps someone hopes to not just win the day but win back their love at the end of the battle. it all adds extra interest to the simple descriptions.
Next, you do need to think about the scenery.
Terrain plays a huge role in battles - just pick up a history textbook if you don't believe me!
Both sides will need to use the terrain sensibly, if readers are to be hanging on every word, rather than chortling with ridicule.
It's a good idea to sketch out what will happen, as well as the key turning points, as well as where the main characters will be at each time.
Incidentally, I find it works really well to present the battle from different viewpoints, ideally something from both (or all) sides involved in the fighting. Twists and turns in the battle can be presented as you switch between the viewpoints. This also allows you to get right into the guts of the battle (literally) as well as present more of an overview.
Obviously someone caught in the middle is going to have a very different experience from one of the leaders watching from a safe distance.
It's also worth knowing a little history to see how things might work out. For instance, crossbows outrange longbows but the longbow was a far more potent weapon. How is each side armed and armoured? How will that affect their tactics and fighting style?
On that earlier point, don't forget that arrows run out. Nobody would have an unlimited supply.
I believe that, with fantasy, it needs some reality to make it more believable. As history shows us, we've been fighting wars with a variety of weapons for thousands of years. Introducing a little of that adds something.
To add some extra realism, remember that men get tired while fighting, especially in armour, and that armies almost never fought to the last man. Most sensible people, once they see that the day is lost, will try to get the hell out of there, rather than fighting to the last soldier.
Finally, work on all the senses of the reader. What they see, what they hear, what they smell. it all adds to the realism and brings the enormity of the battle home to the reader.
You want them to be fully invested in what they are reading. Grab them and don't let go.