HOW TO CREATE A BATTLE SEQUENCE
For all the fantasy / thriller / sci-fi people out there, this post should be helpful — something to aid you in sorting out an intense battle sequence. If you’re anything like me, whenever I think about a large-scale fight, I tend to cringe. In fact, in The Pioneers Saga, there are several of such sequences, and there were times in my writing where I found myself skipping the fight scene so that I could get on to something that was a stronger writing point for me.
But after my escapism writing was done, I was forced to face the fight. I myself was in a war…with my work. How could I create a believable sequence while keeping the good characterization while displaying the magic? I’m shaking my head just writing this.
The first step is to think of your fight scene like a short story — a small snippet within the vastness of your novel. And truthfully it is. Out of 100,000 words, you might dedicate 15,000 to the fight. That’s 15% of your book!
Since that’s the case, there should be a progression forward — an Act 1, Act 2, & Act 3.
Think of it this way.
(Act 1) – Your main gets into the battle, only to realize that his plan of conquest won’t work.
(Act 2) – He switches to a different plan, but the villain unveils his greatest achievement — a beast monster.
(Act 3) – The main faces his own cowardice and he must overcome it to win.
With a battle like this, you can move your characters forward in this scene as you reach towards the main goal — victory.
One thing that helped me move these scenes forward was thinking about what abilities I wanted my characters to show. How had my characters grown in their powers (in other words)?
Remember that throughout the entire book, you’ve shown the mental development of the characters, now that mental development mumbo-jumbo should sit in the passenger’s seat while your character’s fighting talents take over.
Am I saying that the mental development needs to be forgotten? Of course not! In fact, there will be moments when you character, who used to be a quitter, will find the strength and the will to fight on. But if you’ve been talking about hidden abilities and undiscovered magic, the battle scene is the time to show it.
Here’s where it gets technical.
A battle sequence is done well if it is thought out step by step — like a chess game. Your heroes move one step; your villain moves another. Your villain takes a step; your hero takes another.
Since that’s true, map it out. Know your map! You should know what the battlefield looks like so that you can effectively move your characters around.
Now is your chance to write out each step or even draw out each step. Trust me, this will make your design eons better!
3rd Person Omniscient
If you are writing third person omniscient, then moving your characters can be a challenge. When do you focus on one character and when do you focus on another?
Something that works for me is that I think of my characters’ situations as if they are in their own little mini-scenes.
For instance, in the Pioneers Saga: Book 1 Extracted, there may be three characters involved in a fight: Caleb, Sarai, and Gardiv.
If they are not fighting on the same plot of ground, then I let their mini-scenes be specific to each of them. I would have Caleb fighting and slashing through enemies, and then once he was safe, I would stop. I would do the same for Sarai and Gardiv — three mini-scenes in sequence.
If the characters are fighting on the same plot of ground, then those two characters would both be joined into one mini-scene — just as if they were walking through the woods talking with each other.
One hazard that some writers fall into is that they are overwhelmed by their cast of characters, so they might say, “Caleb did this, and Sarai did that, then Gardiv did this.” If they are not in the same mini-scene, this can be very confusing.
What if you were writing a regular scene of two people walking through the woods, and then you interjected with a conversation from the throne room? It would be incoherent because that’s not what’s happening in the moment. The same is true for these mini-scenes.
1st Person or 3rd Person Limited
These two points of view come with their own challenges, because getting in the heads of other characters or seeing what’s happening across an extended battlefield is cheating.
Everything that happens must occur from the POV of the main. One mistake that writers can fall into is that they write, “I saw Yano swing his sword, and then I saw Yano grab his bow.”
There’s no need to do that. Yano has to be near to your main for your main to know what he’s doing, so just say: “Yano swung his blade, and then he grabbed his bow.”
Ahhh yes…the dialogue. There’s nothing worse than a silent fight. Your characters should be talking through a fight, and they should be saying more than, “AHHH” & “RUN!!”
Sidenote: Use “AHH” sparingly. It’s much better, in most situations, to describe the look and the pain on the character’s face than to state, “AHH.” I’m not saying that it should not be used. But use it sparingly. The same is true for caps.
Back to Dialogue. Characters should interact with each other, even on the battlefield. Let this be a time where you characters direct the battle plan or warn of some battle threat. This is not the time for unconfessed love to come out.
Anyway, I hope this helps! Take care!
Excellent post. Once you have the other stuff all figured out, then you can go on to what I call the Michael Bay effect: this is where you write in the details of the effect of certain attacks. For example, the hero gets cut with a sword. Show his pained facial expression immediately after taking the cut. But, later, bring it back up again by mentioning the blood seeping in his shirt and a persistent pain coming from that location.
I call it the Michael Bay effect because it’s much more fun when the damage is large scale. For example, if an explosion happens, then discuss how the debris/dust made it tough to see during the fight. Mention how a character got some stuff up his/her nose. It may not a direct punch by punch detail, but it still makes the fight more vivid in the readers mind.
That’s a very good point there. Thinking about the “global” effects of the battle help to ensure that the battle is more tangible for the reader. And the MB effect is a good analogy haha.
Very useful tips. I will keep them in mind when editing my WIP.
Thanks, cav12. Glad I could help.