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Research: Battle Scenes

Most of you know now about my YA fantasy novel, tentatively titled From Under the Mountain. I’ve shamefully not written a word of it since the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, but that’s because I’m coming up to the big climactic battle scene and frankly, I’m a little nervous to write it.

Nothing is more of a let-down than a terrible fantasy battle, in my opinion; especially in an epic or high fantasy, which I think mine qualifies as based on setting and subject. So while I know that editing is a thing and the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, the pressure is still on.

I’ve been (very slowly) doing some research by reading De Re Militari, a 5th century Roman text on training and strategy referenced by pretty much every book or website on military tactics (hooray, primary sources!). But making the battle realistic isn’t the only point. It also needs to be interesting to the reader.

So I am here to appeal to you all. If you could, answer these couple of questions for me, share it with your friends, ask them to answer, all of that fun stuff!

1. What are some of your favorite battle scenes, from movies, books, TV etc?

2. When you read/watch a battle, are you more concerned with the fight itself (the play-by-play) or the character’s perspective?

3. How long is your ideal battle scene? I.e. how many chapters? (I write third person limited, so I do plan on switching back and forth between characters all over the battle in short to medium chapters.)

I can’t come up with anything else at the moment, so just start there and if you have anything else to comment on, by all means feel free! And thanks in advance.

4 thoughts on “Research: Battle Scenes

  1. Pelennor Fields is an obvious one because it includes a little bit of everything. Avoid head-on charged, though, because while they look good, they’re unrealistic.

    Including some close up, blow-by-blow is good, but to much gets boring.

    (duel scenes are great, though.)
    depending on what era your fantasy story is set in, consider reading Egerton Castle. Also, if you have any questions on specific weapons, tactics, etc, I may be able to help.

  2. Thank you for blogging about this, now I know I’m not alone in struggling with battle scenes!

    Here are a couple of scenes that have inspired me, I hope they help:

    The Brawl: The corridor fight scene in Old Boy – It’s gritty, it’s realistic, no one walks away clean

    The Duel: Final battle between Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill vol. 1 – exciting, atmospheric, beautiful (I confess I love all thing related to Kendo and Katana)

    The Battle: Battle of Helm’s Deep, LOTR The Two Towers – Big and Epic, the two things you want in giant battle.

    These are just a couple that stand out for me, and always get me itching to write a tricky fight scene.

    A good book for fights and battles, magical and non-magical, is “Magician” by Raymond E. Feist. It a good variety of one-on-one fights, but also some large battles and sieges, all of which work quite well from a style point of view.

    What really captures me when I’m reading/watching a fight is not the individual blows, but the character during the fight. I’m think a fight is an excellent way of showing a character’s personality or making them realise something.
    For example in Old Boy, what grips me is not the choreography, but the fact that Oh Dae-Su just keeps getting up, keeps fighting, despite the fact he’s been beaten down so often.
    The same in Lord of the Rings, where the most powerful part for me was Aragorn’s struggle to maintain moral inside the castle, rather than the fight with the ravening army of orcs outside.

    I hope this is of some use to you, good luck with the writing!

    1. Forgot to mention, a good contrast to, for example, the way Tolkien writes battles is David Eddings. From what I remember (and it’s been a few years, so I’m not sure), his battles are very technical and impersonal, which is neat.

  3. I think have an overall idea of how the battle is going to go, but then write it from the POV of each character. They might see some troops head off to support another part of the line, but think it is a retreat or act of cowardice. Like all things, it is the personal detail that makes any piece of writing, as well as the imperfections. Someone may be a great fighter, but they need a bit of luck too, and nobody gets it right all the time. Sometimes slipping over and avoiding being hit is better than some great defensive move.

    A little different to what you’re looking for, but the end scene from Butcher’s Moon by Richard Stark shows how to write about a group of armed men attacking a house full or more armed men, writing simultaneously from multiple angles, really well.

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