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How do you write battle scenes?

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by The Pro, Jun 26, 2017.

  1. The Pro

    The Pro Seventh Year

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    So I've recently been working on a story. I previously had it shelved for months, but got around to editing it at long last. I've got most of it down, like the introspective scenes, dialogue, etc. There's one thing that's been a real pain in the ass lately though. And it's battle scenes.

    For the life of me, I can't seem to write an actually engaging battle scene to save my life. Every battle scene that I write comes off as sounding forced, impossible or plain boring. I just can't seem to capture the adrenaline rush, the oomph that you'd expect a battle scene to have.

    I've read Swimdraconian's Circular Reasoning, Inert's Patriot's Dawn, Menace's... everything, but I can't get it down pat. So what's your advice DLP? How do you write battle scenes, and write them well?

    P.S. I checked beforehand if a similar thread exists, so forgive me if I overlooked one.
     
  2. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

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    I can expand on these, but essentially:

    1) In the micro sense, really make sure that every sentence is driving forward. You'll be tempted to over-explain so that the intricate mental picture you have in your head of how the battle's going is all there on the page, but nothing will kill a fight scene like over-explaining. You absolutely don't want to come across like a play-by-play guy, or an instruction manual. Give a firm, visceral sense of how a character fights, what their weapon feels like, how it moves through space and time, and once you've set that up, leave it alone.

    2) Focus on the momentum changers, the emotions, and the stakes. Violence is actually pretty boring, by itself, to read about. Why does the fight matter to the plot? Why does the fight matter to the characters in it? Focus the eye of your narration on those things. That's the macro. The micro version of this is that you should spend less time on the mechanics of the fight that are just back-and-forth combat, and more time on the moments that swing the momentum one way or the other.

    3) This needs an in-depth essay to really talk about in detail, but rhythm and pace, while important to any story, are your bread and butter in a fight scene. Even something like the length of a sentence can have an impact.

    TL;DR violence is boring, stakes are interesting. Show more of why a fight matters, and less of the mechanics of the fight itself.
     
  3. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Poorly. Very, very poorly. I think that this is actually my weakest area in terms of writing by a longshot.
     
  4. The Pro

    The Pro Seventh Year

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    You and me both.

    Thanks for the advice. I've never really taken these sorts of things into consideration, which is probably why I'm pants at fight scenes. I'll take these points into consideration going forwards.
     
  5. Agravaine

    Agravaine Slug Club Member

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    My general sense is that few battle scenes succeed in a vacuum; the build-up and aftermath (both short and long-term) define their impact. Violence should define or transform tone, theme, setting, relationships, and character, and not just casually advance a plot.

    In terms of the Potterverse specifically, it seems to me that battles should be chaotic, bloody, and existentially terrifying (with these attributes increasing exponentially with the number of participants). The effects of magic are limited only by skill, cruelty, and imagination; there are any number of ways that one could be instantly and utterly transformed or obliterated beyond recognition, without warning or hope of recourse, by an enemy that one might never see. Ambushes and covert operations are preferable; pitched combat is too risky as anything than a last resort. It almost follows in canon that wizards are so isolationist, that there are few concentrated settlements of any kind. It fits the non-lethality of Dumbledore too, as he fails to court escalation to worse methods and means.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2017
  6. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    Everything that's been mentioned so far is pretty spot on. To add to that, I think a very important tool to crafting good battle scenes is incorporating the environment into the fight itself. Is the fight set in Ron's room or the Forbidden forest? The Ministry Atrium or a graveyard? Being able to use the things in a place in combat can give it a more dynamic sense, while at the same time giving the reader an idea of where it's all taking place without having to go through three paragraphs of just infodump background.
     
  7. crimson sun06

    crimson sun06 Unspeakable

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    While writing one on one fight scenes, individual action becomes important. Here a detailed description of kicks, punches, blocks etc won't seem out of place. Points for keeping it realistic and brutal and gory though care has to be taken not to get carried away.

    Scenes of battle are more about scale and tactics. So focusing on manoeuvers of armies, counterattacks, diversions etc take precedence.

    If I'm writing fight scenes where one side has been outnumbered/outmatched/ambushed I try to focus on the desperation of the characters and the direness of the situation.

    Fights where a character(s) is fighting a bunch of mooks should be kept brief and a general description usually suffices.

    I hate fights that drag on. If you have wasted over 15k words on a single fight and its still nowhere close to be over you are doing something wrong. I remember a popular Naruto fic where a Chunin exam fight dragged on for close to 20k words with most of them serving as fillers for reactions of the spectators.
     
  8. Jon

    Jon The Demon Mayor Admin DLP Supporter

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    Less is more with fights. Few people can enthrall people with pure fighting. It just isn't engaging. Writing is an emotional medium, not a visual one. If you want to write a good fight scene then you have to get your reader invested in the outcome.
     
  9. Scarat

    Scarat Second Year

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    I can tell you that I hardly ever read battle scenes. I mainly skim through and pick up anything that furthers character development and plot. I know that many other readers also don't care for the details of a fight scene. Every good fight scene I've read has had the fight occur in the background while the focus was on dialogue and character. Don't include unnecessary fight scenes.
     
  10. The Pro

    The Pro Seventh Year

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    I could've sworn I'd checked this thread already. Silly me.

    Anyways, thanks for all the advice, everyone! I'll take it all into consideration from here on out (and hopefully improve my writing along the way).
     
  11. Lord Of The Sand Grains

    Lord Of The Sand Grains Second Year

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    What, in your opinion, makes a fight scene, a great fight scene. Is it awesome magic being used in it? Or is it, its epic grand scale? Maybe it's emotions and drama that has been building up to that point? Or maybe it's conflict between two great characters and their ideologies and philosophies?

    Also, what are some of your favorite fight scenes in fan fiction. Mine are (in no particular order) :-

    • Dumbledore vs Harry (Catharsis by Nuhuh)
    • Lord Voldemort vs Merlin (Demon feign, Merlin's pain by Nuhuh)
    • Dumbledore vs Lord Voldemort (The Denarian Knight by Shezza)
    • Old World Demon vs Dumbledore and Harry (Wastelands of Time by Joe)
    • Lord Voldemort vs Harry (The One He Fears by Taure)
    • Coecenteric Wavelengths by VotN (This whole story is one big epic fight.)
     
  12. ScottPress

    ScottPress The Horny Sovereign –§ Prestigious §–

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    The stakes.

    Character motivation.

    Writing isn't a visual medium, so don't try to be a movie. Pick a POV, follow it through their slice of the battle. If you jump around too frequently, you'll dissolve reader interest. Have the POV pursue a goal in the fight. Just pure visual stuff works on a screen, but in text, visuals come secondary to character and plot.

    Don't drag it out.

    Avoid complex sentences. In a fight, you want to deliver the beats of action and character decisions, don't get bogged down in descriptions.

    Don't try to describe things as if you're doing storyboards for a film. No matter how detailed your description, my mind's image of it will be different than yours, so set the scene and let the reader fill the rest with their imagination.

    Keep in mind that text, by its nature, is turn-based.
     
  13. Lord Of The Sand Grains

    Lord Of The Sand Grains Second Year

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    So basically, don't make it overly complex. Guide your reader's imagination but don't force it, let it flow.
     
  14. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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  15. Lord Of The Sand Grains

    Lord Of The Sand Grains Second Year

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    That was, like, two years old thread man.
     
  16. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    It's still the same thread - if you have something relevant to say then go bump it. It's not like how to write a good fight scene has changed in two years, yeah?
     
  17. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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  18. Aekiel

    Aekiel Angle of Mispeling ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    More than stakes, a battles should be about competing visions between the protagonist and antagonist. Does your protagonist fight for truth, justice and a hard boiled egg? Then make the fight a physical representation of the conflict with his foil, using the characters' motivations and judgements to push that philosophical battle as well as the one we're reading about. If you don't have a major antagonist for the scene then make it a representation of the protagonist's internal struggles.

    Basically, make the battle mean something more than just 2+ characters fighting and make sure that every victory is linked to your protagonist overcoming a personal struggle while each defeat is linked to one of their failings.

    The final fight scene in Return of the Jedi is only as climactic as it is because it's about two competing philosophies; will Luke fall to the Dark Side of the Force or will Anakin be redeemed and the Light Side win? That fight wouldn't have been nearly as interesting or emotional if it was just two people wailing at each other with laser swords (which is one of the criticisms of the prequel trilogy, I might add).
     
  19. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

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    If you're writing within the bounds of standard adventure/fantasy tropes, imprint this onto the top of your working notes file:

    "The protagonist doesn't win because they're a better fighter, they win because they never give up."
     
  20. Lord Of The Sand Grains

    Lord Of The Sand Grains Second Year

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    @Newcomb, Never give up is my ninja way?
     
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