Battle Scenes in Fantasy

One of the biggest challenges in writing fantasy is the battle scene.  It presents an opporutinity for engaging drama, but how do you deal with it without turning it into a boring ‘blow by blow’ account (literally!)?

I’ve just finished reading the historical fiction novel Battle Flag by Bernard Cornwell, and I’ve learnt a lot about handling a battle scene.  Set in the American Civil War, this book is the third in Cornwell’s Starbuck Chronicles. 

Cornwell has a nice balance of factual info (eg guns, weapons and strategy) that is strongly grounded in the character’s experience.  This is the secret, I think.  Good research, sure, but a character centred perspective so that the reader really cares about what’s happening.  Cornwell might begin with a personal perspective of one of his characters, then move into the bigger picture of a large scale battle, yet he still manages to deal with this large scale on a personal level.  We see the expressions on a character’s face, or we hear the dying words of someone the hero happens to pass.  The emotional content is maintained even in the midst of action that could so easily be just a textbook rendition.

This is not to say I want a battle scene to descend into melodrama, with the hero overcome with grief.  The opposite approach could be the most appropriate.  Awful things happen in battle, and shock sets in.  The characters directly involved will be experiencing that shock, and it will show in their thought processes and actions.  They’re not going to be rational and logical all the time, but at the same time, they might not be feeling anything that can be easily identified.  If anything, they’re going to be terrified, and will be dealing with that fear in ways that may not always be consistent.  And they’re not going to walk away the same people they were before. 

As always, balance seems to be the key.  Do my research, then write it through the personal perspective of my character/s.  Think about where the story is, with whom I’m journeying, and stay true to them.  And ultimately, it’s the emotional experience of the character that’s paramount, and I might not need a lot of detail anyway.

Fantasy tends to be about ‘good vs evil’ on some level, and will inevitably involve a major fight between the two sides, even if the fight isn’t physical.  Handle it well, and it can be the pivotal point in my book, the scene that people will remember long after they’ve put it down. 

No pressure. 😉

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Excellent Resource for Writers

When I first started delving into the world of blogs, I came across Jennifer Lee‘s website for Artizen Coaching.  Jennifer talked about business planning for creative people, a concept that immediately appealed to me.  I’ve been waiting for Jennifer’s book The Right Brain Business Plan:  A Creative Visual Map for Success with much anticipation.  It’s arrived in my post box, and it’s an interesting read.

The thing that I like about The Right Brain Business Plan is the fact that it translates a left brain task like business planning into a right brain creative one for artists.  This is particularly relevant for writers, because while we are creative and therefore use our ‘right’ brains, we deal with words, which are left brain.  We necessarily straddle the brain divide, and I believe we need support tools that straddle this divide also. 

Maybe it’s because I have a day job, or maybe it’s because I’m a planner in my writing, but I love the fact that Jennifer brings business concepts to creative entrepeneurship.  It’s reminded me that there is a reason why I’m doing this, and it’s not just about having a hobby.  It’s about my life plan as well.  This is something that’s easy to forget when I’m in the middle of the humdrum of working, writing and sleeping.  Too often it’s too easy to let the writing go for a night or two, which could end up being a week or a month.  When you don’t get ongoing feedback from regular achievements, it’s too easy to forget you’re aiming for something here, even if it’s just some level of excellence in your chosen field.

I’m only up to Chapter 1, but I’m looking forward to the journey from here on in.