Fight scenes and battles don’t have to be the bane of your existence
The thought of writing a battle or fight scene used to terrify me. I’m just no good at visualizing all the elements involved. My eldest son is a great strategist. He’s so good no one will play games against him anymore because he always wins. He can picture not only a battle, but an entire campaign. He’s so far ahead of everyone else we might as well not even be in the room, let alone the game.
My critique group called me on my battle avoidance. Well, really, it was just the leader, and she’s a good friend, so I had to listen. I avoided writing battle scenes like a cat avoids water. I was completely out of my depth. Jolene gave me a piece of advice that reversed my fear and empowered me.
Limit the scope of the battle
You don’t need to write everything that is happening on the field of battle. The reader doesn’t need a panoramic view. You don’t, as a writer, have to understand all the strategic ins and outs of what a real battle would entail.
Of course, some writers excel at depicting the entire scope of physical conflict whether writ large or small. Writers like David Webber (Honor Harrington) leave me in awe. They also leave my meager skills in the dust.
So how can you give readers a real feel for whatever conflict you’re describing without having to become a fight aficionado? Limit the scope to what your point of view (POV) character can see. Only write what they directly experience.
Here’s the current draft of a battle scene from my work in progress (WIP). It’s written from a healer’s POV. He catches glimpses of the fight from behind cover. He also views it from a healer’s perspective, rather than a soldier’s. Bereshon is joined by 16 year old Kara, a student in the compound where he teaches.
Bereshon stepped back into the Council chamber to chaos. A full-fledged battle was underway, with dozens of Red Illuminata locked in combat. Kara, who had come through after Bereshon, shoved Anya back through the Portal as soon as she appeared, before joining the fray.
Bereshon, no use in a fight, ducked behind a podium to his left, yelling at Kara to retreat through the Portal. Instead, she joined him, leaving insufficient cover for either of them.
“It isn’t safe here,” Bereshon said, simultaneously surveying the room and damping down the adrenaline surging through his system.
“That’s why I’m here,” Kara answered. She leaned out from behind the podium to fire a Repulsion. “Who else is going to protect you?”
Despite her brave words, Bereshon could see she was frightened. He reached out a hand, not quite touching her. “I have just Calmed my own nerves. I can do the same for you.”
At Kara’s quick nod, Bereshon touched her forehead and triggered just enough parasympathetic response to ease the worst of the fear, while still leaving her alert and ready to act. He turned his attention back to the battle.
Several Elders lay on the floor, unmoving. Bereshon tapped Kara’s shoulder to get her attention. “I have to reach the injured.”
“Are you crazy?” she answered. “Do you see what’s happening out there?”
Bereshon did see. Bodies flew through the air, some by choice, some flung against walls and dashed into furniture and each other. One pair of Reds was strangling each other. Before he could stop her, Kara stood up from behind the podium and felled both of them with simultaneous Repulsions. He dragged her back down beside him.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
“They were killing each other.”
Bereshon sighed inwardly at her innocence. “Kara, people die in battle. Don’t put yourself at risk.”
Kara snorted at him. “You mean like you? How are you going to get to people lying in the middle of the action?”
Bereshon once again returned his attention to the destruction occurring all around him. Kara was right. He would have to wait. He watched as Guarnot Levitated above the confusion.
“Why’s he doing that?” Kara asked. “He’s making himself a target.”
Guarnot moved his hands rapidly, as though conducting an orchestra. Two attackers rose from the floor, their bodies flying through the air at speed toward one another. Their progress slowed as they made motions of their own. A look of disgust crossed Guarnot’s features. He made a twisting motion and then a downward thrust. Both men flipped upside down before crashing to the floor head first. Neither rose again.
A Repulsion narrowly missed Guarnot’s own head as he curled into a roll, mid-air. He plummeted downward, his feet lashing out at the last second. His victim’s head snapped around so hard, Bereshon was certain his neck must have broken. Guarnot, however, didn’t wait to see the result of his attack, instead soaring back into the air.
“Holy bliks!” Kara said. “Did you see that? Will I be able to do that?”
Before he could answer, a scream of pain drew Bereshon’s attention. He turned to see Rehal clutching a gaping wound on his left shoulder. A quick glance showed Migne, holding a blaster, and then the blaster flew from his hand, across the room. Bereshon returned his attention to the Eldest. He had to reach him.
Kara nodded. “Go.” She inched out around the podium and started to fire a rapid series of Repulsions.
Keeping low to the ground, Bereshon scuttled behind the Council chairs. He had almost made it half way when the chair in front of him launched into the air, smashing into Lycan, who also seemed to be trying to reach Rehal. Bereshon froze as the Green leader collapsed, and then pulled himself back into a crouch. Their eyes met and Lycan gave him a quick nod.
Bereshon, heart pounding, started to move again. He could see a sheen of sweat on Rehal’s forehead, and when he reached him, felt the thready pulse at his wrist. He was going into shock.
“Take care of Zebel,” Rehal whispered, trying to pull his arm out of Bereshon’s grasp. “He looks worse off than me.”
Bereshon glanced across the room. Zebel lay, half propped against a chair, blood pouring from a head wound. He didn’t appear to be conscious. “He’s also far enough away that I might not make it to him. Be still.” He simultaneously used a deep Calming to place Rehal into a light sleep and Delved. The wound was deep into the shoulder with both muscle and tendon damage. Bereshon drew on a combination of his own strength and Rehal’s to regenerate the macerated tissue, ignoring the stench of burned flesh. Slowly the muscle regrew, the blood vessels and nerves repaired themselves, answering Bereshon’s coaxing, his will. He knit the skin back together before making a last check of the Eldest’s vital signs. Reassured, he withdrew and looked up.
The fight was nearly over, most of the attackers already overcome. A number of Elders lay unconscious on the floor, but Migne had made his way to the far door.
Before he could exit the room, Moeshel launched himself at the Violet, knocking him to the ground. They struggled briefly, but then Moeshel stiffened and then went slack, his eyes staring blindly at the ceiling. Migne shoved the Blue off and pulled himself up, glancing briefly back at the fighting soldiers before stepping out the door.
After that the last few attacking Reds were quickly overcome, but they had done their job. Migne had escaped, and Moeshel’s mind seemed to have been burned away. Bereshon had ministered to the other Elders and was Delving him again, when Anya returned to the Council chamber, now secured and Warded against further attack.
The reader experiences what the POV character does
By limiting the action to what Bereshon directly experiences, I have managed to convey the action of the fight scene without having to describe it in detail. Because he is a healer and not a soldier, we also only have his understanding of what he sees.
Decide on the essential components you want to convey. Here I wanted to display the way a Red Illuminata fights and to see Bereshon’s healing in action. I also needed to show Migne’s escape and his use of powers alien to the Illuminata (the mind-wipe).
Drop your reader in the middle of the action
Anyone in the midst of a real battle only sees a small portion of what is happening. If you want your reader to feel as though they are there with your POV character, they can only see what that character sees.
If you’re great at strategy and constructing elaborate battle scenes, go for it. From my perspective this actually pulls me out of the story and I often skip those parts of a novel. Lots of readers love this; I’m not one of them.
For those of us with little battle acumen, limiting the field of view is a perfect solution to writing fight scenes. For my money, it also keeps the battle narrative short enough to keep me reading and interested.
Don’t avoid writing fight scenes. Pick a vantage point and set your imagination to work. You’ll be surprised at how easily your battles will become to write.