Fantasy, especially epic fantasy or sword and sorcery, very often includes battles. And a few things this week have come together to get me thinking about what makes a written battle work–or not.
It’s a good thing to start thinking about. Towards the end of BEYOND THE PROPHECY, I’m going to be writing the first really big battle of this series. Not that there isn’t action of other sorts, and even other fights, earlier in the story. But this will be the first of two large groups colliding. (Much more of that in the fourth and final book of the series.)
First, I recently finished a book that included a multi-chapter battle. I mean multi-chapter, as in twelve chapters. Twelve. With almost every move of four separate POV characters detailed. All right, they were short chapters, mostly. But still. I was so ready for that battle to be over and to move on with the story. Only, the story didn’t go much farther. Didn’t really have what I’d call a real denouement. Just set up for the sequel–which I won’t be rushing out to buy. (No, I’m not going to name the book. Just because it failed for me doesn’t mean someone else might not enjoy it.)
All right. For me, at least, that’s probably not the way to write a battle scene.
Now, immediately the thought occurred to me that Tolkien had also written a long battle scene in RETURN OF THE KING and that one didn’t bother me. So, I got out my copy to take a look at that. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields starts towards the end of Chapter IV (The Siege of Gondor). But then it’s broken up by the Ride of the Rohirrim in Chapter V, which only returns to the actual battle at the end of that chapter. Then Chapter VI all and only about the battle–and it’s a fairly long chapter, because a lot happens in that battle. But Tolkien doesn’t attempt to tell us every sword stroke or skirmish. He evokes the chaos of the battle and then only really shows us the highlights.
I like that approach much better.
Now, while I’ve had a fight scene of some kind in most of my books, I think I’ve only tackled a pitched battle twice.
Once was in FIRE AND EARTH. That was two chapters. Three, if you count the chapter where the heroes worked out their strategy. And then one from the point of view of each of the two main characters.
The other is in “Becoming Lioness”, which is actually a compressed version of one of the battles that will be in the fourth book of the DUAL MAGICS series. That one is mostly told from the reactions of the main character in that story.
Meanwhile, as I continue writing my way toward those battles, I’m reading Rayne Hall’s, WRITING FIGHT SCENES–and getting some good ideas.