Writing About Warfare

Trying to describe a battle can be an interesting challenge for any writer, even those who might have actually had such an experience.

I’ve read battles written by people who know sword fighting terms that can get a little too technical so that it actually breaks the flow of the narrative, which would suggest that a certain ignorance can be turned to advantage. Still, it’s worth having a little sparring experience of some kind to get an idea of the sort of movements that a sword fighting character might make.

Technicalities aren’t the only issue though. There is a lot going on in a battle. You may be focusing on a particular character, but the battle is still raging around him (or her!) and a taste of authenticy would come from something else infringing on your character’s ‘dance space’ (for those who have seen Dirty Dancing).

Now, try holding an omniscient view of a battle involving several groups or sub-groups at once and three or four significant characters. Novel writing is very linear and will move from one piece of action to another, but to hold the pace of a large battle requires moving the perspective frequently. It wouldn’t work to show one character’s point of view per chapter.

I’ve been writing a fast paced battle near the end of Demoniac Dance, sequel to Dance of the Goblins. One of the things I’ve found that works is to occasionally leave a blank line and pick up a different character’s point of view as the battle continues. It isn’t a true division as would happen if I put asterisks to change to a different scene, but is just enough of a break to allow the reader to shift that POV. Add to this just enough description of technicalities to keep the reader’s imagination engaged and some unexpected turns in the action, and you end up with an exciting battle from someone who has only picked up pieces of information from stage fighting classes, ‘friends’, who have seen real battle and a year’s worth of Tai Chi lessons.

Of course there are the battles in books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen to draw on as well, but not everything that is used works as well as I might like. Ultimately a writer needs to depict the battle in the way that suits the story best, but don’t forget that a battle field isn’t a series of one-on-one fights. Stuff happens, it’s up to you to make your characters respond in a way that will preserve their survival.

2 thoughts on “Writing About Warfare

  1. Very good advice! I have a few battle scenes I’m going to have to get into for my fantasy novel. I have the biggest problem trying to avoid narrating the movie that my book is playing in my head. haha I got one battle finished, but its very quick. I hope I’ve employed some good tricks for it. :)

    • I’ve had quick battles in the past, but this latest one managed to cover 2 chapters. :D

      I think that changing POV through a few main characters really helped in adding details that allow the reader to follow something that feels like real time. My proof-reader is loving it.

      One more crisis and Demoniac Dance will be finished.

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