One thing I’ve enjoyed about the internet and social networking is that it allows writers to interact with each other and spread ideas. While normally mute, and one who likes to observe as people help each other out, I have spoken up recently whenever a request for help writing combat scenes comes up, seeing as I have some combat training.
Every time I pitch in with my ten cents, the answer is always the same: Give a motion, an environment, and a conclusion.
A fight is a flurry of motion, a movement of arms and legs, projectiles and fists. A fight is a surge ahead and a falling back, an ebbing and a rising. What better way to describe a battle of brawn and might, than transform it into something that seems almost organic?
The environment sets the stage, gives tension or humor, enhances the reader’s internal viewing of events.
A conclusion wraps everything up nicely. It can be a tie, a defeat, a rout or a total victory, but let the reader know how it finishes.
Are you still nervous? Don’t be. Tolkein made some of his most epic battles last only sentences. As a writer, you don’t have to describe every blow and wound in gory glory, you just have to convey the terror, the chaos, the techniques, and give the reader a sense of the scale.
For example, let’s look at a fist fight between two burly guys in a bar. They are both heavy set, drunk, and their hits are wide, made difficult by impairment.
Short form: They swung at each other like clumsy apes. Each punch was wide and long, powerful but uncoordinated. When one blow landed, the sounds of impact echoed about the bar, shocking those who stayed to watch until one of the contestants succumbed to his wounds and slipped to the floor, unconscious.
Boom. Done. Nothing fancy, but hopefully well described. The reader can get an image of the two fighters, and a sense of the force of the impacts. Let’s break it down.
They swung at each other like clumsy apes. Each punch was wide and long, powerful but uncoordinated. (They have strength, but have trouble aiming. There’s your motion.)
When one blow landed, the sounds of impact echoed about the bar, shocking those who stayed to watch (There’s your environment)
until one of the contestants succumbed to his wounds and slipped to the floor, unconscious. (And a conclusion.)
Now, let’s take a lithe warrior, a fast striker, who hides in the shadows.
Short form: He leapt from his concealment, becoming visible only long enough to strike before fading into the shadows. His aim was true, his blow, lethal, and his victim’s life was extinguished in passing.
Again a motion, and environment, and a conclusion. Hmm, see a pattern there?
What about a fight, where we need to focus on one character who is a strong fighter, but their side still loses the battle?
How does that character move? What is going on around them? Conclusion.
She swept through the enemy ranks, her blade grew slick with the blood of her foes, but despite her best efforts, the enemy’s superior numbers overwhelmed her allies, forcing her and the remaining survivors to retreat.
Sounds pretty epic, doesn’t it?
You want dialogue? Let’s enhance the last battle.
She swept through the enemy ranks, her blade grew slick with the blood of her foes. She felt like she was winning, but the sounds of the bugles from the rear announced differently.
“Retreat!” came the massed call, which only caused the enemy to surge forward again, and it was too much, even for her, the mighty dancer, to handle.
“Fall back!” She screamed, yet even then, fought to prevent a rout. It was futile, as the ranks broke. Desperate to save her own life, she turned and ran for the safety of the hills.
So there you go, combat can be simple. Just convey the motions, the environment, and give the readers a conclusion. If you want to get more into it, than by all means, do so, but it doesn’t have to be a two-chapter long war either.