Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scenes I hate writing: Battle Scenes

Battle scenes. I can't write 'em. Particularly not big ones. There's way too much choreography going on in those. I cheat when I need to, by bringing it back to one single, skittish POV. And that guy will probably get knocked face down in a heartbeat, because the concussion that makes him vague and confused makes my job easier.

See this guy on the ground? Sure, he might look dead, but in actual fact he's my POV guy. All he can see is mud and smoke, so that's all you'll get to see as well.

Waterloo. My guy is wishing he took the day off.

I like to think I'm bringing a personal touch to a battle scene -- a sense of immediacy -- but really it's because I get confused if there are too many pieces on the board. Also, I hate the idea of historians scoffing at me. Well, really, I imagine them sneering over their port and cigars, even a child could tell you the wind was blowing from the northeast so the Prussian banners can't possibly have been streaming out behind them, what!

It's true what they say. War is hell.

Are there any battle scenes you've read that were brilliant? What about god-awful?

Are there any scenes you hate writing?

(And in a few days we're talking about the biggie - sex scenes!)


  1. I think you're right to home in on one person and keep the background vague, because that's exactly how it would feel in the heat of battle. Any intense conflict is hard to write for that reason, it's sensory overdrive.
    Sex is the hardest for me (I don't really write about battles). I'm always afraid of seeming voyeuristic.

  2. Wind blowing from the northeast! LOL. Pedantics.

    Can't say there's any one kind of scene I struggle with. But having said that, my work still needs an unbiased audience.

    A fellow Aussie here from Werribee, Victoria. Great to cross paths on the campaign trail.

  3. I'm right there with you. I hate writing action scenes in general, and action scenes with multiple POVs specifically. But I do love them more than anything when they turn out well.

  4. I'm with you all the way on this one Jen! I think your face down in the mud pov guy is great!

    As for battle scenes I've really liked, I don't know how all out warish they were but Dianna Gabaldon's books are so awesome! She does a great job keeping all her eggs in one basket and making it work.

    Can't wait for the sex post:)

  5. I have a post lined up to talk about this too!!

    I had TWO battle scenes in my last novel. TWO. And the prequel I'm writing now is ALL about war. And I HATE writing battle scenes. Like you said they are very complicated, and can get boring really quickly unless the focus is on the main character and their experience.

    I really ought to start writing nature stories about lost dogs or something.

  6. My book involves numerous fight scenes and about three BIG battles. I tend to offer an overview and then zoom into the particulars with my main character.

    When I'm writing them, I also play epic music to keep the pace going.

  7. Hi Sandra! I really admire those sweeping battlefield scenes, I just can't write them myself. And totally agree about sex scenes...stay tuned for that!

    @ Pauline, nice to meet you! Is it cold down there? Last night I had to put on a jumper, and that's about it for winter in NQ.

    @ Agreed, Cacy! Maybe I need to study some really well-written ones and learn the tricks.

  8. That's how I imagine historians as well. :)

    Writing epic fantasy I know there will be lots of battle and war coming up at some point. (I have vague plans for a future book in the cycle I'm working that revolves completely around a huge world war.) And I HATE writing it too. But I also HATE reading it. I think I'll try the Frank Herbert approach. In Dune he never really dramatized the battle scenes but referred to them in the before and after scenes. It sounds like it shouldn't work but totally did for him. I'll have to study the books again to see if I can figure out how and why.

  9. @ Deana, I will have to check out Dianna Gabaldon, thanks for the tip! The only problem with my face-down in the mud guy is that he really doesn't see a lot down there, and there are only so many ways you can describe mud!

  10. LG, I love stories about war, but hate writing actual battle scenes. it's like a sickness. While you're writing your story about nature and lost dogs, I'll work on something about a kitten who wears a pretty ribbon.

    @ Miss Cole, what a great idea about the music! Next time, I'm trying that!

    @ Sarah, I will have to check out Dune again. It's very difficult, I think, to get across the scope of truly massive battles without it either becoming boring, or reading as drily as most history texts. I suppose the trick is to get the reader invested in a few people involved, and tell their individual experiences.

  11. I think the idea of sticking to a close single POV is a good idea. There are a couple of major fantasy writers who also served extensively in the military who suggest this approach. One said that's how he experienced it.

  12. After reading The Defence of Duffer's Drift (required reading in most military academies) I started to feel a lot better about writing military battles. Because it doesn't always have to be this huge fight with explosions and showers of bullets/arrows. Most battles are small, insane and over before you notice things like a banner flapping in the breeze.

    Also most historians I know prefer scotch not port.

  13. I thought Suzanne Collins did a good job with her battle scenes - sneaky lady she broke them down into small groups hehehehe.

    I'm OK with writing most anything - my issue is I ramble down paths I have no biz on. I'll be walking the main storyline path and moving and a gooc lip and then **ooooooo shiney*** I'm off on a side path and get lost.

  14. Margo, I couldn't write a battle scene any other way except through a close single POV, I'm sure!

    @ Steph, I might have to check that out. I need to remember that not everything happens on a huge scale, but I've been watching a lot of WWI stuff lately, and can't imagine fitting fifty thousand guys on a battlefield, let alone losing that many in one day.

    @ Shelley, I'm a total ramble too! It takes me such interesting places, but it means I never end up in the place where I'm supposed to.

  15. I take it this isn’t the dystopian talking.

    Huge battles are indeed rough – I think the last one I attempted was in seventh grade, when I had everyone gear up and get in their tanks and then - since I had just one more page to meet the required five page story - had the guy all worn out at the end, summing up the whole battle in a paragraph.

    I doubt that would help, but I bet Tolstoy wished he could’ve done the same.

  16. MC, I think we all would have liked it if Tolstoy could have wrapped the whole thing up in five pages!

    So you still have that story? I'd love to see it!

  17. I like writing fighting scenes lol. Maybe b/c I used to write a lot of fanfiction though and the characters were ninjas who got into a lot of fights =P

    Fellow campaigner here! And new follower :D

  18. A long time ago (but in this very galaxy - sorry), a friend and I were co-writing a story which climaxed with a big showdown battle. It was a fight between two groups of three people each, not a clash of armies, but still, it was intimidating. Neither of us had ever done such a sequence.

    I didn't really know how to go about it, so I just started to imagine that I was watching the various pieces of the fight on tv, and then I described what I "saw."

    I know that sounds simplistic, but it's exactly how I did it, and amazingly, it got easier as I went along. And to my utter shock, we got a lot of positive feedback about the battle sequence; readers remarked at how realistic it was and that they could picture the whole thing happening.

    Might be something to try. :)

  19. Totally failed to answer the question of what scenes I hate writing! Although my answer may sound like a cheat.

    I don't hate writing any kind of scene, because I've decided that if I hate writing it, I should not have it in my story. Think about it: how likely is it that you will slog through a scene, hating the very act of writing it, and not have your own lack of enthusiasm show up in the writing?

    So when I find myself dreading writing a particular scene, I interrogate myself as to why I'm dreading it. Sometimes it's just that I'm tired or frazzled and I would hate writing my favoritest type of scene in the whole wide world in that moment. Then I make myself write anyway, because you can't let things like that rule your writing life, and then I rewrite it later when I'm less tired or frazzled.

    But if the reason I am dreading it is that I'm just not confident about writing it, I research until I feel sufficiently knowledgeable about it. If I'm simply not enthused about the scene, well - out it goes! There's no room in my story for something I don't love.

  20. Maybe if face down in the mud guy was also having sex, or thinking about it, that might make it easier? :)

  21. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  22. Hi Lori! Ninjas gotta fight! Maybe I need to watch more fight scenes on TV...

    Hi Leanne! That's good advice, and I will certainly try it next time. I think my problem is I've always wanted to write a really "big" battle, without letting go of close POV. So it's mud and smoke for me, I guess!

    @ Maggie, LOL! Yeah, we just can't see the girl underneath - it's a trick of perspective in the painting! He's not injured or dead at all, he's having the time of his life!

    Hi Lola! Thanks for stopping by!

  23. Not yet had a big battle scene to write (not unless you count a space battle to save a planet from destruction) but I definitely go with the personal POV idea. You may lose sight of the big picture, but it brings the reader up close and personal. Much more interesting.

    Scenes I have trouble with: anything where there's more than about three characters directly involved. I have trouble keeping myself and the reader clear on who's speaking without the whole thing degenerating into character name soup.

  24. George R.R. Martin does a good job of this

  25. @ Botanist, I just struggle with the logistics off too many characters on the page, and battle scenes are the worst for that. Definitely need more practice!

    @ Michael, confession time! I have A Game of Thrones on my TBR pile beside the bed, but I haven't started it yet.

  26. I appear to be the opposite, as all my readers tell me my battle scenes are some of the best they have ever read, and battles are clearly my strongest point when it comes to writing. Too bad I can't get the rest of my writing up to that same standard.

  27. Hi Ted! I think I don't have a very wide lens when it comes to writing. I naturally stick with a very close POV to a single character, which makes things on a larger scope difficult to work in. I would love to be able to write great battle scenes, and I'll keep practicing!



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