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How to Write a Great Combat Scene – Advice for Fantasy Writers

A great combat scene is a memorable event in your reader’s life. It is a microcosm of the struggle that is contained in the book itself. And good combat scenes are often dog-eared by readers and returned to over and over again. You can give your reader a great combat experience if you follow a few simple guidelines.


A combat scene is something that may take up only a few minutes of your character’s time but will take up significantly more of your reader’s time. In a combat scene the reader’s sense of time changes and because of this he or she is very sensitive to the details and the flow of the scene. This affords you the opportunity to write something very special that your reader will remember. Here are five tips for writing great combat scenes.

1. Do Your Research - You write fantasy, which means you can write anything you want. After all, it is a genre of imagination with few boundaries. But, today’s fantasy reader is very savvy when it comes to the genre. He or she has access to books, movies, websites and all sorts of sources of information. And this means that he or she probably knows a bit about the weapons, armor, and combat techniques of different cultures and periods. He or she probably knows the difference between a Claymore and a Cutlass. And even though your writing is fantasy it still has to make sense to your reader. Research weapons, armor and combat techniques as they apply to your fantasy writing. This research will not only make your scenes more realistic it will also generate interesting and memorable ideas that you can incorporate into the scenes.
2. Take advantage of the Dilation of Time – A combat scene may take a minute or less in real time but in your writing you have the freedom to expand on this and absorb much more of your readers time. This ability to take up time will make a memorable impression on your reader. Be more descriptive in the motions, thoughts and reactions of the combatants.
3. Writing style and exposition – Above all else you have to pay close attention to the way you write combat scenes. A combat scene is a microcosm of your novel in that it describes something that often involves only a few minutes of action, yet the actual exposition can last several pages and take up quite a bit of your readers time. The most important rule of the actual writing is to avoid passive sentences. The sword was not thrust into your Protagonist’s thigh; your Antagonist thrust it! Remember this rule and always edit your scenes to eliminate all passive sentences. The very nature of a combat scene is that it is active and not passive.

4. Handle Strange Creatures Realistically - When writing a creature into a combat scene whether it be a Troll, Ogre, Goblin, Orc, or any other type of exotic fantasy creature it still must follow the rules of flesh and blood. You probably don’t have a real fantasy creature to model combat motions after but you will have a familiar creature that you can use as a template for motion. Fantasy creatures are almost always distortions of real creatures. Trolls become very large men, Goblins are wiry and quick, and Centaurs follow the template of horses. What you can do is to transfer your thinking about the creature in terms of what it is similar to. How would a horse move in this situation? How would a very large man move in this combat scene? These transferrances of physique work well and make the combat realistic.
5. Give your reader something Extra – In researching and thinking about your combat scenes you will come across some great ideas that will take the scenes to new levels. Here are three examples of what I mean.

  • A Samurai sword is sharp on only one side but was that the only side of the weapon that the Samurai Warrior used? No! The blunt side was also a very effective weapon when the warrior wanted to subdue an enemy without killing or maiming. An observation like this can add a very strong distinction in the scene and can give you an interesting angle to think about and to have your characters think about.
  • Many hand weapons of the medieval period had a spike or metal cap on the bottom end of the handle. This was a very effective means of striking an enemy when the fighting got real close and it became difficult to swing the business end of the weapon. An observation like this can have a dramatic effect on the flow of a fight scene.
  • The Flamberge was a large two-handed weapon that was swung much like a baseball bat but the bottom portion of the blade was often wrapped in leather so when the fighting got close the wielder could choke up on it and swing it in a tighter and more controlled arc. Adding a detail like this lends a note of authority to the scene.

Just because you are writing fantasy doesn’t mean you can write implausible and over the top fight scenes. Even fantasy worlds have rules of body and weapon to follow. If you know a little bit about weapons, armor and the rules of body motion you can write some truly memorable combat scenes that will give your reader an experience that will be fondly remembered and oft returned to. I have lots more articles on writing fantasy here


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