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Writing Advice: How to Write a big Battle Scene for you Fantasy Novel

If you are writing an epic fantasy novel you are no doubt thinking in big broad strokes. This is of course the point of fantasy that is epic. And one of the key components of this kind of novel is the big battle where forces of good and evil typically meet, often at the climax of the story. This article will give you tips on how to write these scenes well and will give you some pointers on the pitfalls to avoid.

The real task when writing a large scale battle scene is to take a lot of visual information and clearly describe it in writing. This can be a challenge but here are some ways that will help you do it in a way that it is understandable and enjoyable by your reader.



Draw Yourself a Map

This is the most important thing you can do. You have to sketch out a map for your own use. It is very important for you to be able to clearly visualize the battlefield, the location of combatants, and the various landmarks. Ask yourself some questions when drawing out the map. Where are the hills, mountains, streams and rivers? Are there any unusual terrain features that you should note? Are there unusual terrain features that are specific to the fantasy world you have created? Are there any bridges over waterways? Are there buildings, castles, or other structures? You should draw these structures right on the map. And if a castle or a keep is a central figure in the battle you should draw it with as much detail as possible. These things are all important because they are military positions, the terrain, structures, bridges and other things all have a bearing on how combat is fought.

Dealing with the fluidity of the Battlefield

A very large battle is not a static thing or a single event entity. There are many things going on over the course of time which could be hours, days, or even weeks. This fluidity and all the changing variables can cause information overload or confusion in your reader. What you can do to help yourself to better describe what is happening over a period of time is to make yourself a small table top simulation of the battlefield. You can draw the terrain on it and then add objects that represent buildings, landmarks, and troops. This is exactly what all generals do and it is something you can do to keep things straight and accurate.

Changing Point of View

Your novel may be written in first person or third person omnipresent and you may want to stick with whatever scheme you are using but in a big battle it is often a good idea to switch between these two views. This switching can add suspense and paint a rich picture for your readers. The first person view can jump from person to person or across enemy lines between "bad" and "good" guys. This will lend emotional impact to the battle.

Using a third person view of the battle will lend a sense of grandeur to the battle and make it more epic. You can do this simply as third person omnipresent or you can even do it from the first person perspective of a bird or dragon flying overhead. The third person view can also be a great tool for building suspense in the battle. The reader will feel anxious and worried if from the bird's eye view he knows there is a secret attack coming from behind that he can see but the warriors on the battlefield cannot see.

Handling the Logistics and Mechanics of Battle

One of the most important things you have to consider when it comes to a large battle is the logistics of everything. Every general in the real world worries about the logistics of getting things to where they need to be. Troops have to be moved and this takes time. And those troops need food, water, and all kinds of other things like weapons, clothing, first aid -and the list goes on and on. They also need large places to camp and to sleep. Remember these things and plan accordingly. Shortages of materials can also make for very intense plot points. Real wars and battles have been won or lost based strictly on availability of supplies. Make use of this.

Magic, Elves, Dwarves, and other unusual things in your Novel and in your Battle

You are writing a fantasy novel so chances are good that you have all sorts of fantasy things in it. Things like magic, elves, dwarves, dragons, and whatever else your imagination stirs up. And all of these things may be a critical part of your battle scene but you have to be careful. Even though it is a fantasy world you have created, it still has to follow rules that make sense. What good is it if a wizard can cast a spell that kills all the enemies? Or if you have creatures that are so well armored they are practically invincible? Everything should have limitations and everything should have consequences. If the wizard casts that terrible spell would he also die? That would be an interesting twist. And what if the invincibly armored creatures moved at a snail's pace and are very susceptible to fire. See what I mean? Set limitations and rules that add to the story and the drama.

And your various creatures may have specific logistical needs. Elves may need to sleep twenty hours a day or dwarves may be useless in daylight and Dragons may need very special food that is hard to come by.

In summary, a fantasy battle on a large scale is a complex organism that moves in a lot of different ways and you, as the author, need to keep all the information straight in your mind so you can convey it clearly to your reader. And you have to do it in a way that makes sense.

I have lots more articles on writing fantasy here


Sword Fighting for Writers, Game Designers, and Martial Artists

From the Foreword by Neal Stephenson: "Whether you are a writer or game-maker seeking the kind of information I sought while writing The Baroque Cycle, or just a general reader with an interest in the arts to which Guy Windsor has dedicated his career, you should find much that is rewarding in these pages." This book is a collection of essays and articles, about half of which have been adapted from Guy's successful blog, at guywindsor.com, the rest have never been published before. It is in eight sections:

  • "What is Historical Swordsmanship?" covers some aspects of researching and recreating the Art.
  • "Martial Essentials" covers some of the less-well-understood aspects of what martial arts are and how they work.
  • "Lessons from the Art" covers some of the wider real-world benefits of training, especially dealing with questions of mistakes, risk, and fear.
  • "Swords" describes the main classifications of the weapons we use, and includes discussion of appropriate training tools.
  • "Fighting" includes historical examples of duels, and ? discussions about the nature of real violence.
  • "Writing Swordfights" is about how swords and swordfights should be represented in fiction, with examples of fights done both well and badly.
  • "Gaming" is a discussion of the ways in which swordsmanship can be adapted for game design purpose.
  • "Training" includes key insights into how we train swordsmanship.

On Writing - Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches , not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie . King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery , the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers , and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo , that I barely remember writing."


Alchemy with Words: The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy vol 1 (The Complete Guide Series)