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Taramoc
August 27th, 2006, 11:24 PM
Hi all.

I'm writing a fantasy novel and I'm not sure which direction I want to go when it comes to writing combat scenes.

I have written the same scene in two different styles. The first one is more verbose and cerebral in a way, in which every move is explained and analized. I'm afraid that it may result being a bit boring.

The second one is much shorter and visual, but I feel it's missing something in terms of depth.

Which one you prefer? Any advice you can give me? Only things you need to know is that Nidal is a Sarathian and he is attacked by two members of the Coral, a secret agency, disguised as beggars.

In general I'm interested on the way other writers approach combat scenes, so please share anything you want on this topic.

Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Style 1 - Long

When he was a few steps away from one of the beggars, he realized that he was still holding the cup. He dropped the few coins inside into the extended hand of the beggar and threw it on the ground. As the beggar thanked him with a grunt, he sensed something moving behind his back and instinctively raised the branch he was using as a cane, saving his life.
The other beggar had sprung up, unsheathed a hidden sword and attacked him with a fluid motion. His blade hit the branch but instead of shattering it, was met with unexpected strength.
The first beggar dropped the coins that clattered down the staircase and a long dagger appeared on his hand, aimed straight for Nidalís heart. The Sarathian managed to extract a hidden blade from his wrist and deflected the dagger just in time. The blade scratched him just above the waist and he grimaced with pain.
My disguise wasnít that original, he surprised himself thinking while he twisted around tapping the first beggar on the head with the club and trying to slash the second one with the short dagger now firmly in his hand. He missed him, but he managed to climb a couple of steps and was now looking at the two aggressors from above. The turning motion had sent flying what seemed a big piece of the branch, but it was just a carefully crafted scabbard. Inside the branch was hidden a long and sharp blade, and now Nidal was holding it in the typical Sarathian manner, wrist slightly cocked downward so that the sword was at a 45 degree angle.
The two Coral retreated a few steps down the stairs to regroup, clearly disappointed that the surprise attack had produced just a scratch. The entrance of the temple was still too far to make a run for it, and Nidal knew that he had to kill the two men if he wanted to survive.
The aggressor that had wounded him took out another dagger identical to the one he was already holding and started circling around to his right, grazing the two blades on each other, in a sharpening motion. The second aggressor pressed one of the ornaments on the hilt of his sword and the two smaller blades of a sword breaker came out from the crossguard. He then bended his knees a bit, ready for a charge.
Nidal could see that under their mantles, now on the ground, they were in full leather armour. He was well aware that alone against two members of the Coral he didnít have much of a chance, but he had an advantage, the superior position, and he had to use it.
He moved parallel to the circling aggressor to maintain his higher ground, and extended his sword towards him, counting on the fact that it was longer then his two daggers and he couldnít attack him while moving away. As soon as the second aggressor realized that Nidal wasnít letting his partner move above him, he charged. Nidal was waiting for that and with a quick motion threw his dagger at him. His life depended by the accuracy of that throw, he needed to hit him on the juncture of his leather armour between the knee and the thigh of the leg he had raised first to start his charge. The armour was designed to protect the juncture from anything thrown by an enemy at the same level, but left open a slit visible by someone higher.
His throw was perfect. The dagger blade disappeared inside the aggressorís leg, making him fall instantly.
The other Coral didnít wait for Nidal to turn towards him, moved his sword to the side with one dagger, and slashed him with the other, opening a gash on his chest just under his right arm. Nidalís leather armour softened the blow enough to make the wound not fatal. He had traded the mobility of one of his aggressor for a minor wound, not bad so far.
Now he could devote his full attention to the enemy left standing. He thrust his blade towards him, who easily parried the attack, opening Nidalís guard again for another slash, but Nidal was ready this time. As soon as his sword was hit, he threw himself forward head butting his aggressor in the solar plexus before he could complete the slashing motion with his second knife. The Coral lost his balance and fell down the stairs, ending up on his back at the base of it.
Nidal decided that he had enough time to kill the wounded aggressor before the other one would run up the stairs again. The second Coral had tried to stand up, but the knife had cut almost all the tendons that connected his knee to the upper part of his leg and he had fallen immediately on his other knee again. With no hope he tried a desperate move. He dropped his sword, extracted the knife from his leg and, somehow overcoming the pain, threw it back at Nidal. The knife cut through his left shoulder armour and planted itself in the top part of his arm.
Nidal yelled in pain furious more at himself for not having anticipated the move then at his enemy. He quickly covered the distance and killed the man with two quick slices at the base of his neck. The other man was running up the stairs to get to him, but Nidal knew that with a useless arm it would have no chance so headed for the temple doors, managing to open them and enter just before his aggressor reached him.

Style 2 - Short

When he was a few steps away from one of the beggars, he realized that he was still holding the cup. He dropped the few coins inside into the extended hand of the beggar and threw it on the ground. As the beggar thanked him with a grunt, he sensed something moving behind his back and instinctively raised the branch he was using as a cane, saving his life.
The other beggar had sprung up, unsheathed a hidden sword and attacked him with a fluid motion. His blade hit the branch but instead of shattering it, was met with unexpected strength. The first beggar dropped the coins and attacked him with a concealed dagger.
Nidal deflected the dagger with his own hidden blade just enough to get a scratch above the waist instead of a deadly wound. He twisted around and ended up two steps above his aggressor, his branch was now a sword as the turning motion had sent flying what seemed a big piece of the branch, but it was just a carefully crafted scabbard.
The first aggressor, now holding two knives, tried to circle around him, while the second charged him. Nidal threw his dagger and hit the running one in the knee, making him fall down.
The other Coral moved his sword to the side with one dagger, and slashed him with the other, opening a gash on his chest just under his right arm. Nidalís leather armour softened the blow enough to make the wound not fatal.
He thrust his sword towards him, and when he parried his lunge he head butted him in the chest, before he could slice him again like he had just done. The Coral lost his balance and fell down the stairs, ending up on his back at the base of it.
Nidal moved quickly towards the other aggressor, who in a desperate move dropped his sword, extracted the knife from his leg and, somehow overcoming the pain, threw it back at Nidal. The knife cut through his left shoulder armour and planted itself in the top part of his arm.
Nidal, furious more at himself for not having anticipated the move then at his enemy, covered the distance and killed the man with two quick slices at the base of his neck. The other man was running up the stairs, but Nidal knew that with a useless arm it would have no chance so headed for the temple doors. He managed to open them and enter just before his aggressor reached him.

longgd2
August 28th, 2006, 12:41 AM
I perfer the less detailed way. That's the style I use because in a fight we won't have time to examine every minor details.

MrBF1V3
August 28th, 2006, 01:10 AM
I preferred the second scene, but if I were writing it I would add a few of the details found in the first every so often. It's a matter of pacing, and you want the pacing to be quick, but sometimes the right detail at the right moment will make a scene come alive.

Which details? That's kind of up to you.

B5

Arterial Spray
August 28th, 2006, 03:38 AM
I liked the second one more. However, I do have some advice, advice that I will conceitedly frame as a series of 'Rules'...

Arterial Spray's Rules for Writing Combat Scenes:

1. Kill as many adverbials as possible....kill them with FIRE! This is good general advice for writing any scene, but especially combat scenes. Adverbials slow things down just when you want things to be speeding up (usually).

2. For that matter, get rid of as many adjectives as you can bear parting with. In other words, try to stick to verbs and nouns -- whenever possible, use a single juicy verb or noun to explicate the situation rather than a bland word coupled with adjectives or (shudder) adverbs.

3. Passive voice is to be avoided (the irony was smiled at by the writer). So are uncomfortable contortions of tense (like "The turning motion had sent flying what seemed a big piece of the branch, but it was just a carefully crafted scabbard").

4. Try to get in the frame of mind of a person telling a friend about a cool game or fight they observed or participated in....rather than the frame of mind of a policeman writing up an official incident report. The goal is not to simply impart information about "agressors" to the audience, the goal is to inspire an emotional response in the reader.

5. Try to avoid focusing on the specific moves each combatant makes. Correction, try to avoid focusing on ALL the specific moves the combatants make -- some specific moves are important and need to be shown. But if the combat scene becomes a litany of highly specific moves and countermoves then the reader gets bogged down trying to visualize the specifics, and the pacing suffers. I have noticed that novelizations of movies often fall short in this regard, as does my own work when I first visualize the scene in my head as a kind of 'movie' and then try to simply describe the 'movie'. Movies can get away with throwing a lot of information at the audience (if a picture is worth a thousand words then a second of movie time is worth 24,000 words), whereas books simply cannot give all the details and still retain a 'pulse-pounding pace'. Instead, books have to rely on the reader's imagination to flesh out the bare-bones descriptions.......
....Scratch that, I've spoken of this 'reliance upon imagination' as a limitation on books, when in fact it is an advantage (over movies) to be exploited and enjoyed.

6. Combat is the perfect time for characterization. Actually every time is the perfect time for characterization, but the trick is not to forget this fact when writing a combat scene. Characterization is showing the audience something about your character -- how he's feeling, what sort of person he is, how clever/able/aggresive he is (or isn't), what he thinks about killing (or that he doesn't think about it at all), and so on. Try to think of characterization as the central purpose (or one of the central purposes) of the combat scene, rather than as an incidental.

7. Violate all of the above rules, regularly and often, but only when necessary.

Holbrook
August 28th, 2006, 04:18 AM
Suggest you actually study a bit about sword combat, some of the moves you describe are not really possible unless you are double jointed. Remember a human body moves in a certain way we are not all CGI made. ;)

A visit to a "Ren Fair" or a historical re-actment group would be good, you can see how the men/women move, hold their blades, react to others moves etc. All will allow you to add "character" to your fights.

Also watch some decent films with sword fights I suggest Le Bossu, Roy Roy as two of the best. LOTR is not too bad either as is the 13th Warrior. Watch how the actors/stuntmen move. Jot down interesting moves, try and describe them.

Remember to use your characters feelings and emotions at that time to colour the combat.

Also remember short sentences fast pace, long descriptive sentences slower pace.

JamesL
August 28th, 2006, 05:17 AM
I would agree that the second account is better. The first, in my opinion, seemed a bit wordy and drawn out. I wasn't keen on how practically every move was analysed - most readers are more than familiar with sword fights and don't need to be told why certain things happen.

The second is better because it is less wordy, and the whole scene has more urgency as a result. I think that is the way you want to go with it, and with other scenes.

If you need help with writing fight scenes, you could do a lot worse than picking up one of David Gemmell's books - I would recommend Legend. Gemmell had a very visceral way of writing fight scenes, and while they are not to everyone's tastes I personally think that they portray the urgency and brutality of confrontations very well.

Good luck. :)

Bond
August 28th, 2006, 07:18 AM
Description of a one-on-one combat should be very quick in my opinion. Almost no time for thinking. Most of it is instinct and reflex that has been drilled in by training. Unless there is a pause which the combatants are using to recuperate or a deadlock where the mind is frantically racing, I find internal monologues in combat descriptions strange. They are too slow, there is usually no time for it.

kater
August 28th, 2006, 09:12 AM
I think you may want to take a look at your story outside of the fight scenes before deciding on which style to write. If your narrative is brief, clipped and to the point then a verbose fight scene is likely to stick out like a sore thumb and obviously vice versa.

BrianC
August 28th, 2006, 09:20 AM
The second version is better IMO, but as kater noted, you are asking us to look at the scene in isolation. I would suggest that you re-read whichever version you decide to use with a critical eye. There are a number of problems with the language that should be rectified to make the passage as strong as it could be.

Taramoc
August 30th, 2006, 10:32 PM
Hi again.
First of all thanks all for replying, you guys gave me a great deal to think about :)

In general your comment had me realized that quick and to the point is better, but I still want to a bit of more color to it so I produced this hybrid version. Please let me know what you think.

Style 1.5 - Medium

When he was a few steps away from one of the beggars, he realized that he was still holding the cup and he put it on his extended hand. As the beggar grunted surprised, he sensed something moving behind his back and instinctively raised the branch he was using as a cane.
The other beggar had sprung up, unsheathed a hidden sword and attacked him with a fluid motion. His blade hit the branch but instead of shattering it, was met with unexpected strength. The first beggar dropped the cup and attacked him with a concealed dagger.
As the cup broke on the ground and the coins clattered down the stairs, Nidal deflected the dagger sliding his own hidden blade out of his left wrist, turning a certain deadly wound into a harmless scratch above the waist.
My disguise wasn’t that original, he surprised himself thinking while he twisted around tapping the first beggar on the head with the club and trying to slash the second one with the short dagger now firmly in his hand. He missed him, but he ended up a couple of steps above the two aggressors. Inside the branch was hidden a long and sharp blade. Nidal had dropped the piece of wood that covered it and was now holding it in the typical Sarathian manner, wrist slightly cocked downward so that the sword was at a 45 degree angle.
The aggressor that had wounded him took out another dagger and started circling around to his right, grazing the two blades on each other, in a sharpening motion. The second aggressor pressed one of the ornaments on the hilt of his sword and the two smaller blades of a sword breaker came out from the crossguard.
Nidal could see that under their mantles, now on the ground, they were in full leather armour. He moved parallel to the circling aggressor to maintain his higher ground, and extended his sword towards him, keeping him at bay thanks to his superior reach.
The second aggressor charged. Nidal was waiting for that and with a quick motion threw his dagger at him. His life depended by the accuracy of that throw, he needed to hit him on the juncture of his leather armour between the knee and the thigh. The armour was designed to protect the juncture from anything thrown by an enemy at the same level, but left open a slit visible by someone higher.
His throw was perfect. The dagger blade disappeared inside the aggressor’s leg, making him fall instantly.
The other Coral moved his sword to the side with one dagger, and slashed him with the other, opening a gash on his chest just under his right arm. Nidal’s leather armour softened the blow enough to make the wound not fatal. He had traded the mobility of one of his aggressor for a minor wound, not bad so far.
He thrust his sword towards the standing man, and when he parried his lunge he head butted him in the chest, before he could slice him again like he had just done. The Coral lost his balance and fell down the stairs, ending up on his back at the base of it.
Nidal moved quickly towards the other aggressor, who in a desperate move, dropped his sword, extracted the knife from his leg and, somehow overcoming the pain, threw it back at Nidal. The knife cut through his left shoulder armour and planted itself in the top part of his arm.
Nidal yelled in pain furious more at himself for not having anticipated the move then at his enemy. He quickly covered the distance and killed him with two slices at the base of his neck. The other man was running back up the stairs, but Nidal knew that with a useless arm it would have no chance so headed for the temple doors, managing to open them and enter just before his aggressor reached him.

More specifically on your comments:
MrBF1V3 - Your point is well taken and it's the main reason that led me to create a sort of hybrid between the two that you can see below.

Arterial Spray - Lots of good advices there, thanks

Holbrook - In general I don't mind being a bit unrealistic but I definitively want to stay away from the kind of combat where a hero kills dozen of enemies just because he is the hero (LOTR is full of that). That was what led me in the first place to have a more carefully laid out fight description in which the hero could win because he is smarter, no just more skilled.

JamesL - I'll definitively check out Gemmell, who I'm not familiar with.

Bond - Good point, see above where I was coming from.

Kater - I didn't think about that. In case you guys are interested, here's a link to the complete chapter this scene is extracted from ( http://www.sffworld.com/community/story/1873p0.html ). I put the new hybrid version in, any comment is obviously more then welcomed (the combat scene is between page 3 and 4).

BrianC - See above. As per "the problems with the language", I should probably have mentioned that this is a first draft, and being English not my first language, I heavily rely on my proof reader (my wife :) ) to polish my work and she hasn't going through it yet. The same is true for the chapter I posted above.