Monday, February 2, 2015

battle scene antipathy

I hate battle scenes.  All right.  That last scene where you bring together every thread in the book can be cool.  But your average battle scene is boring as hell.  You would think they would be exciting, right?  I know writers who live for them.  Short of those scenes where you are trying to set up a lot of shit and not sound like the exposition queen, battle scenes suck.

When I lived in Oakland, Ca, a writer in one of my one of my writing groups lived for them.  She had crazy battle plans where flanks moved in at strategic points and the other side responded to this maneuver with its own.  In fact, I may be in the minority of fantasy writers here.

But I'm the character girl.  And battle scenes have limited options for character meat.  The scene has to move quickly.  I can't slow it down with a lot of emotions.  The characters have to react quickly to a fast moving situation.  They have time for a line or so of emotion before the next act of violence hits them  I keep in straight limited third person as well.  That means that the reader only experiences what the point of view character experiences.  That means I have to know everything happening around them.  I have to plan out who moves where when and who does what to whom.  But the character has little chance to look around and see what is going on beyond their immediate conflict.  That's a fine line to walk.  You want to give the reader some sense of what else is going on, but it makes no sense for your point of view character to be standing around and checking people out during a battle.

I must say there are also only so many ways you can kill people.  I suppose I could go all James Bond with hats that slice your head off, but in a remotely realistic fight, every death is not going to be as spectacular as a decapitation.  So that is another reason it gets a little dull.  Even in fantasy where I can use trees that's branches turn into nooses and things like that.

My fights also don't contain much in the way of Robin Hood daring-do.  Nobody prances about and kills people in expert and dashing ways.  Even the people who know how to kill don't do it with a gleam in their eye and a twirl of their mustache.

So that pretty much limits me to harried and gross.  That's where I want to be anyway.  Some of my characters, like Jamie in the sequel to Weaver's Web, Will-o-the-Wisps Warp, are expert fighters and do so with little fear or horror.  There are even occasional scenes with Laurel and he, especially when feeding, where I can take a slight comedic twist.  But most of the time my characters don't know that much about fighting, and are freaked out and disgusted by what is going on around them.

I am a fan of the after battle fights.  Especially the first few battles someone is involved in.  Then lots of character development happens fast.  How do they handle the fact they have just killed someone?  That people were trying to kill them?  That their friends or themselves might be hurt?  How do they deal with the smell of blood and half digested food and shit that will accompany many battle scenes? These things are more interesting to me.

I also like, as I said, my climatic fight at the end of the book.  Except in series, I am finding, where this fight may not resolve everything.  The cool thing about those last fights is that yes, I usually do a lot of character wrap ups before and afterwards, but to me the point of those final fights is to bring together the themes and character arcs that I have been building towards the entire book.  That is fun. It takes pacing so that your point of view character can register actions and have emotional build up.  It takes, in my experience, some sort of conversation with your Big Bad in order to get these last threads tied up, and because it would be quite anticlimactic if the Big Bad never got to have their moment, but just got shot with an arrow and that was that.  However, you really have to watch that pacing, because no one likes a James Bond evil monologue.

As Dr. Evil's son, Scott, points out in Austin Powers:  International Man of Mystery, just shoot him.  Boom.  No prolonged gloating.  No lasers that will split him up the crotch.  All of these things make your piece unwieldy and your villain look like an idiot.  Okay.  I have one villain who gloats.  But I set up that he is the gloating type way in advance.  And havoc is still happening while he maniacally gloats.

Lead ups to fights can be quite interesting.  Scenes directly after a battle can carry a lot of development.  But except in the case of those final, theme uniting scenes, battle scenes are dull.  You have to plan out a sequence of events ahead of time so that your chaos will be orchestrated, and then there is nothing left to do but plod through it.

1 comment:

  1. There's a whole lot of tension in those battle scenes! YOU know the outcomes, but I'm identifying with these people. I know their strengths, their weaknesses, their recent injuries, their loves, their hates, their phobias. I think I know which friends and lovers they would risk death for, but I never really know who might hurt them,, desert them, betray. And I can see the scene as at least one of your battle wise characters has scoped it out before the battle, but they have imperfect knowledge. Who knows? A rock can open it's maw and turn into a malevolent volcano. So slog on, hack and slash and kill bad guys and kill them again, cuz your readers are out here ignoring whatever else we should be doing and biting our fingernails.