Writing’ the Fightin’ (Writing Battle Scenes) for Mad, Mad March

Welcome to March Madness in Writing!

For those of my friends who commented or visited before, I’ve added longer excerpts from my WIP. So please check them out!

It has nothing to do with basketball – but would you come HERE for THAT? I think not. The Madness today is about Writing Battles Scenes, or as I like to call it, “Writin’ the Fightin.”

Not my fav thing.

The first ‘R’ rated movie I saw, back when squirrels ran the projectors,  was BRAVEHEART.

Braveheart pre-gore. Up until this, I had a line drawn in the sand, and it ended at ‘PG.’ (long since changed) Braveheart grossed me out so much that I actually became nauseous. The execution scene at the end was so painful to me, that I had to step out of the theater, catch my breath again, then stand – in the back – with my mouth covered (and my hand over my eyes half of the time).

I MADE myself watch – but in horror. My comment to hubby, leaving the theater, was ‘Good story. Why was all that gory violence necessary? Did they have to SHOW bloody limbs and heads rolling? Did they have to show the ‘drawn’ part of being ‘drawn and quartered’? 

I’m a Lover and not a Fighter. I love romance and all the mushy-stuff that some find cloying. But who is left when the War is over? You and who? Hopefully, your loved one or ones.

A tough babe on a horse.So, writing a battle scene for my novel? Ugh…I avoided it for 100-some pages – and it was supposed to happen somewhere near, let’s see, page twenty…

However. I set to preparing with a will, determined to not let my squeamishness keep that battle scene from my book, no sir! I researched and did my Fantasy-World Building Homework (since this book is Fantasy, but a horse is still a horse and a bow a bow). 

  • I read a half-dozen books and countless online articles and essays about Warrior-Women of the Steppes, Eurasia, Russian, Mongolia. About horse-warriors like the Scythians, the Sarmatians (Yes, that ‘bad’ movie King Arthur was based in fact!) – the Saka, Pazyryk, and even Celts in China.
  • I watched youtube.com videos of archery and other weaponry on horseback -men and women firing at targets in contests, in reenactments. One fascinating vid was poetry in motion, literally, of a women riding bareback and barefooted on a white horse, her long red hair flying behind her, doing a little shootin’.

As Sheldon would say, ‘Bazinga!’ Good stuff.

Still, I wasn’t sure how to WRITE the ACTION. I needed some help – and ‘it’ lived with me. My husband’s a retired soldier, who has seen three wars through four decades, been in two branches of service and yes – killed enemies and seen his friends die in battle. Yet he is a kind, peaceful guy – but boy, does he love his war, military and political books.

From my husband and others, I knew that ‘when the training kicked in’ a warrior just acted. He or she didn’t think much, though there was some thinking going on – but what kind? And what kind of language to use, to show it?  So,  I asked ol’ warrior to choose passages from some of his fav books that describe battle – especially from the warrior’s perspective.

  • Here’s one example. In No Less Than Victory,  A Novel of WWII by Jeff Shaara:  “Benson watched the Germans crawling toward them, no weapon, another sharp, cry, but Benson stared past, kept his gaze on the brush line.”     Shaara ‘bends’ long sentences and a string of comma-clauses to show the warrior’s experience, the sequence of actions, and what the enemy is doing – here, all in the same sentence. Occasionally, he breaks these strings of long sentences with a shorter one, like taking a breath, such as — “Mitchell had seen it as well.”
  • Here’s another example, from Here Be Dragons, by Sharon Kay Penman: “With wild yells, the Welsh rushed the castle walls. Those up on the battlements threw down stones, flaming pitch; more than one Welshman was engulfed in fire, rolled screaming on the ground. But Llewellyn’s bowmen had achieved their aim…”  Another style, more formal, but also long, varied sentences.

LucyRandall Bodhran drummerRHYTHM or CADENCE of language seems very important here as it mirrors the physical motion – fastfast, pause, fast-fast-fast, long pause to catch breath/analyze what to do next, etc.

Reading aloud is helpful, I’ve found, to “hear” the battle in the words used.

Both examples above are in Third-Person (personal). But mine was (is) in First-Person. 

I didn’t find novels of an ancient time-period with warriors on horseback, written in FP. But I went ahead with the scene. My military consultant (ie, same husband) read it, marked a few things in pencil – and it’s about 22 pgs long, including a “preparing for the battle/war council” intro.

I used both styles in the scene, the long-short sentences, mostly succinct unless I felt a dose of description was needed – such as with the lay of the land. I stayed very aware of RHYTHM. I used little DIALOGUE – my warriors are riding for their lives to cut-off raiders headed for their camp, then engaged in heated battle with axes, bow and arrows, sword and war-hammers swingin’ and singin’.

Not time for chatting when you’re at a gallop!

Here’s an excerpt of my efforts this week. I welcome any comments.  

With a prayer and a whoop, I call for my cat’s totem-power to join with me, with all my spirit-animals. The man is a captain, I think, from the red crest of his helmet – but surely he must see mine: the golden-plumed glory of a warrior-priestess.

I jump TwoTail over a last pile of rocks at the bottom, a grin stretching my face. He backs up – maybe startled – his horsemanship is good but mine is better. I rush at him, slicing, dancing back and forth – miss him – wheel around as he misses me, slicing at my head as I duck to the other side of the horse. We trade blows again, whirling, chopping, stabbing. I deflect another blow with my shield; it bounces hard off my horse’s body-armor. My horse grunts but keeps on, good boy that he is.

I straighten up, swerve full-circle and face my enemy again.

He’s already rushing me, and swings low under my shield.  The blow catches me on the side, just a sting that tells me that it’s a bite, but I circle to come behind him – he dances to and fro, trying to follow me – and I bury my sword point in a gap in his thigh-armor, slash it at his mount’s flank.©

Wounded, they both roar, but again stay up – he’s a hardy warrior in full battle-blood and only death will silence him. 

and further on in the battle…

I’m almost unhorsed by a huge warrior on the ground – chop him down with my war hammers as I warm up to their power and feel.  See Loyli, now on-foot, holding bloody genitals, one foot on the corpse of the owner.  As I raise a hammer to salute her, I see her teeth bared like a skull, eyes glinting.©

I did especially enjoy the end of the scene, having the warrior-princess confront the captain of her enemy and give him two choices – life or death – as she taunts him with his defeat.

He frowns, considering this. Looks me in the eye. “Life as free men?”

This strikes me as very funny. I laugh, throwing my head back. Meet his gaze – which looks stunned, almost fearful. 

“No, Marco Pullyan. We don’t free the enemy who has attacked us in our own lands – we are not fools! Your choice is to live – as a slave. If there is a woman here to claim you as property…?” 

I wait, looking around the faces of my warrior-women. See shrugs. Pauses while considering. Rolled eyes, shakes of heads.  

“No one claims him? Then perhaps I will? Let me think on that, how good a slave would you be?”

His expression tells me exactly how good he won’t be – ever. He’d kill me or any of us at the first chance he got, whether shackled or hobbled or emasculated. He’d never submit.  I want him and all these Scythi warriors – the dozen or so left – to feel the true power of our tribe, the True Folk. ©

We’ll see, once my novel goes to publication, just how well I did with writing something I wasn’t comfortable with but pushed-out-the-boat anyway. The proof is in the Reader’s Reaction, right?

Confession: Once I got my head into the scene, I DID enjoy writing the gore…a bit. A bit. I relished the end more though, ‘cos there I could add just a touch of woman-man interaction, and pithy conversation.

After all, the story is centered around relationships between tribal women and men with “stars in their eyes.”  Love is a definite element. Mixed in with generous daubs of religions, of fantasy-type Animism, Pagan & One-God.

Can’t leave out that kind of madness now, can I??            

                                                                                   excerpt ©2013BDavison/Dyess

Pazyryk tatoo of a ram. Their star...God's love hands

 

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3 thoughts on “Writing’ the Fightin’ (Writing Battle Scenes) for Mad, Mad March

  1. Nice! But I would look to see which sentences could be made shorter in the heat of battle. After the surrender, you can allow character to do more thinking… Laura

  2. Laura, from your comment I can see that I didn’t include a long enough excerpt from part of the actual battle – and the scene is much longer than the 2-3 sentences I showed here, of course. Not sure how to handle this – edit the post? Add a new post? Nah, I only post about once/month because it takes me such long time to blog! BUT your comment has made me want to go back, when I edit, and really take note of sentence length – I tend to write in long ones, as you can see – and make sure there’s a good variety.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I find action scenes challenging, or I should say battle scenes. Mine tend to be psychological battles. I’d probably go to a kung fu expert if I need my character to do that. Out of my league. Sometimes knowing our weaknesses and being willing to seek expert advice is wise (guys…that includes asking for help with directions – if you don’t have your GPS on.) 🙂

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