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dawinsor
07-30-2005, 10:02 PM
I'm struggling a bit with how to make my battle scenes less repetitious. My fantasy novel characters use swords and bow, but I suppose the same issue would arise for people using lasers and starships.

My usual course with battle scenes is to keep the POV in very tight, showing what my character experiences and how he or she reacts. I also spend a fair amount of time on the pre-battle buildup. And using those techniques, I think I can write an engaging battle.

But if I have more than one in a story, they seem repetitious to me. How do the rest of you create variety? Or should I not have more than one battle scene in a story?

loquax
07-30-2005, 10:37 PM
Try not to have the battle as the main focus. Have your character try to find someone, or get somewhere. Then describe the battle as they go. That way you can have as much description as you want without boring the reader, as there will always be a point to it rather than "here is ten pages of fighting".

DaveKuzminski
07-30-2005, 11:25 PM
I avoid giving a blow by blow description of how every battle goes. On occasion, I'll describe how one character dies or reacts, but the key to success in my opinion is to give as little as possible.

In one battle scene, one captain draws her sword to sever a grappling line that's just then landed near her and stuck in the deck. I don't go into detail showing how she or the others repel the boarders who are coming up onto her ship from several other vessels. Instead, I switch to the conclusion of the battle where the healer is going about tending to the wounded and notices that the captain received a wound on her leg. The treatment stings and serves to jog the captain into focusing on how horrific the battle was and into considering just what her losses were among her crew.

When I later go into a more severe battle where all but three of the crew die, the descriptions are slightly more drawn out. It's obvious then that the latter battle was more difficult to win than the first.

With another battle, the scene is set for what might seem like a pitched battle, only some of the characters have a clear view of what's happening and they can then determine who's losing even though the losses appear to be equal since both sides have lost six vessels. One side's vessels have crews of 50 versus the other side's crews of 16 so the side with fewer crew members on their vessels is actually winning and that's what the losing leader notices just before his own ship is rammed and swamped.

So what I'm stating is that it makes sense to concentrate on different aspects in each battle so those don't end up alike even though the weapons, tactics, and people might be the same throughout.

dawinsor
07-31-2005, 01:20 AM
Try not to have the battle as the main focus. Have your character try to find someone, or get somewhere. Then describe the battle as they go. That way you can have as much description as you want without boring the reader, as there will always be a point to it rather than "here is ten pages of fighting".

Loquax, do you mean find someone or get somewhere during the battle? That's an interesting idea I hadn't thought of. It would give a whole different sense of how the character experienced it.

dawinsor
07-31-2005, 01:23 AM
So what I'm stating is that it makes sense to concentrate on different aspects in each battle so those don't end up alike even though the weapons, tactics, and people might be the same throughout.

That's a good tactic, Dave. Thank you.

loquax
07-31-2005, 03:26 AM
I always thought it was a bit strange to just go into a battle and "fight". There has to be something that the character wants to do; be it plant a mine on a tank or chase after some guy who just stole your sword. It's what makes the battles grittier.... more realistic. And, of course, more absorbing.

Vomaxx
07-31-2005, 04:50 AM
The people who know the least about what is happening in a battle are the soldiers doing the fighting. If your description centers on an individual melee combatant, it is going to get boring pretty fast because, in fact, he will be doing the same things over and over--parrying, thrusting, helping a comrade, etc.--in his effort to stay alive and kill the other guys.

Describing a pre-gunpowder battle operationally rather than from the viewpoint of minor tactics--i.e., from the viewpoint of, say, a regimental commander who is (quite properly) where he can see what his men, and neighbor units, are doing, supplemented with timely reports from scouts and orders from the commanding general, should make them interesting.

Keep in mind the words of the Byzantine Emperor Leo, in his Strategikon:

"For battles are not decided, as amateurs imagine, by the number of men, by undaunted courage, or by direct assault, but by strategy and skill."


(I use that as an epigraph for volume II of my trilogy, which, being about a regiment of mercenaries, contains many battles.)

dawinsor
07-31-2005, 05:12 AM
I can see how using a commander's POV would give a much better sense of the sweep and direction of the battle. I think I usually take the POV of the footsoldier because I'm not really interested in the battle (which is maybe why my battles are boring!). I like to know what's happening in a particular person's head and heart. And as you point out, that guy probably won't know how the overall battle is going.

Of course, the ones I write are usually skirmishes compared to the sweeping battles of history.

DaveKuzminski
07-31-2005, 06:54 AM
Another thing I advise is that your battles shouldn't end with one side slaughtering the other. In many battles, there are either lots of prisoners or a big retreat. Sometimes both. One side won't necessarily win because they killed more soldiers or sank more ships. Usually it's because the other side became convinced that they couldn't win.

On the other hand, a side that goes into battle knowing that they're dead might actually have a chance of winning. For instance, in the Battle Off Samar in World War II, Admiral Bull Halsey's fleet was decoyed away from the Philipines leaving only a small task force to protect the transports that carried the invasion forces to Leyte. The Japanese sent two fleets, one of which was almost destroyed by Halsey's forces before he left after the decoys and the other was believed in retreat. However, that Japanese force turned around and resumed its course to find and destroy the American invasion force. It and Task Force 3 (also known as Taffy Three) got into a battle. The Japanese force consisted of the world's largest battleship plus three others, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers. Taffy Three had six jeep carriers and six destroyers. That's 23 against 12.

While the jeep carriers withdrew to get out of gun range of the battleships, the destroyers charged. The planes from the jeep carriers carried no armor piercing shells, so they could only harass the enemy with their machineguns and regular bombs that were really useless against armored ships. Two of the jeep carriers and two of the destroyers were sunk, but they took out one enemy cruiser (some accounts claim four) and put the rest of the Japanese force into retreat.

If you want another example, look up the HMS Revenge against the 2d Spanish Armada. Yes, 1 against 53.

GailKavanagh
07-31-2005, 09:20 AM
The best piece of advice I ever heard regarding battle scenes came from the author (whose name I have forgotten) of a novel about Ghengis Khan. Faced with yet another battle scene, she knocked her hero unconscious and so avoided it altogether.

dawinsor
07-31-2005, 03:05 PM
your battles shouldn't end with one side slaughtering the other.

Oh another good point, particularly if the conflict stretches over the whole book.

dawinsor
07-31-2005, 03:07 PM
she knocked her hero unconscious and so avoided it altogether.

That's hilarious, Gail! And also an option I intend to keep in mind. I suspect readers were relieved too.

DaveKuzminski
07-31-2005, 07:51 PM
While we're on the subject of battles and wounds and knocking people unconscious, it helps if the results are kept realistic.

Knocking someone out is likely to cause concussions. They're not easy to recover from.

Wounds tend to become infected. Those are often life-threatening, though that takes a day or two to become serious, so the end result of a battle might not be known for several days and the two sides clearly won't have as many forces as before.

Wounded also tend to slow down a retreating force unless they cut their losses by leaving the more seriously wounded behind. Even some modern forces don't bother taking prisoners unless they view certain individuals as having value to them.

Vomaxx
08-01-2005, 12:02 AM
Faced with yet another battle scene, she knocked her hero unconscious and so avoided it altogether.

This may be a source of the following, which is from How to Write a Best-
Selling Fantasy Novel, a very funny little satire you can find by typing the title into your browser:

8. Skip the hard parts.
Despite the need to keep the book long, some bits are just too hard to write. A thousand-mile journey by foot is long, but easy to write. Battles on the other hand are hard, because there's a lot going on and you probably require some knowledge of military strategy. So if you're writing a battle scene and it's getting too hard, sinply have the hero suffer a wound and lapse into unconsciousness . . . . Voila. Next thing, our hero wakes on a white alabaster slab in the Healing Room, where the Pure Maiden Warrior (see "Characters") tells him that the battle is over and, guess what? They won!"

whitehound
08-01-2005, 02:13 AM
You could try varying the weather conditions - seriously. There was a famous battle during the Wars of the Roses which took place in a thick snowstorm, where people couldn't tell friend from foe and one group on the Lancaster side misread a banner in the low visibility and attacked their own allies, and the teenage Duke of Gloucester - later Richard III - took advantage of the situation to lead a party of his men along the bottom of a ditch and sneak up behind the enemy lines.

dawinsor
08-01-2005, 03:41 AM
Now that's an exceedingly cool story, Whitehound. I love the idea of the battle in the snow and people sneaking along ditches. That also suggests the possiblities of terrain, which I try to exploit but could certainly do better with.

Richard White
08-01-2005, 06:18 AM
While I don't always go into the grand details of every battle I've written about, I do find it helps that I've actually fought with a wide variety of swords, ranging from rapier and foil in European fencing to naginata and katana in my kendo and naginata training.

I've also fought in a suit of armor (plate, chain, brigandine and scale) and used both live steel and the ratan weapons from my time in the SCA, so I know personally, how tiring a battle gets and how all the wise quips you hear on movies and such are strictly Hollywood. As two lines of warriors come together, polearms flailing over a shield wall at the onrushing horde, after a few minutes of screaming to get motivated, you're happy to just take a breath and keep moving, much less doing fancy sword tricks. And once the shield wall collapses, all hell breaks loose as the skirmisher get loose behind the main battle.

Now, do I think everyone needs to put on a suit of armor before writing about someone in armor? Of course not, but for me, it certainly helps me try to bring a little realism into my battles. And after all, what is fantasy but reality twisted slightly.

DaveKuzminski
08-01-2005, 06:04 PM
Ah yes, the use of terrain. To further illustrate, I will bring up a true story.

When I was in the army, I was a tank commander. We went to the desert in New Mexico one summer for training. One of our exercises was to assault a position with a company of M-60 main battle tanks (17 total - 5 in the first three platoons and two for headquarters [commander and executive officer]) while the battalion commander observed from a helicopter overhead.

With the exception of one tank, the company was knocked out. The commander was especially aggravated because his was one of the first targeted and taken out. However, the battalion commander was more excited by the progress that one tank was making because I ordered my tank into a deep ravine with a steep V-shaped bottom. We couldn't even see the desert floor because the ravine was over 20 feet deep, but we couldn't be hit, either. Still, we had to traverse the ravine very carefully because we didn't want to throw both tracks. We reached the end of the ravine shortly before reaching the objective and well within range. When we emerged from the ravine at near full speed, we did so with our main gun firing even though it was improper to fire on the move. At that point, the battalion commander yelled over the radio about how that was the way to attack aggressively and that the other crews should learn how to do as we had in reaching and taking out the enemy position.

In another exercise in Georgia, we worked with the officer cadets. My tank was given the task of charging alone against their line. It was a downhill charge and we had the fastest tank in the battalion. Even though we were ordered to halt in front of the cadet line as a simulated kill, some of the cadets broke and ran just before we reached that point when they saw just how big we were and how fast we could move. They actually forgot that it was a simulation. Heck, we were still 20 feet short of their line. ;)

DaveKuzminski
08-01-2005, 11:47 PM
To volunteer some actual battle experience, I will state that each one is usually different in how it develops. What one might first believe is an attack on a prepared position might turn out to be nothing more than one scout probing the line. In another instance, it could be a small unit passing by in the night only to be spotted and a battle then ensues until the small unit withdraws.

Also, if it's a night battle, most of the men on duty will not be awake as they should. The hours that soldiers have to be awake takes a quick toll and it's very easy for an entire spreadout position to be found asleep. You can imagine the problem then of the only man still awake trying to get instructions from anyone in the rest of the unit when he spots enemy activity only to receive no response. It's at that point that he has to decide for himself whether he's actually facing the enemy and whether he should shoot without permission from the unit leader.

You'll also have a problem with soldiers who aren't ready to kill. This is well documented. Only a small portion of a unit is at that point where it's willing to shoot to kill. Others are only at the point where they'll shoot, but only to look like they're participating but without trying to actually kill or wound anyone. There are others who won't even fire a round because they don't want to even chance hitting someone. Leaders sometimes put up with that because their presence insulates the individuals who are willing to kill. More often, it's because there's no way to know who is willing and who isn't until after the first battle. Even then, unless it's reported that certain individuals didn't fight, it's unlikely that they'll be discovered since most soldiers are too busy protecting themselves and don't have the time to observe everyone else.

Very few battles occur as a result of two forces encountering each other while on the move. More often, one is entrenched in a fortified position.

If you're writing up a sea battle, most of those will occur at strategic points such as near ports or straits where one side can bottle up the other side's navy or along known commercial routes in the case of pirates, submarines, and Q-boats. Very few battles will ever take place on completely open water where there's no strategic value.

Vomaxx
08-02-2005, 01:06 AM
:Lecture:

"War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.... War is the realm of chance. No other human activity gives it greater scope..."

--v. Clausewitz, On War, I, 3

Richard White
08-02-2005, 02:40 AM
Dave,

Just to satisfy an old soldier's curiosity, what unit were you a tank commander in?

I spent 2 years in the 3rd ACR at Ft. Bliss. I know that stretch of New Mexico desert well (as well as Ft. Irwin and Ft. Hood and . . . .)

DaveKuzminski
08-02-2005, 05:40 AM
2/69th stationed at Ft. Benning.

Dhewco
08-02-2005, 07:31 AM
I researched the battles of the 1400's to get the details of some things right, but I never let a battle take more than a page or two. The unconscious thing is a good way to do it, but only if you have a 'healer' who can remove any side effects. Makes it more realistic. Even in Fantasy, it's best to put as much realism as possible.


Just an opinion,


David

Sharon Mock
08-03-2005, 02:09 AM
If you're going to cheat through battles by having characters go unconscious, if you're going to devote as few words and details to them as possible, then why have them at all? Better to include only those conflicts in which something interesting and important happens.

As for how to stage battles interestingly -- I have no clue. Honestly, I cheat extra badly... I don't write stories with pitched battles in them. (Though when I get around to doing so, I suppose it will involve research on warfare, diagrams, lead miniatures, long discussions and lots and lots of revision.)

Vomaxx
08-03-2005, 06:38 AM
I suppose it will involve research on warfare, diagrams, lead miniatures, long discussions and lots and lots of revision.)

I certainly am including some battle maps in my book. If there ever is a case where a picture is worth 1,000 words, it's in describing a battle (assuming you are aiming at more than a confused melee where nobody knows what's happening, which of course might be what some authors want).

DaveKuzminski
08-03-2005, 07:07 AM
Keep in mind that a good leader will attack an enemy's weakness. When the enemy eventually corrects that, the good leader identifies the next weakness to hit. This forces the enemy to need more resources than are available and every victory saps even more of those resources away.

Most soldiers in the midst of battle don't have time to communicate with anyone because they don't know enough about what they're doing other than going forward to fight. However, you can probably bet that most of them will look at the enemy line and pick out the weakest opponent so he can win. Some in the process of doing that will find themselves teaming up with others who see the same thing after they discover themselves working together against the first enemy soldier. They may go on to be successful against other enemy soldiers. Because of the sounds of battle, they might resort to motions or hand signals to communicate, if they do at all.

Soldiers already teamed up in fixed positions will tend to communicate with each other, though this would tend to be mostly limited to the use of weapons where teamwork is needed to operate the weapon. They'll probably use voice as well as motions and hand signals as appropriate. True example: On my 21st birthday, I and my buddy were pinned down by a sniper. We used all of these methods to communicate as we tried to outflank the sniper and locate him. Evidently, he saw all the movies on how to deal with snipers, so we didn't succeed, but he didn't get either of us. He withdrew when a gun jeep showed up with a searchlight and a heavy machinegun to sweep the perimeter.

These might give you some ideas on how to add new dimensions to your battle description.

DaveKuzminski
08-03-2005, 04:00 PM
Another true incident reveals the following: in the excitement of battle, leaders often make stupid decisions even when there's no actual urgency; they're just still excited or anxious that they don't see the common sense reason for why their choice of action is tremendously dumb.

Our unit experienced an attack on our ammo dump. One young officer decided that we should enter the burning section to seek out and kill any sappers who might still be there. Never mind that four of over thirty berms were actively burning with multiple explosions ripping out every minute. The men clearly thought it was a bad idea since there were thousands of tons of ammo in each berm. However, he was the ranking officer there at the time and ordered the men to follow him toward the first burning berm. The men hung back letting him lead by ten to twenty feet or more. He managed to get to within a hundred feet of the opening in the berm before the heat became too intense. It wasn't until then that he recognized just how dumb his idea was and ordered everyone back. The men turned immediately and the officer was at least ten feet behind me as we returned to our staging area.

Had he been thinking better, he would have realized that it was the berms that weren't exploding that needed to be checked. However, he never did and those weren't inspected at all that night. Fortunately, only the four berms were destroyed.

Oh, yes, the fires in those berms continued for almost thirty-six hours. The initial explosion was strong enough to shove a distant building almost a foot off its foundation on two sides. It was strange seeing the upper portion balanced on only two sides of the foundation. Also, the conical shape of the valley in which the ammo dump was located served to actually increase the force of the blast because the building was over a half-mile away.

dawinsor
08-03-2005, 06:34 PM
These are fascinating stories, Dave. I think I could adapt some of the factors they depends on -- communication problems, too much adrenaline, the need to pick your target and keep thinking. Thank you.

DaveKuzminski
08-03-2005, 08:05 PM
Oh, one more thing. If anyone remembers how Sergeant Bilko behaved in that old TV series, I met some individuals who were like that in the military. If you watched M*A*S*H, I can tell you that I also encountered one unit that was every bit like them, only they happened to be an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. Yes, they even had a bar in their orderly room.

Some of the officers were so wrapped up in their work, they didn't even look at the faces of their soldiers unless something happened to cause them to question what was happening. Case in point, I was once ordered to report to the Commanding Officer. I did and he first asked if I understood my rights under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) which caused me to ask what for. It wasn't until that moment that he looked up at me, saw that I wasn't the man he wanted, and dismissed me to return back to my duties.

Also, some soldiers can be cruel even to their comrades. Some pulled a ruse on one soldier who was permitted into the army under a program called Project One-Hundred-Thousand which was designed to accept marginally intelligent individuals into the service. We had a wire running between the motor pool and the orderly room that connected two phones for direct communication when it was needed. The individual who was in that project and assigned to our unit was given duty at night as an assistant to the Charge of Quarters. Individuals in the motor pool called and pretended to be the commander so they could give him silly orders which he never questioned. After all, he'd been told earlier that it was the direct line to the commander and not the motor pool. As you can imagine, that sickened me and I put a stop to it.

J. Y. Moore
08-03-2005, 08:41 PM
The people who know the least about what is happening in a battle are the soldiers doing the fighting. If your description centers on an individual melee combatant, it is going to get boring pretty fast because, in fact, he will be doing the same things over and over--parrying, thrusting, helping a comrade, etc.--in his effort to stay alive and kill the other guys.

Not only this but, unless you use one of your main characters as the focus, your reader won't easily relate to your combatant since this is not someone for whom you have made your audience care (whether it be love or hate caring).

Just a thought.

J. Y. (Jean) Moore

Koriand'r
08-14-2005, 01:05 AM
To me the battle is based on your character, if a character had a weaker build and was less confident then they would be more evasive and keener to avoid the sight of war/battle. Detail would focus more on their tiredness and reaction to pain to show their dislike and inexperience to combat. And if he/she did fight then it would be long weapon range to help avoid long combat altogether and have a knife with them to use as a last resort. These kind of characters seem to hear more in conflict then see so any detail i would add on them would involve more sound than visual.

However a character who is ruthless, be a solider or a dog of war, they will be more focused in battle but only on those closest to him/her at the point of conflict. Having the battle written swiftly to me shows the skill of the fighter, having it spread out shows that he/she is mixed in combat or is more tactical. Also base on how much gore the character inflicts shows how dangerous they are including the style of weapon and how they use it. To me there are two type of characters: Defensive and fight under the training they receive or the downright brutal, veterans who kill swiftly but are more inhuman in emotion then the first one. What separates them is the circumstance they had in their background and career they taken in conflict.

DaveKuzminski
08-14-2005, 02:21 AM
Please don't select small font sizes. It takes the same amount of storage regardless of the font size, but when it's printed small, it makes it difficult for others to even know what you stated.

For those who can't read the small print, use the quote button on Koriand'r's post. Then highlight the quoted material in your posting area. Select a larger font size. You'll then be able to read it.

Koriand'r
08-14-2005, 02:26 AM
Sorry about that and I altered it now, just appered to be normal size when I posted it orignally.

DaveKuzminski
08-14-2005, 04:32 AM
There are many types found in combat. There are the two you mention, but there are others who will fire their weapons in the general direction of the enemy, but with no intention of hitting anyone. There are others who will go through the motions, but not ever fire their weapons. There are those who follow, but do so only because they don't know which end is up or recognize that they have no authority and have to follow unless they want to be the center of the commander's ire.

Also, I don't agree with the comment about the weaker build avoiding combat if by that you mean someone who is small or thin and underweight as opposed to someone who is large. I have seen large, strong men collapse from nothing more strenulous than a ten-mile hike even after smaller men took on their packs to help them make it. Keep in mind that smaller men know they can't take as many hits in a fist fight, so some tend to be more aggressive in order to get the fight over with quickly before they can be hurt. That attitude often carries over into their other activities.

While some individuals can be ruthless in battle, most casualties are caused by artillery. Part of the reason may be that the individuals firing long range artillery cannot see the enemy they are hitting, so they don't associate their actions with causing so many deaths and wounds.

While it may seem like stereotyping, the images that you see in movies are almost always based on someone or I've seen someone that those characters could have been based upon.

Another thing worth thinking about is that officers who want promotions will sometimes do the wrong thing in order to advance. I've seen officers, particularly those NOT in combat, mistreat their own men in order to then put them out of the military or in the stockade in order to show that "they're protecting the service" and should be considered for promotion. In other words, they'll try to advance themselves by framing others and I do mean frame. They'll do it to protect their drinking buddies, too.

triceretops
08-14-2005, 12:51 PM
I definitely show a blow-by-blow to to let the readers see the ferocity and heroism of both my male and female characters in a major scuffle. Then I'll pull the camera back and show "pocket fighting" to give a wider view. Then pull back even further to show the grand epic. I use all of these techniques so I won't put the reader in a quagmire of repetition. Two-person fistycuffs can be handled by "All hell broke loose in the bar" then explain only the aftermath or injuries incurred. Use diversity-all of it. It makes for good writing technique and practice. My stuff is usually full-on wars with multiple adversaries.

Tri

alaskamatt17
08-15-2005, 06:25 AM
Most of my battle scenes come from an intensely close third person POV. The reader sees only bits and pieces of the larger battle, because they are in the mind of only character at a time. Then again, the kind of battles I do are mostly guerilla warfare, which doesn't fit well with epic sweeping descriptions. "Vinny's heart shrank in his chest. He saw ... trees. Lots of them." Not the best plan.

When it comes to sieges, I try to stick with the minds of characters who aren't at the frontline. They know there's fighting, they might hear reports from the walls, but they aren't directly exposed to the battle. I imagine it would be awful to be caught on the wrong side of a siege--you stay alive as long as you can on your food stockpile, then charge out and hope for a miracle. Or, if you go for a Hollywood-type siege, you just get crushed to bits as the catapults break the walls down around you in the course about two hours.

DaveKuzminski
08-15-2005, 06:49 AM
Having some interest in such matters, I paid attention to some documentaries on castles and siege warfare that were on PBS stations in the past few years. The people who built castles had defense on their minds and knew what they were doing in most instances. They selected locations where it would be more difficult to operate a siege. Then they built to withstand the best weapons that could be brought against them. It wasn't until gunpowder became widely advanced that castles went out of favor. Even then, fortifications still were needed, only they became more flush so that cannon fire couldn't be used effectively.

Anyway, one interesting siege took place in Scotland, if I remember correctly. The lady of the castle took charge of the defense and held off an army with only two dozen soldiers. I'd say that's building a castle that's good. I think the only places that would be difficult to defend would be those on major trade routes where access is necessary much of the time.

alaskamatt17
08-15-2005, 10:26 AM
It would still be really inconvenient to be under siege.

alaskamatt17
08-15-2005, 10:28 AM
My friends and I built an onager (catapult powered by twisted ropes) once. It fell apart because the wood rotted before we got a chance to fire it. It would have had some power, though. Used by Romans, pretty good weapons, but not for sieges. They were mainly used to fire grapeshot into armies.

zornhau
08-15-2005, 02:14 PM
Some very interesting tips on realism here. Going back to the original post:

I like my fiction to have combat. It's the staple content for sword and sorcery. I've studied this for my WIP which is combat-tastic. IMHO, good examples of good fictional combat include Robert E Howard's Conan (get the Fantasy Masterworks edition), George RR Martin's Game of Thrones and David Weber Honor Harrington series.

Ways (I think) to make battle interesting:

Physical jeopardy: make it scarey. Kill off minor characters seemingly at random. Have the protag take nasty cuts and describe the flaps of skin etc.
Always make the plot ride on the result: Protag must be trying to achieve something more than just survival. If they're caught up in a big battle, have them e..g try to prove themselves, keep their mates alive, or defeat their own fears. If it's ad hoc small party combat, make it more than just a random mugging.
If protag is a general, give him problems with his own side: e.g. political difficulties with superiors, problems with rash or cowardly subordinates who will ruin his plans and so on.
Make one-on-one combat terrifyingly short. Trade a maximum of 4 blows (which is authentic).
Add twists to big set piece battles.
Vary the setting and form of all your battles.
Don't be afraid of using narrative summary
If using several POVs, try short scenes in cinematic POV showing the breathtaking sweep of events.
Oh, and "Dodge writing the battle by knocking your character out" is spectacularly bad advice. Try shifting some of the plot from elsewhere in the novel into the battle.

alaskamatt17
08-15-2005, 03:02 PM
Good advice, Zonrhau! There's plenty of combat in my current WIP. I just finished a scene where one of my child protagonists kills for the first time--and it's a friend not an enemy!

That's another piece of advice: as humans we have a long history of turning coats. It's sometimes cool to have a secondary character your hero trusts betray him. Likewise, it can be interesting to have your MC go turncoat.

One thing I try to do to vary combat is give each of my fighting characters a unique combat style. One of my protags is very calm in battle--she calculates each move. Her brother, on the other hand, often doesn't know what he's doing. He lashes out at anything that moves. Some of my characters prefer guns, others prefer tooth-and-claw; one is actually quite partial to strangulation of his opponents (he's a bad guy), he tries never to get involved in open combat.

zornhau
08-15-2005, 03:13 PM
<Stuff>

Cool. So that's:

Sometimes make the results hinge on non-tactical considerations, e.g. betrayal for personal or political reasons (e.g. Bosworth 1485)
A battle's a great place for denouments
Extend characterisation into combat, e.g. give each characters preferences in combat style and weapon choice.
Let's see if we can add any more.

DaveKuzminski
08-15-2005, 04:43 PM
Terrain makes a difference. Put your troops at the top of a long low hill and have the enemy advance just after the morning dew or rain makes the slope slippery. Next thing you know, the enemy is slowed down by mud and treacherous footing. End result could be similar to the Battle of New Orleans where the British lost hundreds and the Americans lost only a few.

In fact, mud plays a key role in a lot of major battles and has helped many a smaller force defeat a larger better trained force.

Then there's fog. The enemy can't use his superior forces effectively because he doesn't know where the defenders have taken up position. Again, fog can help a smaller force win.

Or have your ally be routed, but then manage to regroup and advance again. Happened to Napoleon when he thought he was going to win against the British after sending the Prussians running.

Or have the runners killed who were carrying critical messages for an advance to take place. The delay prevents part of the forces from reaching the critical stage letting another unit be defeated.

zornhau
08-15-2005, 05:20 PM
Ah, the good old friction of war.

If it's epic fantasy, throw in individual deeds which turn the course of the battle, or at least tweak it's results. E.g. Stamford Bridge would have been much more of a massacre, with fewer English casualties had a single Norseman not held the bridge for a few minutes while the rest of the army rallied. Harald Hadrada still lost, but perhaps the death toll changed the results of Hastings.

Lenora Rose
08-15-2005, 09:52 PM
Make one-on-one combat terrifyingly short. Trade a maximum of 4 blows (which is authentic).

Zornhau, this is pretty much all an excellent summary of the best advice. The one I quoted is probably one of the ones people don't get the most if they haven't seen a swordfight, for example.

I've heard of one - one - SCA fight that went on for roughly 20 minutes. (Most stories about it say 40, but I'm using the skeptic's counting system). Most of the others went from one shot to 5-6. A handful go a minute or two, most of which is circling, looking for an opening. And all these are tournament style, not pitched battle, where you have room to flourish, a chance to back off and trade wit, etc. (Although even in tournament, there's less of that than you think.

Which leads to my one other point:

One on One tournament duelling is NOT remotely like battle. In battle, there's no time or room to circle around a particular opponents, and look for an opening - that will mean you're paying too little attention to his cronies, and another enemy has a chance at you. In battle, the person who works best when he can dance and dodge around might be useless, as often they're trying to keep a line formation that the enemy can't break through - and when that line formation has broken up, generally, there are so many moving people and things around you that you're not looking for one opponent; you're trying to keep in some smaller formation with whatever allies you can find so you can't be stabbed from the back or side, and you're sticking your sword in/towards whomever comes near in the wrong uniform.

(Those big impressive epic one on ones that do seem to happen in mythology and the like still seem to happen towards the end of battle, when things have spread out and opened up.)

One other note, more relevant to the post-battle than during:

* Most injuries that take you out of battle aren't killing at the time they're received. Shock and infection kill more people than die by having their brains blown away by a gun or having a major artery sliced in two. Even many blows that will kill you, guaranteed, won't kill you on the instant, in the battle - and those that will are usually not the ones people imagine. A slice to the armpit, if it hits the artery, will kill faster than a slash across the gut, even if parts of you are falling out.

rich
08-15-2005, 10:06 PM
Mr. D., I'm impressed, and I'm very seldom impressed. Not just by your military prowess, but more by your insight. Kudos.

zornhau
08-16-2005, 12:48 AM
Oh, general battlefield rule of the thumb:

Most military weapons are just heavy enough to take out, but not neccessarily kill, the most likely opponant in one blow.
Hence 15th-century knights preferring a poleax, whereas the single-handed sword being the weapon of choice in the 13th century.

alaskamatt17
08-16-2005, 01:16 PM
And in the 21st century we prefer rifles, with projectiles that can exceed the speed of sound. Of course, we all know that in the future the weapons of choice will be blasters that shoot beams of light slow enough to see and sometimes even dodge.

alaskamatt17
08-16-2005, 01:42 PM
The battles in my current WIP are a bit different from most human battles. Since my story is about sentient dinosaurs, I had to think about what kind of strategies different species of dinosaur might use. When writing about combat with nonhuman creatures, it's important to keep biology in mind.

For instance, Allosaurus fragilis had a powerful neck, it most likely struck with hammering pecks as opposed to gaping bits. Also, its feet were heavy-built, a lot more hoof-like than most other theropods (thought still not even close to a real hoof). It seems likely that they could run fast, and if occasion called for it they could stomp on smaller opponents. I kept this in mind for my battles, the Allosaurs charge in groups of six to ten, using their heads to break enemy ranks and then trampling over whoever they knock down. In individual combat, they prefer ambush, striking from the shadows in the jungle after hiding themselves downwind from an adversary.

My baddies are Deinonychus antirrhopus, which were not quite the height of a human, but which I definitely would not want to meet one-on-one unless I was packing heat. They could probably run close to thirty miles-per-hour on average (about the same as the fastest speed achieved by a human runner), and they could almost certainly leap great distances. Are you gonna form ranks and shield walls when you can run and jump like that? Probably not. They try to gang up on larger opponents, cutting them open with their toe-claws.

This isn't just for SF, it applies to fantasy, too. If some bloke has four arms he'd better be able to use them effectively. If a creature has a tail that's as good a weapon as any.

Psychology of alien races can have an impact on fighting, too. There's an old SF story where the protagonist defeats alien conquerors by showing them a package of steak, because they can't believe any creature would actually kill another living thing (the aliens conquer by way of technological deprivation). If creatures have absolutely no fear of death, that gives them an advantage over humans when you look at it from a general's viewpoint. On the other hand, they won't be as likely to pull off those feats of individual bravery. Our adrenal glands let us do some crazy things. Suppose we didn't have them, how would fighting be then?

Just a few ramblings from my convoluted mind.

TheIT
08-17-2005, 03:03 AM
Regarding sieges - I'll have to look up the reference, but one of the books I read while researching medieval history for my fantasy novel talked about how every person defending the castle would be called upon to fight no matter how young or old. Anyone strong enough to heave a rock would be put up on the battlements to drop rocks/boiling oil/whatever on the enemy. The defenders had no illusions about what would happen to anyone left alive if the attackers invaded, so no one would be exempt from fighting. The book also talked about how when supplies ran low, the leaders in the castle would be forced to eject all noncombatants because they could not afford to feed anyone who couldn't fight. The author described a real situation in the attackers didn't allow the people thrown out of the castle to leave the battlefield. They didn't kill the refugees, but they didn't let them run away. I don't recall what exactly happened to them, but I'm sure it wasn't pretty.

Perhaps another aspect to writing battles would be to write from the perspective of a non-combatant or someone not well versed in fighting.

Bartel
08-20-2005, 08:37 PM
There are some good suggestions here. I could probably use some of them myself. I'm surprised, however, that no one's suggested reading how other authors write battle scenes (or maybe I just missed that post). Researching tactics and envorinment is great, and you should absolutely do that, but those things don't really give much insight on how to actually write the scene. Personally, I'm a great believer in studying other authors' styles. When I'm having difficulties with a certain aspect of a story I like to find a (good) book that does something similar to see how they did it, not to copy them but just to get ideas. For my own part, I find that my large scale battle sequences these days are influenced to a fair degree by The Illiad. Now, I've been thinking about this question and I came upon a few concepts in my own mind. Firstly, I've found that large scale conflicts quickly become unwieldy unless dealt with in broad strokes. That could just be a defenciency in my own writing, but there it is. Secondly, I think any battle sequence, especially the large ones, need real emotional segments to make the battle more personal. Consider Lord of the Rings. There were many large scale conflicts, but Tolkien would often focus on specific characters and events outside the actual fighting (death of Theoden, anyone?). Another idea is to break up the fighting, as in the film The Two Towers (enough Tolkien references for you? :P). In the film the action would cut from Helm's Deep to the Ents to Frodo and Sam, then back again, the idea being to keep the audience from getting bored with any one battle sequence. It occurred to me that I used a similar device in the climatic battle sequence of one of my novels. I had the large scale battle outside a castle, but then I'd skip between several different characters somewhat removed from the fighting. But, if all else fails, the best way to avoid repitition is to not do the same thing. Force yourself to vary the events within the battle itself, throw in unexpected twists, whatever. Oh, and I wanted to add one note about realism, as there has been a bit of discussion about it here. Realism can be great, and it should be your starting point, but you have to decide how realistic you want to be, particularly if you're writing fantasy. 3-4 blow battles are all well and good for fighting the mass of enemies that comes with epic battle scenes, but they're not as dramatic as that extended battle with the villian you've come to hate. Of course, using the 3-4 blow battle in that case would also fall under the unexpected header and could be used effectively as well. I suppose my point is, how much do you want to commit to realism and how much do you want to commit to dramatic effect. There's no one answer for that, it varies from story to story, but it's a decision that must be made. I can't stress strongly enough, however, making that emotional connection with your characters. Unless they're tactics or history buffs, that's probably what's going to draw you're audience in. Well, I think that's about it for me at the moment. I hope you find something useful in all that rambling. Good luck.

zornhau
08-20-2005, 10:00 PM
3-4 blow battles are all well and good for fighting the mass of enemies that comes with epic battle scenes, but they're not as dramatic as that extended battle with the villian you've come to hate. Of course, using the 3-4 blow battle in that case would also fall under the unexpected header and could be used effectively as well. I suppose my point is, how much do you want to commit to realism and how much do you want to commit to dramatic effect.
Depends how you build up the final confrontation, how much detail you write, and what they're wearing. Single-handed swords with full plate could take them all day with breaks!

Ivonia
08-21-2005, 02:15 AM
Very interesting details, and thanks for the advice and tips (and Alaskamatt17, I find it interesting that you're using sentient dinosaurs in your story, because in my current WIP, I'm also using dinosaurs, cept I have birds and snakes in mine as well)!

While I haven't had as much experience as some of you, I can also relate for some of those things. For instance, wearing a lot of armor does tend to wear you out faster (even if it protects you from blows). I remember having to do a road march once in full gear (flak vest and fully loaded rucksack which weighed about 40 pounds, which I'm sure is "light" compared to infantry soldiers carrying 70+ pounds often), and by the time I finished it (it was 12 miles), I think I more or less passed out hehe. I can't imagine seeing myself fighting if the weather was bad (such as having to fight in the desert).

Even though I've only been in "simulated" battles (where you fire blanks that trigger a laser gun on your rifle which, if it hits a sensor that you also have to wear, kind of like an advanced form of laser tag, will make it beep, meaning "you were hit"), it does get intense at times when you're waiting around (I was a communications soldier, and was assigned mostly to support units, so I never got to really experience the "combat" aspects as much as other people here. Doesn't mean that I got off easy though lol, I can still get attacked and fought back).

I remember one time receiving training on how to react to sniper fire. We walked across a tall grassy area, and suddenly heard shots being fired at us. Even though this was just training, my heart was pounding the whole time because I was thinking "holy crap! Where the heck is that guy!" The instructor told us to guess where the sniper was. Most of us pointed to the northeast, others in various directions. He then instructed the sniper to show himself, and the sniper was to our west. He was very well camoflauged and we did rather poorly. The instructor then told us a story of how one sniper and his spotter took out an entire company of Vietcong soldiers during the Vietnam war, which I have to say was pretty impressive, although I certainly wouldn't want to be taken down by one.

Morale can also be a deciding factor, as has been stated here. Using a real life reference, when the Nazi's invaded the Soviet Union in World War 2, many of the Russians gave up in mass numbers because they were simply no match for the Germans. It got to the point where Stalin had to issue Order 227 ("Not one step back!"), where basically he had another unit following the main Russian units, and they were authorized to fire on soldiers who were retreating or falling back (if you want a movie example of this, Enemy at the Gates has a good sample of this in the beginning, although I've been told by a history professor that it's "Hollywoodized". It's still better than nothing though).

Since the average Russian soldier was going to be shot at regardless of which direction they went, this often gave them the "courage" needed to defeat the Germans (they also incurred massive casualties as a result of this, but they did win the battle of attrition because the Germans did not have as many men as the Russians did, and couldn't afford to keep replacing them. Of course, the US and British attacking the Germans on the other side of Europe certainly didn't help them any).

And even though they were losing late in the war, the German soldiers fought very fiercely for the most part, especially after hearing reports of how the Allies were bombing civilians and how the Russians were raping and pillaging all the German cities they ran across (most of the Russians did this because they were angry at the Germans, esp. the civilians, who were relatively well off while they had suffered great things at the hands of the Germans, and wanted to "take it out" on the Germans every chance they could), which only gave them more resolve to fight to the bitter end. I remember one of my history teaching assistants talk about how he really respected the German soldier during WW2, even more so than US soldiers because they fought pretty well despite not having everything they needed (like the Allies for the most part did. I find it interesting when he told me that some German officers knew the war was at an end when they saw that the Americans could bring cake over from the US, while they were struggling to survive at that point).



I've been faced with this problem too, of "how" to show a battle. For the most part I've just been sticking largely to the protagonist's point of view, and rather than just having a battle for "the sake of having a battle", I've been trying to give every battle a meaning. I also try to give the hero choice A, which is bad, or choice B, which is even worse than A. It will seem that no matter what he does, something bad is going to happen regardless.

For instance, I have one battle where the good guys are trying to evacuate civilians off a planet that the bad guys are invading. They do manage to get some of them away, but ultimately many are still left behind (including some of the hero's friends, and his girlfriend, who forces the hero to make a tough decision to let her stay). The bad guys have been having a habit of nuking the surface of the planet shortly after they destroy all of the good guys' forces there (there's a reason for this, but the explanation is in the novel, and I don't want to give it away here hehe :) ).

Once they leave the planet, they receive a distress call from friendly forces requesting aid from anyone that receives their cry for help. The hero now has to try and persuade his commanding officer to assist them, despite the fact that they're already escorting many transport ships full of civilians, who would be a liability in any major battles (there's also some reasoning behind this, but again, I'd have to tell you a lot of spoilers in order for you to understand :D).

So I guess what I'm saying here is, whatever the outcome, make it difficult for your hero, and make it seem like no matter what they do, it'll probably only get worse. I don't like stories where the hero is overpowering and can single handedly defeat an entire army by himself (not saying it never happened, but for many, it's probably not very believable). I'm quite mean to my good guy characters, and they get beat up a lot in the battles, because I want them to suffer (particularly the hero, because through him I'm expressing some "pain" I felt in life hehe), but as a result I also give them a better payoff at the end to reward the "suffering" they had to endure (and no, the hero doesn't die at the end, because I'll need him for the sequels hehe).

DaveKuzminski
08-21-2005, 02:33 AM
In watching a series on TV today that dealt with gunfights, I found it interesting that there are numerous instances of battles where small units defeated larger units solely because they had better equipment, tactics, or positions.

Keep your battles realistic. Your readers will appreciate what you write and should then want to read more of your work. Leave the dramatization to Hollywood.

Ivonia
08-21-2005, 03:36 AM
In watching a series on TV today that dealt with gunfights, I found it interesting that there are numerous instances of battles where small units defeated larger units solely because they had better equipment, tactics, or positions.

Keep your battles realistic. Your readers will appreciate what you write and should then want to read more of your work. Leave the dramatization to Hollywood.

What you're saying is true Dave, although sometimes smaller units can win (or at least hold out long enough for reinforcments to arrive).

That post reminded me immediately of one of the battles that the 101st Airborne Division during World War 2 took part in. During the "Battle of the Bulge" in winter of 1944, the Germans launched one last desperate offensive in order to stop or at least slow down the Allied advance from the west.

Many of the Allies did get caught unprepared, but the 101st Airborne Division fought and were sieged by German units all around them in a town called Bastogne. Outnumbered with few supplies (most of the soldiers didn't bother bringing their winter gear, and when the winter storms hit, the soldiers were hit pretty hard), and with bad weather preventing the Allies from using their superior air power to help (which was really the only reason why the Germans were able to do their offensive for that long), the 101st held out for about two weeks or so (I don't remember exact dates sorry), long enough against the Germans, until General Patton was able to push through the Germans to relieve them.

The reason why they were able to survive that long mainly was due to the Germans faulty tactics. The Germans only attacked one section of the town at a time, rather than just rushing all sides (which probably would've worked). This allowed the US soldiers to shift their forces to combat wherever the Germans were attacking.

The Germans also at one point send officers to get the US soldiers to surrender, to which General Anthony McAuliffe, the commander of the forces there, replied with the famous remark, "Nuts!" (there's been some dispute that he actually said something more profane, but I think this response is pretty funny).

Of course, not every battle was like this, and yes, smaller forces often did lose to a larger one, unless they really did have an advantage (although this has been stated already too).

Another example of a smaller force defeating a larger force (although this didn't involve guns) was the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 during the Hundred Years' War (and in case you're wondering, no they didn't really fight for a hundred years straight, the conflict raged and waned every couple of years). It was about 12,000 French against 8,000 English.

Anyway, during this battle, the English were outnumbered and outarmed by the French, but they had three distinct advantages. First of all, the ground was muddy (again, this has been mentioned here), so the heavily armored French soldiers and esp. their cavalry were at a disadvantage there (remember, if you're wearing heavy armor, while it might protect you somewhat, it also slows you down and if you slip on mud, it's not easy getting back up, and it would also tire you out rather quickly), the French relied too heavily on melee charges, and finally, the French were forced to charge in a relatively limited area (due to forests blocking either side).

The English would fire arrows at the French to enrage them and force them to charge (if you've seen Braveheart, I'm sure you remember that famous "rain of arrows" fired by the longbowmen, it was kind of like that here too), where the French soldiers, burdened by their heavy armor and the poor ground, would often slip and be easily picked off by the lightly armed archers (when you can't get up, it's easy for someone to simply stab you with a knife, or whack your head with a mallet). Another problem for the French was, as they fell, their own forces would often trample on them (probably because that was the only direction they could go to reach the English, and they subsequently trampled on the survivors and probably fell down themselves).

Of course, it's easy to see how stuff like this happened in retrospect, but imagine yourself being there at the time. You probably would be very confused at what's going on, and probably just worried about fighting for your survival (until it was clear that your side was winning, via the enemy retreating).

Like Dave said, try to keep your battles realistic. These are some "extreme" examples I suppose, so it proves that it's not impossible, but you might only be able to get away with a battle like this once in your story (if it happens too often, people will probably start to not believe), and if you do use a situation like this, make sure that it seems feasible (it's not likely that the French would've allowed another Agincourt to occur again, and I don't think it did during that era. If armies in your story are repeatedly defeated in the same way each time, then people won't believe it for long, as people in real life do learn from mistakes and try not to repeat them).

DaveKuzminski
08-21-2005, 05:18 AM
Another thing to keep in mind is that smaller units more often prevail in the defense. It's much rarer for a small unit to win when it's on the offense. Still, it does happen with enough regularity in wars that you can easily get away with something like that in a story.

One of the episodes I watched today was about a battle on Guadalcanal (sp?) where an American unit in defensive positions faced a larger Japanese unit. However, the enemy came across in only one sector, so instead of a battle of 800 Americans against 900 Japanese, it was more like 34 against 900. The Americans lost 32 and the Japanese records indicated they lost 770 dead in the battle before what was left of their force retreated. If the documentary was correct, the two Americans left in that sector were both wounded. The man operating the machinegun was blinded in the battle and had to be guided to his targets by another man who was wounded in the hands and couldn't do anything more than tell him where to shoot. Aside from this, the Americans had the advantage of a shallow river in front of their positions, so the enemy had to cross the river under fire and found it couldn't.

Vomaxx
08-21-2005, 05:36 AM
Concerning Bastogne: without wishing in the least to denigrate the heroism of the Screaming Eagles, I have to point out that the 101st was not much outnumbered at Bastogne. The German panzer forces (2nd Pz. Div.) had to bypass the town and keep moving. The "besieging" force was one infantry division (26th VG) and a battle group from the Panzer Lehr division, which were good troops but very stretched around a large perimeter. The 101st also had elements of two armored divisons (9th and 10th) assisting. The famous surrender demand from Gen. Luettwitz on 22 Dec., threatening "annihilation by the massed fires of German artillery," was a bluff, about which the Germans themselves were embarrassed--not until 1960 did Luettwitz admit he wrote it.

The siege lasted for five days (Dec. 21 - 25). The fighting went on until New Years Day (or so).

The really vicious fighting at Bastogne came after the encirclement was broken and Hitler committed elements of two SS Panzer Divisions to take the place. But that offensive was foredoomed, as Patton had reinforced the 101st and we had the use of our air power.

The mention of the Americans' ability to send cakes overseas is an incident from the movie "Battle of the Bulge." (A good film--see it.) I don't know that it ever actually happened.

Well, enough of the history lecture. One point on the current topic:

Morale matters most. Well-motivated troops armed with sticks can beat poor troops armed with laser pistols. Men who are willing to die will usually beat men who are not. Morale, leadership, and discipline win battles, not equipment. (Of course, good equipment doesn't hurt!)

And finally: A picture being worth 1,000 words, consider including a map if you're decribing a battle overall. It helps so much. For example, if only JRRT could have put in a map of Helm's Deep, we'd all have a better idea of what was actually happening.

DaveKuzminski
08-21-2005, 06:50 AM
While morale may matter, it is not the only deciding issue. Neither is leadership. Nor can discipline be pointed at as the only deciding point for winning.

Sometimes, it is equipment. Sometimes, it's intelligence. Sometimes, it's allies who switch sides or remove themselves from battle at a critical juncture. Sometimes, it's other conditions that intervene. Sometimes, desperation is what matters.

The truth is if there was any way possible to point to specific things as being always responsible for winning battles, military forces would concentrate solely upon those. However, it seems that every battle proves something different can be more important than previously thought. It might not ever be that important again, but a wise military leader will take it into consideration, even if only briefly.

Bartel
08-21-2005, 10:31 PM
It occurred to me that if you're wanting to get a feel for ancient warfare tactics, a good person to study would be Alexander the Great.

DaveKuzminski
08-22-2005, 06:22 AM
There was a documentary on TV tonight that examined ancient warfare. Seems that everything we use in modern warfare, aside from aircraft, was in use over 2000 years ago. They had flame throwers, artillery, cannon... yes, cannon. Archimedes, it seems, developed a steam cannon that was later proved not only feasible, but well within their knowledge and technology. Tanks, too, though theirs were either the ram turtle or the siege tower, some of which have been claimed to be as high as 8 stories (120 feet) and could be moved by means of a winch system that turned the wheels so it could inch its way forward.

So, basically, you can translate almost anything happening now as possible then if you're using early Earth or in your fantasy world if you're not.

zornhau
08-22-2005, 12:45 PM
So, basically, you can translate almost anything happening now as possible then if you're using early Earth or in your fantasy world if you're not.

But if you do it too literally, it'll feel like a thinly veiled version of the original. These devices existed, but they were hardly used in the same manner.

For example, yes they had flame throwers, but these were ruddy great manually operated pumps mounted on the decks of ships, or on fortifications; not something you could lug around on your back.

Tanks - well, yes they had armoured siege vehicles, but these were trundled in a straight line towards the enemy walls. Or are we talking war waggons? These aren't really used like tanks either - there's the small matter of the vulnerability of the horses.

If you don't know about warfare, the best bet is to pick an era with the feel you want and purchase some of the nicely boiled down guides from http://www.ospreypublishing.com/index.php

DaveKuzminski
08-22-2005, 08:12 PM
For example, yes they had flame throwers, but these were ruddy great manually operated pumps mounted on the decks of ships, or on fortifications; not something you could lug around on your back.

Actually, they did have portable single man operated flame throwers. They even demonstrated with one that had been recreated from historical records.


Tanks - well, yes they had armoured siege vehicles, but these were trundled in a straight line towards the enemy walls. Or are we talking war waggons? These aren't really used like tanks either - there's the small matter of the vulnerability of the horses.

While the program didn't show any recreated siege vehicles, they were self-propelled from within using winches to turn the wheels. The narrator expressed some doubts that those were effective, but the point remains that the weapon systems were used in numerous battles particularly against fortified cities.

Another program meant to be a companion piece to the one on warfare dealt with medical treatment. Interestingly enough, they showed a set of Roman medical tools and compared those to modern equipment and the two were similar, if not identical, that a Roman doctor would have recognized the purpose of the modern equipment. In fact, medical books written by a Roman doctor were in use for appx. 1500 years before doctors questioned his methods and discovered that some were either inadequate or wrong. Still, doctors now are amazed at how much he got right. Also, some Roman hospitals actually had flushable toilets. That I didn't know. Anyway, the point I'm making here is that the ancient world wasn't that far behind what we have now.

zornhau
08-23-2005, 08:58 PM
"Anyway, the point I'm making here is that the ancient world wasn't that far behind what we have now."

Agreed. However, the sum of differences add up to very different tactics and strategies, which was my point.

Also, different technologies imply different civilisations. For example, any barbarian can build a cat/sow/penthouse to shelter a ram is they know how, but a Greek Fire siphon requires the sort of infrastructure possessed only by the Byzantines.

arodriguez
08-23-2005, 11:10 PM
IMO, as far as how many battle scenes: as many as it takes to tell the story. ask yourself what is the purpose of teh battle? does it move the story? as far as your charcter getting knocked unconscious...its all well and good, as long as it moves teh story where it has to go and it makes sense/ is believable.

as a reader i dont care how many battle scenes you have as long as there is a purpose for you describing them and they are well written. dont worry about what people think about how many battle scenes there are and how long they are. just write the freaking thing and cut out what you dont need later.

DaveKuzminski
08-24-2005, 03:55 AM
One of the comments from the program about ancient weapons was the comment about how many of a particular weapon equivalent to artillery the Romans possessed in each legion and the remark that they actually used them in mass to create an artillery barrage. Sounds to me like we're giving too much credit to the modern generals when it was their ancient predecessors who came up with those tactics and ideas.

Higgins
09-09-2006, 07:08 PM
I'm struggling a bit with how to make my battle scenes less repetitious. My fantasy novel characters use swords and bow, but I suppose the same issue would arise for people using lasers and starships.

My usual course with battle scenes is to keep the POV in very tight, showing what my character experiences and how he or she reacts. I also spend a fair amount of time on the pre-battle buildup. And using those techniques, I think I can write an engaging battle.

But if I have more than one in a story, they seem repetitious to me. How do the rest of you create variety? Or should I not have more than one battle scene in a story?

Read O'Brian. His battles are perfect and they are often more or less hand to hand and don't all involve ships cannonading each other.

On of my favorites is the one that Jack Aubery thinks about while writing a letter to Sophie, a battle where his ex-pirate men do some wonderful knife-work....ah...pirates.

Higgins
09-10-2006, 08:19 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is that smaller units more often prevail in the defense. It's much rarer for a small unit to win when it's on the offense. Still, it does happen with enough regularity in wars that you can easily get away with something like that in a story.

One of the episodes I watched today was about a battle on Guadalcanal (sp?) where an American unit in defensive positions faced a larger Japanese unit. However, the enemy came across in only one sector, so instead of a battle of 800 Americans against 900 Japanese, it was more like 34 against 900. The Americans lost 32 and the Japanese records indicated they lost 770 dead in the battle before what was left of their force retreated. If the documentary was correct, the two Americans left in that sector were both wounded. The man operating the machinegun was blinded in the battle and had to be guided to his targets by another man who was wounded in the hands and couldn't do anything more than tell him where to shoot. Aside from this, the Americans had the advantage of a shallow river in front of their positions, so the enemy had to cross the river under fire and found it couldn't.

This is a version of what happened to the first organized Japanese attack at Guadalcanal, that of the Ichiki Detachment. Looking at Richard B. Frank's account in Guadalcanal, we can see that Ichiki was doomed by a lot of factors that fantasy writers might consider in plotting their battles. First, there was disunity of command and confusion on the Japanese side and the objectives of the Empire in the Solomons were ill-defined and subject to fluctuations. The Americans had the advantage of having done something unexpected, though in fact their strategic aim was the extremely simple one of trying to save on the amount of shipping tied up in transit to Australia by making the shorter route safer.
Second, the Imperial Army had fixed or stereotypical ideas about their enemy. For example, though the number of ships the US had used to land their forces was known, the Imperial Army underestimated the size of the US forces on Guadalcanal because they assumed the US would need far more supplies and equipment than the Japanese would. So the 20 transports the Japanese would need to move an infantry division would suffice only to move a US regiment. Still, if Ichiki had been a bit more cautious, he might have avoided his fate on Alligator Creek (which was of course full of crocodiles and not the river that the battle is named for, the Tenaru). He actually had a force of 2000 men and 250 more supporting him, but he assumed that:
a) there were only abut 5000 US troops on the Island
b) they would not put up much of a fight if he just charged them.

So Ichiki arrived on the Island and immediately marched with his first landing group of only 900 men to attack the US perimeter, which was indeed thin to the point of non-existence in most places, but not entirely non-existent at the mouth of Alligator Creek. As Ichiki approached Alligator creek, his advanced guard of 38 men was ambushed and virtually exterminated by a US patrol. So Ichiki was down to 870 men and still had no reconnaissance reports and the US forces knew he was coming.

Now as for the actual climatic clash at the sandbar at the mouth of Alligator Creek, Frank, says the US had about 100 men dug in there behind a single strand of barbed wire, but this body of men had plenty of machine guns and even light artillery and were eventually backed up by 4 tanks. Of Ichicki's 3 companies and an engineer detachment, 2 companies attacked at the sandbar and at the very point of the initial impact, there may indeed have been only about 34 Americans facing about 300-400 Japanese. At any rate the Japanese attack at the sand bar did not break through despite outnumbering the defenders more than 10 to one or so.

The final destruction of Ichiki's force happened when a US battalion (say 600 men) crossed Alligator creek upstream and surrounded the remains of the Ichiki force and killed all but 100 of them (770 total of 870).

Ichiki could have waited for his additional troops, especially after his advanced guard was wiped out and with 2000 men he might have done some serious damage had there only been a US regiment on the Island rather than most of the US 1st Marine Division.

So the tale of the doomed Ichiki Detachment shows how much of a battle is determined by external forces and the prejudices (such as Imperial Army stereotypes about the US troops needing lots of supplies and not being willing to stand and die), though in the end it all might come down to the 34 men who fight to the death against 10 times their number. But see Frank's account for all of that.

(edited to clarify Ichiki, edited for "functunations")

JDCrayne
09-11-2006, 04:20 AM
There are some good suggestions here. I could probably use some of them myself. I'm surprised, however, that no one's suggested reading how other authors write battle scenes (or maybe I just missed that post). Researching tactics and envorinment is great, and you should absolutely do that, but those things don't really give much insight on how to actually write the scene. ... (snip)

For hand to hand combat, I don't think anyone can beat the descriptions in Robert E. Howard's fantasy novels. His sword fights are described slash by slash, parry and reposte, and typically continue for a couple of pages. Doc Smith wrote a lot of very lengthy space battles, which are sometimes interesting, and Jerry Pournelle has written modern descriptions of classical battles between footsoldiers, like the Battle of Thermopoli.

jsh
12-19-2006, 01:11 AM
My fantasy novel characters use swords and bow, but I suppose the same issue would arise for people using lasers and starships.
For example, Sun Tzu talks about putting one's army on its Death Ground; i.e., if an army is in dire strait, the general can win by putting the army in a position where the soldiers' only two options are victory or death. This is effective in the reverse as well; Machiavelli spoke of giving the enemy a Golden Bridge. I asked a friend about this right after he got out of the 82nd Airborn, and he said that the easiest way to clear a building is from the top down. Give the enemy way out and let the snipers take care of 'em.

So, yeah, I do think tactics and strategy are to a large degree independent of the times, with fine tuning of course.

If you feel you're being redundant, maybe try reading about some historical battles and co-opt the action to suit your own needs.

I wouldn't worry about having wholesale slaughter as long as it's appropriate for the book. The Second Punic War lasted nearly two decades, and for most that time, the Romans were getting crushed time and again. And those were very bloody losses. If you've got a quasi-medieval setting, then ransome & such may be on the combatants' minds, for example, which will definitely up the rate of prisoner taking.

farfromfearless
12-19-2006, 01:36 AM
For me, having characters engage in battle is typically a last resort - a means to and end. I prefer to treat battles as settings by giving enough description to the reader to get a sense of its scale while not focusing on the details of how the units are arranged or how polished some general's breastplate might be. It's the struggle between your characters and the conflict that brought them to the battle that is important. Your character is there for a reason, follow them as they try to accomplish their goals. Remember too that in battle, your MC is not the only one fighting -- this means that he or she does not have to engage every single footman sent after them, and you do not have to describe every deft parry and riposte that they execute. Battles are messy affairs; there is always much confusion and disorientation. Use those as tools to further the scene along and get to the climax of the scene.

badducky
12-19-2006, 02:43 AM
A brief addition to the discussion: the best battle scenes I've ever read are in Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace". They work on every level.

Atlantis
12-19-2006, 03:12 PM
I'm struggling a bit with how to make my battle scenes less repetitious. My fantasy novel characters use swords and bow, but I suppose the same issue would arise for people using lasers and starships.

My usual course with battle scenes is to keep the POV in very tight, showing what my character experiences and how he or she reacts. I also spend a fair amount of time on the pre-battle buildup. And using those techniques, I think I can write an engaging battle.

But if I have more than one in a story, they seem repetitious to me. How do the rest of you create variety? Or should I not have more than one battle scene in a story?

I write alot of battle scenes. In my current novel, I have 6 different major battles involving Greek Gods which means instead of swords I have lightning bolts, tidal waves, wild storms, hail stones, vicious winds, rain, fire, earth quakes, people transforming into animals, exploding cars, flying trees, whirl pools, mist and a little bit of swords.

I'm actually in the middle of one at the moment between Zeus and Poseidon. Poseidon has just thrown a whole heap of uprooted trees at Zeus, which he set on fire then smashed into peices, and now Zeus is abou to start throwing cars at Poseidon which will then explode into peices as they hit the ground. It is hard to come up with unique and different battles that will be interesting to the reader espically if you have quite a few in your book like I do. At least in my book I have the option of going nuts with my imagination. I have, though, done medieval battles on horse back with rampaging armies, so I know how difficult it can be to do a battle with nothing but swords.


I recently bought a frigging awesome book that would probably help you. Its called Medieval Combat and is a reprint of a German 14th century "Fight Book" with hundreds of hand drawn pictures centuries old detailing real medieval fight tatics with everything from swords, bare handed, knives, axes, spears, sheilds and yep, horse back. I practically drooled when I found it. I love sword fighting and writing battles. Here is the link to the book http://www.amazon.com/Medieval-Combat-Fifteenth-Century-Swordfighting-Close-Quarter/dp/1853675822/sr=1-1/qid=1166526603/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-1693264-6497620?ie=UTF8&s=books

Every fantasy writer should have it. Its got moves in there that I had no idea about. Until I found that book, all of my sword fighting knowledge came from movies like Gladiator and the Matrix. It should help add some spice to your book.

zornhau
12-19-2006, 05:19 PM
If you think the book's "frigging awesome", just think how it feels to pull off the techniques in a real fight, albiet with modern protective gear and blunt swords!
http://i15.photobucket.com/albums/a388/zornhau/tafel_78.gif

Most of the images are actually available here: http://www.schielhau.org/tal.html

jsh
12-19-2006, 08:03 PM
Capo Ferro has some great images, although they're rapier rather than medieval. http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/NewManuals/CapoFerro/capoferro.htm

http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/NewManuals/CapoFerro/10001087.jpg

badducky
12-19-2006, 08:50 PM
Hm... I'm more a fan of Philippine weapon styles in both life and writing.

They aren't fancy at all. In fact, the styles are designed to be as simple as possible so that a group of farmers can be trained for combat in a very short period of time.

Unsurprisingly, simplicity is an excellent tactic in armed combat.

Also, Vi Arnis Jitsu or Escrima simplicity's easier on the eyes in writing than some of the methods I've seen to describe elaborate styles of armed combat done by authors that prefer terminologies and fancy techniques.

zornhau
12-19-2006, 11:41 PM
Strangely, all practical martial arts seem to tend to simplicity.

German Longsword, of which I am a devotee, is built of a dozen or so simple techniques. The results may be complex, but the route is simple.

Hanko Dobringer, writing in 1389, even slags off flash systems taught by sporting fencing masters.

badducky
12-19-2006, 11:46 PM
An important difference between German Longsword and Escrima: Good Escrima and/or Vi Arnis Jitsu is available at most metropolitan areas in the world for a very low cost.

German longsword is a bit more of a niche.

C.bronco
12-19-2006, 11:59 PM
I based my battle scene on a real battle.

zornhau
12-20-2006, 01:34 AM
An important difference between German Longsword and Escrima: Good Escrima and/or Vi Arnis Jitsu is available at most metropolitan areas in the world for a very low cost.

German longsword is a bit more of a niche.

Wait 20 years. It'll be a different story. :)

badducky
12-20-2006, 01:41 AM
I can't wait 20 years! I have to write books NOW!

Atlantis
12-20-2006, 04:29 AM
If you think the book's "frigging awesome", just think how it feels to pull off the techniques in a real fight, albiet with modern protective gear and blunt swords!
http://i15.photobucket.com/albums/a388/zornhau/tafel_78.gif

Most of the images are actually available here: http://www.schielhau.org/tal.html


I've considered learning sword fighting, but I have a muscle disorder, so I doubt I will be very good at holding a sword for very long or fighting very well. Sword fighting is very, very, violent but its always held a fascination for me because in some ways, its like a dance, powerful and graceful, with only one winner ;)

Vincent
12-20-2006, 05:40 AM
Well, that looks painful.

Kentuk
12-20-2006, 06:40 AM
Consider writing a defeat, from the losers point of view.

Pthom
12-20-2006, 10:27 AM
Consider writing, not just of a battle but of the entire war, from a private's point of view.

zornhau
12-20-2006, 01:51 PM
I can't wait 20 years! I have to write books NOW!

Actually, there is a kind of cheat available - a modern interpretation which supplies flow charts!!!

http://i15.photobucket.com/albums/a388/zornhau/Sword%20Stuff/Fighting06.jpg
http://www.chivalrybookshelf.com/titles/fighting/Fighting.htm

Ordinary_Guy
12-20-2006, 11:30 PM
Consider writing, not just of a battle but of the entire war, from a private's point of view.
I tried that once but it was pretty boring: the cup was blocking the view.