View Full Version : How to Describe a Duel

10-10-2019, 01:54 AM
Oh, boy!

I bet there is material on this site relating to the above topic, but can I find it - nope.

At risk of provoking the mods, any advice - or a pointer toward resources - on how to block the action in the scene would be appreciated.

The pov character is a young female, observing two male characters in a set duel. The males are going at each other with long-handled cudgels (because reasons) and the place where the action takes place is an arena with a sandy soil. One of the combatants is a bad guy and has got a sneaky, hard whack in on his opponent, before the contest is officially started.

I have a beginning, middle and end in general terms for the duel, but I am a bit vague on the sort of moves required to make that duel seem convincing. I do have a little cover for my own ineptitude here, since my pov character is female and has little knowledge herself of duelling, (if I can really call it that) and the duellists are trying to bean each other with clubs, so fancy fencing-style terms seem hardly appropriate. What I am looking for is a description of attack/parry moves, without also getting bogged down in too much detail.


Dan Rhys
10-10-2019, 02:21 AM
Maybe these simple terms would help get you started. We can build from there.

Bash - Thrusting a blunt object forward
Slash - Diagonal upward or downward attack
Sweep - Swinging from one-side to another
Crush - Downward swing of a weapon

10-10-2019, 05:25 AM
If your POV character doesn't know what she's looking at, perhaps it's best to keep it vague.

I've watched Western Martial Arts of various types, for mumblemumble years, and I still have difficulty comprehending what I'm seeing. If I had to give a play-by-play, I'd have no clue what to say, although the people standing next to me, who participate themselves, have a better comprehension of what we're both seeing with our eyes.

So your POV from inside the head of one of the duellists, or perhaps some omniscient narrator, is going to be far more active and precise and technical than someone who knows nothing about fighting who's wringing their hands on the sidelines.

A lot would depend on the type of cudgel. If it's something dense and massy and meant for crushing and permanently maiming or killing, vs something that's lighter weight and intended for training or entertainment.

If it's a duel that's meant to end fatally for one of the combatants, or if the skill level is mismatched, or if one of them is already injured going into it, it will be more likely that one of them will want to take control, get in, do their thing, and get out as soon as possible. Whereas if the stakes are lower, or if the combatants are more evenly matched, there will be more of a likelihood that it will drag out longer.

In fencing, at least, it's impossible to attack without leaving yourself open to some vulnerability in some way. And likewise, you don't allow someone to attack you without punishing them for getting in your space. I would expect something similar with cudgels, especially when you've got so much more momentum in play. Cudgels are meant for crushing, rather than the stabbiness that you get with swords, so there's not the same finesse. So a lot will come down to the details of your particular weapon--- a spiked cudgel has different strategies than a decorative bat, and a Chinese monk's cudgel =/= a shillelagh.

10-11-2019, 02:20 AM
These short videos may help. Scholegladiatoria discussing stick fighting.



10-13-2019, 12:50 AM
Okay, with cudgels, the only moves you'll have are beat, whack, smash, whomp, pound, bludgeon and the occasional defensive block. I have to say that, since the situation you describe never happened outside a middle-school playground, whatever you write is accurate. It's your world.


10-13-2019, 03:36 AM
My thanks to everyone who pitched in on this. All grist for the mill.

I completed the scene earlier today - more or less - and while it is not brilliant, I think it will serve well enough for a first draft. I shall refine in the revision phase.

10-13-2019, 11:57 AM
What jumps to mind for me is the emotion. Does your character enjoy watching people try to kill each other? Most people don't. Especially people who aren't used to violence. Unless there's a reason why your characters are desensitised to this kind of violence (they might be if they live in the kind of society that considers this sort of thing normal, e.g. ancient Rome and its circuses, but even then I'd question whether most people weren't traumatised at some level - and desensitisation can be a symptom of PTSD), people find it highly traumatic to watch. It's not the same as watching a boxing match or MMA fight. So would she actually watch the fight or would she close her eyes in horror and not want to see any of it?

Another thing that comes to mind is that two people trying to whack each other over the head with blunt objects aren't going to be fighting for very long. A swings at B's head, fractures B's skull and B drops to the floor unconscious or semi-conscious in loads of pain and unable to do anything. Unless your society has a high level of medical technology, B's likely to die.

There's a chance that neither of them will survive. For example: A gets a good hit on B. (back of the head or forehead where the skull's harder to break) B has a concussion but is not unconscious so he keeps fighting. A whacks him in the head again, this time causing a brain bleed.

(note: he could've got a brain bleed from the first blow, however brain bleeding is more likely from subsequent blows to the head than the first. So even if the first blow doesn't do that much damage it increase the risk of later blows being fatal)

B is still not unconscious - the brain bleed is slow and hasn't yet caused any problems - and swings at A with everything he's got and lands a blow on the side of A's head, smashing A's skull in a region where the skull is thin and there are major blood vessels. A has a massive and severe brain bleed and falls unconscious immediately. Everyone hails B as the winner while A is dragged out of the arena unconscious. A dies within a few minutes. Meanwhile B is feeling quite ill but doesn't tell anyone because hey, he got a blow to the head and it's normal to be a bit dazed and anyway he's not thinking all that straight because of the concussion. Unless your society's got an advanced level of medical technology there's nothing they can do about it anyway even if he did tell them. But inside B's head the blood from the bleed is slowly building up and increasing the pressure inside his head. Within the next hour he collapses unconscious, never to be revived, and dies. If he drinks alcohol as part of the celebrations then that would speed up the brain bleeding and death.

Note that the long handle on the cudgel would give the person swinging it a mechanical advantage, i.e. making it a lot easier to fracture the opponents' skull.

In any case, the fight is likely to be over after very quickly. First one to get a decent hit on the other's skull will win (and the loser will have a high chance of dying without medical intervention) and the fight shouldn't be too hard to describe. If you want it to be longer then they'd need to spend a lot of time circling each other or swinging at the other's head and missing. Or blows to the body.

Unless you're going for a slapstick or Tom and Jerry vibe where characters can survive fatal violence because fatal violence is funny as long as no-one gets hurt.