How to Write a Battle Scene – WRITE THAT SCENE

How to Write a Battle Scene

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Part One

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  1. Describe the landscape before the scene starts.
  2. »A.Only show the events that are important.

I.     Give the reader some idea what kind of terrain the characters will be covering. If you wait to do this, you may find yourself putting the characters and the reader on hold.

II.   And remember, don’t just tell what’s happening around the battle as if you’re watching from a bird’s eye view. Besides, you wouldn’t write about a bird flying over the battle if that bird’s existence wasn’t important. Keep your sentences shorter, (slip in a close call every once in a while or battlefield twist to give the impression of chaos) so that it can build tension and a sense of immediacy.

Example 1:  The desert looked like it spread for thousands of miles, without signs of life of any form. Only vultures were flying high in the sky in order to find food. Hopefully I wouldn’t be their meal. There were no trees, water or peace anywhere in the heated place; it felt like being inside an oven, except 100 degrees worse. Below, the ground was cracked as if it would open up and eat my army and me alive. Undoubtedly, this place was hell, though there was no turning back. Our enemy would soon arrive and we would have to fight till death.

 

    »B.Fiction writers do not write battle scenes like in a history book. They write what the protagonist is going through when engaged in a battle.

I.      That means you have to see, hear, smell and feel like the protagonist. From hiding under his/her bunk as rockets drop around his/her position, to shooting his weapon at an enemy he/she can’t actually see, to personal hand to hand combat with someone who is trying to kill him.

II.    Try to keep the focus on one character.  Get in his/her mind. What does he/she feel emotionally about someone trying to stick a knife into a gut? Or what does it feel like to stick a knife into someone else’s gut? What does your protagonist feel about watching someone he/she has just shot bleed out in front of their eyes?

Example 2:  

 They came like a thief in the night. Their stainless white coats were flashing us, nearly blinding my army. Too bad we didn’t have shades.

“Attack!” I shouted the second the enemy arrived halfway. All 1,000 of my men went charging forward with their weapons. I had a sword and went for the leader. I swung hard at his body, he did the same to me. Both our swords were powerful— no one had a hand up. If one of us were going to win we’d have to do things differently. So, without further thought, I dropped my sword and whipped out a small knife. Running toward him at full speed ahead, I tricked the enemy by sliding on the desert ground and aiming for his groin. I sliced the knife over his meat, making gushes of blood spill out. I grinned at the sight of it. I felt powerful, like a hero. Did this mean I had won, that the enemy was dead? His warriors noticed what I had done and started coming toward me with their measly weapons. Their swords were nothing compared to their leader’s.

     

    »C.Further engage all the senses of the character.

I.       This way you can show the chaos of a major battle. The tremendous sound of warriors fighting, with their screams of challenge and pain and of weapons engaging. Gunshots damage hearing and can leave those too close temporarily deaf or with ringing ears.

II.     The sight of enemy combatants coming at your character from all sides and the frantic actions to ensure survival. Smoke from fires that can blind, then part to reveal those who are fighting and those who are dying.

III.    The smell of that smoke, and of sweat, blood, and body odor. Blood has a distinctive smell.

IV.     The taste of dust in the character’s mouth and of the raging thirst he/she will soon be feeling.

V.     If you are using swords, the feel of the character’s blade as it slices into enemy flesh, the splash of blood, and then quickly turning away to face the next fighter.

VI.     Oh, and what does that CRUNCH! feel and sound like when both armies come at last to grips with each other. What does the sound of punctured, sliced and hewn flesh and armor sound like?

VII.   Remember that you have a point of view character whose experience is all that you can present. In most battles, the injured soldier suffering on the ground has little idea of any big-scale factors and only knows what’s going on in his/her immediate area. The character can’t tell if his side is winning or losing, and he most certainly can’t tell what the general’s plan was or whether it worked.

Example 3:   As my eyes darted in all directions to capture a glimpse of the new foes I had encountered, I witnessed it, the heavy rock heading straight for my head with its crippled and uneven appearance I knew I would drift out of consciousness by its blunt attack.

I didn’t know how much time past when I finally opened my eyes. As I stood to my feet I saw my army still fighting the enemy. Before me lay the leader, still and bruised on the groin. He must have bled to death. Taking a step forward wasn’t so easy. One of the enemy warriors had cut off one of my feet. Now I had to drag myself across the scene. I didn’t know who was winning at the time. I didn’t even know how many men I’ve lost or if they’ve stuck with the plan. Maybe they thought the rock killed me? Maybe? But one thing was for sure; I was going to keep fighting, even if it meant I’d lose my life. 

 

**

Part Two

  1. Make your reader feel like they are there looking down at the scene like a god.
  2. »A.What do the faces, armor, flags, banners, swords, spears, horses, ranks of infantry or masses of wild barbarians look like?

I.     Tell them the color of the banners, the way the light shines on plate mail, tell them what the soldiers are thinking and feeling and saying, are they all brave? Do some run? The same goes for the commanders. The soldiers only want to live; the commanders only want to win.

II.     Is your battle dirty and gritty? Are the soldiers clean or dirty or sweaty?

III.   Describe the action of swinging of the swords, puncturing daggers, smashing axes, gouging spears, and impact of arrows and slings and catapult and ballistae.

 

Example 4:  

 High above our bright red banner waved in the wind, taunting our enemy. Barely any soldiers rode a horse; the others had been killed or trampled over along with their rider. What seemed like hundreds of narrow spears shot through the air, ultimately landing in the hearts of men. Quite literally. And as I watched my men fall, I felt rage over come me. Blood mixed with dirt, gritty, filthy dirt. Vultures would have a feast with the bodies lain on the desert floor. However, I intend not to be part of that meal. Sweat fell from my eye from the realization that I could be wrong and I no longer saw the enemy around me.

My sword danced, and I cut a path of blood through the battlefield, slicing through weak, brittle armor. That’s when I felt something whoosh above my head, then heard the sound of a gun echo around me, my heart temporarily stopped for a second as the suffocating silence mocked me; my ears were still ringing from the blast. Where was the shooter?  I thought this battle was swords only…. I glanced around in every direction… more guns shot around. I fell in one motion to the ground, and started to look for the gunman.

  That’s when I heard it, heavy feet marching across the ground, someone had spotted me; my time had finally come.

     

    »B. Describe individual actions and group actions. How do they impact the overall scene?

I.     How morally ambiguous are the characters? Do they fall to alliances or go on their own? Is there a large hope motive surrounding this war? Emotionally charged violence can be more easily justified.

 
II.       Next, think about what your heroes are doing? Don’t forget the side characters or the little infantry guy either. There may be feats of huge courage, or gross cowardice, often from those you’d least expect. Do the soldiers shout, scream, bellow war cries, and pray to their heathen gods for strength? Do they cry for their friends as they bleed out? Beg for mercy as the death stroke falls? Is the grass/dirt/field/hill covered in dead or blood or fire? There’s likely to be mud, too.

 
III.       Wounds may spatter those nearby with blood and tissue. Severe injuries to the lower body will spill intestinal contents, which smell. There’s likely to be dying soldiers calling for help that cannot come without being killed themselves.

 
IV.       Physical exhaustion is a major factor, so fitness and training are important. How large and/or strong someone is will be a factor if long-range weapons are not present.

Example 5:   If I had the energy to get up and run, I would. But sadly, I didn’t. Each step shot through my eyes. Hopefully this man would have mercy on my soul. As I looked up, I saw Leonard, one of my soldiers. Giving a sigh of relief, I reached my hand out for him to grab it and help me— though that didn’t happen.
 

**

Part Three

  1. Readers want to feel the character’s angst and fear and anxiety while they’re in the midst of battle. It draws the reader in and builds the thrill and drama up within that scene.
  2. »A. Try switching between characters then leave off with a cliffhanger with one character and pick it up with the next character.

I.         For instance, to build tension, to write a page turner novel, and to draw the character straight into the dilemma, you can show an opponent soldier disarming the main character and he/she falls and loses their own sword as the opponent lifts his weapon to pierce the main character. Next, you should immediately cut over to another character’s perspective within that battle to show what’s happening with him until it also reaches that point where he sees the main character being disarmed. The reader will be anxious to see what happened next to the main character (if he/she dies, is saved, etc.)

 
II.    Or simply, image things whizzing past the character’s head or the screams of someone dying right next to them. How much blood can they see? Where are you standing, or hiding, or fighting?

 
III.    Yes, there’s so much going on that you won’t get everything, but try your best. The character may piss in their pants out of fear; they may go blank and forget how to fight out of confusion and panic.

Example 6:  

“Luther,” Leonard said, stepping on my hand and making me scream. “I have been waiting for this day for over fifteen years. Now, it is your turn to die in the same manner my father did.”

“What is this revenge you speak of?” I said, though my voice was leaving me. I had drawn a blank. Luther had always been there for me; we grew up together. Why did he want me dead? The panic had set in, I no longer had the strength to bare any of this. Not anymore. Maybe today was indeed my day to die. Maybe. Lowering my head, I said one finally thing:

“Leonard, I’m sorry for killing your father. I didn’t know.”

 

**

Part Four

  1. How does the battle ending flow? Be sure to get some facts straight.
  2. »A. Don’t neglect the pre-battle scenes or the plot. The tension, the waiting, the fear and exhilaration. And do not neglect the post battle let down: soldiers happy to be alive but angry and hurt, and feeling guilty for being alive when their friends or brothers have died?

I.    Make it physically visceral. Emotionally, during the battle all the character is going to care about is staying alive. Afterward, show how the adrenaline drains out of his/her body (which usually produces shakes), and of how utterly emotionally grieving the character feels in the face of bloodshed.

Example 7:

“I know….” Leonard said, pinning the sword into the sand. He fell to his knees and hugged me. “Luther, you’re my brother.”

I glanced up quickly and listened.

“Father plan on killing you because you were born out of wedlock. It is because of your name that he believed you were cursed.”

“My name? Luther?”

“No…” Leonard shook his head. “You are the son of Marybelle Mclaina. You, Luther are the true prince of Mascadon. Father knew it, but he didn’t want his reign to end.”

“So,” I said, standing on my feet. My brother helped me. “All this time we were related and I didn’t know.” Leonard nodded. “Then what is the war for?”

“Revenge for our mother. She had been slain by our father years ago. The only way you can rule the country in peace is if we kill all the Mandonians.”

“There has to be another way,” I shouted in a panic.

“There isn’t!!” Leonard yelled, but it wasn’t so that I could hear him over the noise of soldiers fighting, it was because he had been shot with his own rifle. Behind me stood a enemy soldier with a smile on his face, pointing the gun at my forehead.

“Prepare to die.” And with that, he pulled the trigger. Though I was still alive; the gun was empty. Thinking quickly, I pulled the sword out of the sand, charged for the enemy and punctured his stomach. He became dead as soon as I withdrew my sword. As he lay motionless on the desert floor, I threw the sword on him and said:

“Enough is enough. No more dying. No more…..”

My body was shaking, the adrenaline coursed through my veins— I knew what I had to do. Return to the castle of Mascadon and sit on my throne. Just like the prophecy said, once a true heir takes their place in the kingdom there will be peace once again. No wonder when my father ruled there wasn’t any. All there was was war and lots of it.

     

    »B. Work in a little science to back-up what you be writing about to make it somewhat real as well as somewhat believable.

I.     Be familiar with the weapons you want to use and the movements used when fighting with them. Arrows aren’t fired, they’re loosened. The phrase “Ready, aim, fire!” is used for only guns because of the small explosion and fire used to ignite gunpowder.

II.     Don’t change the rules halfway. If Magna-blasters (or whatever your characters use) emit pulses of energy that knock down buildings, cause people feel as if their skin is burning and destroy any energy sources in a 50 yard radius – stick to that throughout the scene. You might even look up how various forms of energy work in reality.

IV.      Also keeps the character’s fighting motions in key with the weapon. Heavy axes wouldn’t be light enough to slice an opponent, they hack. As for rapiers, (thin swords) they can slice, they don’t hack.

Example 8:   (No Example Added- but you can add one for your scene).

 

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