How to write a Castle Siege Scene


NOTE: This scene was written by a fellow writer. His bio is below. If you would also like your scene to be published to our website please read this article. Thanks!

Part One

1.    Establish the place that is being defended, and why it is crucial.

»A.  Where is this battle taking place?  What are the attackers sieging?

I.    A siege is a battle between attackers and defenders over the control of a certain point the defenders are holding.  As a general rule, attackers have more warriors than defenders, or the battle is pretty lop-sided.  So, what is the place that is being defended?  This is really important because it not only sets the mood, but it dictates how this battle is going to be fought.  Get creative.  Is it an old, abandoned fort from the pioneer days or a rugged castle clinging to the edge of a cliff?  Sky fortress?  Ocean temple?  A Citadel built on top of a massive dragon’s back?

II.    Why is this particular place so important?  Think about story stakes.  What happens if the fortress is taken?  Does it hold the formula for the antidote to the zombie apocalypse?   Or maybe in the keep is the last living unicorn?  Will the entire world instantly fall apart?  You get the idea.  Think carefully: this part is what makes the suspense of the battle so nail-biting.  Tip: if you’re writing from the viewpoint of the attackers, create some time limit: example: “If we don’t breach the walls in x amount of time, then x will surely happen.” With the defenders, give them a certain amount of time they need to hold out before salvation comes.
Example 1:

    Sir Galahad stood atop the battlements of the castle walls, looking out across the gently rolling green hills shrouded with a wet mist.  The sun was a pale-yellow circle high in the sky – but a thick curtain of storm clouds was quickly shrouding it.   A growing chill was settling in – tonight was going to be a frigid, rainy night.

     Galahad looked back at the keep of the old, rugged fortress, covered in climbing moss and crumbling in a few places.  Despite this, the keep presented itself proudly, perched atop the peak of the hill, overlooking the loose-fitting stone battlements that ran all the way around it. Galahad’s great-great-grandfather had constructed the old fortress. And although the stone of the defenses had the look of a beauty fallen out of grace, the wattle-and-daub village houses that lay between the wall and the keep were entirely new.  They held dozens of helpless citizens who had fled here after the fall of the capital.  Galahad caught glimpses of their faces through the narrow windows of the houses – the mothers cradled their crying children while the older men attended wounds dealt to them while trying to defend their families.  After the war…there weren’t many fighting men left.  This was the final stronghold of the Kingdom.   And although the capital had fallen and the King had been slaughtered, Galahad refused to give up hope.

   Galahad sighed, leaning forward on the stone wall and chewing the inside of his lip.  He knew it was useless, sitting up here in his chain mail hours before Duke Simon and his forces arrived, but he couldn’t help it.   He was the last loyal Duke alive, which meant all the responsibility for keeping this fortress and it’s people safe fell to him.  It seemed so much worse because Galahad had seen what Simon did to fortresses, he overran. He’d seen the torture he did to loyal soldiers. He’d seen the things his men did to women.  Somehow, Galahad was supposed to protect everyone from that – a feat that not even the mighty King could accomplish.

     Galahad turned, looking back at the keep and crossing his arms.  The air had the faint putrid scent of a burnt- out campfire, and it’s lasted few tendrils of smoke.  The heavy mist was beginning to bead into water droplets on Galahad’s gauntlets and pauldrons. He’d have to oil them later.
But for now, Galahad looked to the top of the watchtower beside the keep, watching the tendrils of blue magic whipping back and forth as the ethereal chanting of Hector, Galahad’s advisor and head mage, drifted down to him.  Galahad knew that up there, Hector was working a magical incantation to heal the Queen Rachel’s wounds.  She was now this Kingdom’s only remaining hope, for she knew the powerful Duke Simon’s weakness that could bring his downfall.  Or so the Queen had said before she passed out from blood loss.  The image of her eyes sliding back in her head made Galahad shiver.
     And so, Galahad was here, at the end of all this.  It soon would be decided.  The Kingdom might limp on, finding a way to keep on surviving.  Or the last trace of democracy and equality would be erased from the world; a light snuffed out.  Never to return.

»B.  Who are the two opposing armies?  What are their abilities, their equipment, and their numbers?

I.   Who is attacking the stronghold, and why? I’m going to repeat that one, cause it’s a biggie.  WHY ARE THE ATTACKERS ATTACKING?  Super important.  Revenge, perhaps?  Alternatively, maybe something a bit more outside the box?  Like maybe the defenders have kidnapped the attacker’s ex-girlfriend’s brother’s mother’s twice removed second cousin’s gym teacher’s cat.  Okay, that was terrible, but you get the idea.  Motive.  Big motive and big stakes make high tension.  The bad guy needs to want it bad, but the good guy needs to want it more.  Also, what techniques do the attackers employ to breach the walls?  Remember, 90% of sieges are centered around doors.  Gates, secret entrances, etc., are all weak points in a castle’s defense.  As a consequence, this is probably where the battle is going to be centered.  Do the attackers use catapults, battering rams, or even explosives? (Legolas take him down!!)
II.     Who is defending the fortress? Enhanced sci-fi super-soldiers wearing exo-suits? Shape-shifting animal-warriors?   Remember; generally, defenders need to be outnumbered.  How do the defenders combat the techniques of the attackers? Here’s a few defending techniques to get you started: Pouring rocks or hot oil over the side of the wall, shooting bows or crossbows at enemies, bracing the gate shut with wooden bars (like you do when you’re younger sibling is trying to get into your candy stash in your room) placing spikes outside the walls, digging moats or ditches, and shooting defensive catapults or other siege engines from the wall.   The possibilities are endless!  Remember, this will vary depending on how creative you are.  You might have defenders shooting dragon-fire blasters at giant eagles carrying enemy paratroopers.  Go ahead, have fun with this part!
Example 2:
Galahad didn’t leave his spot on the wall, over the main gate, for the rest of the day.  Evelyn, his wife, came out eventually, bearing a cup of cold soup and some moldy bread.
“Thought you might be hungry,” she said softly, setting the bowl on the battlement beside Galahad’s arm, “I know it’s not that great, but you know how low we are on rations now…”
Galahad remained in thought, arms stubbornly over his chest. “Thank you, Evelyn.” He managed.  He wasn’t anywhere near hungry.
“I know this has all fallen on you, Galahad,” Evelyn started, her eyes concerned, “But you’re the strongest knight I know.  If anyone can handle it, it’s you.”
Galahad gave Evelyn a forced, side-long smile.  He politely munched on the bread.
Evelyn’s shoulders slumped, sighing.  She took her place beside Galahad, leaning on the wall. “Will you at least tell me about everything going on in your head? It’s not good to just let all that anxiousness fester inside you.”
Galahad chewed on his lip. “I’m just worried, you know.  These men are tired, exhausted even.  Half of them have a wound of some sort.  It doesn’t help that we hardly have enough food to go around. They’re just so loyal and brave…I wish I could do them better.”
Evelyn stroked Galahad’s hair soothingly, looking into his eyes, “You do them better than anyone could.”
Galahad wished he could believe it.  He looked along the wall to where one of his men paced, on duty.  His surcoat over his chain mail and plate was torn and ragged.  He was a perfect example of every one of Galahad’s depleted garrison: tired, dirty, and hungry.  Some of them only had leather armor.  They were low on arrows, and only had one defensive catapult active, and the gate was about to rot off of its hinges…
“Hey, hey,” Evelyn said, “Don’t go there.  I see you worrying.  Worrying doesn’t solve anything. Come back.”
Galahad tried to clear his mind.  He looked at the ground. “The worst part is that Simon has catapults, ballista, and his biggest battering ram.  Not to mention an insanely large force to pilot all of it.”
“But Simon’s men have something that yours don’t.”
Galahad looked up, at least vaguely interested. “And what’s that?”
“They adore you, and they adore their country.  They are fighting for more than money, and that will be what lets you win, my love.”
Galahad looked over to the man stationed on the wall again.  Yes, his armor was smeared, bloody, and worn, but that steely, determined glint remained in his eyes.  The one that Galahad had seen in all the men at the beginning of the war, and one that had ceased to leave them.
Evelyn smiled. “And, of course, you still have that spiky ditch that your men are digging.”
Galahad was surprised when he puffed a laugh.  He looked out to the terribly constructed, shallow ditch he had tried to assemble.
Galahad looked back to Evelyn.  He smiled, genuinely this time. “You really do know how to make me feel better.”
“Of course, I do. That’s what I’m for, silly.”
Galahad looked over the wall again, a newfound determination burning in his heart.  Simon could come, but Galahad would fight him until hell froze over.  Then he’d fight him on the ice.

Part Two

2.    Now it’s time for the siege to begin.  The first stage is waiting.

»A. The anticipation is a crucial factor.  How do the heroes deal with the pre-battle tension?

I. If your hero has been to battle before, s/he might be nervous because s/he doesn’t know what do expect. Is your hero has done this before, then s/he probably knows the horrors of this kind of fight. Okay, this s/the thing is getting kind of confusing and bothersome. I’m flipping a coin…going with a lady character. All right, she’ll be nervous, scared, or even terrified. How does your hero cope with this? How does she prepare herself?
II. How do the warriors react, on both sides, to the mounting pressure? Do they say prayers, drink a lot, or run in terror? Can they sleep? Do they talk with their friends, or spend time alone? Tip: if part of the good guy’s army flees and he stays, that makes the army look bad, but the protagonist look awesome. Weigh the benefits and the drawbacks and decide for yourself.
Example 3:
The tension only got worse one the sun went down, and Simon’s forces camped on the edge of sight. Their fires burned brightly on the horizon, and even from here, Galahad could hear their shouts and drunken laughter. The enticing scent of fresh beef wafted to Galahad and his forces, and everybody tried to hide the fact that they were licking their lips and wishing they had some of that. Galahad could practically taste it falling apart in his mouth. Even a good drink would be good about now – anything to distract Galahad from his stomach eating itself.
Galahad and his forces tried to get some sleep. There weren’t any proper beds, so men could be seen laying in the grass, atop the walls, and next to houses. It looked like bright sprinkles dotted across a green cake which was the hill. No one dare take off their armor or put up their weapons. While he watched Simon’s army, Galahad couldn’t help but thinking that they looked like an army celebrating a victory, not preparing for a battle.

»B. The Chokehold

I. Skip this part if desired. If done incorrectly, it might slow down your story or add unneeded flabbiness. (Isn’t that a great word?) However, this, historically, was the central part of the siege. The attackers would surround the defender’s fortress, and cut off all supply routes, slowly starving the army out while they sent wave after wave of catapult attacks. This might not work if you have a creatively imagined siege, so like I said, it’s optional. But, if so, how do the protagonist and antagonist armies hold up during this part? Do the defenders surrender before the battle begins?

II. Are there any special techniques the attackers use to weaken the defenders further, or any actions the defenders take to try and break the chokehold? Do they send a messenger pigeon for help? Fight back with catapults from the wall or dig a secret way out to escape?
Example 4:
Simon knew that Hector’s spell to heal the Queen would be complete in only a few days. If not for that fact, Galahad and his men would never have had a fighting chance – they were on five days of food, and that was at half ration. They would have been starved out within the week. The Queen truly did know something that important, because Simon only wasted two days surrounding the castle, waiting. Galahad still didn’t like it, and he didn’t intend to sit behind his walls and hide. Anyway, his men needed a morale boost.
“Catapults, fire!” Galahad called on the second day, running along the wall and dodging arrows buzzing through the air like angry hornets. He took a projectile on the shield, then watched as flaming balls roared through the air, a tail of flames streaming behind them like a comet. Then they impacted, exploding into pieces and throwing fire all over Simon’s ranks. Men screamed, and multiple enemy siege engines caught fire.
That must have really ticked Simon off because he attacked the following night.

Part Three

3. How does the battle unfold? What happens when the attackers storm the walls.

»A. How does the defense of the walls unfold?

I. When the attackers finally commit to trying to overrun the castle, the first obstacle in their path is the main gates (in a typical siege situation). The attackers have the manpower on their side – the challenge facing them is simply getting their men inside. The most common tactics are siege ladders and the battering ram. In this phase, the defenders try desperately to keep enemies off the wall and hold the gate shut. How does the battle progress? Much like football, a siege is a game of inches. It’s less about killing enemies and more about pushing them away. Keep it as fresh, dynamic, and creative as possible.


II. This should be the longest part of your siege (in word count). In relative terms, if the waiting and chokehold was Act 1, then this is Act 2. However, battling can soon become repetitive and boring if improperly managed. The protagonist’s forces should be on the verge of collapse at every moment. Something should go really wrong. What is it that finally causes the wall’s defenses to crack? Think about when the Urukai in The Two Towers used a massive bomb to obliterate the outer defenses of Helms Deep literally.
Example 5: (Note that I compressed this section’s average length for simplicity)
Of course, the moment Galahad decided to try and get some sleep; he heard the chanting of a party driving a battering ram. He heard shouts of panic as his men scrambled to the walls.
“They’re here!” Galahad cried, instantly turning back around. His fatigue vanished in a moment. He snatched up his helm and tore his sword free of its sheath, sprinting at the gate. He rattled in his armor. He struggled to buckle his helm. He saw Evelyn as he ran, off to the side of the path. The base of her dress was covered in muck, and her face was painted with fear. For Galahad.

“I’ll come back, Evelyn!” Galahad called, his footsteps momentarily faltering. He hoped he could keep the promise when in his heart he knew most likely none of them, would come out of this alive. His heart was seized in a terrible ache, quite suddenly. The next words were barely choked out through the thickness in his throat.
“I promise, Evelyn. I’ll come back.”
Evelyn, her chin trembling, gave a nod before whipping away a tear with her sleeve. She nodded again. “I love you, Galahad!” her eyes were glassy.
Galahad’s shoulders slumped, the tension suddenly draining from him. “I love you too, Evelyn.” He swallowed. “Now go.”
Evelyn nodded, turning to hide her tears, covering her mouth with her hands. She hurried for the keep on the hill, gathering children. Galahad saw her shoulders shaking.
Galahad turned back to the wall looming over him, then squared his shoulders. A cold, hard determination hardened in his heart. It spread into his limbs like hot fire, then he exploded with motion, ascending the stairs to the battlements in seconds.
He found his men lined up, shoulder to shoulder, along the battlements. Their shields were painted with the red symbol of a fallen kingdom. It was time.
The walkways atop the battlements were wide – wide enough to hold a legion of men four ranks deep. But today – Galahad’s force was one rank deep.
“Men, it was an honor to fight beside you!” Galahad called, standing out before them. “Now it’s time to die together, in the name of freedom!”
The men rose a battle-cry in response, their eyes becoming fierce, banging swords against shields.

Galahad turned, watching the black army before the walls advance steadily, their gleaming masks engraved with the face of a man who murdered daily. Galahad gripped his sword, his gauntlet locking into place around it.
“Here they come!”

»B. How do the defenders make their retreat?

I. Generally speaking, after the outer wall is breached, the defenders must fall back to the keep, the final citadel of defense. If you’re writing from the perspective of the defenders, this is a sort of darkest hour or belly of the whale. If you’re not familiar, that means the point in the story where all hope is lost. A strong attacking force getting past the walls most likely spells death for the defenders. For attackers, they should find some alternate way to get around the gate then slowly push back to defenders. So, how do the defenders make their retreat, and how do the attackers push the assault?

II. At this point, defenders are probably being cut down fast as they fall back, falling prey to arrows as well. This is the messiest part of the siege. The ground may litter with bodies. The air may begin to stink of rotting flesh and spilled guts. The groans and cries of the wounded may drift through the air. In an attacker’s perspective, the assault may begin to buckle, and the protagonist needs to do a final heroic act to force the defenders into their keep. Any way you present it, this is the most hopeless part of the battle. How does your protagonist and his forces cope? Wait for the rally – that comes next.
Example 6:
The walls held for perhaps four hours. Long hours. Evelyn watched from the top tower of the keep, the winds of a bloody night tearing at her hair, the bright face of the moon shining on her face. She had long since lost sight of Galahad in the tumbling mass of bodies that slowly became more and more black. The sound of sharp metal battering into itself rose the hairs on Evelyn’s neck – even from here.
The defense finally faltered when Simon unleashed his secret weapon – a giant. The massive brute gave an unearthly bellow before shattering the main gate that had held fast against the spiked battering ram. After that, the grotesque beast collapsed in the courtyard, having fallen prey to arrows. But the damage had already been done. Releasing a chorus of otherworldly yelps and cackles, the masked warriors spilled into the fortress with terrible eagerness. Fires began to eat away at the village houses, lighting up the night with that same horrible eagerness. Galahad fell back into the keep, but Galahad himself had to be dragged by two men so he wouldn’t keep fighting.


Part Four

4. Rally/ Aftermath

»A. How do your protagonist’s forces rally to take the victory? (if they win)

I. The good guy needs to take a moment to sulk in his keep once he makes it. He and his army have sunk as low as they can go. Now it’s time to find something – whether it is a powerful magic item or even realization about something – that motivates them to fight on. Not just fight, in any case. To rally all their forces to make a bold, daring move that could turn the tide. Many great siege scenes have this moment – at Helm’s Deep King Théoden rides out of his keep to meet the enemy, in the newest zombie-siege from Game of Thrones, Aria chooses to try and kill the Night King, etc., etc. What is this great moment for you? Is it successful?

II. Does the protagonist need to face a deep inner flaw or confront their deepest fear in order to find the strength for this rally? Does your hero have a crippling fear of dragons, and the enemy’s general rides one of the fiery beasts? This part really depends on your story.
Example 7:
Galahad sat in the dark keep, his helmet between his hands, staring into the dark depths of the eye-slits. He listened to the banging of the battering ram on the small keep gate, and the grunting of his men as they struggled to keep it closed.
What was the point anymore? Simon had gotten through the gates. It would be mere minutes before the battering ram shattered the last remaining defense and hope was lost. Galahad looked up at his men. Still, they struggled to keep that gate closed with everything they had. Still, they weren’t giving up.
A realization went through Galahad, almost like a tremor shooting through his body. He didn’t need to defeat Simon’s entire army.
Galahad stood. “Open the gates,” he commanded.
Galahad’s commander looked back, a wound on his forehead bleeding into his eye, “What, sir? Are you sure?”
One of the other men called, “He’s given up!”
“I haven’t given up,” Galahad replied, “Open the gates!”
“Galahad, are you sure?” Evelyn said, cradling a crying baby. She was sitting with the hundreds of helpless citizens who now shrunk with terror.
Galahad nodded, slow and deliberate. “Trust me.”
Evelyn’s eyes hardened. She looked to the commander. “Do as he says.”
Galahad drew his sword and slipped on his shield. “Get in front of the citizens, men. It’s time I dealt with this myself.”
Hesitantly, the men eased away from the gate and formed a protective barrier in front of the crowd of helpless. The board in place to brace the gate only lasted a few seconds. And when the gate splintered open, Galahad stood here, the only man in their way.
The black-cloaked, masked men stopped in their tracks, confused.
“Where is Simon?” Galahad bellowed, “Where is the Duke? Tell him I’ve come to face him!”
As the Duke shouldered the way through his men, Galahad saw the hopeless looks grip the faces of his soldiers. Duke Simon was said to be unkillable. His men claimed he was a god and could not bleed.
Simon lifted his chin proudly. “Oh, Galahad. Finally, come to accept your fate?”
“I’m here to deliver yours, snake.”
“As feisty and uncooperative as ever, I see. Well, it will be a shame to kill you.”
Galahad settled into stance. “We shall see.”
Simon laughed, “You know, Galahad, you were my favorite of the dukes. How ironic that you’re the last to die.”
“That has nothing to do with it,” Galahad said, “Simply the fact that I saw your heart turning black before anyone else.”
Simon’s eyes darkened. “All right, Galahad, that’s enough. Time for you to die.”
Galahad unleashed a mighty war-cry and charged. With a single sweep of his blade, Duke Simon shattered Galahad’s shield and sent him smashing back against the wall.
Simon smiled. “I’ve been waiting a while to do that.”
Galahad coughed. “Why didn’t you just do that to the gate?” his arm felt numb.
Simon opened his mouth to reply, but his face suddenly changed. What was that? Confusion?
That’s when a sleek, curved blade protruded from his chest, sliding smoothly past bone and muscle.
And suddenly the Queen’s face appeared from over his shoulder, her teeth gritted. “This is for my husband, scoundrel.”
She extracted the blade, and Duke Simon collapsed forward, blood pooling on the ground. His men fled.
As the Queen helped Galahad to his feet, he asked, “What did you know? What was Duke Simon’s secret?”
The Queen looked deep into Galahad’s eyes, “That he bleeds,” she said.

»B. After the battle is complete, how does your hero recover?

I. Battles can be physically and emotionally draining like nothing else. After this battle is finished, how does your hero recover? Does she visit her loved ones? Stare blankly at the floor? Or go back and twenty-two sets of push-ups to improve her triceps strength? The last example is implausible unless your protagonist is EXTREMELY resilient. More likely, she might cry, collapse from exhaustion, or spend from time alone. How are the armies on both sides affected? Are they both devastated? Does their camp echo with the cries of the dying? Is anyone left? Or did they take minimum losses? Remember: a good rule of thumb for a writer is that, for victory to be accomplished, the protagonist must lose something dear to her.
II. After your hero has gotten past the immediate trauma (this trauma could last the rest of the character’s life if you choose) he needs a plan to move forward. If he was defending, does he plan to go on the assault? If he was attacking, does he decide to retreat to a haven for his forces to recover? Like any part in fiction, sieges follow the standard scene-sequel pattern. Conflict, then rest and new planning. If you haven’t heard of this, I highly recommend you look into it.
Example 8: (No example added. Add one to your scene is desired)

Author Bio:

Thank you for reading! I’m Nate Popiel, and although I haven’t published any works of mine, I’m always working hard toward that goal. If you liked this, tell me in the comments, or at nate1noah2(at)gmail(dot)com. My favorite thing in the world is to talk with fellow writers, so don’t hesitate. Also, if you write a really cool siege scene with this, be sure to share it with me.


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