When One Must Battle… — Derek Barton

Capture 1k

When I started my first novel, Consequences Within Chaos, I fell into an almost obsessive “plot mode” and wrote a rather long, bulleted outline of my story (60 pages to be exact).   However, for the battle scenes, I skipped past with a lazy wave of the hand and just wrote a line “insert battle scene here.”  Not giving the battle scene its proper respect was not only a big mistake as far as outlining, but it also became a huge stumbling block for me when I attempted my first drafts.

Why? 

Well, when it came time to write these epic battles, I found I had no real idea where to start.  Instinctively, I knew that there was a lot riding on capturing this part to my story just right.  I had lied to myself and naively thought that this would “all magically be revealed and come naturally to me”.

Suddenly with all that sitting upon my shoulders, I put off writing the first one; even postponed and put aside the book for months.  I wouldn’t categorize this period as writer’s block, but maybe a weird version of stage fright?  If I didn’t write the scene (didn’t walk out upon the stage), then I wouldn’t screw it up (I wouldn’t show how bad I was at this) and embarrass myself (fall flat on my face in front of the audience).

It took me a lot of research, experimentation, rewrites and some sheer will to get the battles done for the book.  They’re not perfect, but I am happy with them overall.  Will I do better nowadays?  I sure hope so! 

To save you from my pain, here are the critical factors you need to answer when using a battle scene (this includes all types of fights – barroom brawls, ambushes, street assaults and all the way to the epic, five army battles!):

  1. Determine who is all involved (Characters/groups) – this includes not just your main characters or protagonist and any friends, but it includes the antagonist (most times) and/or his minions or allies.  Also keep in mind any surprise attendees you may want to include.  This will add to the tension of the scene!
  1. Provide goals and personal motivations for all parties (Individual beliefs) – you will need to ask yourself why you are doing this battle.  Ask yourself if the battle is really important to the overall story (in other words, don’t include it just to have an action sequence).  Also ask what reasons and goals does each character have for the battle.  Make them have an invested motive to being there.  What do they have to lose being there or what do they need to achieve?  Here is a great chance to really highlight a person’s inner thoughts.  Showcase their strengths, courage or lack thereof.  And be sure that their reasons are not the same for each battle and you are not just repeating what you have already accomplished.
  1. Decide where the battle will take place (Setting) – this important step can elevate your scene to that next level.  Backgrounds can be key elements that bring the scene to life.  If the battle takes place in a cliché or too common landscape then the scene might come across as redundant or even predictable.  For example, look at the epic fight scene between Annakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith.  The frantic battle between the two characters was incredibly more entertaining due to tension of having their duel upon pieces of debris in a lava flow.  The battle was a highlight for this film (as there were very few that I can think of).  If the battle was just on a large open field, the scene would not have stuck in your mind.  However, use caution as there is a fine line between entertainment and disbelief!
  1. Orchestrate the exact movements and attacks (Pace) – here you must be careful with the “dance steps” of the battle.  Who moves where and who reacts to what.  It is very important to write the actions carefully so as to not be choppy (which happened with my first attempts) and has to be clear so that the reader isn’t confused.  Remember they cannot actually see it and are relying on your words to paint the proper picture.  Also in order for the prose to be read smoothly and the pace of the combat to be in line with the action, use short terms, small paragraphs and simpler words.  The whole hope is to have the readers become immersed, have their breaths taken away and have them on the edge of their seats trying to figure out what’s going to happen next.  If they are reading through intricate details, lengthy descriptions or wordy dialogue, they are not going to experience the same impact that they would with tighter pacing.
  1. Include at least one unexpected event or tactic (Conflict) – as a rule for myself, I try to bring a creative element to the battle that the readers as well as the characters were not expecting.  It heightens the tension of the whole scene.  In the movie Braveheart, they added often many twists to their battles that caught the viewers and the combatants by surprise.  During one battle that comes to mind, when the English were charging on horseback with swords held high and ready to trample the foot soldiers of Wallace’s armies, the Scots suddenly brought up spears that were hidden within the tall grass!  While the unfortunate horses paid the price mostly for this trick, this simple twist changed the whole expected outcome.
  1. Plan for and carry out the results (Outcome) – when you start designing the battle, be sure you know what you are getting for each side and be sure you what you really want for your plot and story.  Many writers have written themselves into a deep corner because they didn’t think ahead to the outcomes.  They focused so much on the battle that they didn’t plan for the results.  Your battles should serve you!  Whether the results pin your main character down even harder (which is great – the farther the point where the character has to come back from, the more tension and conflict it brings to the story) or whether they actually win at last what they have been struggling to obtain the entire story, battles are stepping stones for your characters. Battle outcomes are pivotal and vital to the future of the story and it can be disastrous to lose focus on that.

Every scene is a platform for your character to level up and grow in the direction you need them to in your story.  Their triumphs or losses are the very ingredients that make up who they are.  Just like us in every day life – if we don’t experience ups and downs then we do not grow from them or learn from the journey.

Writing a battle scene can place your character under intense scrutiny, pressure to succeed and motivate him or her to excel – without this extreme moment of their life they would not have achieved anything your story wants and needs them to accomplish.

For us as writers, battles are waged and won with swords and words!

Advertisements

New Character Sketch #2… — Derek Barton

Here is another sneak peek at an upcoming character for The Bleeding Crown, sequel to Consequences Within Chaos.

 

Scars

 

Character Profile Questions:

What is their name? Only known as Scars. He lost his birth name in battle and will never use the real one again.

How old? 48 years old (He is one of the species called Flohki which live on average to 110 years old.   Their upper torso features are mainly bird, the rest humanoid.)

What does your character look like? White feathered head, broken beak, scars running down left cheek and multiple scars along the top and back of his head. He has the muscular body of a weightlifter and the head features of a seagull and icy blue eyes.

Where does he live? During an ambush along the Flohki borders, he was captured and enslaved by a roving Thette Giant Clan. He is the personal slave of Korba-Tarn and bodyguard of the giant’s mate, Frest-Alae.

Where is the character from? Scars grew up in a fishing community called Maxnen Vale. The Flohki continent called Cammiana consists endless grasslands surrounding lush swamps. The Flohki are divided in a civil war with the Pesha-aar due to territory and nesting land disputes. This disorganization has made them very vulnerable to the Quietus Army and the Ebon Throne.

What kind of childhood? Through his first decade of life he was happy and worked hard alongside his older brothers on the docks and the fishing boats. When times got tough and his family had misfortunes (a typhoon destroyed their small fleet of boats and home), the parents were forced to turn there children over to the Elder Leaders of the Ledatd Nest. Conscripted as “Bre-ox-da” which means “battleborn”, he and his brothers learned and trained in military combat. The Bre-ox-da are navy warriors that protect the coast lines. They were expected to serve for life as an “honor”.  The Flohki don’t believe in allowing anyone to be homeless, however they do require some form of restitution. The parents would not be able to feed the boys and themselves so the Leaders took the boys and the parents were given shelter and food for their remaining lives.

What does the character do for a living? Scars was rising in  the ranks as a military bodyguard and escort for officers of the Ledat Nest. He was also reknown for his horse combat skills and martial arts. Between assignments he trained many of the new Bre-ox-da in hand-to-hand fighting and military strategy.

How does your character deal with conflict? He has a knack for observation, studying enemy patterns and movements and uses patience to gather information for when he does strike or make a decision. Methodical and full of purpose. Being reduced to a slave and being dishonored, he is broken and submissive to the Thettes.

Who else is in their life? He has no contact with his race or family. A pair of Duradramyn survive enslaved in the slave pens with him.

What is your character’s goal or motivation? He knows that he should escape, but he also feels so lost and without direction, he has not yet discovered any reason to leave.

Their Status: Surrendering in battle means you lose your title and name forever. On a mission to escort his assigned officer, they were ambushed by the Thettes. As the unit leader, Scars surrendered as a sacrifice to allow his unit and brothers time to escape capture or death. Scars cannot ever regain his status and knows he will be ostracized by his race.  Part of him feels that being a slave  is almost proper punishment for not dying in battle.

Lessons From Galaxyfest… — Derek Barton

capture-1g

This weekend was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to meet several established writers and comic-con artists.

As always, I want to share with you the lessons I learned so that maybe if you are interested in becoming a self-published writer, you can benefit from my experiences.

While the con did not get the anticipated crowds all of us hoped for (approximately 3,000 versus the 10,000 people), there were a lot of exhibits and vendors that I could learn a lot from.

I had the immense honor to meet and speak to these writers:

From these guys I learned a lot of information about Audible, about booth displays, about other conventions/bookfestivals, about book covers and book interior layouts.  I got new ideas for marketing, book themes and even items to go with the books to draw people to the booth.

By the next convention I hope to have a new book banners, new materials like character bios and character magnets, a new variety of bookmarks based on the books and even (insert drumroll here…) a new book direction – I am going to develop a Steampunk Novel (or novella)!  I will still work on my Consequences Within Chaos novel sequel, however, I will be also donating time on a Steampunk storyline.  Like I did with In Four Days, be on the lookout for my story blogs!

Why Steampunk?  For one, I like the whole western/victorian theme which of course I will beef up with own horror style.  Second reason is that this will also give my fans another element or genre that they can delve into with me.  And lastly, it is obviously growing in demand and in popularity.  I am intrigued just where this could lead me.

Also I met up with a few voice-over actors that I may be able to help me launch an Audible version of Consequences Within Chaos.  Recently, I signed up with Audible and I really love the service.  I listen to books now as I do my 3-or-4-mile walk each night.  Peter Meredith explained the process to me and really enlightened me on how this could be a big benefit overall to me.  We just might see how right he is!

Another great benefit to comic-cons is the artist booths.  Not only are their works inspiring and thought-provoking, but they could be great resources in the future.  I already have a great artist, Dan Thomas of Dark Art Komics helping me out and showing me the ropes at these comic-cons, but I also met Jacob Spill (https://www.facebook.com/jspill) and several other artists that could help me with illustrations or covers in the future.

Financially I took a gamble, threw the dice and unfortunately hit a wall with Galaxyfest, but I did get a lot out of it in terms of marketing knowledge and trade information.  I will certainly do more conventions — JUST DO IT BETTER!

Here are a few more pictures of the fun characters and fans you do run into at these things!