Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Battles in Fantasy Books
I'm using the cover of book three of King Rolen's Kin to talk about how violence is portrayed in fantasy books. Most often the character has some special skill, or is trained to have that skill and they get through encounters because of their ability.
Wanting to get the battles, big and small, right (or as much as possible) I spent 5 years each learning three different martial arts, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Iaido, the art of the Samurai sword.
I also bought books, Machiavelli's The Prince, a book on the Roman cavalry training techniques, books on castles and the development of their defences plus several books on great battles through the ages. One was from the West Point Academy and analysed the strategy of pivotal battles going right back to Caesar.
So I've tried to make my battles, large and small, as realistic as possible while still maintaining the thrill of the fantasy world. (I'm not going to mention the problems of lice, festering wounds or rotting teeth except where they are pertinent to the plot).
I thought I was doing OK, but yesterday my 15 year old son was attacked, bashed and had his bag stolen. (Him and two friends - attacked by 7 kids). He's alright. Just some bruising to the side of his face and the back of his head. (I took the opportunity to warn all my kids about the dangers out there. They think they're bullet proof and ten feet tall in their teens and early 20s).
Going with my son to file a police report of the incident I listened to the officer question him. Could he remember what the guy wore? Not really. Did he know how many times he was punched in the face? No, he thinks it might have been 4 or 5 times.
He was 'king hit' as we call it in Australia - hit in the head without warning. We know he was punched in the left side of his face because that is where the bruising is. He remembers turning his back towards his attacker to protect his face and he thinks he was hit again, because he has a lump on the back of his head. But the whole thing is pretty fuzzy for him. Twenty four hours later, he is still feeling a bit nauseous.
All this is leading up to how we write about violence. There's no point in going into technical terms about kicks and blows and sword strokes. Your average reader won't know them. So I've always tried to make my descriptions accessible to everyone.
But if I were really going to be accurate, I'd probably have to say something like - One minute he was on his feet, the next he was on the floor with no idea how he'd gotten there. But if I did that, I think the reader would feel cheated.
I must admit I liked the way Joe Abercrombie wrote his fight scenes. A flurry of action and then the character's relief to still be alive.
How do you feel about fight scenes and battles? How realistic do they need to be? How unrealistic do they need to be for the character and the reader to make sense of them? Who writes good battle scenes, large and small?