Combat (& Basics of Writing – Ranjan)

Why hello, weary traveller! Welcome to our humble inn. A silver piece for a week’s worth of boarding and lodging it’ll be, good sir. Rooms are to your left, and the kitchen is to your right. I’ll ask the Missus to whip you up something quickly.
Well, my my, you seem to have in your possession a mighty weapon! Are you, by any chance, a professional swordsman? A mercenary? A soldier? Forgive my curiosity, sir, but I happen to write a fair bit about combat. Would you mind, my liege, if I chanced your ear?

For instance, which of these two sound more compelling to you:

Derik raised his right first quickly, and attempted to strike the man’s jaw as hard as he could, but the man pushed aside his attack, in one slick move. Derik then decided he would wrestle his opponent to the ground, clasping both his arms on his opponent’s biceps, trying to bring him down. They ground their teeth, trying to get the better of one another.

OR
“Derik jabbed at the man’s jaw, but the man parried, deflecting with ease. Derik then rushed at him. He clasped at his arms with a wild fervour, struggling to wrestle him to the ground.”
Ah yes, I understand that the first example is a touch overwritten, with far too many details than the reader is perhaps asking for. It is best to leave a little to the imagination, as the courtesans are often fond of saying.
Forgive me, I am aware that I haven’t really conveyed to you why they’re fighting. Therefore, you’re not quite sure who Derik is, and why you’d actually be rooting for him to win. But what if you read this before they commenced fighting:
Derik knew in his heart of hearts what this man was guarding: the Emerald that would bring back his son. The elders had warned him that the Emerald Guards were often gifted with great power, by cruel Gods that prowl the dungeons. But Derik was undeterred. Not even the Emerald Gods would stop him from seeing his son again.
Yes, this does add a touch of flavour, and sets a goal for my character. Now we understand how his fight moves the plot forward. Hell hath no fury, as they say, do they not? Oh, is that of a woman scorned? A minor detail, my liege. Inconsequential.
Oh but I do not mean that details are inconsequential, certainly not! I believe some sensory information is quite important to ensuring that the fight appears realistic. Such as:
Derik felt his skin crawl as he heard the man start to speak. It was a voice that didn’t belong to this world. The air hung heavy and the room turned pungent as this man — this creature — started to snarl in its low guttural tongue. Derik’s head felt heavy. He must silence this creature, or kill it, with haste.
While sensory information is always helpful in describing a good fight scene, I find that introducing a sense of urgency is a great pull for the reader as well. Thank you, my liege, I enjoyed penning these lines myself.
Unfortunately, I have also penned a great many lines that are, if I may put it mildly, amateurish. For instance, consider the next line:
Derik curled his hand into a fist and aimed for the front of his nose. His fist hit the ridge of his nose. Blood spattered all over the ground of the dungeon.

Surely, I should keep my sentences shorter, so the pace seems quicker:
Derik aimed for his nose and connected. Blood splattered on the ground.
And that wasn’t my only folly. Here’s another:
Derik tried to land a punch on Sebastian’s gut, but Sebastian blocked and followed it up with a kick to the stomach. Derik stepped out of the way, and then tried to land a glow Sebastian’s knee. But Sebastian was able to catch Derik’s leg and swivelled him into the air. Sebastian knew that Derik was a formidable opponent.
The trouble with these lines is perspective keeps changing from Derik to Sebastian and then to Derik. I’d rather focus on Derik’s sensory information, the stakes of the situation, and Derik’s emotions through the scene. Oh, who’s Sebastian, you ask? Just Derik’s best friend. Why is he trying to fight Sebastian? Well, for that, my liege, I’d beg you to read the novel. I could sell it to you for a bargain, should you be interested. You are, after all, my favourite customer.
However, I must summarise this conversation for the sake of my apprentices. Yes, they hope to become chroniclers and novelists one day, recording great fights both real and imagined.
Summary:

  1. Start by setting a goal for your character. This sets up the plot to move forward.
  2. Make sure to immerse your reader into the perspective of the protagonist.
  3. A sense of urgency is always beneficial: a ticking bomb, your character bleeding to death, etc.

Don’t:

  1. Don’t Overwrite – too much show
  2. Don’t Write long sentences during combat

BONUS: Talk about the aftermath to emphasise to the reader how the plot actually moves forward.

PROMPTS

  1. (As a continuation of the story) What? Who just slammed the door open? Who are you? You are not supposed to be up here!
  2. My liege! What are you doing? Who is this man in black, and why is he trying to kill you?My liege, you appear to be injured. Let me summon a physiker. Forgive my curiosity, my liege, but what happened?
  3. Oh no, it is the taxman! Whatever shall we do? The taxman comes and loots us, my liege, he not only collects taxes in the King’s stead, but also demands a little extra for his cooperation. The last time he came, he made eyes at me wife! My liege, I beg you to help us.
  4. Derik’s fight with the Emerald Guard. He needs to defeat him, to capture the Emerald and save his son.
  5. Derik’s fight with his best friend Sebastian.
  6. Derik is asleep in his cottage when suddenly masked men break into his house and drag his son away kicking and screaming. Derik runs after them, but he feels a strong blow to the back of his head. The world goes black.
  7. The Emerald Guards gather together in the cursed catacombs for their annual ritual, where they pray to their terrible Gods. Nobody knows for sure what happens at the rituals, but rumour has it that the guards best each other for the honour to be the Chosen, the one who earns the right to guard the Emerald.
  8. Sebastian runs an armoury by the old chapel at the centre of the village. He hopes one day to be the best swordsmith in the realm. One day, mysterious men in green masks arrive and ask him to make a sword with a secret ingredient. Sebastian knows who they are and refuses. They don’t like it.
  9. Old man Pasha has a taste for books. One might say he has the biggest collection of books in the village. And he loves to be alone with them. One day, however, a man arrives demanding information about the Emerald Guards, and something about his son. Old man Pasha was in the middle of cataloguing his dear book collection, and regrets the interruption. If this man doesn’t cease his chatter, Pasha may have to resort to, ah, desperate, measures.

 

Image credit: http://www.bookdrum.com/books/the-scarlet-letter/104854/bookmark/215647.html

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