Writing Realistic Sword Fights

By Daeus Lamb

Sword fights are common elements in literature and drama. Everyone wants to include them because they rouse the audience to mountainous heights of tension. What if you have no idea how sword fighting works, though? Even worse, what if you deceive yourself into thinking that you do? Come on, you’ve seen The Princess Bride. Isn’t that what sword fighting looks like? Not even close.

Realistic_Swordfights_Post

I am not a “master of defense” by any means, but I do know enough to speak with authority on this issue. I was a fencer for about 2 ½ years; I have read books on traditional swordsmanship focusing on medieval and renaissance eras, and have had some practice in them; I even did a thesis paper on what it would have been like to see a sword fight on an Elizabethan stage, including a live demonstration.

If you are considering including a sword fight in your novel but are worried about accuracy, have no fear. I have written this article to give you the basic foundation you need to write such scenes with confidence.

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Profile photo of Daeus
Daeus is the published author of two books, Edwin Brook and Treachery Against The House Of Fairwin. He is a Christian seeking God’s face when he remembers to and finding that that is all he was seeking when he seeks for something else. He is a joker who takes himself too seriously and a sack full of ambition who likes to relax. Among his top interests are poetry, reading, philosophy, theology, gardening and permaculture, athletics, marketing, psychology, and interacting with his friends. You can also find him participating in such activities as ranting about the glories of frozen raspberries or making impromptu music for every occasion.
He also is a fanatic over The Count Of Monte Cristo. Be thou forewarned.
If you would like to sample his work, you can get a free copy of his novella, Treachery Against The House Of Fairwin at the link below.

Realities of War

Swords flash. Shields clash. Spears glint. Horses thunder across the plains. Grim lines of soldiers advance and retreat. Flags flutter and trumpets blast amid the glittering glory of battle.Realities_of_War

This is what may come to mind when the word ‘war’ appears in a fictional or fantasy setting, but it’s a far shout from the bitter, slogging endurance of a real campaign.

A war builds up long before the first battle lines clash.

How many details actually appear in the story depend on the writer’s choice and what time the book starts, but there are many things which should be known about the ‘pre-war’ weeks, months, or even years.

Are there tensions between the two nations (assuming, of course, this isn’t a civil war)? War is a grave matter, not to mention expensive, so what has led two or more nations to such a confrontation?

And are both sides at various levels of fault, or is there definite division of evil and good?

The most common story-line is for one nation to invade another. The invaders, of course, are bad while the outnumbered and battered resisters are on the side good. (But what if the stereotype was reversed? Hmm…it’s worth a thought. But back on topic).

Is the attack a complete surprise? The invading nation has had to gather troops and supplies, so have such signs been noticed? And if not, is it because of laziness, carelessness, or expert security on the invading side…any one of which could be yet another obstacle in the way of the ‘good’ army?

In either case, whether with months to prepare or mere hours, organizational networks need to be set in place.

How many men sign up or are drafted into the army? Depending on the size of your country, this could be a considerable percentage of men. At this point, many of the younger men may think of war in terms of glory and heroics, while their elders remain silent and serious. And, as the army’s numbers swell, the villages and towns change. A quarter of the men may be gone. Or half the men. The mothers, daughters, elderly, and young children must now tend to the fields to keep life going as before…and more.

Logistics

For there is bustle on the home front as well. Weapons must be supplied for all soldiers. Food, tents, clothes, medicines, boots, bandages…the list of supplies could go on and on. Someone has to make and transport these things. And that someone isn’t going to be the steel clad soldier now lining up to give his life, if need be, in defense of those he loves.

And, of course, the armies of both sides must meet before the first battle takes place. An army moves an average of 10-30 miles a day depending on many things, such as seasons, roads, weather, number and formation of troops, and their condition. The Roman army regularly traveled 15-18 miles a day, and then stopped in mid-afternoon and set up camp, complete with trenches, a solid wall surrounding orderly tents, and roads laid out regularly throughout the whole. The next morning they tore up the logs, burned what they didn’t carry with them, marched another day, and rebuilt the fortress that evening.

However quickly the army moves, they need to protect their baggage train. Supplies of all kinds must be carried along for the army’s well-being, but this baggage train can be quite troublesome for an invading army. And the further they move into an enemy land, the longer supply lines will stretch and the more vulnerable it will be…unless they can get all the supplies they need from their defeated enemy. Relying solely on the enemy’s land can be a risky proposition however…especially if the invaded decides to retreat, burning fields and stopping up springs as they go. This is known as a “scorched earth policy,” famously employed by the Russians on multiple occasions, much to the chagrin of Napoleon and Hitler.

Non-combat casualties

Just as preparations for war starts long before the first battle, so many lives may be lost without a blow being struck. Disease does not spare victors from vanquished, but strikes everywhere with a heavy hand. In many wars, the number of soldiers who succumb to sickness are several times greater than those who fall in battle. In the American Civil war, dysentery, typhoid, and pneumonia were among the top three killers, with two out of three deaths due to disease of some kind. The number was even greater among English troops in the Napoleonic era.

If your story takes place in the future or present, sickness might not be as great a problem. Even a fantasy-style medieval army could cut their losses by basic protocols which, obvious though they may seem, can be overlooked…such as camping on dry ground away from swamps and making sure latrines are downstream of wherever the army’s drinking water is drawn from. While all these details may not even be referenced in a book, it is something to keep in mind. And, if you need another challenge to throw at your characters, a deadly epidemic is in no way unrealistic.

Battles

Finally, one day, both armies ‘see each other in the face’. They may or may not attack the first day. Roman armies would sometimes march out and face each other for several days before the battle took place. Sometimes one general would draw up his soldiers, taunting the other in an effort to draw them into an attack. Positions may be shifted and secured. But, eventually, one or both sides will move and the battle will be joined.

Battles are not necessarily won by one glorious (or not so glorious) charge. Sometimes one army will charge the position of the other, while other times they meet at the center of the field. A running charge is for the practical purpose of closing the distance between armies and so escaping javelins and arrows as quickly possible. All too soon the flying projectiles are exchanged for the dubious security of hand to hand fighting as both sides meet and the battle proper begins. And the soldiers, now fighting for their lives amid the heat, screams, and blood of battle are quickly disillusioned to whatever thoughts of glorious combat they may have had.

A battle’s length varies. Some battles last two or three hours. Others are fought from dawn and into the night. In the Bible, some battles were fought all day with the victors pursuing the enemy all night. Others battles are fought for several days in a row before one side conquers the field.

As the battle progresses, there are many minor details that should be kept in mind to add to the feeling of reality. For example, what direction is your army facing? Is the sun behind them or in a position to blind them (or to the side where it could do either)? Keep in mind that if the sun rises behind your troops, it will eventually set before them and get in their eyes if the battle progresses into the afternoon. What is the weather like…sunny, overcast, windy, stormy? Weather is very important and can be used as a help or hindrance. And the geography…are there hills to retreat to, forests to ambush from, or a solid anchor for the flanks?

Most of all, what of the soldiers? Many of these men are probably killing for the first time. They are horrified and terrified. Men, comrades, friends are dying about them. Some are struck down. Others are wounded and, unless they can move, run the risk of being trampled underfoot. Yet the soldiers fighting must ignore the cries of their comrades and struggle on.

And, no matter what weapons your army is using, death is never pretty. Swords don’t just stab cleanly through the heart and neither do bullets. Blood. Severed limbs and bodies. Raging thirst. The stench of battle. Screams of the wounded. Vultures, perhaps, circling overhead. You get a portion of the picture. Choosing how graphically to portray the battle is another topic, but what the men are seeing is something that will affect them mentally and emotionally for months and years to come.

The end of a battle rarely ends in the complete destruction or capture of the vanquished army. And sometimes, if the battle ends in a rout, more men are killed as they flee than were cut down in the fight itself. The pursuit, either on horse or foot, can last the whole night and into the next day.

Aftermath

Many books and stories close with the victory of the hero and his army, but that is hardly the end. Hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dead from both sides cover the ground. And, mixed with those who gave their life for their cause, are the wounded. Depending on the situation, a truce might be arranged so the opposing side can carry away their casualties. Or it might be the task of the weary victors to clear the field, tending to the wounded and dying as best they are able and quickly disposing of the fallen. This gruesome task can drag on for several days. There’s also spoil to be gathered and perhaps riotous soldiery to control. On top of this, there are still normal mundane things to attend to, such as watches on the camp, care for prisoners, and the steady supply of food. Weather and animals, such as the aforementioned vultures or wild dogs, can also complicate matters.

And that’s just the first battle. Some wars are completed in the spring or summer of the campaign season. Others drag on for years. Armies march and counter march, taking passes, holding cities, and trying to starve each other by cutting off supplies. More men are drawn into the ranks from back home and eventually another battle is fought, and yet another, and another until one side surrenders, is defeated, or a treaty of some kind is worked out.

The length and ferocity of any war has long reaching effects. Quite often, famines are coupled to war due to the shortage of men to raise crops, as well as the destruction of fields by the armies on both sides. With many men being cut down, there will be numerous families living without the head protector of their home, and many children growing up without a father. A shortage of young men of marriageable age may also be a real possibility in some parts of the country.

Quite often, in books, a single crushing defeat repels or destroys the enemy. This is theoretically possible, but after a nation has braced itself for war, they normally won’t back down after a single battle. Even if the ‘good’ army, who is normally outnumbered, manages to completely defeat and conquer the invading army, the belligerent nation can probably raise another army to send against the now battered conquerors. So make sure the ensuing peace is realistically brought about, perhaps by a wiser leader who’s risen after the fall of the main villain, or by the combined outrage of the people of the opposing nation who never wanted the war in the first place.

But no matter who wins the war, the land has changed. Things will never be exactly as they were before. Hundreds and thousands of men are dead, their families shattered and mourning. Others come home, wounded or with sights they will never forget emblazoned in their mind. Young men are now old in the horrors they’ve seen. Treasuries are drained, villages are burned, fields lie fallow.

Though war is sometimes necessary, and in books is commonly part of the plot, it isn’t pretty, it isn’t glorious, and it isn’t to be desired. Heroics consist of normal men doing what needs to be done in the face of fear and death. In the place of the glorious feats the young soldiers once dreamed of, there is a comradeship and strong love among the troops. A love for those they defend, and a brotherly love among themselves. For no greater love has any man, than that he lay down his life for his friend.

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Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legends of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can claim one of her stories for free at: https://authorhopeann.com/rose-of-the-night/

What Baby-Sitting Can Teach You About Writing

Quick. What’s your first reaction when you hear that the “littlest” members of the family are coming to spend some time at your house? For some of us, it may not be excitement. It means no computer time and an indefinite number of little kids to watch for the duration of their stay. Synonymous with the end of the world? Maybe not, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park either.

Babysitting Pinterest

I mean, really. Authors, the predictable species that we are, are already self-conscious enough about our writing. Hide the screen at all times—even if it’s just the innocent passerby. And one plus prying pairs of eyeballs? Yeah… there goes your last hope for finishing NaNoWriMo. Introverted? Too bad—the family is expecting you, being the responsible young adult that you are, to keep your cousins occupied.

 

Now what, aside from what sounds like Sarah feeling the need to tell you about her most grievous position over the holidays, does this have to do with writing? They’re little kids, after all. They can’t even read yet. Ah, but it’s not them that will be learning something. It’s you.

 

When my two little cousins, Charlie and Nora, arrived yesterday, the first thing we did was jump right into the action– we went to our big swing at the end of the field. Well, right after introductions.

 

Think about it. What kind of beginning do you want to have in a novel? Certainly not one that starts off with a bunch of boring information dumps about how life has been for the author, or all the not-so-important conversations about daily life and normal things, God forbid that we have remotely normal lives. No, you want to jump right into the action.

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If you’ve ever emailed us at KP, you’ve probably “met” Sarah—a passionate storyteller with a huge heart that loves Jesus and everyone she meets. Sarah grew up in Georgia with her mom, dad, and little sister, Merry, where she attends the University of Georgia, majoring in International Affairs and Agriculture Communication. When she graduates, Sarah wants to help people all over the world succeed in the agriculture industry and tell the all-important story of the farmer. She joined the Kingdom Pen Team as Secretary in September 2013 and now serves as the Director of Community Happiness. Sarah has been homeschooled, private-schooled, and graduated from Madison County High School in May 2015. She attended Summit in July 2015. She’ll read pretty much anything (if she had to pick, though, her favorite author would be Frank Peretti) and has tried her hand at pretty much every kind of writing out there, though she likes writing fiction and poetry best. But because writing bios is a struggle, if you really want to get to know Sarah, shove some words in her general direction via the Forum, on one of the many social medias down below, or through the KP e-mail: kingdompenmag@gmail.com.

Women In Combat: We Need More Strong Female Characters – Part 2

This post is a collaboration of thoughts from the KP Team, building off of part 1.

How should the Christian writer handle the prospect of female characters in combat? 

Strong Female Characters Part 2

Strength comes down to how well someone or something fulfills the purpose it was created for. Men and women were created to fulfill different roles, each reflecting one-half of God’s character. A woman doesn’t need to pick up the sword, or express military prowess to be strong.

Does this mean we can’t depict women in combat? Not at all!

As writers, we need to draw a careful distinction between aspects of the story that are there just because it reflects reality, and aspects that we’re trying to glorify.  In the context of whether not we should write stories with women in combat, this distinction can become pretty crucial.  There is nothing wrong with writing about “gung-ho, beat-’em-up female characters taking part in combat” necessarily. To the extent that our culture is moving in that direction, those sorts of people do exist in real life to some extent.  The real question then, is whether or not we present it in a positive light in our stories. Gender roles and gender callings are a tricky subject to wade through, especially in light of a culture that’s very hostile to drawing any distinction between men and women.  It therefore becomes imperative to focus on biblical commands to guide us through these discussions, and not on cultural standards.

The real question then becomes, “should we be glorifying women in combat?”

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Portraying Reality in Your Story

portraying reality pin“Write what you know.”

The infamous adage, while looking good on paper, can be increasingly difficult to use well when put in practice. For writers of speculative fiction, it can look downright ridiculous. After all, when you’re writing a story about a bunch of halflings fighting past legions of orcs and black riders in order to destroy a piece of jewelry—is there even a point of listening to this adage? While the saying may appear maddening and out-of-place at first glance, it may not actually be saying what you think its saying. Fully understanding this adage requires one to first understand what’s real.

What’s really real.

Sure, you can point to the particular geographic oddities of the spinning globe that we call earth, the chance interactions between different sentient beings living on the globe, and the different events that those beings experience, and call all of that real. I wouldn’t disagree with that; there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But leaving our discussion of reality merely at that point tends to miss the greater reality that surrounds the world that we live in.

Loyalty, justice, evil, mercy, suffering. You can’t taste, smell, touch, hear, or see any of these essences per se. But we all know what they are. All of these things are real, and they are real in a much more stable sense than the physical world. We can imagine a world where, say, Greenland didn’t exist, or we had a seventh continent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We can imagine a world where America was colonized by Europeans centuries before Columbus, or the Byzantine Empire wasn’t conquered in 1453.

But to imagine a world without love, or where justice didn’t exist?

That isn’t merely tinkering with a world’s mechanics. That would require changing the nature of who God is in such a world.

The physical world is real, and it’s valuable and important. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating a form of Gnosticism. But there are also distinctive characteristics of mercy, of love, and of righteousness that are the same yesterday, today, and forever. And they are that way because they reflect the unchanging God in Heaven.

What does your experience have to do with a group of rebels fleeing from bounty hunters in the black vacuum of space? A lot more than you might think. You may have no experience fighting against bounty hunters that are threatening the rebel’s existence, or with how technology could allow such a chase to happen in space. But you do know about human nature. You know how people act when they’re angry, how they relate to friends, and how they react to unexpected news. You further know that there’s not one definitive answer for each of the previous three situations; different people handle the same event differently. As a Christian, you know about the transforming nature of love, the rewards of humility, and the joy that only comes through suffering.

“Well, that’s all good,” you might be saying, “but what does it have to do with writing?” Everything. Until you know the true nature of reality, you can’t portray reality accurately in your writing.

One of your foremost goals in writing ought to be to portray reality accurately. I’d venture to say that trying to accomplish this is more important than focusing on the message that you’re trying to get across in your book. Why? Because as Augustine pointed out nearly two millennia ago, all truth is God’s truth. There is no truth about reality that we can discover that runs against who God is and what God has said. Instead, creation declares the glory of God, as Psalm 19 attests.

When we’re trying to portray reality accurately, we can’t help but infuse a message in our story. We can’t help it because God did it first when he made the universe—with all creation testifying to His truth. All of morality points to Christ. And so when we attempt to duplicate that higher reality in our work, we can’t help but bring all the messages with it.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. It’s fairly easy to agree that we ought to attempt to accurately portray reality in our story. But when we sit down and try to write it out, we often come across a problem: we don’t fully understand the higher reality, and thus it’s hard to incorporate it into our story.

The solution? If we’re going to better understand the higher reality, we need to earnestly look at it and examine it if we’re going to try to replicate it in our novels. There are multiple ways to do this, some less obvious than others. Looking to the Bible is, hopefully, a pretty clear choice. The book of Proverbs in particular has a lot to say about what happens to those who indulge in such-and-such behavior. Hatred causes strife. The wise receive blessing. The wicked will be brought to ruin. There are so many themes and stories in Proverbs that are mentioned, one after another, as examples of how God generally deals with man. Many of these themes are already common motifs in fiction writing. And there are so many others that can be developed.

But we shouldn’t merely stop with the Bible. We’ve been placed smack-dab in the middle of the greatest story of all time, written by the Master Storyteller Himself, and it seems like we ought to be taking cues from it. We live in the most multi-layered, complex, exciting plot that could ever be imagined—one that blows all other stories out of the water because of its Author. Do we want to know how this higher reality interacts with man? Look at history. See how they have acted—how God has responded—and how the entire narrative fits together. What should we do in order to portray reality accurately in our story?

Look at who God is—his character, his works, and how he relates to man. Examine what he shows us concerning the nature of the world in the Bible, and then see how these principles unfold themselves throughout history. We’re living in the midst of the greatest narrative ever written.

Write what you know. You know a lot more than you think you do. So study the world that God has gifted us with, learn about His character and about reality, and then, with that knowledge, write it out. Your world may have different continents, different races, different people, different timelines, or it might be pretty identical to the world we live in. But whatever the case, it still is under that fundamental reality. So write what you know.

And know what you write about.

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.

Reality And Fantasy: Finding the Right Blend

Using your own life experiences to make your stories more real and fantastic at the same time.

By Lissy Jones

My mother always tells me the same thing whenever I write – “Write what you know”. I can’t stress this enough. Allow me to explain this with a simple example. Which is easier to write if you are a suburban Christian teenager – a story set in New York City about a young urban professional or a story about a suburban Christian teenager? Now, you may have a sibling that is a young urban professional in NYC, and that will make it easier to write the former, but generally, the latter is always going to be easiest for you to write. Think about it. You know the people in your neighborhood, you know what it’s like to be a teen, and it’s your life. I write my best fiction when it’s almost non-fiction. Having part of your personal story in your writing is like having climbing gear while climbing a mountain, versus free-hand climbing. It’s easier, and much less dangerous.

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But, my friends, writing direct biographies of our lives could be boring.  I know that I love writing partly because of the other world it transports me to – a world that I create. It’s only human to want to create things, as we are created in the image of the Creator. And when I’m writing what seems to be a narrative of my own boring (in my opinion) life, I tend to get bored. I have yet to write anything based directly on my life that is longer than a short story. And now, we are presented with a dilemma. So how do we fix that? Well, there are three ways. First, recognize the balance in writing. Second, learn to make reality fantasy. Third, research any topics you aren’t familiar with.

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Writing, like life, is a balance. It’s a delightful concoction with the perfect ratios of reality to fantasy. Every writer must be able to dream a little. I’m almost 100% sure C.S. Lewis didn’t possess a magical wardrobe that transported him to another world inhabited by talking animals. Yet, he spins a tale so real, the books have lasted years! So, what’s the magic ratio? In all honesty, friend, it varies. “The Chronicles of Narnia” requires more fantasy than, say, “The Grapes of Wrath.” A good writer is able to recognize exactly how much fantasy/reality he or she needs to add to the story. It’s like cooking – add a dash of reality to taste. If you reach the point where you read over your work and it sounds very “fake”, maybe reconsider some elements of your story, and make them closer to home. If you’re a girl who loves reading and writing, an illiterate boy who has just immigrated to America might be too hard to try to relate to. I like to play it safe and always have my main character be a girl, like me. Always have something in common with your character. A good way to do this is to make a chart comparing you and your character’s homes, families, personalities, and situations. This can help you see what you can change to get more in common. If, on the other hand, your story sounds like an autobiography, expand your mind a bit and add in some spice – perhaps you’ve always secretly wished you played piano from birth. Add that in! Also, consider changing one big piece of your character’s background. If you come from a two-parent household, making your character live with a single parent in a divorced or widowed family can add a fresh take on things.

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Mental Tourists

How inviting is your story world? Make your book a place readers want to sit down in and stay awhile.

 

Originally published in Sep/Oct issue. Vol.2Issue.5

By Hannah Mills

 

Pendleton Indiana.  It has a small downtown reminiscent of the idealistic Small Town U.S.A., antique shops, old houses, a handful of churches, a few restaurants, and Gathering Grounds Coffee. While I don’t live here, I frequent this town a lot. The coffee shop is one of my favorite hangouts. My little corner of the world.

You wouldn’t think that this town is much to talk about. But on one of the coffee shop’s old brick walls is hanging a map of the world, and scattered over the map are a bunch of straight pins. The pins mark where out-of-towners are visiting from. There are two pins marking Australia, one in South Africa, several throughout Europe, and one or more in almost every state in America, to name a few.

So many people pass through this town, people from everywhere around the world. It strikes me as strange, this little coffee bar in this little town being a stopping point for people all over the globe. Indiana isn’t a notable state, our main claim to fame being the Indianapolis 500. Yet people still come here, and not just to Indianapolis or our other cities, but our farmlands and small towns.

All these people, experiencing my little corner of the world.

In writing, the same thing happens. You have your mind, your story-world, and when you allow other people to read your writing, it’s like travelers visiting a foreign place. It doesn’t have to be the next Narnia to attract visitors, just like Pendleton doesn’t have to be a junior Chicago.

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