War. Whether it be the World War, War of the Worlds, or the war over Middle-Earth, there is always one constant: the warrior. The warrior may be looking down the barrel of a gun, or have their green, alien finger poised above a button in a warship, but they are always there.
As readers, if there’s going to be a war, we want to be there next to them and know what it’s like to be in that most compromising of situations.
What’s that smell?
One of the more important parts of writing the battle scene is the human senses. Battles smell, and probably pretty badly. They also sound like something and sometimes taste like something.
The flat battle scene will spend all its time giving the reader what it looks like. However important sight may be to the battle description, it’s not enough to put the reader into the midst of the fight.
This advice may seem sophomoric, but it’s easy to lose one’s head for writing in the middle of a battle scene. Battles can be surreal and heighten the character’s senses. We readers want to see, smell and taste blood. Speaking of which:
Too Much Blood
Battle scenes are one of the more action-packed moments in many stories. They’re exciting, gory, horrific, adrenaline-inducing – but how much is too much?
A battle scene can go from exciting to tiring if it’s drawn on too long or if it’s simply blood spill after blood spill. Rather than shove as much action into the pages you’ve allotted for your battle scene, pick and choose the moments in the battle that will add to the story the most. Spend more time on the battle with the arch-enemy and less with the dozen henchmen your character fought on the way. Spend less time describing wounds and more on what is happening inside the warrior’s head.
Rather than supplementing the battle with narrative, supplement the narrative with battle. Don’t lose your story in the bloodshed.
If you have previously introduced the reader to someone in the battle, the reader will want to know what it’s like for that character. What are they thinking? What are they doing?
Even if you’re telling your story using a third-person narrative, it’s better for you as the writer to know what the character is thinking. Have that character’s actions be a product of his or her thoughts, and the reader will know what they think.
Many readers do not know what it’s like to look at an advancing army or a single enemy with a broadsword or laser rifle in their hands. One of the more alluring parts of the battle scene is we as readers get to imagine what it would be like if we were put into that dangerous place. That’s the great part about books in general – to go where we are not.
Keep fleshing out that battle scene, making it as visceral as possible. And, whatever you do, never stop writing.