Please welcome Erin M. Evans to The Qwillery. Ashes of the Tyrant, a Brimstone Angels novel, is published today by Wizards of the Coast. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Erin a Happy Publication Day!
The last time I got into a fight, I’m pretty sure it involved one daring open-handed smack, followed by someone screaming “MOOOOOM!” I’m no brawler in real life. I’d rather use my words, my utter stubbornness, and a passing knowledge of contract law to bring my enemies—like that bastard Comcast!—low. But some stories need a more physical response. Sword and sorcery—like my Brimstone Angels Saga--demands it. And me with no fencing background, no love of martial arts, no encyclopedic background on medieval weaponry.
Truth be told, I think it’s easier to manage without those things. While a deep knowledge of fighting styles can add verisimilitude to your fight scenes, it can also send you wildly off track. I’ve edited a lot of fight scenes—I’ve written quite a few too—and the ones that bog down fastest are those that concern themselves too much with the mechanics of the fight, the flash of a blade and the art of the punch. While it might seem at first glance that the goal of the fight scene is to make clear exactly how Character A makes Character B bleed, that’s just an illusion and falling for it is why so many people seem to hate reading and writing fight scenes.
True: Bad fight scenes can certainly be sunk by writers who don’t pay attention to physics or physiology, geometry or geography. But most of the time they break because we forget they’re not special—the story doesn’t stop because the characters draw steel. In fact, it ought to be amplified. Characters gain focus, plot points sharpen, themes reveal themselves in the heat of battle. Making sure that happens is—in my experience—far more important than detailing swordwork that few of your readers have an understanding of or a real appreciation for.
Applying the same techniques and guidelines to fight scenes as you do the rest of your story isn’t always simple—another reason why it’s easy to write them badly. So here are my six, quick-and-dirty fight scene tips:
Don’t forget the beat. (That’s “beat” not “beat-down.”) A fight scene should always change some aspect of the story. If things are the same before and after, then it’s almost always flab and you should cut it. This is especially true of fight scenes—the way fight scenes affect the tension in your story is unique. If it’s come to a fight then something’s going to resolve one way or another—and yet the result should create a new tension. So what’s resolved? And more importantly, what arises?
Get personal. This fight is happening to a person—your point of view character—and it’s happening because of who they are, what they can’t avoid or what they’ve sought out. What’s going on in their head? Are they scared out of their mind of dying? Are they bored because they’ve been doing this all week and they’re ready for the big game? Are they worried that their friends are judging their ass-kicking techniques? Are they taking out their frustration at their judgy friends on this army of undead? Making the character’s emotional state a focal point of your fight scene might sound touchy-feely, but it’s going to mean your character has a reason to be in this fight.
Get specific, get visceral. It’s not possible to say this enough: the fight is happening to a person. Their point of view is paramount. It’s easy to turn your character into a cameraperson, focusing on a swath of characters and events one by one—but in the middle of a fight, does that make sense? He or she might glance around, but ultimately, they’re trying to stay alive, not update the reader on all the various injuries of their comrades as they occur or the backdrop of this battle. Focusing on details that would jump out to a character in a moment of crisis—the smell of burning skin after their spell hits, the sound of a screaming horse, the color of monster blood turns when it hits their uniform—makes all of this feel more real. Get really personal—who does the POV character worry about? These details might seem small in the scheme of the fight, but they tell way more about the scope than sweeping explanations will. Choosing things that will affect your reader emotionally—whether you’re shocking them or making them tear up or something in-between—will go a long way to keeping them invested.
Don’t let the hero just dish it out. Look, everyone knows your POV character is going to come out of this alive, but as a reader, I want you to make me worry I could be wrong. If your POV character never gets hurt, never slips up, never wants to just run away, the fact that your fight scene is pretty much rigged in their favor becomes unavoidable. Make it hard. Make your hero get hurt. Make a decision nearly cost them their life—make it cost someone else’s life. Make it create a bigger problem. No one likes a one-sided fight, even when they’re on the winning side.
Make the damage stick. It is inconvenient to have your character suffering from a broken rib while trying to save the world, but if you broke that rib, it better stay broken. Corollary: Go easy on the healing magic/tech. A little in a world that definitely has it makes sense; too much means none of your fights matter.
Act it out. Right—I know. I said the action was the easy part. But if you do all these other things and get the action wrong, your fight scene will still be bad. Get someone to stand in for your opponent and (gently) walk through the moves. Magic can’t be mimicked, but be creative and consistent. But do your research for everything else—how far does an arrow fly; how deep does a bolt puncture; what if there’s armor; if you’re pinned, how can you wrestle your way up; if someone grabs you, how would you throw them off; how heavy is a short sword; how heavy are the bullets for that gun? (Obviously, don’t mention all these facts, but be aware of where you might have inconsistencies). The information is out there. There are no excuses for writing scenes where scimitar-wielding youths do handsprings across the battlefield.
There are always exceptions, of course, and there are always those who like a historically accurate and detailed description of swordwork. But in general, these six tips have helped me learn to like writing fight scenes, and keep them a little more interesting.
Ashes of the Tyrant
Brimstone Angels 4
Wizards of the Coast, December 29, 2014
Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
In a direct follow-up to her fourth book in the Brimstone Angels series, Fire in the Blood, Erin M. Evans thrusts her signature character Farideh into a fast-paced murder mystery rife with political intrigue.
In the wake of the war brought on by the Sundering, Farideh’s adopted father Mehen has been called back by the clan that cast him out, and Farideh and Havilar mean to go with him. Just as Mehen confronts the head of his former clan, a clutch of young dragonborn is found in the catacombs, brutally murdered, an infernal summoning circle that looks all-too-familiar to Farideh, nearby.
Brimstone Angels 1
Wizards of the Coast, November 1, 2011
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 339 pages
It’s a simple thing.
Rejected at birth and raised in a village of tiefling misfits, Farideh expects a life without friends, love, or control over her destiny. Then she makes a pact with a devil named Lorcan, and everything changes.
You’ll have the power to do as you please.
Lorcan promises all she ever dreamed of and asks for nothing in return. Her twin sister Havilar urges Farideh to resist the devil’s sway. But Farideh’s not so sure. Lorcan may be dangerous but the power he offers is exhilarating.
Say you’re mine.
In the ruins of Neverwinter, Farideh’s doubts get tangled up in a devilish snare six layers deep. A succubus playing human pawns against an otherworldly foe sees the twins as obstacles in her path. And Lorcan’s monstrous sisters have their eyes on the city—and on Farideh. There’s no time to question her pact with Lorcan—it will take every ounce of Farideh’s newfound powers to get out of Neverwinter alive.
Brimstone Angels 2
Wizards of the Coast, December 4, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 388 pages
Mere weeks after escaping Neverwinter, Farideh’s dreams are still haunted by Lorcan, the cambion devil whose power fuels her own. One of only four known descendents of the original Brimstone Angel, Farideh has no regrets about the pact she made with the devil. But no one in the Hells knows that she has a twin—an impulsive eager sister, just waiting to be corrupted. At least as long as Lorcan can keep her secret. Determined to protect her sister, Farideh searches for a ritual that could call Lorcan out of the Hells. But in the midst of her hunt, she’s drawn into an assignment for the secret society the Harpers, an assignment which leads her and a ragtag group of allies to an ancient Netherese library deep underground. While the group combs the site, dodging ghosts and magical traps, Farideh discovers a magical book whose pronouncements throw into question everything she thought she knew about herself and her sister. The more the Book gives up its macabre secrets, the more one thing becomes clear—a traitor lurks among them.
Fire in the Blood
Brimstone Angels 3
Wizards of the Coast, October 14, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 528 pages
Mass Market Paperback, August 4, 2015
SCRIBE- award-winning author, Erin M. Evans, continues the riveting tale of her Sundering character, Farideh, as she becomes embroiled in a Forgotten Realms-flavored game of thrones.
In a direct follow-up to the third book in the Sundering series, The Adversary, young warlock Farideh falls into the midst of a battle for the throne of Cormyr. As the war brought on by the Sundering rages across Faerûn, princes and princesses, wizards and rogues scheme to capture the seat of power of the Land of the Purple Dragon—with Farideh and her allies caught squarely in the middle.
Erin M. Evans got a degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis—and promptly stuck it in a box. Nowadays she uses that knowledge of bones, mythology, and social constructions to flesh out fantasy worlds. She is the author of the Brimstone Angels Saga, including Fire in the Blood and Ashes of the Tyrant. She lives in Washington State with her husband and sons.