Tag Archives: writing Fight Scenes

Romance? Er … (gulp) … OK

This week on the Gumbee blog, we have the quite brilliant (which often means genially insane in my experience) Marcus Pailing. Marcus writes much harder fantasy than I do, and isn’t averse to a bit of gore. So, let’s see what he thinks of the softer side of fantasy…..

(Oh, and incidentally, I was indulging my romantic side when I added the tags for peril, conflict, fight scenes and pursuit… Will)

“Romance, eh?” I thought as the suggestion was put forward. My esteemed Gumbee colleague, Will MacMillan Jones, had recently returned from the Festival of Romance, and was all afire with passion … or such was the impression he gave. It was his suggestion, with a fast-beating heart and hot cheeks, that we turn our attention to the theme, to see whether the rest of us could also demonstrate our forays into the realms of romance.

I don’t consider myself much practised in the writing of romance. Generally I’m more of a swords and spears fantasy writer (and I don’t mean that euphemistically). When I was growing up, fantasy novels either steered clear of ‘lurve’ (and often eschewed females entirely, or kept them as very minor characters); or else treated women as lusty, heaving-bosomed bit-players, planted in the stories to demonstrate the equally lusty masculinity of the over-muscled protagonist.

Now, I appreciate a heaving bosom as much as the next man, but I never wanted to have female characters who were mere eye-candy. At the same time, I never set out to write ‘romance’. I did introduce it to my novels, however; but in small measures only – my main characters do meet women, marry them, and have children with them, after all.

This changed somewhat when I wrote The Withered Rose, because the entire novel is basically a romantic tragedy. So when the idea for this theme came up, I turned to that novel to see what I had written.

In order to explain the following extract, here’s some context. There are two friends, both called Atela. One of them is locked in a marriage that is starting to fall apart, having had a very positive start; the other has recently married herself, and is blissfully happy. Kieldrou, the son of the count of Trall, is younger than both the women, but has dazzled them with his tales of adventure – he has recently returned from a journey in the exotic lands of Azzawa. He has made it clear already that he finds them both attractive, and while he hasn’t exactly attempted to seduce either of them, he has managed in the past to trick them into giving him kisses.


“My ladies, I said that I had gifts for you both.”

The two Atelas sat in a window seat, having moved away from their husbands after a while of conversation. Now Kieldrou stood before them again. He had left his audience, where Derian was now entertaining the folk with more tales of their time in the east. Kieldrou looked a little flushed, but it was not from drink; more likely it was the excitement of having had an audience hanging on his every word.

“I think you should consider becoming a player,” teased Short Atela. “Entertaining the masses with your tall tales.”

“I swear, on my honour, that I exaggerate nothing,” he said, sounding only a little hurt. “I told nothing but the truth. Although perhaps it is better that you did not stay to hear me tell of the thieves of Ukhara, or you really would not believe me.”

“You noticed we had gone?” Atela asked. “I thought you too engrossed in your glory.”

“I noticed,” he said softly. “But it does not matter. I do not seek to gain favour with mere stories.”

Atela raised an eyebrow. “And how would you gain favour?”

“With gifts.”

At that, Kieldrou held out two small wooden boxes, handing one to Atela, and the other to the younger woman. “I found them in Ukhara, and thought of you both.”

“After three years?” laughed Short Atela. “Or did you buy them, and then think of us when you got here?”

Kieldrou frowned, and stepped back slightly, giving them a little space as they opened the boxes.

Atela gasped. Lying inside her box was a small white rose, exquisitely carved from the purest ivory – a rare and expensive luxury in Western Gilderaen – and turned into a brooch. It was a perfect reproduction of the flower, even in miniature. Short Atela was similarly overcome: hers was a tulip, also most delicately carved.

“I recalled the silver rose I gave you at your wedding,” Kieldrou said, his voice faltering a little. There was none of his usual humour in his voice. “I remembered how much you liked it, which is why I thought of you when I saw it. For you, my lady,” he continued, turning to Short Atela, “I wanted something of similar beauty, to match yours.” For the first time in Atela’s memory, he appeared to blush a little.

“It is beautiful,” Atela murmured. “Truly a marvel, and I do thank you. What favour do you wish for in return, then? Are you hungry for another kiss?”

She said it quickly, laughing, and without thinking. She certainly did not expect the reaction she got. Kieldrou’s brows creased in a frown, and he muttered a denial, before turning on his heel and striding away.

The two Atelas looked at each other, puzzled. “Did I offend him?” Atela asked, and the other shrugged. “Oh, Hogra, I fear I have. We forget he is a young man, now, no longer a high-spirited boy.”

“We must apologise,” Short Atela said. “Where has he gone?”

They scanned the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen. They figured he must have left, and they stood up to follow him. Yet they had to be discreet: it would not be seemly for them to go chasing after him. As they walked through the hall they were accosted again by Elnir and Sturgar, and were forced to stay in conversation for some time. When they escaped, they were then trapped by the earl and countess of Mendivar. It was a good half hour before they managed to get out of the hall.

“Let us try the garden,” Short Atela suggested. Atela nodded, and they hurried along the empty corridors towards the door that led out to the cloister.

It was late, and the garden was lit by a pale moon, throwing dark shadows yet illuminating the rows of flowers in the middle of the garden. He was there, walking alone between the bushes. He turned when they called his name, stiffening when he saw who it was that disturbed him.

“Kieldrou, I am truly sorry,” Atela said. “I was teasing, forgetting you are no longer a boy. It was wrong of me, and you did not deserve it.”

“I, also,” Short Atela admitted. “They are truly beautiful gifts, and you must have thought hard about them. We do not deserve your kindness, nor your thoughts of us while so far from home.”

Kieldrou gave a wan smile. “No, my ladies, you deserved no less. I can easily forgive your teasing. It is my fault: of course I expected nothing in return, and there was no call for me to take umbrage. Besides, you are both married women. Perhaps I should not have made you those gifts at all.”

“But they are most gratefully received,” Atela said. “I, for one, will treasure mine.” Beside her, Short Atela nodded in agreement.

“I am glad,” he said. “I have no expectations, but beauty and friendship should be rewarded.”

Atela felt a tightness in her chest, and she never knew what made her do as she then did. “Indeed they should,” she replied, and she stood on her toes to plant a light kiss on his lips. She felt his arm reach round her shoulder and she stepped back quickly. She remembered the strength of those arms three years before, and dreaded what she would do if she felt them around her again. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “That is all I can give.”

He smiled sadly. “I understand, my lady.” He bowed to them both, and turned to go.


He turned back, and looked at Short Atela, who stepped forward, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that I cannot offer you even a kiss. I … it would not …”

“Thank you, my lady,” he said, cutting her off to save her the embarrassment of stumbling through a needless explanation. “You are happily married, I know. As I said, I have no expectations. The gifts were gifts, and deserve no payment. Although I shall treasure your return gift,” he added to Atela, briefly touching his lips.

Then he was gone.

“Oh, Hogra!” Atela groaned. “What did I do?”

“Nothing wrong,” Short Atela said, firmly. “It was a friendly gesture, that is all. Although it was wise to step back when you did.” She laughed, but it was a brittle laugh.

“I almost lost myself. What was I thinking? I am eleven years older than he, and married.”

“Locked in a withering marriage,” Short Atela shot back. “Let us be honest about it. Yet you must not do any more. I would advise you – both of us – not to seek out that young man again. You’ve had ‘the talk’ from my mother.”

Atela started. “How did you know?”

Short Atela laughed. “I know my mother. You were clearly unhappy at the time of my betrothal, and you sought a private meeting with her. She never told me what you discussed, but I am not stupid. I know her, and I have seen enough other women seek her advice. It takes no great imagination to guess what advice my poor, dear, beautiful and unsociable mother could give.

“Come on,” she went on, taking Atela’s hand in hers. “Let us get back to the hall and put the Trallian from our minds.”


This is the point in the novel where Atela – the one who this time kissed Kieldrou – begins to harbour romantic thoughts about the young man. Later in the novel these are to cause a lot of pain to a large number of people … but to say more here would rather spoil the story.

Still, the novel only costs £1 on Amazon …




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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes , Part 8, Jaq D Hawkins

I’ve been working with a style of writing fight scenes that uses changing POV to progress the fight along as different characters pick up the baton and carry the action forward. Below is an extract from Demoniac Dance that serves as an example of this method, although we only see two POVs when there are three involved in the full scene:

The goblin sword swung and met with the commander’s sword in an arc that denoted the start of what was effectively a dance of battle. At the same time, Anton became aware that the magicians among the men on his side had moved close to his vicinity and were sharing in this dance as they engaged the foreign men in battle. The goblins fighting by their sides shared the rhythm of the dance in harmony, probably for the first time they had co-operated with humans in many centuries. Some of the opponents before them entered the rhythm as well, none more so than the commander.

Anton’s eye caught a glimpse of an amulet at the commander’s throat. It was identical to the one he wore himself as well as the one he had given to Haghuf so long ago. By this Anton knew that the commander was a magician, as were some of his elite guard. They could feel the rhythms of the earth pulsate through the movements of battle just as Anton and the goblins did. Other men further from the crush of the fight fought with what skills they had learned, but the psychic connection that kept the goblins operating as a unit was perceptible only to the goblins themselves and the magicians on both sides.

Captain Kantor had not expected this. What should have been an easy conquest had been hindered by unknown predatory creatures in the river, surprise attacks, nothing short of dragons attacking from the skies and now this alarming troll army. What else did the leader of the farmers and craftsmen have in store for them?

He had seen the amulet at the first ring of their swords together. Even the sword of Count Anton looked like something that had manifested out of ancient legends. He would not allow his doubts to show in battle, but inside Kantor was feeling overwhelmed. Even the warrior women, though they had taken few of his men, had been disconcerting with their sudden furious attack and their unnatural blue faces. They had disappeared as if by magic as the dragons attacked. This too was disturbing. Kantor was becoming concerned that the magic of Count Anton might be far superior to his own.

Suddenly one of the big trolls stepped between him and Count Anton. Anton’s sword was mid-swing and might have fallen hard on the troll, but it glanced sideways and did not connect. Kantor admired the skill that could control a weapon with such instant perception and redirection. He took the opportunity to fall back and put some distance between himself and Count Anton. At that moment, he preferred to fight the trolls.

Anton had been sure that he was about to finish the commander. He gave himself completely over to the magic that flowed through him, through the sword, through the earth – and had let the movement of the blade come down in what should have been a bone-crunching blow that could fell the largest of the goblins that fought beside him. Then Kahjak himself had stepped in front of the blade when it was too late to divert the blow. For a split second Anton feared that he would kill the goblin and bring confusion to the battle that would surely end in Those Who Protect turning on all the humans with disastrous results.

The sword diverted its motion as if there were a force field around the goblin that it would not penetrate. It was as if his own will had been overridden by a conscious energy within the sword itself. Before he had much time to think about it, he was engaged with more enemy swords from the throng, but the commander had disappeared behind an onslaught that Kahjak was pushing through the centre of what had been their reorganised force. Anton saw the strategy, the goblins were splitting the army and pushing half of it towards his own men while the other half were cut off from them.

Anton turned to see a muscular female goblin fighting near him, noting her presence to himself for later reference. The other goblins didn’t appear to notice. She fought among them as an equal. Out of curiosity he made his way closer to her while clashing blades with any of the enemy that stood between them. Suddenly she whirled around and met Anton’s eyes as the blade came crashing down towards him. At the same moment a sword slashed towards her from behind and Anton called out in the goblin tongue without thinking.

‘dniheb uoy!’

The blow that had been intended for Anton sailed in a complete 180 degree arc that slashed the head from her would-be assassin’s shoulders. Her eyes turned back to Anton momentarily as she nodded an acknowledgement, then carried on fighting the enemy humans. Anton made a mental note to himself to never sneak up on a goblin in battle, especially a female. They appeared to be more psychically sensitive than the males.

Kantor felt himself being herded along with his men, pinched between the trolls and the men that had come to fight for their homes. His own men were falling fast. Blood dripped from the swords of the massive green warriors that assaulted his forces, the blood of his own men. The men among the enemy fell easily, but he saw no green bodies among those that lay on the ground. The trolls were much bigger and stronger than his soldiers and at least as well trained. Their only hope lay in a complete retreat and in the soldiers on the other side of the street that the trolls had divided escaping to regroup with them later when they could plan according to their new knowledge of the opponents they faced.

Kantor reached for the horn at his side and blew the retreat signal, but just as he did so those damnable blue women attacked again, spearing his soldiers as they ran or engaging with some who stopped to fight only to have his men dropped with arrows from yet another new threat that crawled across the roofs of the buildings. He looked up to see another form of green creatures, ones who were strangely exotic in appearance. They were as tall as men but of a slim, muscular build that was very different from the hefty trolls. They climbed across the thinnest ledges of the buildings, placing themselves on crumbling window ledges or decorative masonry as if they weighed nothing and had the balance of a spider crawling across a wall.

The green skin was tattooed with unreadable designs. The graceful pointed ears were pierced and adorned with rings of gold, sometimes with small stones that glittered in the grey cloudy light of this misty land. They had large, strangely beautiful yellow eyes with a look of intensity in them that turned Kantor’s blood cold. Something about them brought more terror to his heart than the massive trolls as the unnaturally accurate arrows zinged from their bows, each one landing in a specific target’s chest.

These were assassins, not mere snipers. Kantor began to accept that his mission and his army were doomed. He looked for a place to hide. The least he could do was to survive and report back to the king what had happened. He might even attempt a rescue of the king’s worthless cousin if he lived to make the effort.

Anton heard the word whispered among the goblins closest to him, Dunai!

He worked out that the archers that had appeared on the roofs and windows of the derelict buildings were of this tribe, but he had no reference to draw from to understand their significance. They reminded him of Ja’imos with their tattoos and piercings as well as the slim, muscular build of their species and the accuracy of their archers. Some of the newcomers mixed in with the larger goblins, fighting near enough to Anton to get a close look at them. Some had fair hair, but not the white hair of the Kol’ksu … or of Talla. Anton had seen few of such goblins on the rare instances when he had been allowed to participate in The Dance and had wondered about them at the time.

As the battle progressed, Anton followed the surge to the left, away from the men of his camp where more of the smaller goblins were appearing. He found himself fighting very close to one of the elf-like goblins that seemed familiar. The goblin turned as the thought occurred and dipped his sword in a salute, smiling momentarily before resuming the dance of battle that was pushing back three of the enemy soldiers with the expert whirling of his deadly blade.


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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes , Part 7, Will Macmillan Jones

Everyone expects fantasy novels to be full of fights.  Huge-muscled barbarians, scantily dressed ladies wielding needle sharp swords, palace guards and thugs with clubs abound… or do they?  I have to confess that my fantasy series seems to contain very little actual violence.  My latest work, Bass Instinct has the after effects of a rumpus in a pub, and one small affair in an office.  (OK, some Thuggee do what Thuggee do best, but that doesn’t really count as it’s by way of being their day job.)

So, what can I bring to the Gumbee table for a bit of a scrap?  How about this open fight scene from The Mystic Accountants?  Here, The Banned Underground have managed to find a replacement for the magical Throne of The King Under The Mountain, and are trying to get it back to the dwarf’s mansion, when they are waylaid by the Dark Wizards…

As the tour bus and the van stopped, the Mondeo pulled into the car park behind them, and the doors were flung open.  Across the car park, from the shadows, The Grey Mage stalked from his old Mercedes estate with his receptionist and two other Dark Coven members.

“Der!” yelled Eddie, trying to turn the Sprinter around.  But with the trailer on the back, he had no room.  Ahead of them, the receptionist threw off her coat, and changed shape into a green dragon six feet long and four feet high.

“We need to get out!” panicked GG.  Felldyke and Scar threw open the doors, and jumped out of the Sprinter.  “I meant out of the car park!”

Fungus and Haemar exchanged a glance, then Haemar grabbed a long tyre lever from underneath the dashboard, and he and Fungus climbed out. Eddie was there already.  Adam and his lager louts joined them.

“What’s going on?” asked Adam, who couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dragon.

The cameraman had already dived back into the van, and was feverishly grabbing his kit.

At a shout, they all looked behind, to see that GG, Felldyke and Scar were already scrapping with Ned and his crew who were trying to get to the trailer.

The Grey Mage smiled, in triumph, and raised his staff.

“Who’s the old git?” asked Adam, as his cameraman pointed the lens at the dragon receptionist.

“An Evil Wizard,” replied Haemar, pronouncing the capital letters.

“He looks just like my Bank Manager. And is that really a dragon?”

The receptionist blew a very hot flame at the sound technician, who dodged.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then.”

“We’re in bother this time.” Haemar said to Fungus.  “What are you lookin’ for?”

Fungus was looking wildly around the deserted Car Park, but didn’t answer.

The receptionist sent another blaze of flame, this time at the shrouded shape on the trailer, but the flames failed to catch hold and burn.

“What do they want?” demanded Adam.

“For starters, they want to burn that thing we’ve got on the trailer,” Fungus told him.

“And then we’ll be fer seconds,” Haemar added grimly.  The fighting noises grew louder from behind.

“Get stuck in can’t yer?” yelled Ned at the monks.  He had a tight hold of Scar’s leg, but as Felldyke was sat on Ned and trying to insert a drumstick (wooden variety) into Ned’s left nostril, Ned was unable to capitalise on this advantage.

“We always preach non violence as a form of dispute management,” replied the Senior Monk, glaring at the accountant who was trying to brain GG with his abacus, an attempt foredoomed to failure.

“Just help out!” Ned shouted, as Scar freed his leg with a vicious kick, and jumped on the tax junior from behind.  As they fell to the ground, the assistant assistant tripped over them, and GG paused from fending away a wildly swinging abacus to put his boot into a strategic spot.  The Watches were no longer a threat.

“XL5” [Trying to amuse the older reader there] yelled The Grey Mage, waving on his Dark Coven, and the two extra evil wizards (that is they were additional numbers, not superlatively evil) started throwing fireballs at the shrouded shape of The Throne.

“Why are those fireballs not working?” wondered The Grey Mage.

“Why are those fireballs not working?” Adam asked, as one bounced off The Throne and set fire to his foot. Adam started hopping about the car park.

“Why are those Fireballs not working?” Haemar asked Fungus, whilst stamping on Adam’s foot to put out the blaze.  Adam continued hopping around the car park, and started yelping in pain.

“Why is everyone asking me?” Fungus wanted to know.  “Maybe Waccibacci put some protection on The Throne, like Goods In Transit insurance?”

The next fireball bounced off The Throne, and set alight the front tyre of the Black  Van.  Thinking quickly, the sound technician extinguished the blaze with the nearest liquid source available.  His nervous state, enhanced as more dragonfire removed his eyebrows, helped to increase the flow.

“We’ll have to get the cover off it.” The Grey Mage decided, and he waved his minions forward. But they ran into Adam, his driver and the sound technician, and a brawl developed.  The Grey Mage sighed, and strode forward towards the Sprinter.



“We’ve got two options,” Fungus told Haemar, as he eyed the wizard’s approach.

“Good.  Isn’t that a chocolate drink with different flavours? Just what we need now,”

“Actually, I meant we can try an’ hold him off, or we can run away,” Fungus said.

“I like run away.  I like it a lot,” Haemar said, backing away towards the Sprinter as more random dragonfire burst across the car park towards them setting fire to a parking meter and thereby incurring the wrath of the Council and a substantial fine, but on the plus side incinerating a fly poster announcing a particular forthcoming concert.

“I just don’t think that I could be fast enough.”

Haemar passed the tyre lever to Fungus, and drew his short sword. (All dwarfs carry short swords.  It’s probably a cultural thing.)

“We need a good battle cry,” Haemar said. “It could be our final fling.”

“Then how about : ‘Last orders at the bar’?”

“Good One! Fungus, why do you keep looking around?”

“For help.”

“Fungus, no one’s coming. Come on!”

Haemar gave a blood curdling yell, and leapt forwards.  But The Grey Mage just sneered, and waved his staff.  Fungus and Haemar fell to the ground, bound fast together with magical chains.

“Well, it was worth a try,” groaned Fungus.

Haemar shook the iron chains, which for some arcane reason were covered in pink fur.  The dragon receptionist stopped breathing flames everywhere, and examined the chains with some interest.  The Grey Mage changed colour in embarrassment, as he blushed.

“Those handcuffs are covered in glitter, too,” she observed.

“Yes, well, I bought that spell second hand from a solicitor,” The Grey Mage muttered.  His receptionist looked disbelieving.

“Right,” said The Grey Mage, striding over his bound protagonists towards his goal. Haemar tried to bite him in the leg as he passed, but missed:  the shrouded Throne lay on the trailer, at his mercy.  But then there came a loud, single perfect note (possibly A sharp) and a large golden globe appeared on top of The Grey Mage’s Mercedes estate, causing another sound. (B flat, probably.)

The average Mercedes estate is a well-built, solid vehicle somewhat reminiscent of a World War Two tank.  But that didn’t stop the roof bending inwards under the weight of the globe, causing a scream of rage from the Mage.

The globe shimmered, and vanished, leaving in its place Malan and Finn of the Tuatha, Grizelda the witch holding her broomstick and Dai clutching his Fender Precision Bass.

“Are we too late?” called Malan.

“Only we heard someone yell ‘Last orders’ and got a bit worried,” added Finn.

“What’s goin’ on here then?” demanded Grizelda.

“Were you expectin’ this lot then?” Haemar asked Fungus.

“Well, yes. But only Malan and Dai, the other two are like a bonus.”

Grizelda did not resemble a free gift, as for example, the plastic toys that used to be included in cereal packets.  She had not enjoyed the Tuatha’s transportation methods, having spent most of the journey squashed up against Dai who maintained quite a high body temperature.

The sight of Dai had also raised the receptionist’s temperature, but in a different way, and she stopped sending jets of fire at The Throne, and tried simpering instead. The Grey Mage averted his eyes in horror.

Finn and Malan jumped down from the roof of the Mercedes, leaving boot imprints on the bonnet as they passed, then helped Grizelda down more modestly.

“What do we do now, Adam?” asked the cameraman.

“Just keep on filming, until I tell you to stop!” Adam hissed back.  The sound technician and the driver joined them, leaving the two dark coven members groaning on the ground. The two orange clad monks at the rear quietly slid behind the Mondeo, out of view.

“I asked, what’s goin’ on?” repeated Grizelda.

“These Caer Surdin idiots ambushed us, an’ have been tryin’ ter set fire ter The Throne.” Haemar explained to Grizelda.

“Them chains suit yer,” she replied, and then glared at The Grey Mage.

“This one’s a draw now that we’ve got here in time,” she told him.


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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 6, M T McGuire

Fight scenes. A bit like buses in my life, I write two books without a single one and then, suddenly, two come along at the same time. So one of the hardest things about them is that I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. Phnark. Never mind, here goes.

Release the Unnecessarily Slow Winching Device.
What I am trying to achieve in anything I write is realism. Don’t laugh. It’s true.

The thing is, though, I can’t really do gritty proper realism of um… action. Why? Well, partly because I’ve never been in a pukka pagga so it’s hard to imagine. But also because there is too much of the Bond super-villan in me. My baddies tend to be psychopathic, they want their victims so suffer and die slowly and… well… ornately (if that’s a word). So they get their enemies somewhere nice and secure, where they can’t escape, and take their time over it. It’s clear, as I write this, that I’ve watched too many James Bond films and too many episodes of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Are you looking at me pal?
Perhaps the style of a fight scene also depends on what the writer is actually trying to achieve. Are you demonstrating something about the characters involved and if so, what? Will it be reflected in their actions, their technique, their skill? Will the reader be concentrating on that and therefore, more willing to suspend disbelief if you haven’t quite mastered the gritty detail?

In my case, since pretty much everything I write is about letting the characters act in a way that’s true to their personalities, this is a big part of it. It may be that I spend too much time on the personalities. Do that and, if you’re not careful, you can – and I do – forget the niggling little practicalities; things like, say, making your people bust moves that are physically possible for a human body, or if they’re not human then a body of whatever shape theirs is.

That said, I’m beginning to think that, so long as a writer makes a fight vividly realistic in some way, it will connect with the reader. Sure, it could be because the fighting is realistic, but equally, it could be because the character’s reactions are believable or just a simple case of making the reader oblivious of any details that don’t add up.

In short, the important thing is that somebody reading a scene can suspend disbelief. How that is done is probably up to the individual writer – at least, I hope to heaven it is because if it isn’t, I, for one am stuffed.

Calm down, Calm down
The most interesting aspect of this series of posts, is the number of different approaches which have cropped up. One of the trickiest bits of this one is that I haven’t actually written a fight scene until recently and I’ve had to write two very different ones with two very different aims. The first, involves two characters fighting off an attack. As well as a fight scene, it’s a moment when they realise they have fallen in love with one another. More on that story. Later. The second is an assassination and is basically there to show us what a bastard one character is. The slight difficulty is that both scenes are part of a work in progress so, in theory, they might contain spoilers. I’m going to post the assassination, because it’s the shortest and actually, though not finished, it’s the nearest to a publishable standard of the two.

OK to fill in a bit of background; the laser pistol has a maximum of 9 shots but it runs on static so if our killer has time to rub it on the right kind of surface he can boost the charge. The guards are armed but their arms are vaporised with them. The assassin knows his pistol might not kill all eight of his targets – it’s on its highest setting because he’s thorough – but hey, he’s an invincible super-villain, so if it runs out of juice he can take care of the last one by hand. He also has a matter transportation device, which they don’t and that’s why he can appear and disappear into thin air. When the book finally comes out, there’s a strong chance that I night stop this with the eighth shot and let Fred get away with a precision strike, but right now I’m not sure. So here it is.

It is possible that Bob’s bodyguards lived long enough to hear a few nanoseconds of some strange sound. They might even have survived long enough to see the dark shape appearing in the middle of the room, but it’s unlikely.

Before the quickest of them had a chance draw his gun, seven bolts of laser fire flew at them in rapid succession. Seven shots for seven guards each one finding its mark. Fred knew their exact positions and by the time he had materialised completely all seven bodyguards were already dead. The adrenaline coursing through his body exhilarated him, sharpening his reflexes, focussing his mind as he swung round, legs apart, arms extended and aimed at the bed. The air was filled with the smell of burning and in that brief second, Fred’s heightened senses took in the scene; one set of curtains was open, the orange street lights of the city illuminating half the room. Bob was scrambling out of bed to face his attacker, his light weight body armour clearly visible under his night clothes.

Behind the balaclava Fred’s mouth curled into a smile. This was going to be easy, so easy that he was almost disappointed. Bob was armed but he had not even had time to raise his own pistol before Fred fired.

A feeble bolt sputtered from the barrel of Fred’s pistol and dispersed a few feet beyond. It was spent. He lost no time, leaping at Bob before he could fire his own gun. Crashing into him and knocking the pistol from his grasp. It arced away over the bed and came to rest the other side of the room. While Fred’s attention was briefly focussed on the gun, Bob took advantage; turning sideways, kicking Fred’s feet from under him and bringing him neatly down on the floor. In a second Bob was on him, his hands locked around his throat. Fred smashed his palm upwards against the bottom of Bob’s nose, causing him to jerk his head back and loosen his grip enough to throw him off.

Bob jumped up and started towards the gun. Fred drew his knife and lunged after him. Bob blocked him with one arm and brought the other up fast into Fred’s stomach, uncomfortably close to his solar plexus. The suit took the brunt of the blow but he faltered for that vital second which allowed Bob to knock the knife out of his hand. It fell onto the carpet out of reach but only just. Fred charged as Bob threw himself after it, catching him off balance and bringing him down. Still, Bob struggled forward towards the knife, his outstretched fingers almost touching the hilt. Fred flung his arm round his neck, pulling him backwards. He tried to tighten his grip but he was still weak from the impact to his stomach and Bob tipped him easily over his head. But Fred got to the knife first.

Aware that his adversary would be making for the gun again, Fred turned quickly and leapt. He knew Bob would be expecting a blow to the neck or head so as he charged he buried the knife in the top of his leg, just where it met his groin. The force of the impact took the two of them backwards, and as they smashed against the wall, Fred used the impact to drive the knife further in.

It was over now, Bob’s groan of pain confirmed it. He struggled but Fred forced his forearm against his neck to keep him still, increasing the pressure, feeling the delicious sensation of his enemy weakening. Bob’s hands scrabbled ineffectually at his arm and at his hand on the knife. Fred felt his warm blood, his life force, pouring out of him. He smelled the ferrous stench of it and scented victory. The blood flowed even faster when pulled out the knife. He raised it high and drove it savagely into Bob’s neck.

It was done. Fred had never felt such power during a kill, and as his dying victim slumped against him, he savoured it. Bob sank slowly to his knees. He was failing fast now, his hands, gripping the second wound, were stained dark with his own blood. With the last of his strength he looked up, supplicating, but pragmatic enough not to hope. Fred took off the mask and the orange light of the city, shining in through the curtains, fell across his features. He was gratified to see the look of recognition in Bob’s eyes before his strength finally failed him and he fell sideways onto the floor.

Fred kicked the lifeless body over onto its back, bent down and placing one foot against the chest, he pulled out the knife. He tucked the mask into his belt and used the sheets on the bed to wipe the blood off the blade.

As he cast a final glance around the room, he noticed Bob’s phone on the floor. He picked it up. The screen was already active, a number called up, labelled ‘guard’. He must have tried to summon help. Fred pressed the green button and waited until someone answered.

“Good evening,” he said.

“Who is this?” asked a voice at the other end.

“That is not your concern. I believe Bob requires your aid. He has fallen on something sharp.”

Fred pressed the red button to end the call and tossed the phone onto the bloodstained carpet near its lifeless owner. He pictured his rooms in his mind’s eye, curled his thumb into the platinum portal and disappeared into thin air.


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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 5, Jim Webster

I’m a great believer in trying to have plenty of ‘reality’ in Fantasy. Some of the underlying ideas are so inherently unbelievable that I feel a good dose of hard, detailed, reality is necessary to ensure the reader finds it easy to suspend their disbelief. It was Fritz Leiber who said “Fantasy must be fertilized—yes, watered and manured—from the real world”.

So how do I tackle this? Firstly combat is inherently dangerous. People are swinging sharpened steel bars about. If you get it only slightly wrong you could end up dead, or what is perhaps worse, maimed for life. So you aren’t going to take unnecessary risks.

But the definition of unnecessary might come up for sudden redefinition. An opening which allows you to get a killing blow in might well be risky, but is it more or less risky than playing it safe?

Finally the combatants are husbanding their reserves. They are high on adrenaline. They are under stress and they will get tired very quickly. Anyone who has taken part in ‘friendly’ martial arts sparring sessions will know how quickly you will become tired.

When it comes to the detail of the fight, I do try and play out the scene in my head, checking when the combatant will have his weight, how he will move and how his opponent will react.

Where I don’t dwell on the detail is in the result of the blows. I don’t go in for graphic wound descriptions. Or perhaps I ought to say, I don’t often go in for graphic would descriptions.

Why should I? It’s not cinema where the director has to arrange every detail. I’m projecting my story onto the imagination of the reader. Their imagination is more vivid, more colourful than anything I can write. If I go in for gratuitous detail, I’ll limit the reader’s imagination.

But, occasionally, just occasionally, I do allow a little detail to creep in. Because there isn’t a lot of gore, the little bit of gore I do use stands out and is more vivid. Also it acts as a benchmark against which the reader can calibrate their imagination.

The first example comes from ‘Swords for a Dead Lady.

Benor came round the next corner and found himself looking down on the melee. It looked as if Yallou, Kirisch and Rothred had been hit from front and rear as they walked down the alley.

Kirisch was in the middle, leaning against the wall below him, obviously holding his left arm tightly against his left side, and with his right hand holding his sword in a guard position. Rothred was covering his right and
Yallou his left.

There were at least a dozen attackers but only two facing Rothred on the right; there were two bodies already sprawled there – Rothred had obviously been busy.

One of the attackers charged in at Rothred, sword raised to cut. Rothred stepped forward with his blade up to parry. Benor dropped his sword on the wall-walk and pulled at a loose coping stone. It came away from the wall and he dropped it on Rothred’s attacker.

It caught him on the shoulder, knocking him sideways. Rothred brought his sword down on the man’s neck and shoulder, dropping him in a spray of blood.

Benor threw the next coping stone at the last man to Rothred’s right, but he saw it coming and skipped sideways to avoid it – but at least this meant the three men were no longer surrounded. Benor dropped his sword over the wall, swung himself over and dropped next to Rothred. Rothred passed him the sword and they moved to form a line across the alley.

Benor saw three men move together to attack Yallou. He shouted a warning but was suddenly too busy parrying a series of blows from a fourth man who had attacked him. Kirisch saw an opening and slashed sideways with his sword cutting the man’s leg. As the man half turned to parry Kirisch, Benor stepped forward smashing the man in the face with the clenched fist of his sword hand, the man reeled back and Kirisch took him in the side, putting him down.

Benor stepped forward to cover Kirisch and support Yallou. Yallou stepped left into the foremost of his attackers, the middle one, sweeping his sword upwards, driving his attacker’s sword arm outwards, whilst using his left hand to drive his dagger into the man’s throat. Leaving his dagger in the collapsing corpse Yallou put his weight behind his sword, continuing the stroke but now angling it down, smashing down the guard of the next assailant. Stepping right he struck the man with his hip knocking him off balance and sprawling, whilst he brought his left hand to his sword hilt and with a double handed grip he scythed across to the third assailant, who – caught off guard and entangled in the body of his dead companion – tried to leap back, but the tip of the blade slashed his stomach open.

Recovering from the swing Yallou reversed his grip and stepped right again to strike the still unbalanced second man. At this moment his once shattered leg failed him and buckled. As he tried to recover, his opponent thrust out with a despairing blow which slid upwards under Yallou’s ribs and he dropped without a sound. Benor’s sword struck Yallou’s killer on the head, killing him instantly and Rothred stepped forward to cover his right hand side.

“Don’t anyone move.”

Benor stopped and looked. Kloft was standing in the Alley, at least a dozen watchmen with him, at least half of them Urlan and two with arrows already nocked in their bows. Kloft had no weapon drawn but stood with his thumbs hooked in his belt.

One of the rearmost attackers swung his sword. Whether he felt killing Kloft would break the watchmen, or whether he had some thoughts about holding him hostage no-one would ever know, the first arrow took him in the throat, the second in the chest.

“I said, don’t anyone move.”

Here is another example, it’s from ‘The Flames of the City’

Coming down the slope towards them were two Ranger scouts, riding for their lives. Cresting the ridge behind them was a black wedge of nomad cavalry. At the same time he heard Kloft shout, “Infantry, Halt!”

“Infantry, right face!”

Freelor tapped Karadan the Pimp on the shoulder.

“You stand at the back and kill anyone who turns to run; I’ll take your place in the front line.”

The Scar were nearer now, there was going to be no time for crossbow fire.

Freelor grasped his shield firmly.

“Front rank, brace yourselves; other ranks, close up!”

Freelor felt the shield of the man behind him firm in his back. From behind him he heard Bloggin Flor shouting to his crossbowmen to brace the spearmen. Freelor grinned mirthlessly to himself – whatever happened, none
of his Meor me were going to get a chance to run away.

An arrow thudded into his shield; he ducked his head down, so that only his eyes were over the shield rim. He wondered briefly if the nomads were going to hold off and pepper them with arrows, but instead the enemy horsemen came on, the front rank at least with lances lowered, and some of them on horses rather than ponies.

Freelor, his spear butt jammed into the ground, pointed his spearhead at the chest of the horse charging at him. At the last moment the horse tried to swerve right to avoid the spearhead, but Freelor brought the spearhead across to try and match the movement of the horse, and caught the animal in the shoulder. The horse’s momentum drove it onto the spear and it swerved even further right, crashing into the horse next to it. They both went down in a tangle of flailing legs and hooves. This tore the spear from Freelor’s grasp and he drew his sword. Another horseman had appeared in front of him, this one drove his lance at Freelor, who caught the point with his shield boss, and guided the lance past him to his left. The horseman pushed on, aiming to ride between Freelor and Griftok the Hookman on Freelor’s left. Griftok thrust his spear at the rider’s chest, the Scar warrior brought his shield across to block the blow, and then a spear from the man behind Freelor struck the horse below the eye, and continued onwards to leave a gash on the side of the horse’s neck. The horse reared back and Freelor stepped forward and stabbed the rider in the thigh. The horse as still trying to turn but came down on the two fallen horses to its right, lost its balance and threw its rider. From the second rank another spear stabbed out, hitting the horse again. It struggled to its feet and crashed into the horse of a rider trying to get through to strike the infantry. Freelor took the opportunity offered to pick up his spear again, Griftok speared the fallen rider and the two of them fell back a half step into the line.

Freelor took the chance to look round.

Where he stood, the charge had been halted. Dead or dying men and horses prevented the Scar getting to hand blows with them, but further to the right where Kloft was, things seemed to be going less well. There the line seemed to be buckling, and behind him Freelor could hear more shouts and screams – it sounded as if the infantry on the other side of the wagons had also been hit. He just hoped they would hold. An arrow ricocheted off his helmet; he ducked behind his shield again and shouted, “Keep them shields up!”

He risked a glance behind him, but could see nothing but the men of the next rank, one of whom grinned at him and gestured with his head to the left.

“There’s summat happening over there.”

Freelor nodded, feeling that as a sergeant he ought to know what was going on. He risked another look to the right, things seemed to be getting dangerous along there, but he could see little. Then further right still he could hear the sharp crack of scatterguns. Then to the left came a shout of “Infantry brace!” Freelor took up the cry, “Straighten this line out and brace yourselves!”

In front of him a second line of Scar were attacking. Where the ground was obstructed they merely halted on the other side of the obstruction and poured arrows into the infantry line as fast as they could. Where there were no obstructions they hurled their horses into the line. This time, with front rank spearmen wounded, more of the horsemen made contact. An arrow struck Freelor’s shield, penetrating it and grazing his arm.

Instinctively he glanced down to see what had hit him and his spearhead drifted left with the rest of his body. A nomad pony struck the side of his spear, forcing it further left and the rider struck down at him with a sword. Freelor tried to bring his shield up but it was too slow and he ducked, the sword striking the top of his helmet and shearing off the plume. Freelor dropped to his knees, stunned and the horse was past him. A second horse was bearing down on him and groggily he threw himself down and pulled his shield over him. The pony stood on the shield and Freelor stabbed upwards with his sword, hitting something, then the horse reared up and Freelor scrambled away keeping the shield between him and the enemy. He found a gap and stood up. In front of him was a Scar warrior trying to push through to join the melee. He swung at Freelor who raised his shield and blocked the blow, then thrust his sword into the man’s unguarded thigh. The Scar brought his sword down again, and this time Freelor ducked and brought the shield edge up to catch his opponent’s wrist. He continued to swing his shield, the edge driving the Scar warrior’s arm further to Freelor’s left and Freelor brought his sword up and stabbed the man in the stomach. The Scar collapsed forward and the pony, spotting a gap in the press of men and horses, surged into it, taking its dying master out of the combat. Freelor turned and saw Griftok beckoning to him. He stumbled back to the line and resumed his place. Griftok was trying to bind the wound of an infantryman Freelor knew but just couldn’t put a name to. The noise was now deafening, and Griftok pointed right. A line of Brontotheres, the sun glinting on their armour, crashed into the flank of the Scar. As he watched, the Scar horsemen, as they realised what was happening, turned their mounts round to flee. But securing the right flank of the Brontotheres were Ranger cavalry, and they were shooting into the panicking mass of Scar trying to escape the Brontotheres.

Freelor bent down to pick up a spear from off the floor. From behind him he heard a shout of `Crossbowmen to the front!’ and almost immediately the crossbowmen pushed between the files, spanning their crossbows as they came. Freelor turned to face his men.

“Let them through lads, we’ve had our fun, it’s their turn now.”

A water bottle appeared in front of him. Freelor reached for it and drank before passing it on to Griftok. Griftok took a mouthful and grinned.

“Thought we’d lost you back there.”

“I thought I’d lost me back there as well.”

Freelor looked back towards the Scar, but now all he could see was crossbowmen loading and firing as fast as they could. He heard Bloggin Flor shout, ordering them to cease fire, and Freelor pushed through their ranks to the front to see what was happening. The Scar were fleeing, and it was no longer possible to shoot them without hitting Rangers or Brontotheres. Gingerly, Freelor took off his helmet. Bloggin walked across to join him and they stood watching the pursuit. Freelor rearranged his helmet liner and put a scarf in as extra padding before putting his helmet back on again. “What happened behind us?”

Bloggin shrugged. “As far as I can tell, pretty much the same as happened to the front, but most of the Scar hit this side.”


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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 4, Marcus Pailing

I will be honest: I like writing fight scenes. I also think I’m pretty good at it. So when the subject of fight scenes came up I was keen to add my tuppence-worth. This is an attempt to briefly explain my approach to writing fight scenes.

The first thing I do, as one might expect, is to decide what sort of fight I’m going to write: a large battle, a minor skirmish, a duel? (I’m not even going to touch on sieges, here, which are a different kettle of fish for various reasons.) The type of fight I write will necessarily be determined by the plot.

Except for large battles, I also have to decide where the fighting takes place. A skirmish might be in the open air, or in woods; perhaps it’s a city-based fight, in which case I have to consider the layout of the streets. One of the fights in my novel The Death of Kings takes place in a single room in a small building, which required a different approach altogether.

The next question I ponder is what sort of fight I wish to describe. This can depend on the point of view I’m going to use. In some cases, a description of a glorious battle featuring knights in shining armour might have fewer ‘close-ups’ of the action. In which case the battle might not appear very bloody – nor, indeed, especially dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Personally, I prefer to focus on close-up action, and to make my fights as visceral as possible (although I do think it’s possible to go too far). In which case, writing the fight from one person’s point of view, or jumping between characters, is the best way to do this. In the novella Questions of Allegiance, one battle is described by the protagonist, Derian Orthon. This is a short extract only:

Then we were through, leaving a broad avenue of bloody ruin behind us. I do not know how many we lost when we fought through the infantry, but we were still well over a hundred as we thundered up the hillside towards the Prince’s banner. Now the true fight began, as the Prince’s bodyguard rode to meet us.

They fought like demons, and we fought back like furies. Our formation, which had held together so well, broke apart as we clashed with the Albanachans, and the hillside became the scene of a score of smaller battles.

I narrowly avoided a flashing lance point. Leaning out of my saddle I slashed out, taking the lancer’s arm off at the elbow. As he reeled away, spraying gore, I swung my blade back to meet a second man who loomed up on my left. His sword sheared away the top of my shield; mine cut away half his jaw, exposed by an open helm. His ruined face disappeared behind a crimson spray, then Fernhelm’s blade lanced into his throat and he tumbled from his horse.

 It is important to be realistic; the fact that I have good knowledge of weapons and armour – and, indeed, how to use them! – is a great help. Realism is important: however a character is accoutred, I must to consider the likelihood of him (or her) being wounded or killed. If my character is going to survive uninjured, why is that? Is it because he is better armoured, or a better fighter, or just plain lucky? In a street fight, one person pitted against three others is going to get hurt, even if only with minor wounds. In a large-scale battle, it is entirely possible that a character will sail through the whole experience without a scratch (although, to be honest, it’s unlikely).

At the end of the day, fights are dangerous, often brutal, and when weapons are involved they can be lethal. For me, the best fight scenes are those that convey the danger and brutality realistically. If I can make my reader wince, at least once, when reading one of my fight scenes, then I think I have done a decent job!


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Gumbee Writers’ Fight Scenes, Part 3, David Staniforth

After much scanning I find that fight scenes in my writing are not too numerous. There are many instances of fight avoidance (I must be a pacifist at heart) and what scenes I do have are often set against impossible odds. The one I have selected here is from “Fuel to the fire”. To set the scene, Brant is attempting to train a black-dragon, the most dangerous of the species, and from another world. For reasons that will become apparent to anyone who reads the story, things have not exactly gone to plan. I’m not going to reveal if Brant survives or not, and if he does, how he manages to overcome such a formidable foe.

In writing this scene I wanted to give an impression of the dragon’s strength and ferocity, inject an element of pace and give the reader a sense of Brant’s dread. I leave it to the reader to say if this was successful.

The original draft was almost twice as long and contained a lot more detail: describing how things looked and sounded, as well as delving into Brant’s thoughts. I felt this slowed the scene down too much and prevented the reader from using their imagination. I tend to do this a lot: write a scene and then look back at it and think: not, what can I add, but what can I cut.

The inspiration came from an instance when I was around eight years old and was out hiking with family. I had crossed a style that my parents had yet to cross, when a wild horse came galloping down a path that was closed off by hawthorn bushes to both sides. I ran and found myself cornered by this snorting creature that towered over me. I wasn’t as slick as Brant, and can’t for the life of me think what happened next, but I do recall how scared I felt.

Anyway, Here’s the excerpt:

Stone fragments exploded into the enclosure amid fingers of flame. From the resulting hole billowed acrid smoke, and coughing, gasping for air, Brant hurled himself through. He rolled to the side, his shoulder grinding on splintered rock, as a further portion of the wall crashed to the ground. The dragon followed, its lithe neck coiling back, its spread wings blocking the sun. Its chest expanded as it drew air through flared nostrils.

Backed into the corner, his hands flat to the brick walls, Brant could go no further.

The service yard, forty-five feet square, seemed to shrink as the dragon’s wing claws scratched the brick walls on either side. No hiding place. Brant had his cloak but knew it would only deflect a small amount of flame: one blast at best. It would not save him. Still, he whipped it from his shoulders and held it aloft like a flimsy shield. Behind it he cowered as tongues of fire roared over him. The cloak had deflected the blast this time, but it would not hold out much longer, nor would it deflect the creature’s bite which would certainly be its next choice of attack. Brant struggled to draw breath, the oppressive heat delving deep and stripping his lungs of moisture.

The dragon inhaled, preparing for another blast. The cloak ruined, smouldering on the brink of collapse, Brant threw it aside. “Stupid fool,” he cursed, thinking about the case he’d left at the far end of the room. The dragon took a step closer, brushing against walls, splintering the bricks. Brant huddled, covering his head, awaiting the inevitable.

“What’re you doing?” He shouted out, as if observing himself.

His cry seemed to momentarily confuse the dragon. It tipped its head sideways, as if weighing up the threat. An impassable barrier, it stood between Brant and the hole in the wall. Squinting through the falling dust and swirling smoke, Brant quickly judged the distance, calculated gaps, possible routes of escape. There was only one, and it was not without risk. He was not as quick as he used to be.

Quicker than a black dragon? Probably not. Maybe there was a chance though. Over a small distance, from a standing start, a man can beat even a horse. It’s not over, yet. In this tight space her movement is constricted.

Standing there thinking about it was suicidal and, Brant could tell, as the swirling fumes coiling like ribbons into the creatures nostrils began to slow, that the creatures lungs were almost full. He had to make a decision, and quick. To produce a good heat she had to hold her breath for around thirty seconds. Her wings were already dislocated and she was vibrating her flight muscles to generate the energy. At present, committed as she was to generating fire, she could not fly. It was his window of opportunity. This very moment. It was his only chance.

Brant sprang forward, heading directly for the dragon’s jaws. As the creature snapped her jaws, he suddenly darted right, in the direction of the hole. He then dodged left and snaked between the dragon’s front legs. The creature’s jaws snapped at the point where he had changed direction. Had he continued heading for the hole she would have had him. Her snake-like neck followed him under her body. It was going as Brant had planned. There was no way she could strike with speed or force now. Her balance was off. Brant immediately dodged right and threw himself with full commitment toward the hole. Behind he heard the dragon crash to the ground.

His foot landed on loose rubble which rolled, twisting his ankle, throwing him sideways. Pain ripped up his leg. He twisted in uncontrollable agony as his knee buckled. His chest hit the floor, the pounding thud exploding air from his lungs. He grunted, expelling strings of spittle and blood, shards of flint shredding his flesh and cutting deep into his ribs. Adrenaline masked his pain, as in a movement that seemed fluid, carried by momentum, Brant regained his footing. Limping he hobbled forward, howling with each step. In the far corner, tormentingly distant, was his case. He fixed his eye on it and struggled forward. Pain coursed through him, each step firing a shot of gut-squeezing-torture.


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