In this week’s installation of Awesome Resources for Creative Writing, I have a treat for everyone who writes action scenes: a simple guide to proper swordplay.
The article, titled “Swordplay for Fantasy Writers” was posted on Mythic Scribes, and is an excellent guide for writers who want to write REALISTIC fight scenes. It walks you through the basic of swordplay, tactics, and the reality of a sword fight, duel, or battle. ABSOLUTELY worth checking out!
Click here to read the article “Swordplay for Fantasy Writers“
The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer has a lot of fighting and action scenes, so I found this article VERY helpful.
One thing that I found very useful was what the author refers to as the “Four Governors”–or the four basic elements of proper swordplay. These are:
Timing– the speed at which the various characters fight, and the speed of their individual movements.
Distance–how much space is between the fighters.
Perception–how much space YOU SEE between you and your opponent.
Technique–the skill of the fighters.
All of these things are critical elements in swordplay!
I’m going to take it a step further: here’s how to use them to write EXCELLENT fight scenes with lots of tension…
To put your hero at a disadvantage, have them move more slowly than their opponent, or have their timing be off. Their opponent will be able to get past their guard and injure them, raising the tension and anticipation of the scene.
To give your hero the advantage, have them move more quickly their opponent, change up their timing to “psych out” their opponent, or slip past their defense. They will be able to wound or kill their opponent, leading to the end of the fight scene.
To put your hero at a disadvantage, have him retreat. This isn’t actually disadvantageous, but the word “retreat” puts the idea of defeat in your reader’s mind. Or, have them be much smaller than their opponent (i.e. a 5-foot thief facing a 6-foot guard with a huge sword). This will force them to stay back from their opponent, reducing their chance of victory. You can also give the opponent a weapon with a longer reach (i.e. spear vs. sword, sword vs. dagger)
To give your hero the advantage, have them advance and drive their opponent back. Or, make them larger than their opponent, so their strength, size, and longer reach makes it possible to overpower their foe. Or, give them a weapon with a longer reach than their opponent’s.
This is all about hand-to-eye coordination and depth perception!
To put your hero at a disadvantage, give him an injury that stops him from moving back (think minor leg wound), or something that affects their depth perception (a missing eye, a wound that trickles blood into their eye, an eye swollen from a punch, etc.). They have a harder time getting out of the range of their opponent’s weapon, all because they PERCEIVE it incorrectly.
To give your hero the advantage, have him injure his opponent in a way that alters their perception of the fight (same wounds as mentioned above). Their opponent may also be unable to move back (leg injuries).
To put your hero at a disadvantage, make their opponent more skilled. This forces the hero into some desperate attempt to win, leads to the death of a companion, or causes a serious injury–all of which up the tension of the fight scene. Or, have your hero face someone with a brand new skillset that puts them at a disadvantage. Think a swordsman facing a quarterstaff (victor) or a dagger-wielder fighting a spearman (victor). It forces the hero to be clever and out-think or out-maneuver their opponent.
To give your hero the advantage, give them the superior skill or weapon. To add more dramatic tension, have them face multiple opponents of equal or comparable skill.
Note: Skill and technique won’t always win a battle/fight. Numbers almost always win out (unless your hero is supremely skilled, wears heavy armor, etc.)
And this isn’t even getting into the weapons used, the armor worn, the field of battle, etc. Use these four elements of swordplay to write dramatic, REALISTIC fight scenes!