Happy Birthday, Blog!

In case you guys are interested, it’s roughly the tenth anniversary of the blog. My first post is dated May 13, 2009, so I’m off by a few months. Happy birthday, blog! You’re a tween! Today’s question appears on single-spaced page 227 of my list, which is long enough to be a novel of about 400 pages. Pretty cool. Yay, us!

Before I start, I want to let you know that, here on the website, way in advance of publication, I’ve posted the first chapter of A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, a description, the flap copy, and a bibliography of the books that were most important in my research. Please take a look!

Now, here we go.

On June 19, 2019, Writing Ballerina wrote, I do need suggestions on how to write an army attack.

Two of you weighed in.

Emma: I’m going to have to write one of those eventually as well, and I have no idea how. I think the battle scenes in the Chronicles of Narnia are really interesting to think about from a writer’s standpoint, because C. S. Lewis never really explained them in much detail; while in the Lord of the Rings, armies and battles seemed to be more of the highlights of the books. I suppose that’s mostly the age difference in the audiences, but still, it’s interesting how different they are.

Ainsley: Another book series with great battle scenes is The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, the last book especially. They’re also really good books in general.

These suggestions are great. I agree about reading books with battle scenes, not just fantasy books but also literary fiction. The two that come to my mind are classics: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque about World War I, and Catch 22 by Joseph Heller about World War II.

On the nonfiction side, an interesting book is War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges (high school and up).

Some of you may know veterans who are willing to describe their experiences. Even if you’re writing fantasy or historical fiction, they can tell you how it felt to be fighting.

And some of you may be vets, so you know.

I had to think about battles and war when I wrote The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, and I was worried. How could I show the movement of large forces when I was writing in first person?

I haven’t read any Lloyd Alexander, and I don’t remember much of The Chronicles of Narnia, but I do remember LOTR pretty well, and my recollection is that the many battles and skirmishes in the trilogy are told from a limited third-person POV, generally in the voice of the least elevated character present, so that if, for example, both Frodo and Aragorn are there, Frodo tells what’s going on. If only Samwise and Frodo are in the scene, the POV belongs to Sam. The wide perspective is sacrificed for the particular, but it works, and readers like me care more about the POV character than we do about battalions of anonymous combatants. I don’t know how I would have coped if Sam in particular had bit the dust!

So that was the approach I took in Lost Kingdom. Everything is seen and related through the eyes of MC Perry, though sometimes she gets reports from other characters, who also can tell only what they’ve experienced or have been told. Willem, her romantic interest, describes his first engagement in detail. At one point she and Willem climb a sentry tower and oversee the massing of two armies, which is the closest I come to movements of large forces. Later, Perry travels across the kingdom and glimpses conflict along the way.

In my opinion, the up-close perspective is the way to go for most battles. The reader will enter the scene better through a character he cares about. That way we can bring in detail–the sounds, the smells, the sights–that will infuse it with life. If our POV character is in the thick of it, we may have to bring in serious elements–screams, blood, injury, death, loss of a loved one–so we need to be prepared to deal with all that. We also have to experience it all through our MCs. How do they experience war? Are they entirely taken over by adrenaline? Or ruled by a strange calm? Does it seem like a dream? Or something else.

But there may be moments when we want to pull back and see a bigger picture. We can write from an omniscient third-person POV for this. Then we can zoom into a character to show the fight close up and then out again for the larger perspective. Omniscient third, in my opinion, is the most powerful perspective.

If we’re writing fantasy, our MC can fly over the war on a dragon’s back. She can have magical help, like a magic spyglass that can see the distant battle. She can speak the language of animals, who can be her scouts and spies.

If our story is modern, we can use technology. Our MC can be communicating with a command center. Or she may be able to fly above the fray–or drones with cameras can reveal what’s going on. In breaks in the fighting, she can get reports from the news online. She can interview eyewitnesses.

If we’re writing medieval’ish fantasy, we can find tons online: fencing lessons; ancient weapons; war machines and how they worked; analyses of historic battles and sieges–battles on land and battles at sea. These are fascinating.

We have to decide how gory we want to be, how close up we want to get. I’d suggest that we be sparing. There can be tragedy and horror overload. By even the third terrible injury or death, the reader may be dulled.

Here are three prompts:

∙ Your MC Samara is in the infantry, marching to war in the middle of a battalion of six hundred foot soldiers. The battle will begin at any moment. Somewhere in the horde is her sister, also a soldier. Her sister has an enchanted sword, and she has an enchanted shield, but neither one has power without the other. Write her attempt to find her sister just as fighting breaks out.

∙ This time Samara is in a tent. Imagine mid-19th century warfare with or without magic. She commands an army that’s outnumbered on the field. Scouts bring her reports; maps are spread across a table; she hasn’t slept in days. Her trusted assistant stands at her side–except that her trust in him is misplaced, because he’s sold his country out to the enemy. Write the scene, and clue the reader in that he’s a villain. Decide whether or not Samara sniffs out his treachery.

∙ In her first battle, Samara’s best friend, who’s fighting next to her, is seriously wounded. Samara wants to help her friend, but she’s beset on every side and her squadron is falling back. Write the scene and don’t skimp on the gore.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Writing Ballerina says:

    Happy anniversary, blog! Funny timing of when you mentioned the birthday; it was mine just on Monday.
    Thanks for this post! This was really helpful, especially since my WIP is in first person. I should go back to LOST KINGDOM and look at the battle scene.

  2. I found an interesting TED talk and thought I’d share it here. I’ve never heard of the author giving the talk, but she makes some points that, I think, are important for fiction as well as real life. The talk is about how if you only know one side of a person’s story, you can’t understand the other parts of them. Kind of like stereotyping, but more so. She also points out that where you start telling a story can make a big difference in how the people in it are perceived. To use an example from her talk, the story of the colonization of North America is very different if you start with the Native Americans’ aggression against the British instead of the arrival of the British. Here’s the link. https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?referrer=playlist-how_to_tell_a_story If you don’t want to watch the video (it’s 18 minutes), there’s a transcript button under the video screen.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Thanks! You’ve been with it for a long time. Maybe you discovered it when I wrote something for NaNoWriMo to encourage people. That gave the blog its start in finding writers.

        • Gail Carson Levine says:

          I don’t know. I looked for it on my laptop, but I can’t find it. If NaNoWriMo keeps records, it would have appeared in 2009.

        • Kit Kat Kitty says:

          If you create a NaNoWriMo account, you can go to Writer’s Resources and then click Pep talks. Gail’s is on there. I’ve read it rather recently, but I think I managed to read it before I signed up to. I don’t know how though.

        • Kit Kat Kitty says:

          Oh, sorry! I checked, and if you go to the website and scroll to the very bottom, you can click on pep talks and it’ll take you to all of them, and then you can find Gail’s if you don’t want to sign up.

  3. future_famous_author says:

    Ok…so I need to start revising a story that I’ve just finished. Okay, finished weeks ago, but anyway, I need help. I’m just not sure how to revise. I mean, I’ve read books about it, and I know what to do, but in what order? What’s the best method, to you, as I know I’ll eventually find my own, for revising.

    By the way, the story is a take on Little Red Riding Hood.

    • The first step in revising, in my opinion, is reading it all the way through, without changing anything, and noticing what bothers me about it. Then, I would just start at the beginning and change everything that bothered me. Repeat as needed. If you’re getting tired of reading the same story over and over again, it might be time to call it finished for a while.

    • I agree. Read it all the way through, because it takes you a lot longer to write than to read, and sometimes you forget details you put in earlier and replace them with different ones. I edit on the first pass, fixing everything that occurs to me, but you don’t have to. After that, I just go over it again and again until I’m satisfied. Then, I print it out (if it’s short enough, I don’t go over 10 pages for short stories) and reread it on paper, making changes as necessary. Then, I put the changes on paper back into the computer and print out a clean copy. And always, always, ALWAYS, follow Ms. Levine’s guideline and save what you write. I’m a rambler, so I have to save the old versions because you never know what random details in one story will be key to later ones.

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      It might be a little late for this, but as I’m writing the first draft I make a list on the bottom page titled “Things To Fix In Next Draft.” Here’s a snippet of one of my lists as an example:
      – Remove unnecessary “that”s
      – Sneak into the castle scene is too easy — add more conflict
      – Fix appellations
      – Add [supporting character’s] backstory
      – Keep the directions MC travels in consistent — remember what’s where
      – Add lots more conflict on MC’s quest
      – Remember that not all 5 protagonists should be in every scene
      Then at the second draft I fix them one by one.
      I would also say wait until the details of the story are a little fuzzy in your memory before revising. Then you can come with a fresh eye and not overthink things.
      Also remember that your writing is great and it only seems boring because you read it a million times.
      Beta readers are your best friend! If you’re decently happy with the draft and it all makes sense you can hand it to someone who will give you constructive criticism. A second pair of eyes is sometimes super helpful!

    • It seems like you got some good tips, but I’m going to add in anyway. When I revise, I typically copy over the whole thing. This works best with fanfiction- I write it in my notebook, type it out on my computer- this is where I make most of the changes- and then fix whatever my beta points out and any spelling mistakes. For a novel, I’d suggest having multiple documents and copying it from one to the next, maybe three drafts? It’s much easier to change things like that. You can subtly shift things like the tense and mistakes show up clearer.

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