Quest of the Brokenhearted has a lot of battles because a major plot point is the Lacarsis tournament. This means I had to make the action scenes a central focus of at least one scene per non-opener/closure chapter. I couldn’t go with a basic ‘stab, block, stab, parry, ding ding WINNER’ thing either. My fight scenes needed to be wild and choreographed to show the magnitude and weight of them. When people read these, I want them to picture the battle as if it’s on a screen in front of them.
Thankfully, being a Present Tense author helps out here because I’m writing things as they happen. Instead of saying ‘Kira struck a blow’, I would say ‘Kira strikes a blow’ and that creates a different sensation. With a past event, you can stop right after the action if you want. At least to me, there’s a greater sense of urgency in present tense, which means that strike has to either hit or miss. Then, you need a counter or a follow-up. Uh-oh, a mistake was made and the momentum is going in the other direction. Kira has to get some space and is nursing a bruised rib. Where’s an opening for a strike? I didn’t know that character could that. The terrain is falling apart and there’s no time to gracefully get out of the way, so you gotta move quickly. There’s that opening and the battle is done.
I’ll fully admit that Present Tense and battles aren’t for everyone, but they’ve become one of my strengths. In fact, they tend to be what I get the most compliments about. Also the most complaints because it comes off as ‘telling’. My opinion there is the alternative is to make the battles rather bland and not describe a lot of the action. I know that’s not uncommon in fantasy books where the fights seem to happen in the blink of an eye and are bookended by either dialogue or exposition. Probably to my own detriment, I don’t enjoy writing that way. As I’ve been told a few times, my books read like action movies and that’s where I really tried to go with Quest of the Brokenhearted.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t do this in Past Tense, but I don’t normally see it done in that style. Maybe I’m just not looking at the right books, which is fair. Still, battle scenes tend to be more of a movie/TV staple because you want the audience to feel like they’re in the moment. Once you get a reader’s adrenaline pumping, you have them hooked until the final blow. This also means you need to have some of your battles end up being really wild and possibly messy. You can’t start off at the extreme because you need to either increase the oomph-factor or keep it steady. The hard part about keeping it steady is that it can create a blandness or even a numbness to the events.
Another way to increase the wildness of various battles isn’t so much make them bigger, but making them different. Every fight that Kira has involves a different champion and battlefield. That means there’s always a different trick she needs to figure out in order to win. It could be using a new relic the right way, finding a weak point, or doing the unexpected, but she can’t win the same way twice. That brings her back to an underdog status at the beginning of every fight, especially since she never knows who or what she will be facing. The wildness depends a lot on the unknown here, which is another reason I flew by the seat of my pants with the fight scenes. I knew how they started and sort of how they ended, but everything in the middle was on the spot. Took a few editing runs to clear things up to make sure the moves flowed and made sense.
I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I might be talking to a small audience here. What do you look for in fictional battles?