Plotting War: And A Review of Writing Fight Scenes, by Rayne Hall

This last week, I’ve been plotting a war. I’ve never been a soldier, so my experience with warfare is limited to what I’ve seen on the nightly news or what I’ve read in books. Neither could possibly be any where close to the real thing.

I am asking my characters to do something I have never done. To take up weapons I have never touched. To ride on horseback into battle against an army better equipped than they are. To make the conscious decision to take another’s life.

War is hard. It’s ugly. People get hurt and people die. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I should look forward to writing about. And, in fact, I have sort of been dreading it.

My first order of business has been to learn more about writing this sort of scene. When I joined Twitter, I encountered the author Rayne Hall. Ms Hall has written a library of resources for writers, including Writing Fight Scenes. I purchased this book, and I’m really glad I did.

The book gives an excellent overview of fight scenes, encompassing everything from a lovers’ spat to the epic battle scene I am currently attempting to write. Ms Hall has included specific information on weapons, the different fighting styles and techniques used by men and women, as well as fight scenes appropriate for each genre. The book is full of resources and examples, and even includes blunders to avoid.

Over all, I found Ms Hall’s Writing Fight Scenes to be a very useful tool I will refer back to again and again. Even better, she also includes resources for further research. And that’s what I’ll be doing next.

As my book is a fantasy in a world with a bronze age to iron age level technology, I have a lot of research to do. I need to know more about weapons such as swords and spears. I need to learn about firing a bow from horseback, and details about how to besiege a fortified city.

While Rayne Hall’s book has given me an excellent place to start, I will be doing the rest of the research in order to write the best battle scene I can.

Do you write about battles with medieval weaponry? What resources do you use, or have you found the most helpful?

Finding Inspiration for National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month is a huge challenge. Maybe you’ve tried it before, maybe not. This year is my seventh go at this event. And I’m failing. I’ve had difficulties in years past, but I’ve always managed to pull off a win. Through sheer stubbornness, I’m quite sure.

What’s different this year? I still work full time. I still have a husband and three children who need attention. I still have family obligations like birthdays and holidays. There are church activities like Christmas programs to prepare for. And the list goes on. The only thing I’ve added this year is that I’ve agreed to be the NaNo Municipal Liaison for my local region. This does add an extra layer of challenge to the event, but I should still be able to accomplish my goal.

So why am I falling behind?

This year I find myself falling victim to what I can only call self-sabotage. I’m staying up too late far too often. I keep turning on Netflix and browsing Facebook and Twitter. When I do write it’s with a sort of lackluster enthusiasm and my progress is slow.

I’m working my way through this issue as I frantically try to catch up on my word count. I haven’t beaten it yet, but I don’t intend to let it beat me. I’m a little stubborn like that.

In the mean time, here’s a little pep talk I shared with my regional Wrimos on dealing with the inevitable setbacks during NaNoWriMo.

Facing Setbacks During NaNoWriMo:

Has your November been fraught with challenges? Did your child get sick? Maybe you got sick? Did your family decide to all descend on your place for Thanksgiving? Your computer crashed?

These things and more can and will happen to someone during NaNoWriMo. Something may come up that absolutely knocks you flat on your back. And you wonder, how do I go on from here?

First, it’s perfectly acceptable to have yourself a good cry. That’s right. Take a minute, or ten, or an entire day if you need it, to focus on you. Be a little selfish and grieve for what you’ve lost.

Now, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and take a hard look at your situation. Is the month over? No? Don’t quit! If circumstances allow for it at all, just pick up what you can of the pieces and keep writing. Miracles can – and do! – happen. I’ve seen it.

Next, don’t be too hard on yourself. You haven’t failed. You started on this wild adventure unsure where it would take you. And look what you’ve done. You started a novel! That’s no small feat. Take pride in what you’ve accomplished. Even if it’s only a few hundred words. It’s a start!

Finally, get back to work. Once the issue has been resolved, move on with your novel. Allow yourself to come back and keep writing. Even if the 50k goal seems utterly unreachable.

Now, I understand not all setbacks are created equal. A sick child might only set you back a day. Or it could derail your whole month. I get it. The important thing is to look at the situation honestly. From experience, I can say it often isn’t as bad as it feels in the moment.

Be brave. Be honest with yourself. Be confident. Ask for help if you need to. You are not a failure. Keep at it. Maybe you won’t finish by November 30. That’s okay. Don’t quit. You got this!

In the words of Ray Bradbury: “You fail only if you stop writing.”

Marked for Death: When Beloved Characters Die

As an author, one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my fiction writing is to orchestrate the death of my characters. I spend all this time getting to know these characters, they are very nearly real people. I love them, and hurting them is not what I want to do.

That said, there is often occasion in a novel for characters to die. Especially when that novel involves political intrigue and a huge, multi-national war. People are going to die. I’m of the opinion, however, that death in a novel should serve a purpose. They should not simply die for the shock factor. A death in a story needs to advance the plot. It should develop or change a character in such a way that the story is altered and propelled forward to its inevitable conclusion.

In my current novel in progress, I have been trying to decide if a certain character will die. She isn’t one of the primary characters, but her death would be devastating to one who is. I’m having a hard time bringing myself to do it.

The story actually opens with the deaths of a couple of important characters. Though the reader will never meet them, their loss is huge and sets in motion the entire story. There is another death that must happen in the story. The old emperor will die, setting off a succession crisis. These deaths have not been so difficult for me, perhaps because I don’t know the characters as deeply.

The death I am struggling with the most is that of a character very important to another one. One of my favorite characters, in fact. The death of this woman would alter my character dramatically. My thought is that her death would provide just the right sort of motivation he needs to move on into the final events of the novel.

This is my project for National Novel Writing Month that I have been frantically working away at. Perhaps the frenzy of this crazy challenge will allow me to be as ruthless as necessary in order to get the story written. I’m running behind on my word count. Maybe this is exactly what I need to do. The emotional energy that the death of a loved one would provide could be the source of a lot of words and finally get me back on track.

What’s your thought? Kill the character? Or let her live?

My Thoughts on the Election

The election is over, the decision has been made. Today we have a new decision to make. How will you choose to respond?

This morning I had to discipline my child for his inappropriate behavior. He was lashing out at me for a perceived injustice. I had to take away a special privilege as I tried to explain to him that each of us has the ability and the responsibility to choose our actions.

I’m not going to pretend I have any authority, or right, to reprimand anyone else for their behavior. I myself have been guilty of indulging in childish pettiness. But now, following this hotly debated and bitterly divisive election, we now have a new decision to make.

Today people are grieving. They are angry. They are frightened. Many may feel the need to lash out against a perceived injustice. It’s a natural human response to fear.

But I would ask you – us – to make a different choice. Regardless of how you feel about the election results, I urge patience instead of haste, caution where fear would take the lead, and above all respect and kindness instead of hatred.

Fear begets fear. Hatred gives birth to hatred. The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to respond in love, courage, kindness and respect. We cannot change others, only ourselves.

I didn’t write this with the intention of changing anyone’s mind. Rather I sat down to write this to change myself. To take charge of my own response to this election. There is much I am angry about. There is much I have been fearful over. Today, however, I have a new choice to make. And I choose to stand up and be brave. To show love. To honor and respect the office of the President of the United States.

Real change starts here. With me. In how I choose to respond. I choose to stand for truth. For love. For respect. For honesty. For courage.