Searching for inspiration 1: Writing about the madness of war

Following my rather glum last post (sorry about that folks), I have decided to spend some time on ‘research’. I use the term research advisedly. Perhaps I mean searching for inspiration? I have a few parts of my novel that need fleshing out or re-writing and instead of sitting down to just ‘see what comes’ I would really like to open myself up to new literary (and perhaps film) experiences, in the hope I will come back to my manuscript a better writer.

One thing I really want to get to grips with is writing battle scenes.

We’ve all read a few battle scenes in our time. Some are meticulously detailed, naming every part of a weapon, and every slight movement of the hero’s body and that of his foe. This approach can be very educational, but sadly also sometimes very, very dull. Other descriptions take gore to its very extreme, perhaps to shock the reader as much as to accurately express the horror of war. Sometimes an author might take the madness of war and turn their prose into something disjointed and surreal, this can work or it can be so surreal you’re never sure what’s going on.

Fifteenth-century miniature depicting the Engl...

So, how to approach this problem? Sorry that’s not a rhetorical question, I’d actually appreciate your views and any recommendations you have for novels where you feel the author has handled a scene particularly well. I’m most interested in battles pre guns (excluding field guns and canons), so pre 1900’s

(I have already been recommended Charter House of Parma by Stendahl and am currently reading it)

Looking forward to your views on writing battle scenes and any recommendations you may have. Thank you :)

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10 thoughts on “Searching for inspiration 1: Writing about the madness of war

  1. Stephen Deas says:

    Depends on the nature of the battle and the participants. I prefer my battles to be impressionistic, so you get the sense of what it feels like to be there but at the expense of technical detail and any sort of overview. Azincourt (I forget the author but he’s huge), David Gemmell (Troy books and The Lion of Macedon) maybe. Joe Abercrombie’s “Heroes”.

  2. Shelly says:

    Personally, I believe action and battle scenes are a forte of mine and nothing drives me crazier than minute descriptions of movement and weaponry. I try to keep it as concise as possible but stress not using the same term over and over again throughout the scene, though I do have the tendency towards gore depending on what exactly the scenes purpose is. Once again, I’d recommend Andrew Butcher’s, Time of the Reaper series, the battle scenes are more guns and tanks but its still well written.

    • plantageneta says:

      Hi Shelly, thanks for you comment. I certainly want some gore – it’s not realistic if it’s too sanitised. Are you naturally good at writing battle scenes or have you done a huge amount of research/practice to make it your forte?
      Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have a look – even though its more modern than I’m writing I think ideas on style and viewpoint are just as important.

  3. Not able to recommend any fantasy battle scenes, I’m afraid. But sure there are loads. My only tip is – remember you’re writing mainly for men and they seem to like loads of description when it comes to weaponry, etc.

    • plantageneta says:

      Hi Anne, Yes I think men can be a bit more particular with describing weapons – the good thing with it being fantasy is that i won’t have to argue the exact design of a weapon not being around in 1458 etc…… :)
      I think it will probably be good for me developmentally to try to get more descriptive even though I’m more a broad sweep writer naturally, but there’s a limit….

  4. Hope the weaponry is developing well. Yes, it’s good to be writing far back when you can take your own liberties a bit more. Thinking of taking liberties, I found it very handy when writing Immortali that women didn’t generally wear knickers in 1600. Makes sex scenes so much more spontaneous.

    • plantageneta says:

      Nice comment :) – I’ve so far only included one sex scene in this book – with all this 50shades of grey business & no knickers in my era I’m probably missing a trick !!

  5. jakiedwards says:

    Personally I would suggest going back to the books that inspired you. Was it the battles that drew you in or the were they just in the way of the story? Read a few of your favourite books and see what bits you skim – if you skim it then it’s not working.
    If pushed I would suggest taking a look at Ilona Andrews – they are a husband and wife team – the battles in the Kate Daniels series didn’t bore me at all and I think it’s because you have a man and a woman writing together – balance of detail/technical info and action. But I’m an urban fantasy fan and not a a fantasy one.

    • plantageneta says:

      Hi Jackie, thanks for you comment – I’ll take a look – sounds intriguing as haven’t read any battle scenes with that kind of dynamic (not that I remember anyway.) Also, I was planning a similar dynamic in book 2 (LOL – if I ever get book 1 finished!).

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