Five Steps to Writing Awesome Battle Scenes

Hi everyone!
As a veteran reader, I’ve read my fair share of battle scenes over the years. Now, as a writer, I find myself rereading many of those older stories and novels to see how different authors have approached battle scenes. I’ve taken these lessons and applied them to both Brass Legionnaire and Copper Centurion, and will continue to add on what I’ve learned in future novels!

First off, there’s a huge difference between writing ancient or fantasy battle scenes and sci-fi ones. After all, your weaponry, tactics, skills, battlefield knowledge, and technology (or magic!) all play a roll in how, where, and why you will fight. Urban combat in a medieval city will not take months to play out, as you have to fight it out toe to toe with your opponent. Not so the modern or futuristic era, where you can kill a man hundreds of yards away, then duck down through the sewers to the hidden bunker created in the apartment complex over yonder.

But what about for steampunk? How can I write a good battle scene for my novel if they include a smattering of things for all eras? Well that’s where I’m here to help!

First, remember that conflict is never about the weapons. It’s about a fight between two people/sets of peoples. Sometimes, in steampunk, we authors have a tendency to focus on the awesome gadgetry rather than the stories. Gadgets are cool, but humanity needs to be the guiding force. So show me how the character is feeling as he chops down his opponent. I want to see through the targeting reticule with him, slice off the zombie’s head with her, I want to feel and hear and taste (the iron tang of blood in your mouth! – Okay, maybe a bit gruesome, but you get the point) War is hell, it is experience. It is not some pretty dainty thing. Don’t treat it as such.

Leonidas is not pleased by your pitiful battle scene.

Second, do yourself a favor. Find a few movies that are in the time period closest to yours (or those with the closest weaponry-wise) and watch them. Not the extreme movies like 300, but rather a movie like Alexander. Think documentary over Hollywood flash. Don’t watch the newest “3 Musketeers” but find the original. Find a movie that shows you the battle panoramic style and close up. In other words – Do your research. While the weapons are not the focus of your story, they impact the use of tactics and how your army/soldiers fight. IE – My legionnaires are not going to charge a group of mechaniphants – They know perfectly well that they would get squashed. But they have created tactics to deal with them. you see the point.

Alternative – READ A BOOK(s)! Seriously – I read Julius Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul prior to writing Brass Legionnaire. If you want people to take your battles seriously, demonstrate you understand what you are writing about.

Third, try to stay focused on one part of a scene at a time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to go back and reread a battle scene because I just didn’t understand what was happening. Sometimes, that’s the point, and the character is also lost in the ‘fog of war’ but then that should be in your writing. Jumping point of view can be a killer, and unless he is floating high above the battlefield, it’s hard to give him that ‘power’ to know what’s happening on the other flank in real time.

Fourth, your character is not a superhero. He/She will get tired, confused, wounded, exhausted, mad with rage, etc. Express that. I read a book once where a character sliced his way through half an opposing army. He had been a poor, simple, teenage farmer forty pages earlier, received no training, and then went to war. Realistic Result – Farmer dies on end of swordsman’s blade. Or runs away before hand.

I want to see growth and training. My characters may be Roman Legionnaires and have gone through difficult training, but they are still more deadly as part of a team, not as lone wolves. Besides, the idea that Conan the Barbarian will destroy the bad guy’s army single-handed is a bit overdone, don’t you think? And remember, most real battles ended due to the arrival of nighttime or one side fleeing. Very rarely did the losing side stay around to get pummeled into the ground. Terrain or circumstance forced that.

Finally, Don’t make your opponents cardboard props. They shouldn’t be dumb and flat, they should be sneaky, conniving, tricky. They should have motivation and a basic knowledge of tactics and warfare. Warlords get that way because they… go…to…war. They won’t lose all that knowledge the second they face your hero’s army. A talented opponent makes for a better story, a more engaging plot, and the chance for sequels.

Whew! There you have it! Five easy steps to writing awesome battle scenes. You can apply them to any era or type of battle, not just steampunky ones! Enjoy, and take a sneak peek of Copper Centurion below.

I’m about 20 thousand words in. For those of you keeping track, I have not, and won’t meet my goal of finishing it before the family vacation (six days or so away, no way I’ll be able to type 60k words or so!) But I promise you, I’m making progress! Copper Centurion involves a lot more airship combat and larger conflicts than Brass Legionnaire, so here’s a first look at an (unedited and un-beta-read) part of a larger airfleet combat. I’ve tried to follow all the rules listed above, but once again, this is a rough draft.

“Centurion, get your soldiers into position. They appear to be trying to double up on our airships. There’s more than we thought.” He shouted over the humming of the engines. The tempo of the large propellers had increased and Julius felt the ship move faster under his booted feet.

“Check your gear, lads. If you’ve got the grappler, remember to aim for the deck or something that can hold our weight as we cross on those ropes. Everyone else, clear the deck with your repeaters before you cross.” Julius passed on the orders from the briefing earlier. “Let’s not bring any extra things across. We go in fast, and either capture the ship or set the flares, and get off fast. The flares should do the work for us, but we have to get off before the fire spreads to the Scioparto. I don’t think the Captain would like that!” His voice felt full of false confidence as he gave the rallying speech to his men.

The enemy airships closed in tighter, from what Julius could tell. His view was blocked off to his left by the large bulk of the Scioparto’s gasbag and airship proper. Straight ahead, he could see several enemy airships closing fast on the line of Roman fliers headed straight at them. To Julius’ inexperienced eye, the airships seemed to vary little in design or shape, except that they had two airships that were as big as the Roman flagship. One was bearing down on the left flank of the Roman formation and the Scioparto.

The flagship began firing, joined by the ships flanking it to either side as the two lines clashed in mid air. The rolling line of explosions and the cacophony of battle started soft but were soon loud and immediate as the enemy airships closed in, engulfing the entirety of the formation. Julius counted twelve enemy warships, equaling their number. And those were just the ones he could see.

 From below, the sounds of metal and wood screeching came as the ship’s artillery ports opened. Julius and the men of the XIII Germania watched, anticipating the first salvo from the Scioparto with glee. A larger vessel appeared to be sliding towards them, closing the space until it was just parallel to the smaller Scioparto.

All at once, the artillery on the Roman ship fired, launching a barrage of explosive missiles at the Nortland vessel. This time, the artillery crews fired as fast as possible, joined by the smaller pieces on the exposed deck. Julius’ legionnaires tried to shield the exposed aircrews as they fired their lightweight weaponry. When the breeze blew away the smoke and fog of war that obscured their damage, Julius’ eyes went wide in surprise and he cried out in alarm.

The enemy vessel was mostly unharmed.

Learning from My Self Publishing Experience in Five Steps

How to learn from my Self Publishing Experience in just five steps. (part one!)

Colonial artillery crew during the American Re...

‘If at first you don’t succeed, find a bigger gun.’

Hello everyone! For this weekend’s post, I’d like to talk a bit about what I learned about self-publishing in the last few days, weeks, and months. I’ve broken it down into five steps to spare you hours of reading (Just kidding!). So, here goes.

1.) You are not alone – Writing can be a very solitary pursuit. After all, it used to be done in the quiet comfort of a nice, book-lined study by a gentleman using a quill, some parchment, and a boatload of ink and blotting sand. I’m not sure if the current upgrade to person & computer is better or worse.

The point is, you only write in isolation if that is what you choose. There are a myriad of resources out there for aspiring writers. From Goodreads groups to writing circles, to author blogs (like this one!) self-publishing websites, and so on and so forth. The biggest key is you can’t be embarrassed by the fact that you are writing. We were all novices at some point (Or still are).

2. Beta Read before you Copy Edit – Yes, you need to have your friends, co-workers, or random volunteers read your novel before you send it to the copy editor. This is one thing I did not do, and I kick myself in the head for it all the time. Fortunately, I had an awesome editor who was able to catch those mistakes – even very basic ones – a la ‘whose name goes where after a title?’.

If you wait until after the copy edit, then you face not only reshuffling parts of your story, but also then having to copy edit the parts you moved around and rewrote. Lesson Learned – Find some friends, order pizza (or promise them a published copy of the book!) and have them read it. Give them nice big pens and have them mention everything – something doesn’t sound right, wasn’t so and so injured last chapter? How is he now running? Even if you choose not to follow or fix what they discover, at least you know, and can make the fixes later if you chose so.

3. Plan Ahead – Before you publish, have a plan. Where are you going to publish? Just on Amazon? Will you go KDP Select? Or will you spread out and use Smashwords and Barnes & Noble? Do you want a paperback copy? Will you hire out the formatting? The cover art? Or will you go it alone? All are valid options that have their own pros and cons. Me, I value my time and sanity, so I’m willing to shell out money to have someone do that complicated part for me.

Also, something else that may also help – setting up an independent checking/savings account for your book profits/payments. It keeps things separate from your other money, and since you’ll need a direct deposit account available for most sites, I believe it’s a good investment.


Also, be sure to check out the winners’ of the Book Blog Signed Paperback Giveaway. I’ve already had one person contact me about the novel. If the other two winners don’t respond by the end of the week, I’ll have to draw from the pot again!

Establishing Goals!

Setting goals for Brass Legionnaire, my summer, and beyond.

Greetings all!

I’ve realized that setting goals is a big part of why I wrote Brass Legionnaire. At first, I just wanted to finish a few chapters, then the novel. Then I wanted to publish it. Now that the book is finished and just awaiting the last few illustrations and formatting needs, what’s next? I’ve put together a list of personal goals that I hope to accomplish by the end of the summer of 2012 – IE August 21st or so, the start of the new school year.

By June 1st

  1. Brass Legionnaire Published
  2. Book Webpage Running
  3. 125 followers on Twitter (currently at 77!)
  4. 50 Facebook Likes (Currently at 12)
  5. At least one blog interview done.
  6. Have at least Four chapters of Copper Centurion complete
  7. Post at least 3x a week here on the blog!

By July 1st

  1. 150 Twitter followers
  2. 75 Facebook Likes
  3. At least 3-4 Blog interviews done
  4. Run at least one giveaway on Goodreads with my novel for reviews
  5. Finish at least ten chapters of Copper Centurion.

By August 1st

  1. 175 Twitter Followers
  2. 100 Facebook Likes
  3. At least 4-5 Blog interviews/guest posts done.
  4. Perhaps run a second Goodreads/Facebook giveaway?
  5. Get audiobook component started.
  6. Have at least half of Copper Centurion completed.

By September 1st (End of summer)

  1. Have editing and cover art for Copper Centurion lined up.
  2. Continue to guest blog/post.
  3. Post 3x a week.
  4. Complete all Kickstarter rewards.

Obviously, a lot to do, but I think I’ve set both reasonable and doable goals. I can reach the social media goals by adding less than one person a day to twitter and Facebook, which, in my experience, is an accessible target. Did I leave anything out? 🙂
Brass Legionnaire is looking to drop Mid-May 2012!

The Realities of a Steampunk World

A quick look at making your story match the technology and things within it.

So I went to see the move John Carter yesterday. We shelled out the extra money to see it in IMAX, not because we really wanted to see it in IMAX, but because our local movie theater doesn’t like to show movies starting around 9 pm (It likes 8pm and 11 pm, but little in between) After being deafened and blinded in the previews, we were treated to a real spectacle of a movie. But I digress, this post isn’t a movie review, but rather how I saw a ton of amazing ideas that I COULD use in my novel, but will most likely choose not to.

The most challenging thing about a steampunk world is that you have to remain true to your specific subgenre. For example, Boneshaker (Sci Fi Essential Books) includes undead, guns, airships, etc. But it stays true to roots without using ray guys, rocketpacks, or technology that is beyond what the locals *could* realistically have designed.

When I saw John Carter, the thing that stood out to me the most was this…

Yes, one of the coolest designed airships I’ve ever seen. And I would have loved to somehow make mine (in Brass Legionnaire) as cool as those. But I won’t for a few reasons.

1.) Believability – My Romans are still running around using steam power. Those are definitely not running off steam power.

2.) I don’t want to copy someone else’s idea. Could I take a few pointers from how they look and add descriptions to my story? Sure, but I don’t want to just blatantly take an idea and throw it into my story because it’s cool. That’s a bit too crude for me. Ideas and a story have to match.

3.) It would take my story in an entirely different direction than where I want it to go. I want my books to show technological process and advancement book by book. I don’t want it to be a ‘oh, look, in the last two months we developed this awesome airship that doesn’t rely on hydrogen, helium, or steam power and it works perfectly. By the way, we armed it with these artillery pieces.’

I guess the point of this post is simply to make sure that your technology matches your story. I’m not saying you can’t – or shouldn’t! – be outlandish, but I’m one of those people who get’s thrown out of the story when the main character pulls out a weapon that doesn’t match the rest of the world or story and just pulverizes the enemy.

It’s like the green skinned aliens in John carter who run around with spears, swords, and projectile guns, but aren’t lugging around the alien equivalent of the RPG – they aren’t up to that yet. If your steampunk story has guns, then give them guns, but they shouldn’t have an M16 while everyone else has a muzzle-loading rifle. Technological progress doesn’t move in that way. If one country or place has it, soon enough everyone else will beg/borrow/steal/take by force that technology.

A good book to read is Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Great read on a topic of technology among cultures.


PS – book editing is halfway done, hopefully it will be ready to go by May!

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