Once again, a poster over at AW asked a question and I'm posting the question & my response over here because I think it's important.
The question was - "Anyone have any suggestions on how to work out battle sequences and fight scenes? I'm trying to work out a scene which is going to involve several fighters and half the village as audience, and I'm trying to figure out ways to keep track of who's doing what to whom and where.
My first thought is to draw it on a piece of paper. My second is to get out my Dungeons and Dragons figurines and play it through like a melee. Once I understand what happens, I can figure out what I need to write."
(posted by TheIT)
My response was as follows,
Fight scenes need to flow, but unfortunately most of them don't. A real life fight usually occurs in a blaze of action, pause, action, pause as the combatants struggle to gain the upper hand on one another, etc. That really doesn't work in a story or novel because the pauses will have the reader wondering what happened in between the blazes of action and wandering off to do something other than turning the page.
So a fight scene has to flow smoothly.
That's not to say that there are not or will not be pauses within a fight scene. They just have to be strategically placed.
In real life, a fight is usually over in a matter of seconds. In a novel, the fight can go on for pages and minutes, at least, of reading. The trick is to translate what happens in real life into something that flows smoothly in the story. I'm currently reading Monster Hunters International by Larry Correia (Baen Books). The book opens somewhat slowly, but quickly develops into a fight scene which flows so quickly and naturally that I found myself wondering what had happened when it was over and having to go back and reread sections trying to figure out where I had missed the moves. It wasn't that the action was choppy or the writing was choppy, it was that the scene flowed.
D&D action doesn't flow. It isn't normal or real. However, using the figures to stage manage the action is something that can be easily done (you could do it with pennies and a hand-drawn map for all that matter). When you know that character A can move here and perform this action while character B is involved doing something else, you start to have the sequence for how the action must flow. You also begin to be able to see why character B might not be distracted by something else or where he might be distracted by something else that allows character A to make his move.
I think the Star Wars movies are another good area to watch for how to choreograph action scenes, especially between individual characters. The action flows between the characters because the director knows it must if the action is to be believable and realistic even when it's not even semi-realistic.
Use a "director's eye". Set your stage, position your characters, and have them move around the scene performing their actions. You don't need a map and a set of fancy figurines. You can see all this in your mind.
Flow is what happens when the scene runs naturally and without anything seeming out of place or silly (like "Why didn't Charlie hose the hallway that the Master Vampire charged down with the M60 in his hands before the Master Vampire got to him and tore the team to shreds?").
You're the director. You get to set the scenery, the stage, and position the actors - and if it doesn;t work the first time or the thirtieth time, it doesn;t cost you anything to run the scene a thousand times or more until it flows.
BTW, I'm currently reading Monster Hunters International as stated above, but I just finished The Strain one of the authors of which is Guillermo del Toror. It's the first part of a trilogy and has an interesting take on the vampire legend and a plague upon Manhattan.
While it is reminiscent of a book a few years ago by Craig Skipp & John Spector titled The Light At The End (as I recall) and another that dealt with a plague of vampires overrunning Los Angeles whose title and author I don't currently recall (The Thirst?), the premise is entertaining and the follow-on books will be out in 2010 and 2011.
I did have a few problems with The Strain, the main one being that it is written by 2 authors who obviously didn;t see eye-to-eye on several things. There appeared to be a constant editorial argument occurring that raised it's head on several levels, the main one being regarding how much information to convey to the reader and when. In all too many cases the story is broken by a paragraph or more of unnecessary info-dumping which could just as easily have been relayed to the reader through casual conversation between the characters.
Regardless, it was a good book for the most part and I'll likely pick up the next two when they come out - but I am glad it was 20% off at B&N and I got an extra 10% due to my membership card.