I have started getting back into miniature games over the last couple of years – inparticular old Warhammer stuff (now known as Oldhammer for Grognards like me!) and Hobbit or Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, which is a skirmish level miniatures game also by Games Workshop. I’ve had some great fun playing that game with my son and also doing a bit of painting. Here’s a recent figure that I’m quite proud of: Boromir! ￼
I think I probably need to work on the photography a bit – this is just using some card a smartphone and some lamps – but hopefully you can see it ok!
I have been discussing the aversion of a friend to fantasy fiction and tv/film and it’s interesting to note that their main problem with the genre – citing in particular Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, were the silly names – Mordor, Frodo, Targaryen etc. Why should they care about characters who were so obviously silly and made up to have names that they could hardly pronounce? They are not adverse to a bit of costume drama – having loved the Borgias for instance. Even though Game of Thrones uses names that aren’t that far away from historical ones didn’t make it any better apparently.
I did point out that Game of Thrones was immensely popular – but I have to say it probably isn’t as popular as Harry Potter, a fantasy series that really has crossed over into the mainstream. But what more mainstream name can you have than Harry Potter, Hermione etc. It’s only the bad guys who have silly names in Potter!
So where does that leave fantasy fiction looking for a mainstream audience? Ditch the silly names for your epic fantasy fiction novel – name your main characters Freddie and Ella? That doesn’t sound right somehow either. I think to a certain extent Paul Hoffman in his Left Hand of God series tried it – by using familiar historical and geographical names – and perhaps that worked in a way – or perhaps that just confuses the reader, or appears to turn fantasy fiction into just a post-modern game?
How do you write a good combat scene? I set myself an exercise over the weekend of analysing what works for me as a reader in some of my favourite fantasy books.
The weird thing that I found was that in some cases where I thought there would be quite a bit of material to look at – such as The Lord of the Rings for instance, there was little actual description of a full individual against individual combat. Even where Boromir dies, which is a big scene at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring move, the combat is described through a report by Legolas, Boromir dies bravely. Tolkien is more interested in the mass movement of armies and epic scope of battles rather than the nitty gritty of hand-to-hand combat.
What I found was that in the best examples I came across, such as in Joe Abercrombie and David Gemmell, the way combat was described was very dependent on character and the character’s emotions. So for instance when King Jezal charges foolishly at a horde of Gurkish warriors the combat is very confusing as Jezal himself doesn’t really know what he is doing. He is hit from behind, he’s not sure what’s going on around him etc. Whereas in a scene involving Logen Ninefingers the combat is more precisely described as Logen is in more control of the situation – except when he gets berserk of course.
Gemmell though was the best example I found, especially when he deals with a straight-forward combat between a hero and his enemies. The action is fast and furious, none of the slow-motion nonsense you get sometimes when writers try to describe every detail of a fight, but lots of powerful, descriptive verbs, such as shattered, hammered, splintered, smashed etc. Every phrase and sentence describes a new attack or new movement. Everything happens rapidly and is conveyed with a sense of breathless energy.
In other scene’s Gemmell is not afraid to tell us what his character’s are thinking, and in some cases what multiple characters are thinking as well. So here again the character and their emotions plays a big part. A bigger, more important part than the precise description of the martial arts.
The energy and visceral power of Gemmell and Abercrombie is definitely something to aspire to I think.
“It pains me to say this, as it’s one of my favourite books, but one of the most disappointing endings has to be the fizzling out, living happily ever after ending of The Lord of the Rings. Having experienced such drama and tension throughout the three books the reader doesn’t really expect such a slow winding down to the books. Yes perhaps explain what happens to the characters afterwards, but we really get a bit too much of it. There’s the epilogue where they return to the Shire and everything’s turned a bit sour and they have to sort that out, but after defeating Sauron, this seems a little bit lame. But then Tolkien wasn’t perhaps writing a thriller as such, and he probably didn’t really care too much if readers got a little bit bored, and that’s why his work is so rich and rewarding, so I don’t think I would actually want to change anything either.”