Good action in a story doesn’t just get your blood pumping through a string of blows and dodges. It makes the most of whatever’s unique in the fight to create something distinctive. Best of all, it reveals character.
I’m currently reading The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and it’s a book that does this really well. The characters live in a fantasy world with similarities to the early Middle Ages. They are shapeshifters, each one able to transform into the animal associated with their tribe. But they don’t just go through action sequences as a human or a wolf/tiger/lizard. They shift between forms, making the most of each as the situation allows. How weapons, armour and clothes fit with these transformations is relevant to the fights, and this adds variety.
The characterful part comes from the way that their animal forms fit with their characters, and how this affects their use of them. Whether fiercely predatory, playfully vicious or torn between two worlds, their transformations add to the action while revealing who the characters are, and filling out the readers’ understanding of the world.
I’ll write about the whole book once I’ve finished it – and I’m definitely going to finish it, it’s really cool so far. In the meantime, I feel like I’m learning something as a writer from this book, as well as enjoying myself, and that’s awesome.
The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky is out today. If you like fantasy with unusual twists on combat you should also check out his Guns of the Dawn, which I wrote about here.