One of the most exciting panels at FantasyCon, and one with a very eager audience, was ‘The Pen vs the Sword’, on combat in fantasy fiction. On this panel were…
- Adrian Tchaikovsky – writes fantasy, fights at the Leeds Armoury for research, also does live roleplay
- Juliet E. McKenna – writes fantasy, does aikido, used to do live roleplay
- Fran Terminiello – writes fantasy, does 16th and 17th century martial arts
- Clifford Beal – writes historical fantasy, used to do full armoured combat, now does rapier fighting
- David Thomas Moore – fantasy writing, moderating on short notice
I’ll try writing this one up as bullet points, see if I get more in than with my last panel writer-up.
Bad sword fighting in fantasy
- FT: Fighting that’s artless – real western fighting was and is an art and a science.
- JM: The idea that you can just pick up a sword and fight. Complete novices often tear their own ears in the attempt to fight, and that bleeds a lot.
- JM: Long fights. Most sword fights last two or three strokes.
- CB: Using one weapon’s technique or terminology for another.
- AT: Not taking account of armour – fighting someone with armour requires a completely different approach.
Best sword fighting in fiction
- JM: Old samurai movies, like Seven Samurai.
- JM: Game of Thrones books – less the nuts and bolts than the attitudes of the fighters.
- AT: K D Parker – technically good stuff.
- AT: Abercrombie’s The Heroes for the sense of the chaos of battle.
Fighting in its social and historical context
- FT: Rapiers were very much fashion accessories.
- JM: Swordplay’s survival in Japan was down to the ban on gunpowder weapons.
- CB: Many wearing rapiers for fashion didn’t know how to use them.
- JM: Fighting well requires day in day out training to build muscle memory.
- AT: Old fighting styles can be invalidated by technological change.
- JM: Fast technological change means skills get lost in two and a half generations.
Planning a fight scene
- FT: Context is key – battle or duel? What’s the regional etiquette?
- JM: Less is more on details.
- AT: Have the fight’s pace and structure driven by the characters’ personalities.
Other odds and ends
- JM: Someone can have a non-survivable abdomen wound and still fight for twenty minutes – taking out their ability to fight is what counts.
- FT: The locked crossed swords thing never really happens for more than a second – there are lots of ways out of it.
- CB: In full armour heat exhaustion is your enemy.
- FT: Swords are a last resort weapon – would rather have a spear.
- Someone recommended reading English Martial Arts by Terry Brown.
The panellists did a demo afterwards, which I missed, but here’s a video someone else took of it:
This panel contained a lot of practically useful information on writing fights in fantasy and historical fiction. Anyone have any other guidance on this, or good sources to check out?