Q&A: Embrace the Scrap Pile

Hi guys! I’ve just spent a solid two chapters building up to/procrastinating on a grand battle and I can procrastinate no longer. The enemy is right frigging there. Any tips on writing this monster from the perspective of A) an army general/king/etc (someone physically there and able to see what’s going on from a ((ttly safe)) distance) and B) someone in the thick of it? We’re in a fantasy setting with swords, arrows and pirates on a river in the desert, if that plays any relevance.


I feel like I’ve written this recently, but a general writing tip would be: don’t procrastinate. If a scene isn’t necessary, take it out. Every word in your finished work should serve a purpose. If a scene does not need to be there, it shouldn’t.

With that in mind, there’s no shame in writing scenes no one will read. You never know when a useful turn of phrase or a good idea will appear. If something works in an unnecessary scene, set it aside and save it for later. We learn from doing, so your scrap pile is a valuable collection of experience and experiments.

The joy of your scrap pile is that you have complete freedom. “How do I do this?” is a question best answered in experimentation. Write your battle. If you’re not satisfied with what you wrote, go back and do it differently. Keep at it. Learn the things you like, the things that fit what you want. Remember those, and throw out the things that disappointed you.

On your question: preparation for battle lets you set the stage before it begins. You can show the forces your characters are commanding. You can cover their readiness and morale. You can examine what your characters know about the enemies they’re about to face. You can discuss their plan of attack.

For example: You can literally show the troops on your side. Your characters can walk among them inspecting how prepared they are. They can talk to them, either individual or collectively. This basic set up can change dramatically from if you’re dealing with professional soldiers or if you have mercenaries and irregulars who are already weary from a long campaign. In fact, in a larger work, you can track the deterioration of the army as a campaign wears on.

The environment is vitally important for you. Moving over rough terrain will wear more heavily on your forces. Loose sand is extremely taxing to move through. It will slow them down and exhaust them. Unless they’re at a bridge or ford, the river creates a natural barrier which they’d be unable to cross. This is means they can’t be flanked from that direction, but it also means they can’t move in that direction, would be easier to surround, (because you don’t have to get behind them.)

As for how to explain what the creature looks like, you need to describe it. Remember that in prose you have access to all five senses. Okay, four senses, taste would be a little weird in this context. Work out a mental image for how the creature moves, and keep track of how it behaves. Keep track of details. Things like physics can sell the “substance” and reality, of your monster on the battlefield.

The big thing is just, don’t be afraid to rewrite the battle with something radically different if you’re not happy with your draft.


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