Wenceslas’ writing yarn: 1: Sword fights

I am getting asked sometimes how I write my stories, or what kinds of books I like, or if I’d like to read something other people have written. So I thought I’d start giving some advice for writing in fantasy and science fiction. I’ve been a writer since I was 11 years old. If you start at that age, you are prone to be making a lot of mistakes when writing.

I don’t have a very long attention span when it comes to books, and only a few books manage to hook me. It may be just how I am, I may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (it is very likely I have that), or I just may be too picky, put it the way you want. But I don’t like books that are boring. If you send me your book, I might put it aside after reading the first page, so be warned👁

First, I’d like to discuss one of my favourite “blunders” I sometimes read in books, one that very likely causes me to put the book aside or thumb to the next chapter at once. It is sword fights. You know which ones I am talking about. They’re ubiquitous. You will stumble upon them sooner or later if you read any fantasy novel.

Those swords fights usually go down like this:

“He drew his sword and attacked. The other guy leapt aside and parried. Then the guy charged again and swung his sword. The other guy whirled out of his way and stabbed his sword at him. The first guy dodged the attack and attacked. The other guy dodged and attacked with a roar.”

If you have managed to read the whole swordplay you have earned my respect. I already stopped reading while writing it, it’s so boring.

Sword fights like this can make you put the best fantasy novel down. If I see that a few pages of swordplay are about to happen in a book, I skip it and start reading again a few pages later. Because I don’t even want to read the somewhat bearable ones. They are boring, and I hate them.

But why are tense, dramatic sword fights so boring in books? In a movie, sword fights are one of the coolest things. Swords are cool things! Why can’t we describe them in a way that they don’t become torture for our readers? I made the same mistake when I wrote my first sword fights.

The problem is actually in our language, and in the way writing works. Language is arranging words one after the other, from left to right. When we describe things, we tell one after the other. That’s how language and writing work. When we see swordplay in a movie, a lot of things happen simultaneously. That’s not possible to describe in language. “He attacked and then dodged the attack” is still a chain. And that’s what takes the tension and action away from sword fights when writing them.

I’ve tried to put that into a little coordinate system:

The problem that we need several minutes to read a sword fight that lasts only a few seconds, is what takes the perceived tension out of the writing. So how could we describe the sword fight?

Feelings and noise instead of stratagems

I know, I know. Feelings? How’s that supposed to be more interesting than the fight? But if you describe a sword fight from point of view of a third person, try to describe what the person feels while watching the fight, instead of telling us everything you know about fencing theory. You could describe the noise, the clangour of the two blades clashing together in the crisp cold air in the snow-spangled wood where the fight takes place. You could describe that the third person doesn’t pity the guy that’s bleeding from a hideous gash, because maybe they are a foe. Maybe the third person is revolted, amused, aghast at how shoddy his pupil parries. There must be something he observes.

Short scenes that make the reader imagine the fight

You don’t have to describe every hit, stab, jolt. You could describe what the third person sees in short sentences that make the reader imagine what happens.

A minute later, there was a pandemonium of swords and spears clashing, men roaring, and blood spilling cloaks

Instead of:

A minute later, the warriors charged and and the first rows clashed together violently. The knights swung their swords and attacked and were met by a row of men with spears, who responded to their attack by piercing their cloaks.

That doesn’t mean you can’t describe a fight like that, I also understand that sometimes you just have to try and hit those 100 000 words. But don’t describe too much; your reader should be capable of imagining what goes on if you describe swords and spears, the metallic clangour in the cold air, and the blood spilling the white snow (or some of that ilk).

I also really like authors that describe fights like this:

They were in a whirl of cloaks and spears.

Instead of:

He attacked with his spear. The other guy’s cloak whirled as he dodged and parried with his own spear.

So that’s enough talking about books for today. Hope it helps you with writing your fantasy novel and let me know what you think in the comments.

Find me on Instagram: @amariswenceslas

How to draw an extraterrestrial👽

When it comes to world building, one of the questions you have to ask yourself is: How do the people in your story- and on your planet- look like? And why do they look like that? Are their eyes bigger because their sun isn’t that bright? Is their skin darker because their sun is very warm? Are they monsters with tentacles or do they resemble humans? Why are they wearing that cloak, or that hairstyle? You should have a story behind each of these questions. And drawing your characters might help you build your world.

I just wanted to share a little guide as to how I am drawing my aliens. This drawing does have a bit more than 70 layers, and two extraterrestrials from The Chariots of Orion.

1. Sketch

When you have an idea how the drawing should roughly look like, dedicate the first layer to make a sketch. Don’t worry about the background just now, you can add that layer later. Note that I have also sketched the body parts that are not visible in the drawing. This is to make sure that the clothing fits the outlines of the bodies.

2. Outlines

Once you have decided what your drawing should roughly look like, and sketched the shapes of the bodies, switch to black ink to draw the outlines of the drawing, such as clothes and hair. Leave out complicated parts like hands, or hair (as in this case, Arikmé’s pompous hairstyle), and dedicate individual layers to them, in case you have to redo them several times. This sketch already does have separate layers for both figures, and for body parts such as hands.

3. Faces

It is time to draw the faces! Facial expressions are hard to draw, so you’ll want separate layers for them. Now you ought also determine the body language of the characters. How’s their relation, what are they talking about? Note that Dagon (on the left) is a higher official than Arikmé, and that he is slightly shorter than the warlord, but he doesn’t seem to look up at him. Arikmé is (as the ones among you that have read the book may already know) very proud, and whilst he reports to Dagon, he will still keep his attitude.

4. Filling and clothing

When you have done the outlines and the clothing, you can start to fill. The colour of the officials is black, and a golden and a silver belt signal a very high official, so both men are wearing black. Dagon wears a white cloak, not only because he is a higher official, but because the colour white is reserved for the king. Also, his headdress indicates that he does have more power than Arikmé. Being a warlord, Arikmé wears a cap on his head. This cap does have more than five layers, each for every colour. Note that I still haven’t done the faces.

5. Faces and hands

This is the hardest part. I first did a few layers with the eyes, and later created a layer for the skin colour, and pulled that layer under the previous layer. It’s less distracting when you can draw the eyes on a plain background. The skin colour is always hard. It’s best to try several shades until you find one that fits. The Alonians don’t really have only one type of skin colour, but they all have a shade that is rather tanned (think North Africa, South America).

Now, also Arikmé’s hair is drawn.

6. Finishing touches

Now you can draw things you forgot or want to add. Arikmé got piercings, his crown, and a sword. Dagon got some outlines for his cloak and jewels for his crown. The sign shown on Arikmé’s crown and on his robes is the character Yaxal, which stands for serrated rock, strength, and cleverness, and does have the sound “y”. There is also a female form of the character with the same sound, but a slightly different form.

7. The background

Now you can draw the background. It is easier to create the landscape after you’ve drawn your characters. I went for the city of ancient Meryo in Alonia, with the river and the desert in the background.

I hope you had fun reading this guide, and that it helps you start with your own aliens👽