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Secrets Well Kept- fight scene (777 words)

subtletylost

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I posted here about how I'm having trouble writing fight scenes. There I had a short excerpt of the scene, while this is it in full. I'd appreciate any kind of advice that can be given, either here or in that thread. Thank you. ^_^

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“This is amazing,” Tamlen said with a pleased smile that disappeared the moment he turned to Meiriana. “You don’t look impressed.”

Meiriana shrugged. It was true that the ruins were impressive but… “These spiders… Ones the size of your hand. That’s expected. They’re twice the size of the Shemlen’s hunting dogs. It isn’t natural.”

Tamlen nodded then said, “A Dalish who spares shems, who begs off working with a master crafter to hunt, who can sense the dead but uses no magic… that’s pretty unnatural too. Not wrong, just not usual. It makes you better. These spiders are better suited to eating people than most.”

“A thin line exists, Tamlen, between ‘unique’ and ‘freakish’. Between ‘unnatural’ and ‘abomination’. I try my best to avoid that line. I came with you because I enjoy spending time with you. Do not let these ruins become the place where I start second guessing choosing you.” Meiriana was standing firm. Her voice unwavering. “My mother walked away from her clan because of ‘unnatural’. I am not afraid to do the same.”

Tamlen walked over and did something he hadn't done in many many years. He hugged her.

She was shocked at that. Couldn't he tell that she was mad--

"Ma vhennan, please forgive me. I don't want you to leave. I did not realize that my words would offend you. I was wrong. You are not unnatural. You are a force of nature. I'm honored that you actually told me you were upset by the words I said. Thank you for telling me the truth. Please forgive me." He pulled back from hugging her for a moment. "I would never hurt you on purpose."

Meiriana nodded. "You are forgiven only if you promise never to call me unnatural again."

"I swear on it. Never again." He paused for a moment. "Did you really come just to spend time with me?"

Meiriana laughed. She actually laughed. It was a beautiful sound that reminded Tamlen of the chirping a happy fox made. She'd never laughed for him. He honestly hadn't been sure that she could.

"Merrill was right. You are oblivious."

Tamlen smiled ignoring that comment. “Alright then. We should find the end of these ruins before we head back to the keeper.

Meiriana nodded and followed him out of the room and down a hallway. They navigated over rubble and past skeletons on the floor from who knows how long ago. Tamlen stopped in front of a statue. Years had worn away its features, but it resembled an elf with antler-shaped wings.

“Strange...the architecture is Human, but the artifacts Elven. This statue. Do you recognize it, lethallan?”

Meiriana stared at it for a moment before shaking her head. She didn’t like being stopped like this. Her mis-ease only grew the longer they were in here. “It’s familiar.”

"Ancient Elves used to have statues like these all over the place, honoring the creators..." Tamlen rambled on for a moment about the history.

Meiriana was ill at ease. She couldn't figure out why, until she heard a clicking sound. It was the distinct clicking of bone on bone. She watched in silent horror as the skeletons rose. They were horrid looking and acted like grotesque string puppets controlled by a demon as they rose. It was creepier that once upright they were as graceful as any warrior.

Her abject horror did not last long though, when they drew their blades she was quick to respond letting loose two arrows before dropping her bow, and drawing her daggers in a graceful spin that left Tamlen face down on the stone floor with only the cold ring of steel on steel and Meiriana's angry, "this is no time for a history lesson," to let him know what was happening.

He was quick to jump up and draw his own sword. He’d fought many things in his life, but none were so creepy as these. Skeletons don’t bleed. They crumble to the ground in a pile of bones. It would have been comedic if they weren’t fighting for their lives. Once they fell they stayed down. It was getting them down that was hard.

Once the last one fell, taken down by an arrow of Meiriana’s that nearly hit Tamlen’s ear instead, he was left wondering what could have caused the dead to rise.

“Do you believe me now? We need to leave. This place is cursed,” Meiriana snapped picking Tamlen’s bow up off the ground and shoving it into his hands.

“But we’re almost at the end, I can feel it.”

“And I can feel your death, please don’t make that come true."
 

Jackie Bee

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Meiriana was ill at ease. She couldn't figure out why, until she heard a clicking sound. It was the distinct clicking of bone on bone. She watched in silent horror as the skeletons rose. They were horrid looking and acted like grotesque string puppets controlled by a demon as they rose. It was creepier that once upright they were as graceful as any warrior.
I felt that the skeletons rising was handled very casually, like nothing special is happening. There was a lot of 'telling' - "silent horror", "horrid looking", "none were so creepy as these", etc - where showing could be more effective. Let us see her horror, how she first doesn't believe here eyes, maybe freezes in disbelief, what she thinks about what's happening, etc. Take your time to scare the reader. Right now, the fighting scene reads very casual and not engaging. My opinion, of course.
Also, something is weird with the POV here, it's switching from his to her POV and back all the time. Did you aim to write it in an omniscient POV?
 
Last edited:

subtletylost

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I felt that the skeletons rising was handled very casually, like nothing speciall is happening. There was a lot of 'telling' - "silent horror", "horrid looking", "none were so creepy as these", etc - where showing could be more effective. Let us see her horror, how she first doesn't believe here eyes, maybe freezes in disbelief, what she thinks about what's happening, etc. Take your time to scare the reader. Right now, the fighting scene reads very casual and not engaging. My opinion, of course.
It's a valid opinion, I was afraid of the fight being unengaging. That's what I'm hoping to hoping to learn from and avoid in the future, as this is only the first of many fights in this story. I suppose, the telling came from trying to distance myself from the fight so I could attempt to figure out how to write it. I'll fix that this next draft though.

Also, something is weird with the POV here, it's switching from his to her POV and back all the time. Did you aim to write it in an omniscient POV?
I'm not sure what I was aiming for in the POV, something along the lines of omniscient yes.
 

subtletylost

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I doubt this is any better, but I did try to expand the fight some...

-------
Meiriana was ill at ease. She couldn't figure out why, until she heard a clicking sound. It was the distinct clicking of bone on bone. She watched in silent horror as the skeletons rose. She couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. String puppets came to mind as she stared between the one in front of her and the one behind her. She knew she had to fight them, had to kill them. But how do you kill something that’s already dead?

The more recently passed of them still had skin. Though it was withered, grey, and stretched taunt over the bones and under armor that seemed as weighty as it did light. It was creepier that once upright they were as graceful as any warrior. She tried to reason with herself. Seeing things. Letting her fear get to her. Surely it was all a nightmare. She closed her eyes and shook her head. It couldn’t end like this.

Her abject horror did not last long though, when they drew their blades she was quick to respond letting loose two arrows before dropping her bow, and drawing her daggers in a graceful spin that left Tamlen face down on the stone floor with only the cold ring of steel on steel and Meiriana's angry, "this is no time for a history lesson, die skeleton!" to let him know what was happening.

He was quick to jump up and draw his own sword. He’d fought many things in his life. How do you know when a skeleton dies? Skeletons don’t bleed. They crumble to the ground in a pile of bones. It would have been comedic if they weren’t fighting for their lives. Once they fell they stayed down. It was getting them down that was hard.

The ruins echoed with the clash of steel on steel and steel on iron. Meiriana hit the floor more than once. She just jumped back up. Daggers never missed their mark. Still the skeletons did not fall. Out of frustration when one made to run her through. She jumped aside, kicked out, and shattered its spine. Finally it fell.

Turning too quickly to check on Tamlen. She fell to the floor. Daggers skidded out of reach. No problem, she snatched her bow. Arrows were just as good. She didn’t even need to stand fully before letting them find their marks. Moving targets were second nature.

Once the last one fell, taken down by an arrow of Meiriana’s that nearly hit Tamlen’s ear instead, he was left wondering what could have caused the dead to rise.

“Do you believe me now? We need to leave. This place is cursed,” Meiriana snapped picking Tamlen’s bow up off the ground and shoving it into his hands. She retrieved her daggers with a huff, kicking the piles of bones as she went. She hoped that if they were scattered they might stay dead this time.
 

Jackie Bee

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Meiriana was ill at ease. She couldn't figure out why, until she heard a clicking sound. It was the distinct clicking of bone on bone. She watched in silent horror as the skeletons rose. She couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. String puppets came to mind as she stared between the one in front of her and the one behind her. She knew she had to fight them, had to kill them. But how do you kill something that’s already dead?

The more recently passed of them still had skin. Though it was withered, grey, and stretched taunt over the bones and under armor that seemed as weighty as it did light. It was creepier that once upright they were as graceful as any warrior. She tried to reason with herself. Seeing things. Letting her fear get to her. Surely it was all a nightmare. She closed her eyes and shook her head. It couldn’t end like this
I think it's better, although the first 2 paragraphs now feel a bit too slow and it's not clear what Tamlen is doing, is he seeing them as well, its like he's suddenly not there. Maybe show the skeleton rise in more gruesome details, they surely don't just jump up, something like - "she saw the fleshless fingers grip the ground, the skull turn and look up at her with its empty sockets. She shook her head. She had to be imagining it."
I'd remove "She knew she had to fight them, had to kill them. But how do you kill something that’s already dead?" to speed things up. Also, some of the following could be removed "She tried to reason with herself. Seeing things. Letting her fear get to her. Surely it was all a nightmare. ", they all say the same thing.
But overall, the fight has more details now, which is good!
 

J Riff

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Better, but show not tell is the general rule for 'action' or fight scenes, so 'felt ill at ease' and what-not tend to slow things down a bit. Maybe try focusing off the MC and describe the actual physical action in the moment. ' ...the distinct clicking of bone on bone. Skeletons rose as she backed away slowly.." Focus on the action, not her thoughts.
and so forth. I think the general rule for tense action sequences is, stay away from character thoughts, and dialogue, unless they are directly connected to the action. Also, short sentences can be effective, but not always. Often it's better to string together events that happen quickly.
 

Brian G Turner

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“This is amazing,” Tamlen said with a pleased smile that disappeared the moment he turned to Meiriana You could tighten this description. Firstly, people don't smile when they're speaking, and a smile usually means someone is pleased. “You don’t look impressed.”

Meiriana shrugged. It was true that the ruins were impressive but… But now you're in Meiriana's POV “These spiders… Ones the size of your hand. That’s expected. They’re twice the size of the Shemlen’s hunting dogs. It isn’t natural.”

Tamlen nodded then said You don't need two verbs here - cut out either "nodded" or "said", as it's just padding to include both, “A Dalish who spares shems, who begs off working with a master crafter to hunt, who can sense the dead but uses no magic… that’s pretty unnatural too. Not wrong, just not usual. It makes you better. These spiders are better suited to eating people than most.”

“A thin line exists, Tamlen, between ‘unique’ and ‘freakish’. Between ‘unnatural’ and ‘abomination’. I try my best to avoid that line. I came with you because I enjoy spending time with you. Do not let these ruins become the place where I start second guessing choosing you.” Meiriana was standing firm. Her voice unwavering. From Tamlen's to Meiriana's POV in a single paragraph “My mother walked away from her clan because of ‘unnatural’. I am not afraid to do the same.”

Tamlen walked over and did something he hadn't done in many many years. He hugged her.

She was shocked at that. Couldn't he tell that she was mad-- Again, POV jump


I think the problem here is that you need to get to grips with the basics first. If you don't get on top of POV use, then you won't be able to bring the characters to life because you're not able to get close enough to their feelings or experience. Have a read of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer for a crash-course on the technicalities of writing. That will help both with your POV use and other things extending from that.
 

subtletylost

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I've tried again, correcting to keep it in just Meirianan's POV during the fight, and changing the fight a little accordingly.

---
Meiriana listened as Tamlen rambled on. She held her bow at the ready, though she couldn’t sense anything living nearby. Something about this place just really got under her skin. Were Tamlen not completely absorbed in recounting everything he could remember about the Elven history that might have led to the statue being there in the first place, he would have told her that she was just jittery from the spiders. At least that’s what she thought he would tell her.

She tensed up when she heard what sounded like footsteps. The string of her bow cut into her fingers but she wasn’t concerned about that. She barely even noticed it.

She turned quickly at the repeated sounds of steps. She shook her head. “No. No. No.” she muttered as she backed away.

Skeletons. Living skeletons. The more recently passed of them still had skin. Though it was withered, grey, and stretched taunt over the bones and under armor that seemed as weighty as it did light. Mindless beings with nothing but black voids where eyes once were. A nightmare.

Her life flashed before her eyes as one drew its blade, she tripped on a crack, fell back against Tamlen, sending the arrow she let fly into the ceiling which crumbled and rubble rained down. Those skeletons were no more. But there were others.

She snapped out of her shock as Tamlen moved behind her, fending off skeletons from the other side. Together they fought. Sword met shield and bow. When the bow snapped, daggers flashed. There was no time to wonder. No time to think. Sword met sword. Dagger met withered flesh.

Then as quickly as it began it was over. Meiriana dropped to the floor and massaged her leg. She glanced at the pieces of her bow lying next to the bones and armor of a once-again dead skeleton. “Do you believe me now?” she hissed at Tamlen. “We need to leave or we’ll die in here.”
---
Is this at least better in the POV department? I feel like I can fix most everything else if it seems like the POV is finally unified.
 

JC Kang

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What I found disconcerting about the original was the rapid shifts in narrative distance and I felt a little disoriented. If you were to keep Omniscient voice, the fight might be better served by a panned-out view, where it is the reader looking on without connecting to the inner thoughts or visceral reactions of the characters involved.

That said, in my opinion, your last entry, staying in her POV only, worked best. It kept me oriented as to what is going on.
 

Jackie Bee

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Much better in terms of POV. Also there's no question where's Tamlen now.
Still could be more showing and closer POW. For example,
She tensed up when she heard what sounded like footsteps. The string of her bow cut into her fingers
When you say "when she heard what sounded like", it feels distant, like we hear the aughtor instead of being in her head. It could be something like "What was that? Footsteps? She tensed. The sting of her bow cut..."
Skeletons. Living skeletons. The more recently passed of them still had skin. Though it was withered, grey, and stretched taunt over the bones and under armor that seemed as weighty as it did light. Mindless beings with nothing but black voids where eyes once were. A nightmare.
I liked this quick description. Except for "that seemed as weighty as it did light" , I'm not sure how its possible at the same time.
 

subtletylost

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I liked this quick description. Except for "that seemed as weighty as it did light" , I'm not sure how its possible at the same time.
It's possible at the same time, only in an extremely exhausted and frustrated state of mind, my beta was asleep and I didn't even notice that it was weird because of being tired. I'll fix that, thank you for pointing it out :)
 

pambaddeley

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The last version is a lot more immediate, but I would get rid of "Her life flashed before her eyes" as it is just too much of a cliche.
 

tinkerdan

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This last one is much better and I think at this point maybe I'll address some other issues you might want to consider.

Remember I'm not the resident expert on weapons.

It strikes me that bows are mostly range weapons and I find it difficult to believe someone expecting close combat might be at the ready with a range weapon. Possibly a small crossbow; but even then that would be good mostly for one shot.

An archer might have the ability to nock, draw and release quickly enough that she'd be limited only by the number of arrows in the quiver when dealing with long distance combat.

It might make more sense since we see her::
She held her bow at the ready, though she couldn’t sense anything living nearby.
::
To be wielding a sword.
 

Martin Robert

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Meiriana was ill at ease. She couldn't figure out why, until she heard a clicking sound. It was the distinct clicking of bone on bone. She watched in silent horror as the skeletons rose. She couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. String puppets came to mind as she stared between the one in front of her and the one behind her. She knew she had to fight them, had to kill them. But how do you kill something that’s already dead?
A couple bones click and they're instantly skeletons? I would think this could be expanded upon a bit, without going to long. Did some bones drag across the floor and merge? Was there a big pile of bones and things started growing out of it?
 

Dan Jones

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Hi Fishii,

I liked it... up until the fight scene. I was going to suggest that you clip your sentences, make it more frantic and pacey, but it seems you did that for the second draft anyway, which does read a bit better. I'm guilty of feeling the temptation to overwrite action scenes, but the reality of it is that in most instances they'll be over in a few seconds, or maybe minutes, leaving not much thinking time - instead it's time for instinct to kick in. So rather than spend time on what Meiriana's thinking, I'd concentrate on showing us what's she's doing. Again, the second version does this much better IMO, so good job :)

There are a couple of infelicities that others have picked up on so won't repeat all that.
 
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