Multiple fight scenes happening simultaneously, too much at once for the reader?

J.D.Rajotte

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Hey guys so I've reached a scene in my action fiction book where the protagonist and his three allies encounter an enemy team of the same size. The team in question was specifically written to showcase the protagonist team's skills and as such the groups have been split up into three, one group of two on two and two groups fighting one on one. This has created a dynamic of me intermittently switching the POV in between the three simultaneous battles taking place. I heard somewhere that you do not want to distract the reader too much, and I fear that the constant switching might begin to confuse them. Any thoughts on the matter?
 

Teresa Edgerton

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It will certainly be challenging, but I think it is just possible you could pull it off. Part of it will depend on how well readers will know your characters by then, and if they are each distinctive enough that no one will be inclined to confuse them whatever they are doing. So just at what point in the story this sequence will take place will surely make a difference. Early in the story, while you are still introducing your protagonist and his allies, the chances of readers mixing up the characters and losing track of who is doing what will be far greater. If the scene in question takes place later in the book, then your chances of writing such a scene and making it work will be correspondingly greater.

But ultimately, there is reallyonly one way to find out for sure, and that is to write it and see how it how it works out.
 

.matthew.

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You could try it with a paragraph break in between each switch to make it super clear to the reader that the POV has shifted.

You can also show what's happening with other characters from another POV. So if the two are fighting they could see one of the others take a nasty blow or something?
 

Overread

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Weapons can also help. Often you'll notice in stories with group fights that each character the author is focusing on, is using a very different weapon and fighting with a very different style. Whilst some of it is the influence of things like "Dungeons and Dragons" adventuring parties; its also a neat way to further tell characters apart when they fight together. It's not just the name that changes in the description, but the nature of how they fight, the weapon they are using. It basically allows you to softly create multiple differences as key information and reference points for the reader. It means they can forget Dave's name in the story, but know that its him in the fight scene because he's the one that uses throwing knives whilst Bob is the one that uses the rapier.

There are other ways too - the key is creating several points of difference and reference for each character so that the reader has more than one bit of reference.
 

alexvss

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In the book Writing Fight Scenes, by Rayne Hall (recomended), she talks about planning. A good fight scene has been planned by the characters and foreshadowed by the plot. That should apply to every fight scene, including the ones you described. (Note that doesn't mean the plan will work like a charm; most of the times it doesn't, and that's the fun of it).
You can also use a "camera" as a tool. The POV of the scene is not of a character, but of the "camera".
Also, I think you'll need blocking for this. There's a writing excuses episode just about that: Writing Excuses 8.18: Blocking.
 

J.D.Rajotte

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It will certainly be challenging, but I think it is just possible you could pull it off. Part of it will depend on how well readers will know your characters by then, and if they are each distinctive enough that no one will be inclined to confuse them whatever they are doing. So just at what point in the story this sequence will take place will surely make a difference. Early in the story, while you are still introducing your protagonist and his allies, the chances of readers mixing up the characters and losing track of who is doing what will be far greater. If the scene in question takes place later in the book, then your chances of writing such a scene and making it work will be correspondingly greater.

But ultimately, there is reallyonly one way to find out for sure, and that is to write it and see how it how it works out.
It is early in the story but fortunately I've introduced the distinct styles of both the protagonist team and their opponents previously
 

J.D.Rajotte

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Weapons can also help. Often you'll notice in stories with group fights that each character the author is focusing on, is using a very different weapon and fighting with a very different style. Whilst some of it is the influence of things like "Dungeons and Dragons" adventuring parties; its also a neat way to further tell characters apart when they fight together. It's not just the name that changes in the description, but the nature of how they fight, the weapon they are using. It basically allows you to softly create multiple differences as key information and reference points for the reader. It means they can forget Dave's name in the story, but know that its him in the fight scene because he's the one that uses throwing knives whilst Bob is the one that uses the rapier.

There are other ways too - the key is creating several points of difference and reference for each character so that the reader has more than one bit of reference.
Oh for sure, each of my characters has a very unique style that could be very easily distinguished
 

Steve Harrison

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I had a similar situation in my last novel, when five of my POV characters got into a fist fight with the same number of aliens (don't ask!). I ended up writing the entire fight scene from the POV of my MC, who, as she was restraining 'her alien' and being restrained during her struggle, was able to observe the action going on in the other fights.

I found it worked better than switching POV in terms of pacing, maintaining the urgency, showing a variety of situations and avoiding confusion for readers. I hope that was the case, anyway!
 

Teresa Edgerton

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It is early in the story but fortunately I've introduced the distinct styles of both the protagonist team and their opponents previously
Then you have got your work cut out for you. What distinguishes a character for a lot of readers is not going to be their fighting style so much as their personality—how much they have been able to get inside their head, and identify with them.

But where there is a problem there is usually a solution. The first step is to write the scene so you can identify the problems, and then work out the solutions ... or, ultimately decide whether what you want to do is going to be worth the things you have to do or not do to balance it out. For instance, you may lose those very things that Steve feels he was able to accomplish by sticking with one POV. Or maybe not.

So write it and find out. When you have been here long enough and have enough posts so that you can post the scene or parts of it for critique, the folks here might have specific suggestions that will help.
 

sknox

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Others have noted that it can be done. I have to ask, why must it be done? What is the purpose of the scene? If it's merely to show off fighting skills, others have noted that reader engagement is more about characters and arcs, but there are exceptions. In some genres, it really is about the skills.

So my question is, if it must be done, must it be done all at once? Another way to approach this would be to have a fight in which only one or two skills are demonstrated. You can still have your 5v5 scene, but maybe focus on one or two in particular (two is good if their styles contrast or complement each other). A later or earlier scene could show off someone else.

One other angle is to think about later scenes. Is there something you can set up here? A strength, but also maybe a weakness. Or an act taken that sets up a later revenge or act of mercy. Such considerations might give another reason for emphasizing one fighter over another.

And finally, do all five get exactly equal treatment? Probably not. So you're already making choices about which to emphasize or de-emphasize. Maybe one character we only see them execute a move or use a weapon and maybe at this point that's all we need.

Just some stuff to think about.
 

The Big Peat

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I am very used to PoVs switching during a battle, so much I had to re-read your post a few times because I didn't understand why anyone would object. Gemmell does it, Clancy does it, Cornwell does it, and those are the three biggest name Action authors I know across three genres.

But switching between actual different fights might be a bit much. Only might though. If you're clear about when you're switching between fights - probably a full scene break - then you could possibly increase the tension quite a lot by cutting away at the most dramatic moments.

Give it a go. And to counterbalance the don't distract/don't throw too much at the reader - don't underestimate your readers either. If they're interested in action scenes, they're probably pretty good at tracking them.
 
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