Fight Club, Epic Fantasy Style

I love a good fight.

Writing realistic fight scenes can be hard. I suspect this is why so few of us do them well, and when they are done well, ala Joe Abercrombie, everyone talks about it. (If you like your fantasy bloody and haven’t read any Abercrombie yet, do yourself a favor and pick up The Blade Itself.)

I’ve heard not to describe a fight in too much detail, because a real fight moves too fast. And I agree- but as I am revising The Iron Key, I see that my own trend is to underwrite the scene. I think that a crucial fight scene should take at least a page. And I do alright with fisticuffs, because I’ve done a (very) little sparring in my time. But throw in an actual fantasy weapon? Problematic. And a two-blow-and-camera-pans-out fight scene wasn’t the kind of scene I wanted to write.

Part of my problem with the fight scene in question was that I wasn’t using a sword as a primary weapon. My fighter, Wilhem Imbrel, is a priest in a death cult. I wanted him to have a scythe-like polearm as a primary weapon, as well as the usual sword and dagger kit. Wil usually fights alone, so a polearm, like a stave, would give him advantage of reach.

I initially hopped onto Wikipedia (everyone’s favorite pretend research device) and clicked through Glaives and and Halberds, Fauchards and Spetums. Wikipedia gave me a photo and the history of each weapon, but didn’t really edify me as to practical application. Nothing I saw was quite right, so I invented my own weapon, something between a Glaive and a Guisarme, and called it a Glaeven. In my head it looked very like the polearms used in Curse of the Golden Flower (if anyone knows what they are supposed to be, tell me and I will be forever grateful).

I loved the way the polearms were used in this movie, and tried to mimic the lightening fast spins in my scene. But it still wasn’t holding together.

Suddenly I realized I was trying to write Hollywood polearm fighting, without still having any idea how such a weapon would actually be used. I was stuck again. Then, at my Beta Reader’s suggestion, I pulled out my 2nd Edition AD&D Arms and Equipment Guide and spent Saturday immersed in its pages. The beauty of the A&EG is that it is written with roleplay in mind. There is advice on when a weapon would be particularly useful, or useless. And the Guide pointed out something crucial to me: polearms are slow.

In the original fight, which is many-on-one, Wil whirled around, striking out with both ends of the glaeven, quick as a viper. More men fell.

Yeah, too bad that’s both generic and physically impossible (also, what a tired simile).

The rewrite:

Wil jabbed at him underhand with the butt of his weapon. The blow glanced against the smith’s shoulder, but he kept coming. Wil spun, kicked the smith in the stomach and danced back, swinging the blade end of the glaeven around in a slow arc. It sliced halfway into the smith’s skull and stuck. The smith’s arms flailed.

Now that I can actually see in my head. Gee, I wonder if Wil’s gonna get that blade out in time to deal with the next guy who comes at him. Probably not.

Anyway, I’m going to keep tweaking this scene, but I’m much happier with it now than I was. So if you’re having trouble with a fight scene, the AD&D 2nd Edition Arms and Equipment Guide might help you rethink your fight. Or, if you’ve got a good resource on weaponry and would like to share, please do tell! Clearly I need to keep doing my homework.