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message 1: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments How can a fantasy writer comply with the rule, "write what you know?" For me, it was a mixture of writing characters based on people I know, writing plots based on things that have happened to me, and writing combat based on my experience as a heavy fighter in the SCA. I'm pretty interested in how other Fantasy writers or fiction writers in general are able to give their work the touch of authenticity that good fiction requires. I want to both improve my own writing and begin the discussion for others to do the same.

My Blog post goes into how I describe medieval combat based on first hand experience.

This video shows some of the fighting I was a part of in Montana. Okay, so the music is pretty ridiculous, feel free to mute it and I'm not actually in the video, but it gives you an idea of what I was up to. I used to tell my girlfriend at the time, "okay, sweetheart, I'm gonna go have fat guys hit me with sticks for a while."

The weapons aren't padded, it is full force and as authentic as we can figure. It is hot, exhausting, and you come home bruised, but it is a really good pass time and the community involved is very helpful and everyone teaches everyone how to improve. Not unlike this goodreads group, which is the best one I'm a part of by far.


message 2: by R.A. (new)

R.A. White (rawhite) | 361 comments My fantasy has 'fights' issues such as racism and sexism, along with other personal battles. These are important to me. I 'know' them, and that's how I write what I know. Also, I play a lot with mixing cultures, which is another thing I have a lot of familiarity with.
It's cool that you can write fight scenes based upon real experience. I don't have a lot of fight scenes, probably because I don't know about them.


message 3: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Right on, thanks for thinking its cool, the battles that really matter are the internal ones. And I try to use the fighting as a dramatic, high stakes backdrop for the important internal struggles. The two simultaneous conflicts both add urgency to each other.

You raise a couple of points I've wrestled with for quite a while, sexism and racism are huge topics for fantasy. Do you go the route of Tolkien and have almost zero female characters? Do you go the route of Martin and have rampant abuse and degradation of women, peppered with a few female characters that succumb to the sexism and a few badass female examples who don't? In my setting it was a hard call to decide how women should be portrayed, whether to downplay the sexism in our past or to tackle it by writing it out in detail. I call myself a feminist and I'm certain that this comes across in my writing. What is more important, making my statement or creating an authentic tale upon which the reader can make his or her own opinion? Ideally one could achieve both. My hope is to do so, but it takes a lot of thought.


message 4: by R.A. (new)

R.A. White (rawhite) | 361 comments I like the way you broke things down. You're right, it does take a lot of thought. I have kept things more subtle in my stories. In book one, the main character is a female slave who escapes from a country where everyone is dark skinned (Banlund) into a country where everyone is light skinned (Kergulen). In Kergulen there is, for the most part, wonderful equality between sexes and respect among classes. They're very free people, though largely sexually conservative, as are the Banlunders. But the Kergulenites have a long standing feud with Banlund and a large percentage of them want to kill the Banlunder. It's not a story of oppression, by any stretch. Some terrible things do happen, but over all I'd say it's more of a coming of age story for several of the characters. Even some who are already grown up.
In book 2, which I hope to release next month (feeling doubtful) the cast of characters goes on a quest to yet another country. In country number three (Trant)they feel very good about their social justice system but don't realize that they really are sexist and also prejudiced against lower classes and often against escaped slaves (immigrants). They also tend to be sexually liberal. All of this adds some interesting dynamics between characters. Trant, while in a fantasy setting, mirrors modern day America in many ways. There's a huge focus on image and self gratification.
I also would call myself a feminist, if maybe not the stereotypical type, and my main character certainly fits into that designation as well. In Banulund she was not only a slave and a woman, which put her at the bottom of the social structure, but she has some peculiarities that make her scary. But when she went to Kergulen, she saw the equality and latched on to it. Throwing her into Trant with soldiers and princes was really fun. I like to think I made my personal opinions clear without being too heavy handed. Well, I know I could have tread more lightly, but that just wouldn't be me. Neither would dark, extermination-of-the-elves fantasy. I like having some dark elements with an over-all positive energy. If I don't have my readers circulating through emotions somewhat regularly, I feel like I've failed.


message 5: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Your phrase heavy-handed is a poignant one. 1984 was certainly quite a brazen and unveiled criticism that was also downright awesome. While Tolkien outwardly refuted that his work was an allegory for anything at all- he said he hated allegory. Yet the themes resembled those of the world wars, the first of which J.R.R. fought in. I stayed up late talking to my brother about my book and i told him what i thought the end of the trilogy might bring. He steered me away from the heavy-handed attempt at delivering my message that i had in mind. I am conflicted on this issue still. Is there something inherently wrong with being direct with your beliefs in your writing?


message 6: by Claire (new)

Claire Wingfield | 16 comments Interesting posts. Did your brother steer you away because he believes the message is already there? With the Tolkien there is some ambiguity - people are able to infer a message without it being labelled as such. Maybe that's the more fertile place to be.


message 7: by L.F. (new)

L.F. Falconer | 92 comments R.A. wrote: "My fantasy has 'fights' issues such as racism and sexism, along with other personal battles. These are important to me. I 'know' them, and that's how I write what I know. Also, I play a lot with mi..."

My fantasy, too, deals more with internal battles than external ones...definitely something more people can relate to. But the occasional fight scenes to come up and have to be dealt with.


message 8: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Fertile! What an apt word choice for the topic! If you don't mind, Claire, I think I'll steal that concept... Fertile writing being ready to have inference and meaning layered upon it without authorial domineering. I think what you don't write is just as important as what you do. Those things that the reader longs to have happen, like the blossoming of an incipient romance that hasn't yet sparked, or the bitter struggle between rivals that has not yet been tested in combat, are what keep readers hooked. So too, perhaps, the social statements, that need only one step away from becoming central. The characters this close to discovering feminism for themselves for example...


message 9: by Claire (new)

Claire Wingfield | 16 comments Exactly. That's a great list. All things that fuel debate. If we think about early classroom encounters with literature it's the potential meanings that leave room for an active reading experience and yes the most fertile grounds for discussion. Better than simply feeling you know the author's agenda. Though of course I haven't read your proposed ending to see whether it works on its own terms.


message 10: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Well, you can read the beginning...:) The ending is still at least two books away.
The Cost of Haven Book 1 of the Great Cities by F.F. McCulligan

Nevertheless this discussion has already given me good food for thought on the topic, and may help me proceed. Now that I'm writing book two, I feel I must force myself to outline the damn thing. A bit of a weird time to realize it, over 260 pages into the manuscript... Too many threads to weave together without following a design and I'm afraid if I don't trim them up, it'll turn into a bigger mess than I'm willing to solve. That sounded a little hobbitish.

As I'm outlining though, it makes me wonder which elements of my story matter most? What about them makes them matter so much? And how do I make it as juicy as possible, as fertile as it can be?


message 11: by Claire (last edited Sep 02, 2013 05:46AM) (new)

Claire Wingfield | 16 comments Thanks F.F. Have added to my shelf and will take a look when I get some time. As an editor, I'm always wary of giving my opinion before seeing a text. You might be interested in my writing handbook '52 Dates for Writers' which is based on my work mentoring novelists and includes some different approaches to outlines / plot development. If you're quick, there's also a competition running until the 10th Sept. I guess there is no easy answer to your last question, though. It's a different answer for each book, writer and reader. http://www.amazon.co.uk/52-Dates-Writ...


message 12: by L. (new)

L. Benitez | 118 comments This is an exciting topic! =)

My book series Shinobi 7 is all about fighting and the struggles that come with it. It's about six young kids (between 8-18 years old) who join an army and have to learn and struggle through with being soldiers. Honestly, I don't know what it's like to be in any sort of battle, but because I'm active in the Martial Arts I know what it's like to fight and the adrenaline rush that comes with that.

I'm very personal with each of my characters. When they're put through a problem I feel like a part of me is going through the same and it's almost like I share the struggles with my characters. That's part of why writing fantasy/adventure is so fun for me. Will I ever join an ancient ninja clan and have to fight for my life? Probably not. But I can create a world with characters who do and personally relate with the challenges they face, almost where it becomes my challenges.

Anyway, I've read through everyone's comments and I agree with a lot of what you all say. It's clear you all have passion for your writing and I appreciate that =)


message 13: by Feliks (last edited Sep 02, 2013 09:55AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) F.F. wrote: "How can a fantasy writer comply with the rule, "write what you know?" For me, it was a mixture of writing characters based on people I know, writing plots based on things that have happened to me, ..."

SCA? 'Sexual Compulsives Anonymous'? 'Swiss Cricket Association'? Always explicate your acronyms my good man.

As for the 'sexism and racism dilemma' (in fantasy books) I would write any new example of a genre work exactly in accord as the genre has always been written. Only, watch out for anything which might invoke a lawsuit; otherwise you should obey and follow the traditions of the format you're emulating. If you water-things-down to fit the daytime talk-show circuit; you risk producing nothing that will ever be compared favorably against your predecessors. As well as being inauthentic.


message 14: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Claire, I read the free sample of your book '52 dates for writers' and it looks great. Alas that I don't have a Kindle. (is that proper usage of alas?) The idea of going out and having different experiences in order to pump up your repertoire of things you can write about certainly falls under the category of that old adage, 'write what you know.' The more you know, the more you have to write about.

L. I can relate to your empathy with your characters. Have you read Ishmael Beah's book A Long Way Gone? It is pretty eye opening about real world child soldiers, who are forced to fight. It is pretty graphic and brutal, and in fact it's autobiographical, unfortunately.

Which brings me to the sticky subject of glorifying combat in fantasy writing. In my first book, I look at combat as a challenge that the characters need to overcome. Making it into perhaps a high stakes game. I want the book to be fun and exciting and dangerous, but I don't really get into the moral implications of combat and violence. Especially since the enemy is primarily inhuman.

How much violence is too much? Who does it best in the fantasy world today? Again, do I have an obligation as a writer to put forth my anti-war message or should I leave that in the background in order to fulfill a story which by now has taken a life of its own?


message 15: by Claire (new)

Claire Wingfield | 16 comments Those are big questions, FF. Is it something you've becomes increasingly aware of as you write, or had you always known it was a thorny issue for you, despite your genre preference? One of my writers has a character who is a warrior but also expresses pacifist tendencies. Is there a way of expressing the tension you yourself feel in any of your characters?

On a practical note (without hijacking the thread - sorry!) it is possible to download an app from the product page on Amazon to read a Kindle book on another device (tablet / phone / laptop) and then if you ever did get a Kindle you could transfer the file. I am also looking at other formats for '52 Dates for Writers', but with a toddler at home I'm much slower on this than I'd hoped!


message 16: by L. (new)

L. Benitez | 118 comments Feliks wrote: "F.F. wrote: "How can a fantasy writer comply with the rule, "write what you know?" For me, it was a mixture of writing characters based on people I know, writing plots based on things that have hap..."

I haven't heard of that book but I will look into it and see if my local library has it. Thank you for the suggestion.

I'm gonna try to answer your question with how my opinion and how I approach the subject. My fight scenes don't last very long, the longest they've lasted is 5-6 pages. But the 5-6 pages aren't strictly fighting details i.e.-- 'he punched me, I blocked him, I scooted forward with a knee aimed for fis gut'--- etc. I try to incorporate the emotion as I write the fight scene. This is easy for me to do since I write in 1st person POV mostly.

So while violence and fighting is a common thing in my book, it's counteracted with the human emotion that comes with it. There are some characters in my book who love to fight so they're happy to brawl, but there are also the characters in my series who don't like fighting and constantly question their morality as they defend themselves.

I'm sorry if I haven't made a point, I feel like I've been prattling on a bit. I guess my point is while the grit and roughness of fighting is there, it can be balanced by the personal emotion of the character =)


message 17: by John (new)

John Dizon | 108 comments Being a fiction writer is all about being a great liar. In Ireland, great storytelling is a satisfying blend of fantasy and reality. Both research and life experience are major components in making your story work, but imagination is what makes it all come together. Of course, storytelling is a gift, and regardless of how well it's put together, if you can't tell it you can't sell it.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E1TL5LO/


message 18: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments I think I'd fit in well in Ireland if that's the case. My ancestors came from there.

John Reinhard, in a way you bring up the opposing point: who cares what you know, just make stuff up. I know you didn't say this, but it came to my mind upon reading your post.

There is a great book called The City of Dreaming Books, which makes this argument as well. The book concerns a talking dinosaur named Optimus Yarnspinner who travels to a foreign land where books, writers, and reading are valued above all else. Somewhere along the way someone points out to him that all he needed to do to meet his lofty goal of becoming an author was to write! He didn't need to go out and have adventures, he just needed to sit down and make things up.

The quote was something like, "If you need to go out and do things in order to have something to write about, then you probably don't have a book in you at all."

I really think there's truth to this. Judging by how made up and yet utterly incredible the City of Dreaming Books is, the statement has some validity to it.


message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael Henderson (Michael_Henderson) | 14 comments I'm not sure that "write what you know" applies to fantasy writers, who, so far as I can tell, write about magic spells and sword fights. It means don't write about a courtroom scene if you've never been in a courtroom. Don't write about being a lawyer if you're not a lawyer. That sort of thing.

If you write about something real, you'd better know about it. If you write fantasy, by definition it's all made up.

Michael E. Henderson


message 20: by John (new)

John Dizon | 108 comments F.F. and Michael are both right, if that's possible. Let's try this: the essence of a story is what it means to the reader. Maybe J.K. Rowling never flipped a tarot card or navigated a ouija board, but she makes millions of readers believe she knows everything about sorcery and witchcraft. On the other hand, John Grisham undoubtedly brings a whole lot of experience to the table when writing his courtroom sagas. If what you write is touching a heart and bringing a vision to someone, how you get there is not as important as the fact you brought a happy camper with you.


message 21: by Shomeret (last edited Sep 02, 2013 01:04PM) (new)

Shomeret | 138 comments F.F. wrote: "I think I'd fit in well in Ireland if that's the case. My ancestors came from there.

John Reinhard, in a way you bring up the opposing point: who cares what you know, just make stuff up. I know yo..."


I'm not an author. I'm a reader. For me, fantasy requires a combination of imagination and practical real world knowledge to ground it. For me, if it's just a flight of imagination, I can't relate to the plot or the characters. For readers like me, fantasy authors do need to write what they know to be credible.

I love martial arts fantasy, historical fantasy, fantasy based on myths, fantasy that takes place in real world foreign settings and some urban fantasy. All of these require the author to have some expertise or do some research.

I also like fantasy that takes place in an imaginary world with very good world building, but good world building involves understanding cultures. Magic systems require internal consistency to be plausible. Successful fantasy writing requires more than imagination.


message 22: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Couldn't agree more Shamoret.

Michael, I strongly believe that Write what you know applies to us fantasy writers. A lot of fantasy readers like Shamoret know a bit about the subject. They might have ridden horses, built houses, done black smithing, or might have medical training that could discredit descriptions of peoples injuries and illnesses. There are so many things that carry over from Fantasy into Reality.

Suspension of disbelief is so tenuous and important in fantasy. A botched description of how a bow and arrow are aimed could shatter it, especially since archery is still alive and well today.

Furthermore, magic and sword fights... That may be a component of fantasy, but it is not, I would argue, what fantasy writers are writing about.


message 23: by Shomeret (last edited Sep 02, 2013 03:07PM) (new)

Shomeret | 138 comments As I indicated above, there is also a plausibility factor involved in writing magic. You need to make it convincing to the reader, so they will believe that it works.

As for swordfighting, I wouldn't try writing swordfight scenes without some research, experience or a knowledgeable consultant. If you don't know swords or how they are believably handled, you will make errors that some readers may notice. Don't research swordfighting by watching movies either. They are often very unrealistic.


message 24: by C.B. (last edited Sep 02, 2013 03:27PM) (new)

C.B. Pratt (cbpratt) | 42 comments FF -- Thanks for mentioning City of Dreaming Books. I'd seen this when I was browsing on line for something else, thought 'way cool' and then forgot the title.

I think it's important to write what you feel -- every writer can use their own emotions and apply them to their characters. If that means fear or confidence in a fight scene, or starting with one emotion and sliding into the other, those feelings are more important, imo, than making sure that this turn or that slash is properly described. You could have technical perfection and have no reader give a darn. Unless they too can feel the burn in tired muscles or the sting of sweat in a sliced forearm or feel the same investment in the outcome of the fight as your characters, none of the rest matters.

Please listen to your brother and don't hit your readers over the head with a message. Have faith in your readers. They'll get what you're trying to say. Sometimes, they'll even read more into it than you meant!


message 25: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 138 comments C.B., I absolutely agree with you, but you can have both technical precision and emotion. If you get inside the minds of the fighters, you can describe their experience in an authentic way and their emotions. The best martial arts writers do that in their work.


message 26: by C.B. (new)

C.B. Pratt (cbpratt) | 42 comments Oh, sure, I didn't mean to imply it was one or the other.

I also write short fight-scenes because from the few times in my young life that I did have to fight, time compressed itself so that it seemed over almost before it had begun.

Now I gotta go make one a little longer because it's a bit *too* terse.


message 27: by John (last edited Sep 02, 2013 04:13PM) (new)

John Dizon | 108 comments One of the biggest challenges I had in Part Two of Generations (available next month through Alpha Wolf Publishing) was depicting the fight scenes. The protagonist, an Irish immigrant, was moonlighting as a wrestler in beer hall contests. I had to not only avoid accusations of writing a Far And Away knockoff, but risking the storyline devolving into a wrestling tale.

My remedy was to restrict the wrestling scenes to one paragraph in which I focused on the character's physical and technical challenges and how he resolved them. It allowed me to share the mental and physical stress with the reader without indulging in the gory details. It was enough to give the scene authenticity without being too understated (I hope).

http://www.angelfire.com/ny2/Lansky20...


message 28: by R.A. (new)

R.A. White (rawhite) | 361 comments F.F. wrote: "Fertile! What an apt word choice for the topic! If you don't mind, Claire, I think I'll steal that concept... Fertile writing being ready to have inference and meaning layered upon it without autho..."

Well said!


message 29: by F.F. (new)

F.F. McCulligan | 64 comments Thanks! This whole discussion has been quite intriguing and I don't doubt it will help me craft the next installment of The Great Cities, which I've been feverishly plotting this morning over cups of (forgive me John) English Breakfast tea. I normally go for the Irish, but they were out at the store.

May all your works be fertile!


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