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Creating fight scenes

For those of you whose interest lies in my regency romances (where physical activities range anywhere between delicate needlepoint and jostling carriage rides), it may be something of a surprise to learn that my young adult series contains many action scenes. It is a rough world for our young hero, and he must overcome challenges that are simultaneously mental, emotional, and physical.

A handful of these scenarios involve physical confrontations, and weaponry of the period is involved more often than not. With the series being set largely in the Roman vassal state of Armenia in the first century, the weapons of choice range from the Roman short sword (gladius), to the bow favored by the Armenian and Parthian horsemen, the spear (or javelin), an occasional battle axe, and, as a last resort, the knife. During the writing of these scenes, it was important to me that the descriptions accurately reflected the techniques and skill of the wielders of each weapon.

YouTube was really useful in this regard. Experts have posted videos that not only share their detailed knowledge of these weapons, but display how each may be used effectively in battle. I was able to learn much about the weight and balance of the heavier weapons, as well as the speed, striking distance, and types of damage each individual weapon was capable of. I was amazed at some of the melee techniques such experts demonstrated. Agility and skill could add numerous facets to altercations beyond basic stabbing or bashing moves.

What helped a smidgen, believe it or not, was personal experience. I shyly confess that I have had a few years of training in fencing and a little experience with archery. None of this background qualifies me as an expert in any way, but it has made me aware of the difficulties in wielding certain weapons. Swords, especially, can be cumbersome things, requiring strength and quick reflexes if one is to do anything useful with them. Too often, in movies, someone brandishes a weapon for the first time and succeeds in fending off an attacker. But real skill takes years of training. And, in reality, even skill may not stand up to brute strength. Sometimes it’s best just to run away!

Personal experience and online sources helped me to show swords and spears and axes being used to their full advantage, and to make the fight scenes realistic. But one more challenge lay ahead. There was the question of how graphic to make the scenes.

What is “normal” for the modern teenager? In a world where violence is such a common part of viewing and reading, not to mention the news, did I need to match that level of brutality? And, since the readers would most likely be from among the Christian youth, was such attention to violence even acceptable? I know that the Bible, especially the Hebrew (Old) Testament, is chock full of horrendous details. Yet modern Christians tend to shy away from those passages. I felt torn between two worlds: the “clean” expectations from the Christian parenting community, and the desire from the younger believers to read about characters whose life experiences were not diluted to the point of blandness.

In the end, I was led by neither of these. One cannot read the minds of one’s audience. It is impossible to write only what one assumes a wide array of readers might accept. The variables are too great. So I decided to be true to my story instead. It would have been dishonest to write of the harshness of slavery or the hardships of war without dealing with their physical impact. I avoided any scenes that served only a gratuitous purpose. But I did not shy away from realism.

A handful of scenes (over the course of four books) will shock or disturb. That is because one man’s cruelty to another should have that effect. But mostly, the confrontations are simple sparring duels, exciting and entertaining.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Have there been books that you felt crossed the line? Or a description that distressed you, but you accepted it because it taught you the character’s pain? Any favorite action scenes? Or perhaps you prefer books that are more sedate? Let me know. Your input is always valuable.

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