Describing a swordfight

Here’s another great Quora answer from Eric Lowe: How can a prospective novelist get better at describing sword fights?

I’m going to go against the grain here and say that the key thing is to get better at observing human emotion and character development.

I don’t mean that to be glib. If you literally want to get better at “describing sword fighting,” then I guess you could learn how to fight with a sword. But I am 99% sure that what you want is to get better at writing scenes that involve sword fighting, and “telling a story” and “describing” aren’t the same thing.

It’s interesting to me that Eric Lowe can both be a total expert on medieval weaponry and fighting AND understand that writing a story isn’t about being a total expert in anything except storytelling. But he absolutely gets this.

What makes a fight scene enjoyable to read is not technical correctness, nor exacting specificity. It’s that the reader clearly understands the stakes and challenges at any given point in the scene. In other words, you aren’t focused on what the characters are doing with their swords. You’re focused on what it all means. … You aren’t recording a sword fight in exacting detail so experts around the world can provide armchair critiques of the participants’ performances. You’re writing a story, and stories are about characters, not action. Don’t stop writing a story just because you’re personally curious about the dynamics of a sword fight.

It’s posts like this that made me buy Lowe’s book. But it’s also probably worth joining Quora solely to follow a handful of experts, even if you couldn’t care less about telling people over and over to take their dog to a vet (or whatever). If you’re writing fantasy, Eric Lowe is one of the experts you definitely ought to follow. I mean, here is another recent post of his, this one about what we mean when we say that a sword is “sharp.” He seems to toss off posts like this all the time, and they’re all worth reading.

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3 thoughts on “Describing a swordfight”

  1. THis reminds me of an article on some time back wherein the author, who did historical sword fighting, provided an excerpt from his novel as an example of a good fight. It was awful. All mechanics, no story. Eric Lowe understands that you need story, not just mechanics.

  2. I went looking for that answer recently (Quora’s search feature, even for your own answers, is comically inept) and found this blog post first! I am glad you found that answer worthwhile!

  3. Glad you stopped by, Eric, even accidentally! You’re so right about Quora’s search function, but fortunately I could locate your older post when I went searching for it on Google.

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