Let’s have a fight

Yet another exceedingly helpful answer about sword fighting from Eric Lowe on Quora: I’m trying to write from the perspective of someone who’s talented at sword fighting, but find little details about sword fighting reading online. How do I approach this?

A short excerpt:

Skilled fighters don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what the swords and feet and bodies are actually doing. That part becomes pretty automatic at a certain level of skill. Instead, the well-trained fighter is thinking about what it all means: who’s winning, who’s losing, and how that might turn around.

The good news from a writing standpoint is that this is what most authors are better equipped to write anyway. …

Long answer, like many of his. Video clips and excerpts from possible sword fighting scenes included. Uh, also maybe a mild spoiler for Tasmakat, if you read the comments to this post. But a very mild, vague spoiler because before I posted this, I went back and edited my comments to remove some of the specifics.

Moving on:

I already knew that advice to learn sword fighting yourself in order to write scenes involving sword fights had to be somewhere between overstated and nutty. You can’t learn to do everything before you write scenes involving everything; I mean, obviously you can’t. How could that possibly work? To take one excellent example, I’m not a surgeon, and if I were, I wouldn’t have been trained in medical techniques 2000 years ago, so if I’m going to write a surgeon protagonist, what then?

Ditto for the Death’s Lady trilogy: I’m not a psychiatrist and I’m not going to get multiple degrees before writing a novel or series.

Obviously an author does a certain amount of research and tries for plausibility, regardless of the thing she’s writing about. Flying kids, psychiatry, whatever, obviously I write about a zillion things where I am not and can’t be an actual subject-matter expert.

For that matter, at this point in my life I definitely, for sure, could not learn sword fighting. Although I’m glad to say that last weekend, for the first time in five months, I took some of my dogs to the park. I can now walk (slowly) for pretty long distances. I can also go up stairs without pain (in the morning, though not in the afternoon, and down is still problematic). Regardless, progress! I’m hoping that by Christmas or so, my knee will be back to normal. Or close.

Anyway, it’s perfectly obvious that nobody actually thinks authors have to learn subject-matter expertise before writing novels involving whatever that subject may be, so why does that advice even get proffered? Which it does; at least one answer to the above question offers that exact advice. So it’s good to see that Eric Lowe agrees with me about that, since as far as I can tell, he knows way more about sword fighting and (much more important to me personally) about how to handle scenes involving sword fighting than practically anybody else in the universe.

While looking at Eric’s answers, here’s one I particularly like and recommend you read all the way through for the sheer entertainment value: Assuming I know nothing about sword fighting, but I’m about to be forced into a sword fight, what’s the best advice you can give me in 5 minutes or less?

In case you don’t have time to click through right this minute, here’s an excerpt:

First thing: choice of weapons. If you are given the choice of weapons, provided that it’s a sword, pick the longest thing you can. For you, in this situation, all considerations are secondary to length. If you have the choice of a one-handed weapon and a two-handed weapon of equal length, pick the two-handed weapon. Always fight with both hands on a weapon (even if it’s the same weapon) if you can.

Second thing: do not cut. I don’t care what kind of sword you have. If you have only five minutes and have never handled a sword before, your plan is to stab that guy like a homicidal sewing machine. Non-fencers often underestimate how hard it is to cut with a sword. This does not mean that you need to put a lot of force into a cut – anybody can do that, and you usually don’t need to. It’s about the technical demands of cutting as opposed to thrusting. History is full of half-trained swordsmen whose cuts failed to inflict more than a superficial wound. By contrast, it is really hard to screw up “the pointy end goes into the other man.”

Third thing: keep your point in line. In this situation, your sword is for stabbing the other guy like a homicidal sewing machine. Stab, stab, stab, stab.

Fourth thing: keep your distance. Let your feet defend you, not your sword. Your sword – for you, in this situation – is for stabbing the other guy like a homicidal sewing machine.

Fifth thing: don’t stop. No matter what happens, don’t stop. It doesn’t matter if he’s better than you. It doesn’t matter if you’re bringing a sword to a freaking machine gun fight. Your ability to walk away from this, to go home, depends on you deciding, right now, ahead of time, that you are going to make your opponent wish he’d never been born. Did you stab him? Stab him again. You get hit, you stab him. He gets on top of you and you start wrestling? Stab him. No matter what happens, you must stab him. Stab him like a homicidal sewing machine. On PCP. You want to see your kids again? Your lover? You wanna go home? Stab him. Stab him. Stab stab stab stab stab stab stab STAB HIM until you literally can’t stab any more, then stab him again.

How about that? I mean, vivid AND persuasive. Now I’m just dying to hand some untrained protagonist a sword and throw her into a terrible situation. STAB STAB STAB. It’ll probably happen someday, the kinds of books I write. Maybe I can have her disguised as a man, throw a prison break and a bodyguard into the same story, and hit a bunch of fun tropes all at once. I mean, don’t hold your breath — I’ve got lots of other stuff I’m doing already — but still. STAB STAB STAB.

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7 thoughts on “Let’s have a fight”

  1. “Now I’m just dying to hand some untrained protagonist a sword and throw her into a terrible situation. STAB STAB STAB. It’ll probably happen someday, the kinds of books I write.”

    Shut up and take my money.

    Thanks for the link. That was both vivid and hilarious.

  2. OtterB, the question is — is the protagonist the untrained person and her bodyguard hands her a sword and says STAB STAB STAB?

    Because another possibility is the protagonist IS the bodyguard, and is going to have to stand by and watch her untrained client fight for some reason, and gives her the sword with the STAB STAB STAB advice.

    Both ideas are tempting!

  3. Oh my gosh that advice for a sword fight with no training is excellent! Makes me want to write something with an untrained fighter too!

  4. Untrained people are dangerous. They usually die, but they can often take quite good swordsmen with them.

  5. Erik has another post about that, about suicidal attackers that come in full steam ahead without thinking about defending themselves. That is, let me see … right here.

    That could actually be quite useful in fiction, because it’s easy to imagine putting your protagonist up against a wall where they really DON’T care whether they survive this one fight, where instead everything important to them is riding on killing their opponent and they don’t care about their own survival. A fraught situation!

  6. Yes, I’ve seen that post, Eric, and wow, definitely sounds like an experience to avoid. But a potentially great experience to put a character through!

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