I’ve been told that I write a lot of epic battle scenes involving hundreds of troops on each side, and instead of focusing on just my main characters and the small battle that is happening in front of them, I can write and describe some epic battles by allowing the reader to see everything that is happening while not overwhelming them.
Epic infantry engagements, space battles, cavalry charges, and desperate last stands are all things I write with a passion and today I’d like to answer the question of how I write these battles so well and give a bird’s eye but non overwhelming view point.
The answer is…. Real Time Strategy games.
For all the non gamers out there, Real Time Strategy is defined as this by Wikipedia:
“ Real-time strategy (RTS) is a subgenre of strategy video games where the game does not progress incrementally in turns”
A minute in real life is a minute in the game, and while some games can be paused to allow a player to think, the game needs to be unpaused and the clock needs to start ticking to make units move and buildings function. This forces gamers to multitask, because even if a game can be paused, you’re still faced with the same ten things to do but you just have a bit of time to breathe and plan the order of which to do those things.
The game I want to focus on is the Total War series, where you take command of a historical country depending on the time period of the game (Greece in Rome Total War, England in Medieval Total War, and Japan in Shogun Total War as examples) complete with historically accurate buildings and units for their armies/navies. The series has a RTS battle system, complete with hundreds of units on screen at a time, which as you can imagine can be overwhelming quickly, even with the pause feature.
When I first started playing Rome Total War, I was not only forced to delve into the history books for the tactics of the armies I was playing as, but I was forced to take a lot of information and act upon it quickly during the battle segments.
I almost always had a bird’s eye view of my army as I directed my troops around the screen, and only zoomed in close to watch the combat close up once the battle was nearly over. When I sat down to write the first large battle scene for my novel “Inner Wolf, Inner Warrior” I treated the battle like a video game, listing out the various troops my armies had as well as features like terrain, weather, and how long the battle would take (all things Total War takes into account during its battles.)
I watched the battle unfold from above as I wrote it, drawing doodle diagrams to keep track of troop positions and writing descriptions of cavalry charges and archer fire vaguely, only going into super descriptive detail with the troops that were part of my main character’s battalion. It was there that I could write about the force of a sword duel or bodies being chopped to the ground, or people being trampled because that was what my main character could see and experience.
Once the battle was fully written I was happy. I didn’t want my battles to be massive and confusing affairs for my readers… I needed the battles to be vivid and massive, and I wanted the readers to feel like a general in command of the whole picture.
I’ve done this for fantasy, science fiction, and historical stories and battle scenes, and I’ve gotten a lot of praise for it. Readers can see and imagine the entire battle, and then get sucked into the head of my character once the battle gets descriptive.
The Real Time strategy genre of games has taken some hits lately, but it’s been the genre that taught me the value of detail in battles, and has helped me manage the bigger picture while also getting sucked into the details. Making my battle scenes that much stronger as a writer, and I can’t thank my gaming upbringing enough for that.