Depicting Complex Battle-scenes
Here's the index post for this series on Depiction:
The big secret of writing Award Winners and Best Sellers is more about what you leave out than what you put in.
But to know what to leave out, you have to think through every tiny detail, from within the point of view of your main character and know what it is you are leaving out, and why you are leaving it out.
Within the main character's point of view, you know what that character knows -- and you don't know what that character does not know.
It sounds so simple when you say it. Not simple at all. It's another craft technique, and a tool for your toolbox.
Mastery of that writing tool - leaving OUT the most interesting part - is the hallmark of the great writers.
The great writers engage the creative imagination of readers, luring them into creating their own version of the story, bringing the characters alive within the reader's mind. That is done by leaving room for the reader to insert themselves into the story - to think like the character.
If you detail every thought in the character's mind, or go into long conversations or arguments about whether to do something anyone who is an expert in the choices being discussed would KNOW would not be considered -- just the explain to the reader why you didn't write a thing a certain way -- you lose your primary audience, and repel any casual reader who will read anything. In other words, you write boring stuff.
So a big chunk of characterization lies within what a character does NOT think, not simply within what the character does think.
I found a beautiful example of this in a book I was reading because the author had been one of my first writing students.
He is Charles E. Gannon - Chuck Gannon on Facebook:
(don't shorten that link - there's another by the same name)
His publisher put up on Amazon the following bio:
About the Author
Charles E. Gannon is a breakthrough rising star in science fiction with a multiple short story and novella publications in Baen anthologies, Man-Kzin Wars XIII, Analog, and elsewhere. Gannon is coauthor with Steve White of Extremis, the latest entry in the legendary Starfire series created by David Weber. His most recent novel is 1635: The Papal Stakes cowritten with alternate history master, Eric Flint. A multiple Fulbright scholar, Gannon is Distinguished Professor of American Literature at St. Bonaventure University.
When he brought his first attempt to write a story to me, he was just a kid -- really young kid. Look what he grew up to become!
Chuck Gannon's first novel in his Tales of the Terran Republic, Fire With Fire, A Caine Riordan Novel...
...was nominated for the Nebula and won another award.
Here's my discussion of that one:
The second Caine Riordan novel, Trial by Fire, with much more of a "Military Science Fiction" tone (an invasion of Earth by recently contacted Alien coalition) garnered a Nebula Nomination and lots of Hugo attention just like the first. And there are a lot of reasons for that.
In short, Trial by Fire is a fabulous Mission: Impossible TV episode, or better, movie, writ large.
The plot of the novel unfolds a massive, complex, (beautiful) piece of psychological leverage, of Assumption Judo used against non-humans and featuring the best of human nature. Trial by Fire is a jaw-dropper just like the Mission: Impossible TV Series episodes, especially of the First Season. So it has my highest recommendation - with the caveat that it is not a Romance genre novel. But Romance readers who love Relationship plots will not be bored.
This blog is about Science Fiction Romance, but just as with the Romance element in World War II movies, Science Fiction Romance often includes long, intricate, complicated, battles.
In fact, Fantasy Romance does, too, when vast armies on horseback deploy to fight for a Kingdom.
So a Romance writer who leaps into the science fiction field has to know how to do this kind of thinking, how to lay out battle tactics, how to choose weaponry, how to think like a soldier or a Commander -- and most importantly how to know what to leave out, and why to leave it out, even though it's interesting to a big part of your audience.
The skill-set is termed Selectivity in many books on writing, and it is a key to all forms of Art.
Selecting what to put in requires precision handling of the Theme.
Selecting what to leave out requires precision handling of the Characterization.
In the case of Charles E. Gannon's Trial by Fire, the armies and armadas of Earth are fighting for control of Earth.
The main character we follow, among many, Caine Riordan, is a "polymath" -- he doesn't think the same way most humans do. He doesn't think the way anyone else in the novel does.
There are a couple of good, solid Love Stories twined through this plot -- the Hero is deeply (and oddly) involved with two women, with a lot of heroism and angst, but those relationships don't drive the invasion or the counter-strike of this plot. It's a good read, and if you study the battle scenes, it will teach you a lot about what to put in and what to leave out of a sex scene.
So as I was reading the Kindle version of this novel, I took some notes using the Kindle note feature.
Then I thought about it all, went back to a note I dropped into his Chapter Fifty-Two (they are short chapters, but this is a very long book) and decided to drop a grain of sand onto Chuck Gannon's Facebook Wall, and see if he made me a pearl. Sure enough, he did. I can be very irritating at times. So I posed my question from my note in the most provocative way I could imagine.
I wrote on his wall:
A question: when communications are all out in the Jakarta region and they have to instruct troops about the action, why don't they send out loudspeaker trucks and guys with bullhorns? Is this so far in the future nobody has such things or are they all destroyed? Or did I miss something?
CHUCK ANSWERED ON HIS FACEBOOK WALL
Lots of reasons. In no particular order: (and I speak of trucks, but same would apply to runners with bull horns)
1) counter targeting invite. Audial triangulation would find snipers easily by this time; Speaker trucks would be like "shoot me" signs.
2) difficulty with centralized control relaying to trucks. Control net by subsurface fiber optic, in absence of any ability to use airwaves, or to trust that you could safely signal in the clear, means you have to go for secure hardwire/fiberwire.; Trucks would have to get messages, return for more. Turnaround time fatal for contemporary MOUT scenario depicted.
3) centralization trackback of source of truck messaging: a half witted adversary will realize the trucks are having to get updated with messages. Find, observe, follow messenger or truck path to update point, and you take out a commo nexus. Given difficulty of insurgent C4i environment, it is probably a command and control nexus. Hi value target; crippling blow to insurgents.
4) trucks not historically used in front line engagements as passing info; usually preop marshaling, often for civilians, not troops. Useful for issuing mass directives to masses. The more closely orchestrated or tightly sequential an operation is, the more its communications must be inaccessible to the threat force, swift, clear, coded. None of that is possible with speaker trucks.
There are more reasons (having to do with logistics, inability to get immediate ping backs to determine yes/no on receipt of message and therefore op timing confirmation, etc.)
That is a precious pearl for beginning writers to study in the context of this high profile novel.
A few fans of his jumped on the discussion, and one who is involved in creating a wiki for the Universe Chuck is writing in captured his response for the wiki -- and put my name on there.
The discussion thread is:
So get these two books and start following the adventures of Caine Riordan, the Polymath.