Well-written action scenes are an integral part of many sci-fi and fantasy stories, from swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery to motorcycle chases through cyberpunk neon streets. Good combat sequences and action scenes happen fluidly and are part of the story's flow. Satisfying action scenes are simple to read but not so easy to write. In this series, I'm investigating what goes into a successful action sequence.
Weapons as Window
Weapons can be used as a window into the fantasy or sci-fi world. In the post-apocalypse, maybe all the weapons are hundreds of years old and must be maintained by specialists. Perhaps, in your fantasy world, the only weapons are wands, the crafting of which is an esoteric art. At the very least, your weapons should match your world, and if they don't, there needs to be an explanation as to why.
Fantasy Weapons and Armor
'"Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of Mithril did not tarnish or grow dim."
– Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring
I highly recommend using reading up on historical weapons, especially for a fantasy setting. You'll want to know the difference between a shortsword and a broadsword or a crossbow and a longbow. Not everybody has to wield a sword, either. Whips are extremely handy in combat, for example, and there are a bunch of different kinds.
Similarly, there are all sorts of armors that have varying degrees of permeability and maneuverability. Some armors are so hard to get on and off that the character will need aid when dressing for battle. Considerations like these are what make the special touches that help your readers feel immersed in your world or, at the very least, suspend their disbelief.
Of course, in some fantasy settings, the primary weapon is magic. I’ll be covering magical combat in the last blog in this series. Weapons with magical effects need to be considered as well in any fantasy setting, from sword-and-sorcery to urban fantasy and everything in between (I’m looking at you steam-punk). Figure out the rules that guide your magic weapons and armor and follow them, even if you don’t spell them out to the reader.
Sci-fi Weapons and Armor
Similar to magical weapons, weapons of the future have rules. Still, unlike their fantasy counterparts, sci-fi weapons must follow the laws of physics and, unless we’re talking alien tech or far future, they have a developmental lineage. This is good news because it gives a blueprint for futuristic weapons and a frame of reference for readers.
A nerve-paralysis gun, for example, is a weapon I just made up (although it’s probably not novel). It shoots out nanobots that temporarily paralyze the victim. The linage of the weapon is still there, even though it’s nearly unrecognizable. The user points and shoots like a gun. Maybe it has a safety and a trigger. The futuristic elements of the nerve-paralysis gun tell us a little about the world it came from as well. We now know about the nanobots and, once you know about them, there’s no going back.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
― Marcus Aurelius
Often in fantasy and sometimes in sci-fi, procuring a special or superpowered weapon is a significant plot point. Perhaps your characters are searching for a sacred sword lost to history. Maybe, they have to wrest a mighty scepter from an evil sorcerer.
Whatever the quest, it’s essential to handle the physical acquisition of the weapon properly. Often, the story ends when the main character secures the quest weapon or shortly after. This makes it, so the writer doesn’t have to deal with the issues that arise when your character suddenly becomes superpowered by wielding her new weapon. If the story doesn’t end, then the author has to figure out some way to curb the weapon's power. This could include the need to destroy the weapon for the good of the world, a curse upon the weapon wielder, or a limited number of uses.
Building epic weapons, figuring out characteristics, and coming with lore can be a fun way to add to your world. The features could be anything usually achievable by magic or potion, including poison, flame, luck, healing, sure strike, and so on. Tying the weapon’s power to the world’s history can be an incredibly revealing narrative element.
Other Blogs in this Series: