Monday, September 21, 2009

Characters in Combat and Writers of the Working Day

And so I come to the end of my recaps for this year's PNWA Summer Conference. Our final keynote speaker was, none other than Chris Humprheys, of the (in)famous Writing Sex Scenes workshop. (See The Ins and Outs of Writing Sex Scenes post, 09 Sep 09).

(Image from C.C. Humphreys' website)

I finally managed to take some pictures of the conference. Unfortunately, most of them turned out too dark or blurry. Of the two I managed to salvage, here's Chris reading from one of his books:

And this one is of Chris giving us the final motivational speech of the conference:

The main theme of Chris' Sunday morning address was writing battle scenes. We've all heard that conflict is at the heart of every story and that without conflict, there is no story.

Well, to say there's conflict a-plenty amid the mass-slaughter of a battlefield would be a gross understatement. However, unless you're writing a history book, readers want stories focused on great characters.

Therefore, battle scenes in literature serve the following purpose:

--Places characters in grave peril.

--Shows them in action (as in life-or-death action).

--Characters must have objectives beyond surviving the day (a love interest, revenge, etc).

However, when plunging into the heat of battle:

--Be sure not to give a history lesson.

--80 to 90% of the research material shouldn't go into the book unless it is important to the character.

--Instead use research as a springboard for your imagination.

After making these key points, Chris treated us to readings from two of his books.

The first one was from his novel Vlad: The Last Confession. In this scene Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler--better known as Dracula) led a force of 4,000 Wallachian warriors in a surprise attack against the sultan's camp. I can still imagine the scene Chris verbally painted, of Vlad and his troops charging through the Transylvanian forest and the dark hills echoing their war cry: "Dr-r-r-r-a-cu-la! Dr-r-r-r-a-cu-la!"

Brrrr! That was more spine-tingling than a solitary vampire, who can be chased off with a mere crucifix and wooden stake.

It took more than props from a horror movie to deal with the real Dracula:

The second reading was from Vendetta, the second book in Chris' Runestone Saga. Despite being part of a young adult (YA) series, Chris didn't pull any punches in his narrative. The protagonist, Sky, develops the power to teleport back into the body of his ancestors, thanks to his grandfathers journal and set of nordic runestones. In Vendetta he enters the mind of Tza, a feral shepherdess on Corsica in the 16th Century. During a siege, Tza kills her first man with a sling and stone.

Chris then gave a demonstration of his skill with a sling like the one Tza used. He learned this talent for his part as a gladiator in the mini-series AD. Fortunately Chris palmed the stone so--no actual humans were injured in this keynote address.

After the speech my friend Sharon had the presence of mind to ask Chris in trying out the sling. She's writing a novel about ancient Mesopotamia, circa 2350 B.C. and wanted to do some on-the-spot research. (I wish I thought of that!).

Most of us though, have no knowledge or skill at wielding swords, slings, bows and other archaic implements of destruction. This of course, limits an author's ability to "write what you know."

But Chris pointed out there is a way around such lack of experience: Seek out re-enactors.

These folks dress in period attire, ranging from ancient Rome to World War II. They practice with the weaponry of the era for events such as Renaissance Fairs, Rendezvous, battle re-enactments or living history weekends. Re-enactors are a wealth of hands-on information not often found in books or on the internet. And if you're lucky, maybe you can get a chance to practice with the weaponry you envision your character wielding. Doing so will bring more realism to your battle scenes.

Chris' keynote address though, wasn't all battles and bloodshed.

Well, sort of...

He was asked to end his talk on an uplifting note to inspire attendees with desire to continue their work when they return home. So he tied these two themes together by giving us his rendition of the Saint Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V:

According to Shakespeare, King "Harry" delivered this stirring oration to his weary troops before the battle of Agincourt:

It is said that Shakespeare is better appreciated performed than read. Since I didn't have a camcorder with me, you'll have to make do with my favorite film version, starring Kenneth Brannagh:

PNWA is a great organization for writers and does more than hold annual conferences. For more information about the association's activities throughout the year, log on to their website (also found in the Writing Section of this blog):

And so dear friends, this ends my Summer Conference recaps.

Until next year...

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