In my novel, there is a large scale battle involving several factions, tens of thousands of fighters, and is a defining part of the book, as it lasts for a good deal of the novel. As I wrote it, I tried to paint a clear picture for readers, but I found it difficult to decide how. How in depth should it be described (General descriptions such as simply stating that many fighters died, or describing in depth the specific experiences of the fighters and leaders)? Is there anything specific that should be avoided that could bore readers? If this question is to broad, I will edit it.

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    Read battle scenes in a lot of other books and see what they do. I like Mercdes Lackey's battle scenes because she brings in a lot of tactics, not just hack-and-bash. Commented May 7, 2016 at 10:56

2 Answers 2


I agree with Lauren Ipsum, byt read from a variety of authors, not just one. In addition, read The Art of war. I know I just gave you more homework, but if you know what each side's strategies are, you could establish that for the reader, then twist things up.

I'd also recommend reading the Illiad (or at least the battle scenes). Homer does what you do--says that this dude got stabbed through with a spear, and then "the darkness" fell over his eyes.

In any rate, try to have emotions. In the sense that you could zoom in on a few soldiers and their emotional connections with each other. Soldier A is friends with soldier B. Soldier B hates soldier C, so they both try to kill more enemies than soldier C, and they're having a grand time until Soldier A dies, and then soldier B is enraged and starts killing off everyone.

If you take the time to include little vignettes such as these, the fighting will seem more personal/visceral, since it's not just two random armies going at each other, but people fighting people.

Think of the battle of Helm's Deep in the Two Towers--Legolas and Gimli have a contest to see who could kill more orcs--this provides comic relief, and humanizes their army. Aragorn fights to avenge a dead friend--this further humanizes their army.

Humanizing both sides would be harder. Think how much longer LOTR would have been if Tolkien had introduced a bunch of sympathetic Orc characters who were hunting for the ring--not to mention how this would muddle the narrative. If all of you MC's are on one side, focus on the specific experiences of their side.

So in conclusion, focus on specific experiences--it makes the battle more real, and is more engaging to the reader overall. I hope this helped.

  • +1 (also for) The Illiad, which was my immediate thought for a reply. I add that Homer not only describes the battle actions in (poetic?) detail, he also makes mini-character descriptions. Many times there is a short description. Say: John Doe, with the bright eyes, youngest son o king Smith the second, from the beautiful plains of Some Land, was killed - this and that way - by (etc., etc.). That is, all characters are real people, not random soldiers, they ALL are HEROES, even if their whole appearance is only a handful of lines long. Commented May 7, 2016 at 16:37

I recommend that you look into military theory and historical examples. The subject is larger than life, so well chosen indeed.

Some pointers:

Pretty random list. There is a whole lot more to discover if you are so inclined.

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