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Background

I've planned the chapter I'll write tomorrow. It features a bandit ambush! That's so exciting! Wow! The sickly scent of blood, the glistening blades and powerless enemies. They are nothing compared to my godly knight who is so skilled with a sword she can slice asunder the shaft of an arrow. Here's my characters mission plan:

We're getting tired on the road. There's a building up ahead, maybe we should go and spend the night there because it's snowy. But, it's filled with people from the Black Cross bandit gang or something. We're going to need to clear it out, face the bandits, and fight valorously. Luckily, we have the young lady who is able to cut arrows in half on our side. Automatic victory.

The idea is, they dash in and wreck the fort the bandits are staying in. Compared to the combined tactics and communication of our heroes, they are naught. So, the plan will be successful without any issues, and they will successfully clear out the bandits. Furthermore, my godly knight will have another time to shine, where she mercilessly shall sever an enemy's head from their shoulders.

Question

So here's my question:

Is it really cliche to have an ambush?

Is it a good idea to make the adventure a little more interesting by having the occasional battle?

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    If the knights have foreknowledge the bandits will be in the fort up ahead, how is that an ambush? An ambush requires surprise occur by the antagonist. That is, unless you are suggesting the protagonist is the one doing the ambushing? That might be interesting :o) – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 14 '17 at 11:07
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    1) This is bordering on "what to write" because it's very specific to your story. Can you remove some of the details (i.e., some of the background) and make it more broadly applicable to other stories? 2) You have two questions. We prefer to answer one question per post. Your questions are related but not identical, and will generate different answers. Please separate your battle question into its own post. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 14 '17 at 11:44
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Precisely. Where is the element of surprise? – Lew Jan 14 '17 at 14:16
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 From the bandit's point of view it is an ambush. They don't know that the knight knows. A failed ambush is still an ambush. – user5645 Jan 14 '17 at 17:38
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    Hope this doesn't come off as too harsh but a bandit attack is not instantly cliche - but the way you are describing it is. I would not want to read this book. What's the point if it's a curb stomp? If no one gets hurt or dies, and nothing else significant happens, did this fight even provide anything that would affect the proceeding story? Or was it action fluff filler? If you're adding it in because you feel a break was needed between a chapter that contained a conflict and a chapter that "is just adventuring", perhaps those chapters ought to be tampered with, and this one left out. – Celesol Feb 6 '17 at 3:08
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If they can't possibly lose, it is not a battle, it is a spot of exercise. There is nothing exciting about a bandit ambush if the bandits have no chance. Certainly going to win and do is not exciting. Probably going to lose and don't is exciting.

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  • Really good. I'm going back and editing my chapter tonight to foster a sense of weakness against them. My heroes are outnumbered after all. – Featherball Jan 14 '17 at 18:12
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As I see it, there are three possible uses for such a scene.

  1. You show the skill of your protagonist because you need your reader to know it later. Just saying that your knight is skilled is not sufficient, you need to prove it.

    This is like the bus fight scene at the beginning of the movie The Specialist, where before the fight starts we know that the character played by Sylvester Stalone will beat the ruffians' asses, but the scene is there to show just how effortlessly Stalone puts them out. Also, he pets the dog.

    Michael J. Sullivan uses a bandit ambush in this way at the beginning of Theft of Swords.

  2. Fantasy fiction isn't always as plot driven as thrillers. In some books, some scenes are there only to allow the reader to spend more time exploring the fictional world.

    Tom Bombadil at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings serves no purpose regarding the main plot. We learn nothing about the characters, or the background of their quest. This scene is just there because the Lord of the Rings is about experiencing a world.

  3. While the ambush fails predictably, something else happens during it.

    If it was me writing that book, then one of the knight's companions would be all sexed up from the violence and they would all hump each other afterwards ;-)

  4. Did I say three? Here's another.

    If the tongue-in-cheek style of your question is any indication then your novel might have a humorous touch. If that is so, repetition and meaningless events might be part of the humor.

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    Ah, yes. My bandit thing is there because I don't want the reader to go from one chapter (in one POV there is a big conflict) to some other POV which is just adventuring. I want them to see how even in different parts of the world battles happen at the same time. @what – Featherball Jan 14 '17 at 18:12
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    Obviously this is not the place for an essay on Tom Bombadil, but oh boy, no. Tom Bombadil is essential to the entire theology of LOTR, and we learn a huge amount about the characters and their quest in the encounter with Tom Bombadil. It is an utterly different, and lesser, book without him, and it is in omitting him from the movie that Peter Jackson when off the rails and ended up just making another hacking and hewing movie. – user16226 Jan 14 '17 at 19:16
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I am with Mark Baker on this one. Looks like you have already established the level of competence of your character, so showing it again would be redundant and would likely annoy me as a reader. What you can use the situation like this for is to introduce a twist of sorts—your good guys win (of course), but someone gets hurt, and can't walk or ride for a while—or show a previously hidden character trait—she suddenly shows mercy, or the opposite, etc. The idea is: do not repeat yourself, it makes your story boring, even with the full of action fight scene.

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    Ah, yes, I actually already did use it to show a hidden trait in my godly knight. After the battle the next chapter in their POV details certain things that are affected by last night's encounter. – Featherball Jan 14 '17 at 18:14
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Does your ambush have a purpose in driving the goal of the protagonists, or create new information for the reader?

Action shouldn't be there just to 'be' there. You could be introducing a new secret weapon that these bandits got ahold of, a new faction that appeared that poses a threat or makes a lead towards the protagonist's goal, or it could be that they are just there to display how much the protagonist has improved after a training session or learning a new power.

A story won't be interesting if you just have mindless battles that just get in the way of the protagonists. Like you've probably heard by now, Everything has been done before, however, it depends on how you take advantage of it for advancing your story. You can have a cliche such as the main character being a chosen one that's bullied by others, but as long as you can make it interesting and lead in your story in a unique way - the readers won't care.

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As has been mentioned in other answers to this question, if we already know the over-powered-ness of your knight, then we need to learn something new from this fight, or something has to change: either the physical circumstances for their journey or something within them.

Physical consequences

Someone already mentioned that the fight could leave one of "good guys" wounded, resulting in a challenge for the group after the fight. Or someone could die, or their (enter important object) is broken, and so on.

Psychological consequences

Another option is to let the Hero(/group) experience something that changes her(/their) mind about their mission, their look on good vs bad -guys, violence, relations, words, power, genders, beliefs, clothing... You name it. Maybe their goals are questioned. Maybe they have gained valuable knowledge in achieving their goals.

In general

As with most in life; repetition quickly becomes tedious. Therefore, summarize what we already know, and focus instead on what is new/different.

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If cliches were a mistake they wouldn't be cliches. Depending on what your goal is, what you want from your work and what your definition of success the cliche might help you get the results you want.

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    I think I would prefer to look at it as a cliche is a trope gone wrong. – user16226 Jan 14 '17 at 19:05
  • Might I suggest this answer would be greatly improved by giving an example? Obviously you can't mindread OP's goal, but if you demonstrate a possible goal, OP can probably recreate that for their own work. – Standback Jan 15 '17 at 5:59
  • @Standback : I don't understand what you're talking about. – user6035379 Jan 15 '17 at 13:07
  • I mean, give a specific example of a goal, what one might want from one's work, and a definition of success, and show how the cliche can be helpful for that - just as you suggest OP should do. This is just a suggestion - examples tend to make answers clearer, less hand-wave-y, easier to apply practically. :-) – Standback Jan 15 '17 at 14:14

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