Background/Group characters used as an obstacle.

by Paul

Question: I am currently writing a sci-fi novel. When using large quantities of enemy forces as obstacles, how do you keep things from getting boring? And, when using these characters, how do you keep the reader from getting confused about what character is doing what? Enemy forces are, in my mind, a grouping of the same character. Are interesting combat situations the only way to keep them becoming a bore?

Answer: Sometimes a character function can be performed by a group - such as occasions when an entire army collectively is the antagonist. Though to be honest, as with the Borg in Star Trek who started out as a collective and later were found to have a Queen, writers have a natural pull to create a leader who serves as the face, voice, and guiding intelligence of these groups.

I think the way you make a battle scene interesting is to make it personal. If you are telling the story through the eyes of a particular character, then his personal experience, his limited perspective, prevents the enemy from becoming a blur, except when it doesn't matter. Your main or POV character can only see what a limited number of enemy soldiers are doing - just the ones he encounters in his personal journey through the battlefield.

True, he may get confused, especially if the enemy soldiers, at a distance, seem very similar in appearance. But that only adds a touch of realism. I think if you keep the focus on your character's perspective, what he does to cope with the situation, rather than try to give a bird's eye view that includes everyone, you can simply cut the boring parts that don't pertain to your character's experience.

If anything happens on the battle field which your character doesn't see but really needs to know about, sometimes he can simply find out what happened later from someone else who was there - a line or two of dialogue or exposition.

Comments for Background/Group characters used as an obstacle.

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Smaller Groups.
by: Paul Ciampo

Thanks for the feedback. Everything you say makes sense. However, I am still confused about something related.

Say a group of three attackers are in a battle with your protagonist. How would you describe the interaction?
I usually write something like:

The soldier on the left fired his weapon. The second stepped in close for a Melee attack. The third soldier hid behind a corner, shouting into his radio for backup that would not come.

Now, is it wise to list character interaction in a list format in a group attack, or are there no rules? Could I say, Soldier A acts, Protagonst reacts; Soldier B acts, Protagonst reacts?

by: Glen

In your example, "The soldier on the left fired...," you're really giving a very objective description, rather like how a sports commentator might describe a game from a safe distance. Think about what it is like for the character who is encountering these adversaries. How does your hero react to the weapon being fired? What goes on in his body? How does he feel? What does the terrain feel like? Can he really take the time to watch and listen to what the third soldier is doing? Isn't his focus going to be on how he will deal with the second soldier who is about to clobber him?

The format is more like "main character perceives, main character reacts, repeat." And he won't perceive everything that everyone is doing, only the most urgent/distracting things in his field of perception.

(Incidentally, never use phrases like "Melee attack." It makes it sound like you are describing a game of Dungeons and Dragons rather than actual combat. Specify what the person is doing. Is he hoisting an axe, thrusting a bayonet, launching himself into a flying kick?)

by: Paul Ciampo


Additional Comment
by: Paul Ciampo

Thanks again. Usually "show, don't tell" is a breeze for me. For some strange reason in combat scenes the uneasy feelings I have kill my descriptive ability. I'll be sure to work on this aspect of my my writing. I'm glad you made this great writing site!

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