Jay Kristoff and The Dude

So, I’m getting into the business end of editing Stormdancer 3. I feel ridiculous saying “Stormdancer 3”, btw. The book has a name (some clever people have already figured it out—the clues are there in KINSLAYER), and though I’m not allowed to reveal the name yet, calling it “Stormdancer 3” feels like referring to my baby sister as “Jay 3”. She has lady parts (I assume). Calling her Jay is silly. So enough of this. Enough I say!

From the remainder of this post, “Stormdancer 3” will be hereby referred to only as “The Dude”.


True to campfire rumor, The Dude has been far easier company than KINSLAYER. Second books are all about set up. You can have conflict, you can have minor resolution, you can have earth shattering revelations of the Empire Strikes Back variety (No, Darth Vader is not Yukiko’s father in case you were wondering) but in true man of mystery style, KINSLAYER leaves  the big questions unanswered, and the big bad guy undefeated.  By comparison, all the pieces are on the board in The Dude, and my job as an author is to tie up the threads with some suitably crunchy action and gut-wrenching tragedy and make everybody cry at the end.

Yes, it is The Dude’s intention to make you cry. He’s mean like that.

I’m also finding The Dude comes with a whole bunch of battles. And not Michael Jackson filmclip style battles, either, where hardened street thugs (with inexplicably high pants) work out their differences with a dance-off. I’m talking Pelennor Plains style battles. Cities under siege. Fleets of sky-ships riddling each other with shuriken-thrower fire, armies clashing on stretches of dead earth while colossi of black iron and smoke crush legions underfoot and godDAMN it’s fun to write.

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m possessed of XY chromosomes, but I like writing violence. I like building sand-castles made of words and then smashing them to pieces before the tide comes in to wash them away. And maybe my epic battles suck more than the Green Lantern movie (no, wait, suckage that severe would bend the universe…), but since I’m writing so many of them lately, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how I go about writing them, which you can feel free to ignore or adopt as you see fit.

1.     Short introductions - In an epic battle, you’re dealing with thousands of people trying to murder the bejeezus out of thousands more. The armaments, formation, disposition, size, mood and personal hygiene standards of your combatants is something you can spend a lot of time on if you really want to. But I’m not sure many people care. You need your establishing text to describe the badasses involved, but spending enormous amounts of time talking about the peculiar braiding on the elven archers cloaks, or how the pikemen from Southern Whosiwhatsit were descended from a race of sheep buggering madmen from the Upper Thingamabob… I’m not sure. Flavor text is good. Flavor text will help establish some color in the scene. But spend too much time on intros and you’re going to bore your reader stupid, particularly when they know most of these fellows are going to be decorating the sharp pointy things of your main protagonists soon.

2.     Keep your wide shots to a minimum – Think about any showpiece battle you’ve seen on film – after initial introductions, the camera usually spends very little time following the movements of large bulks of troops. After we’re shown that, yes, that is an awful lot of Uruk-hai, and yes, those Riders of Rohan are proper fracked, the camera takes us up close and personal. It’s only in clutch points during the battle, when the tide swings one way or the other, that we’re given a wide view. Most of our time is spent medium/close up. Battles are visceral. Terrifying. If you find yourself using terms like ‘pincer movement’ or ‘flanking manoeuvre’ you’re shooting way too wide. A guy in the thick of battle doesn’t know the enemy is performing a ‘pincer movement’. All he knows is that there’s another guy with a broadsword the size of a small tree trying to cleave him in twain.

3.     Cleave him in twain – NEVER use this turn of phrase in an epic battle. Or in any other fashion, actually. There is a special circle in Tosser’s Hell for writers who do.

4.     Carnage – People die in battle. And to be honest, they die in brutal, painful ways. Compare the melee in a film like Braveheart to a film like the Phantom Menace. Menace has these huge set-pieces with thousands of figures all pew pew pewing at each other, all very visually impressive. Braveheart has a couple of hundred dudes swinging sharpened chunks of metal. The difference? In Menace, the combatants are robots. In Braveheart, the combatants are big sacks of meat and blood. When someone gets hit, you feel it. You see the aftershocks. The camera gets little splashes of blood on it. Which battles are you more heavily invested in? Which one will you be more excited reading? Battles are about crunching bones and spraying arteries and people screaming. They’re about the stink of blood and smoke and excrement (Fun fact! People void their bowels when they die!). They are noise and chaos and red, red krovy. PG’ing it isn’t going to work. Nobody will care.

5.     Point of View – God’s eye is functional for establishing the ebb and flow – who is winning and who is losing. But as discussed above, it’s also impersonal. Epic battles are not about armies. They’re about the people inside them. And not necessarily the heroes leading the charge atop a disco unicorn, golden locks all blowing in the breeze and whatnot. Sometimes, sure, you want to see spectacular heroism and feats beyond the ken of mere mortals. But doing it too often gets boring quick. Try writing the battle from some grunt on the front line. Lord Richard of Spankersville, last Scion of the great House of Withknobson wants to win this battle to claim the throne from the evil clutches of usurper King Tackleout. But Garreth of Pigswill, some pressganged farmer with a wife and three kids to feed and the local Magistrate eying off his plot of land? He just wants to stay the hell alive. Reading from his point of view, rather than the Lord atop his gleaming unicorn, will give your battles a different kind of gravity. And gravity is what you’re after.

Lastly, never, EVER use the phrase ‘Cleft in Twain’ – I know I said this already, but it’s so important I thought I should mention it twice.

Jay Kristoff is November's Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.

Surly. Mammalian. Australian. Tall.
(Editors note: Jay took the directive of "short bio" quite literally!)

by Jay Kristoff
More info

The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.
The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

No comments: