Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Visualising a Battle Scene

This is a terrific reconstruction of the fighting at Oldbridge during the Battle of the Boyne. It’s part of the audio-visual display at the battlefield visitor centre and an accurate televisual representation of battles in the later seventeenth century.

The Battle of the Boyne from Lee Cronin on Vimeo.

But what happens in it is from the imagination of the director, Lee Cronin, and not mine. If I watch it before writing a battle scene, is it possible to not be overly influenced by his imagination? In fact, can I write that scene without seeing it purely through the director’s eyes?

Actually I’ve found it more useful to watch fight scenes from later historical periods, it’s much easier to separate from them than something directly related to the era you’re writing about. For example I found the Cossack charge in Doctor Zhivago terrifically useful when writing a cavalry scene for my novel. Completely different period, completely different scene but it provided useful ideas on the sounds of horses charging. It gave me the ability to pause in the middle of the action, to study the expression on a man’s face as he slashes down with his sword.

That pause is vital and that’s why I find it more useful to study prints and paintings closely before writing battle scenes. They slow the action down to writing speed, they give you that suspension of time to consider colours and sounds and gestures. That pause allows you to find things you’d never think of straight off.

The picture below is a print but one drawn from the sketches of a participant in the battle. It has an authenticity akin to Robert Capa’s photos of the D-Day landings or as close as you can get for the seventeenth century. Through a close examination of the picture, I picked up on details to use in a skirmish scene that I was writing.

I found details that I could back up, details that would stand out, details like wide-brimmed hats floating in the air, blown off by the chaotic scrum of men and horses. Details that colour a historical narrative.

Details that would set my imagination free. After all, I’m writing a historical novel not a historical treatise.

You can find out more about Lee Cronin here.

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