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5 Tips For Writing A Swashbuckling Scene by V.E. Schwab

A-Gathering-of-ShadowsV.E. Schwab is an author comfortable writing all kinds of stories. Over the years, these tales have included those for young readers within secondary worlds, a dark story of super villains on a collision course, a supernatural exploration into personal legacy beyond death and plenty more besides. Whereas V.E. Schwab’s previous novels had been successful and highly regarded, A Darker Shade of Magic was—in my view—the one that really grabbed the attention of a large section of Fantasy community. Readers took notice of, and really appreciated, Schwab’s incredible talent for storytelling, use of complex ideas and her building of complex, loveable characters.

With the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, having just hit your favourite bookshops and online retailers, V.E. Schwab has been kind enough to stop by Fantasy-Faction today in order to give us 5 tips on writing a swash buckling fight scene and then give an example of one she has written in A Gathering of Shadows in the form of an exclusive excerpt.

5 tips for writing a swash buckling fight scene by V.E. Schwab

  1. Research! Pick your favorite scenes, from movies and books (The Princess Bride takes the cake for me) and study how fights/duels actually happen.
  1. Choreograph. Think of it like a movie, not a book, and choreograph the fight, either in your head or own paper, blocking the steps. Go through the motions! Either act it out yourself, or find a partner. Don’t worry about feeling silly, it will be worth it when your fight scene rings true.
  1. Mix it up. Any good fight scene involves not only parries, but feints, attacks, defense. And remember that as a fight goes on, and the players becomes more tired and more desperate, they tend to mess up.
  1. Up the stakes. Parrying and dodging is well and good, but every good fight scene needs near misses, and at least a little blood. Few people get out of a sword fight unscathed.
  1. Utilize the environment. Weapons are obviously at the center of a fight, but a good swordsman uses their environment, be it barrels, crates, and ropes on a deck or the clutter of the docks, the tapestry of a ballroom or the sculptures in a garden. People move when they fight, and invariably that means interacting with the environment.

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

Lila ambled down the street, the gambler’s stolen purse hanging from one hand. Being a good thief wasn’t just about fast fingers. It was about turning situations into opportunities. She hefted the purse, smiling at its weight. Her blood sang triumphantly.

And then, behind her, someone shouted.

She turned to find herself face to face with the bearded fellow she’d just robbed. She didn’t bother denying it— she didn’t know enough Arnesian to try, and the purse was still hanging from her fingers. Instead, she pocketed the take and prepared for a fight. The man was twice her size across, and a foot taller, and between one step and the next a curved blade appeared in his hands, a miniature version of a scythe. He said something to her, a low grumble of an order. Perhaps he was giving her a chance to leave the stolen prize and walk away intact. But she doubted his wounded pride would allow that, and even if it did, she needed the money enough to risk it. People survived by being cautious, but they got ahead by being bold.

“Finders keepers,” she said, watching surprise light up the man’s features. Hell. Kell had warned her that En glish had a purpose and a place in this world. It lived among royals, not pirates. If she was going to make it at sea, she’d have to mind her tongue until she learned a new one.

The bearded man muttered something, running a hand along the curve of his knife. It looked very, very sharp.

Lila sighed and drew her own weapon, a jagged blade with a handle fitted for a fist, its metal knuckles curved into a guard. And then, after considering her opponent again, she drew a second blade. The short, sharp one she’d used to knick the purse.

“You know,” she said in English, since there was no one else around to hear. “You can still walk away from this.”

The bearded man spat a sentence at her that ended with pilse. It was one of the only Arnesian words Lila knew. And she knew it wasn’t nice. She was still busy being offended when the man lunged. Lila leaped back and caught the scythe with both blades, the sound of metal on metal ringing shrilly through the street. Even with the slosh of the sea and the noise of the taverns, they wouldn’t be alone for long.

She shoved off the blade, fighting to regain her balance, and jerked away as he slashed again, this time missing her throat by a hair’s breadth.

Lila ducked, and spun, and rose, catching the scythe’s newest slash with her main knife, the weapons sliding until his blade fetched up against her dagger’s guard. She twisted the knife free and came over the top of the scythe, slamming the metal knuckles of her grip into the man’s jaw. Before he could recover, she came under with the second blade and buried it between his ribs. He coughed, blood streaking his beard, and went to slash at her with his remaining strength, but Lila forced the assaulting weapon up, through organ and behind bone, and at last the man’s scythe tumbled away and his body went slack.

For an instant, another death flashed in her mind, another body on her blade, a boy in a castle in a bleak, white world. Not her first kill, but the first that stuck. The first that hurt. The memory flickered and died, and she was back on the docks again, the guilt bleeding out with the man’s life. It had happened so fast.

She pulled free and let him collapse to the street, her ears still ringing from the clash of blades and the thrill of the fight. She took a few steadying breaths, then turned to run, and found herself face to face with the five other men from the ship.

A murmur passed through the crew.

Weapons were drawn.

Lila swore beneath her breath, her eyes straying for an instant to the palace arcing over the river behind them, as a weak thought flickered through her— she should have stayed, could have stayed, would have been safe— but Lila tamped it out and clutched her knives.

She was Delilah Bard, and she would live or die on her own damn—

A fist connected with her stomach, shattering the train of thought. A second collided with her jaw. Lila went down hard in the street, one knife skittering from her grip as her vision was shattered by starbursts. She fought to her hands and knees, clutching the second blade, but a boot came down hard on her wrist. Another met her ribs. Something caught her in the side of the head, and the world slipped out of focus for several long moments, shuddering back into shape only as strong hands dragged her to her feet. A sword came to rest under her chin, and she braced herself, but her world didn’t end with a bite of the blade.

Instead, a leather strap, not unlike the one she’d cut to free the purse, was wrapped around her wrists and cinched tight, and she was forced down the docks.

The men’s voices filled her head like static, one word bouncing back and forth more than the rest.

Casero. She didn’t know what it meant.

She tasted blood, but she couldn’t tell if it was coming from her nose or her mouth or her throat. It wouldn’t matter, if they were planning to dump her body in the Isle (unless that was sacrilegious, which made Lila wonder what people here did with their dead), but after several moments of heated discussion, she was marched up the plank onto the ship she’d spent all afternoon watching. She heard a thud and looked back to see a man set the bearded corpse on the plank. Interesting, she thought, dully. The men didn’t carry it aboard.

All the while, Lila held her tongue, and her silence only seemed to rattle the crew. They shouted at each other, and at her. More men appeared. More calls for casero. Lila wished she’d had more than a handful of days to study Artesian. Did casero mean trial? Death? Murder?

And then a man strode across the deck, wearing a black sash and an elegant hat, a gleaming sword and a dangerous smile, and the shouting stopped, and Lila understood.

Casero meant captain.

Be sure to keep up-to-date with A Gathering of Shadows, A Darker Shade of Magic TV Show, a sequel to Vicious (which is in the works!) and everything else V.E. Schwab by following her on Twitter or visiting her website.

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