In the possibly immortal words of Pepé Le Pew, “I am a lover, not a fighter.”
Seriously, I’m not a fighter. This is my weak spot as a writer. So if I were going to only write what I know, I’d be in deep trouble. And as much as I want my work to be accurate, I’m not going to visit active battles to experience the horrors of war for myself.
My current story begins in the middle of a medieval Viking naval battle. After the initial flow of writing, I realized that it was missing quite a bit: sensory description, proper blocking, and an understanding of exactly how many Vikings could fit on board a ship while they are hacking it out.
I’m lucky that my husband is a naval historian, so he was able to point me to some good resources on how such a battle would take place. And, he took the time to go over how Viking sea battles differed from other types of sea battles. But none of that is sensory, so last night and today I’m reading fiction with battle scenes.
Last night I read Pressfield’s description of the battle of Thermopylae in Gates of Fire since this book is widely respected. I also read the portion of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla Saga that deals with the Battle of Svolder, which Steve says is the perfect sea battle to review for my purposes.
Today will be battle scenes from Master and Commander, which have the benefit of being sea battles, though different. I’m already reading C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd, which was recommended by an admiral in the Australian navy as an example of impressive leadership and tactical brilliance in sea battles, though I doubt that there will be boarding actions in that one.
I’m on the lookout for stories with boarding actions, because outside of a bit of ship maneuvering that’s how Vikings fought. Steve assures me that their skill at maneuver was weak beer compared to the masterful actions of Greek trireme battles. (Viking partisans, take your fight to my husband if you want to disagree. I’m merely the container, not the source of this opinion.)
I do a lot of research for some of my stories because I am not an expert in anything except vegan cooking and project management. And let’s face it, how many of you would pick up a stirring book about vegan chefs competing on the world stage to make the best vegan cheese? Hmmm. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea after all. But one story at a time.
My friend Bill Webb seems to write with the philosophy, “If it bleeds, it leads.” He has a wildly enthusiastic fanbase. Since this story is starting in the middle of a battle and it’s not something I’ve done well before, I’ll also take a look at his work. Like my husband, Bill is accessible to me so I can ask him questions if I run into them. And he’s generous with his knowledge.
Hopefully my research will make this story better, but there will come a point (probably tomorrow) where the research has to stop. There is never enough time to do all the research needed. Then, it’s “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” The fictional dead will never know what hit them.
I hope your writing is as exciting as mine is today. May you meet the enemy and come back with your shields and not on top of them.
Be well, friends!